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Trump Defends Attorney General; GOP Concern About Trump-Russia Connection;What's Next For Trump Campaign Probe?; Republicans Battle Over Obamacare. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 3, 2017 - 05:30   ET


[05:30:15] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN HOST: President Trump with a staunch defense of Attorney General Jeff Sessions after Sessions recused himself from election-related investigations. So who will oversee the probe into Trump campaign contacts with Russia? CNN's complete coverage on all the developments from Washington begins right now.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST: That's a real dream team this morning.

BRIGGS: Yes, we got the boxes full. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's Friday morning. Let' say it one more time, it is Friday morning. It is --

BRIGGS: Which means it's Mar-a-Lago time.

ROMANS: Mar-a-Lago. Yes, it's Mar-a-Lago Friday. It is 30 minutes past the hour. Breaking overnight, President Trump stepping forward with a forceful defense of his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, just hours after Sessions recused himself from any investigations into Mr. Trump's presidential campaign. The move comes amid growing calls by Democrats for the attorney general to resign over those revelations Sessions met with the Russian ambassador at the same time he was serving as a Trump campaign surrogate, then failed to disclose that at his Senate hearing.

Sessions recusing himself at a news conference just two hours after the president said he should not do so. Sessions denied any wrongdoing, saying that he told senators he never spoke with Russian officials about the Trump campaign.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I was taken aback a little bit about this brand new information -- this allegation that surrogates -- and I had been called a surrogate for Donald Trump -- had been meeting continuously with Russian officials and that's what I -- it struck me very hard and that's what I focused my answer on. And, in retrospect, I should have slowed down and said, but I did meet one Russian official a couple of times. That would be the ambassador.


BRIGGS: Sessions telling reporters he plans to mention his meeting with the Russian ambassador in a statement to supplement his congressional testimony. And potentially, new trouble for the attorney general. Campaign finance records show Sessions' trip to the Republican Convention where he met the ambassador was paid for with Sessions' campaign funds, not Senate funds. That undercuts Sessions' argument he met with the ambassador in his capacity as a senator rather than a surrogate.

We've reached out to Sessions' office for comment. Even with all the controversy the president standing by his attorney general. For more now, we turn to CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, President Trump hoped to end the week on a high note, carrying that momentum from his speech to Congress earlier in the week, but he is ending it on anything but. He is under fire here at the White House all over allegations of links to Russia, yet again. We saw yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from any campaign investigation involving Russia. Congress is fully involved in an investigation -- the Intelligence Committees, both the House and the Senate.

Now, President Trump is flying down to his resort in Mar-a-Lago later today. He's going to take a bit of a weekend off and try and think about some of these things. He'll be having a Republican fundraiser there this evening, as well. But boy, he is standing by his attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

But take a look at this statement he released last night. Very interesting language in here. It says this. "Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong. He could have stated his response more accurately but it was clearly not intentional. This whole narrative is a way of saving face for Democrats losing an election that everyone thought they were supposed to win. The Democrats are overplaying their hand. They lost the election," he says, "and now they've lost their grip on reality. The real story is all of the illegal leaks of classified and other information. It is a total witch hunt."

A witch hunt, perhaps, but a bipartisan one at that. Republicans on Capitol Hill in Congress are concerned about this. They say they will investigate and get to the bottom of this. So, as the Trump administration heads into the end of another week here there are certainly more questions being raised about Moscow, and they are not just about from Democrats -- from Republicans as well. That's what Donald Trump is facing as he heads off to Florida later today -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: All right. Jeff Zeleny filing that for us from the White House. All right. So with the attorney general recused for now, Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente will oversee any investigations or prosecutions related to the Trump campaign, but that may not be the end of it. Boente may have to bring in a special prosecutor at some point. We're also learning more about one of the meetings Sessions had with the ambassador and how it will affect the battle over the Sessions' job.

Joining us to explain all of this, CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett, live for us bright and early this morning in Washington. Laura, good morning, and what else have we learned about the September meeting Sessions had with the Russian ambassador? What do we know about it?

[05:35:00] LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, we now know, Christine, that it took place in Sessions' office and he was accompanied by at least two of his staffers. Sessions said they talked about "normal things" like a visit Sessions had taken to Russia with a church group in the nineties. And though he couldn't recall any specific political discussions, he said it did get testy at one point. Now, importantly, what we don't know here is whether anyone took any notes or recorded the meeting and, if so, who has that recording, Christine.

BRIGGS: So what do we know, Laura, about the purpose of that meeting and, really, does it matter?

JARRETT: Well, Sessions was asked yesterday why he believes the Russian ambassador wanted to meet with him in the first place and he was very careful in his answer -- very measured. He said I don't remember a lot of it. And on the critical question of whether the two discussed President Trump and the campaign, he said I don't recall here. And that was -- that was the heart of it. That was the heart of what the senators were driving at in their testimony.

Now, the White House yesterday said look, there's just no there, there. This is a political witch hunt, essentially.

ROMANS: Yes, and the president saying the Democrats are overplaying their hand here. You know, Sessions says OK, so he doesn't recall some of the details of the September meeting. They talked about the 1990's, you know, this trip to Russia, but does that essential rebut the allegations from some of the Democrats of perjury?

JARRETT: Well, what it does do is it helps protect him boxing himself in on a story going forward in the event that new details emerge about this September meeting. But there's still the issue of his original testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last January and whether that was truthful because some Senate Democrats say he needs to come back and explain himself a bit more.

But Sessions told "FOX NEWS" last night that he plans to supplement his testimony in the record with a new response to that critical question about meetings with Russia. So we'll have to wait and see whether that's going to suffice for the senators -- Dave, Christine.

ROMANS: Right. Laura Jarrett in Washington. Have a nice weekend, Laura. Thanks for bringing us up to speed on that. Let's bring in Zach Wolf, managing editor of "CNN POLITICS DIGITAL." Good morning. And, you know, you just heard Laura talk about Jeff Sessions was on "FOX NEWS" last night -- he was talking about this. But let's listen to something he told "FOX NEWS" about what he talked about with the Russian ambassador.


SESSIONS: I don't recall any discussion of the campaign in any significant way. It was in no way some sort of coordinating of an effort doing anything improper, and I don't believe anybody that was in that meeting would have seen or believed I said one thing that was improper or unwise.


ROMANS: You have to wonder if, from the Russian perspective, after, you know, months, not years of a tough relationship --


ROMANS: -- with the U.S. administration, this was an ambassador who was lobbying for a different role or a different relationship. What do we know about what went on?

ZACHARY WOLF, MANAGING EDITOR, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL: Well, I don't think we know a lot about what went on inside his meetings, as Laura said, because they're -- you know, they weren't recorded or we don't know that they were --

ROMANS: Right.

WOLF: -- recorded. So, you know, we'll have to see there. You know, I will say that Jeff Sessions used to say that he had not met with the Russian ambassador and then they were saying that they hadn't discussed the campaign, and now he's saying he didn't discuss the campaign in any sort of meaningful way. So, the story has changed a little bit if you kind of put the dots together with Jeff Sessions there.

And I don't think that's the kind of position any sort of attorney general wants to be in where you have members of your own party calling for you to, you know, to recuse. He's done that now and I think that will probably, you know, get -- put out this fire somewhat, although a lot of Democrats are calling --


WOLF: -- for him to resign. That's the partisan split there that you kind of expect.

BRIGGS: Yes. Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, of course, calling him to resign, not just recuse himself. But do they have any move here politically? They certainly need some central cause to rally around the kind of central message to unite the party, but do they have anything to use here to force any further action?

WOLF: I don't think there's much they can do to force any action. They would have to get Republicans agreeing with them to really put enough pressure to get, say, a special prosecutor appointed from the Justice Department or to -- you know, Chuck Schumer was talking yesterday about reviving the old independent -- Office of the Independent Counsel, the very same office that nearly brought down Bill Clinton. There's an irony for you, a Democratic calling for that to come back. They were talking about that yesterday but that would take cooperation from Republicans, too.

ROMANS: I have to say I started my journalism career during that Independent Counsel era. I twitch every time I hear it. It was like -- it was a moment in time, wasn't it, that whole -- that whole -- that whole political world. Let's talk a little bit about the Obamacare and maybe some concerns by some folks that they want to see what it looks like and it's under lock and key somewhere on Capitol Hill. It almost became a little bit of a farce yesterday with a -- let's see, we had a --

BRIGGS: It was a bit silly yesterday.

ROMANS: What happened?

[05:40:00] WOLF: Yes, it was silly. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, sort of made this big show of marching across the Capitol from the Senate and into the House and banging on the door of the room where the House committee was trying to hash out an alternative to Obamacare. Rand Paul has his own alternative that he wants people to focus on. This would be, I think, probably a more moderate version that they're coming up with.

But, you know, Trump said earlier this week, who knew -- who knew how complicated this was going to be. Well, you know, it turns out quite complicated and just like Democrats came under huge criticism when they passed the Obamacare bill for doing it in secret -- for all these back-door deals they had to do --

ROMANS: Right.

WOLF: -- to get it over the finish line, it turns out they're going to maybe have to do some of that stuff. Not necessarily the back-door deal but, certainly, the private crafting of the law. Republicans are now going to have do to that so they're going to have to take their licks, too, I guess.

BRIGGS: Well, to be fair about Rand Paul's, some say, stunt, bipartisan support for political stunts because Steny Hoyer, the Minority Whip, took to Facebook Live and led a search throughout the Capitol looking for this bill. And then had a conversation -- yes, a real conversation as you can see, with a bust of Abe Lincoln. There was not rebuttal from former president Abe Lincoln to what Steny Hoyer was talking about.But let's get to the meat of this. Is there any indication when we might actually see some sort of bill --

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: -- crafted?

WOLF: Well, Trump had said an alternative would come this month. He's not really in charge of coming up with that bill. It seems like all the action there is happening on the House side. These things are going to take awhile to figure out.

You've also seen, I would note, two former Republican, you know, members. John Boehner, who knows a thing or two about crafting legislation saying repeal and replace, which is what Republicans have promised -- he said it's just not going to happen. And also, you say Jim DeMint who is a conservative, you know, former senator, saying they wouldn't be able to do it concurrently. So you have these sort of people who used to be on the inside looking in -- now looking in from the outside saying I don't see how this is going to happen.

Now, yesterday, Paul Ryan was pretty specific that it is going to happen and they're going to do it, you know, at the normal order, but it's going to take a little while.

BRIGGS: And Paul Ryan will be out with Vice President Pence talking about --


BRIGGS: -- the future of health care in this country today, in Wisconsin.

ROMANS: Zach Wolf, thank you, sir. Have a great weekend, although I think you have a lot more work to do today so I don't want to start your weekend too soon. Nice to see you -- thanks.

BRIGGS: Thank you, Zach. Well, the U.S. is taking action against al Qaeda based on intelligence recovered in that dealing raid in Yemen. Who are they tracking and where? We're live in Washington, next.


[05:46:50] BRIGGS: The U.S. taking action for the first time based on intelligence recovered in the January raid in Yemen that killed a Navy SEAL. Sources telling CNN the U.S. is now looking to track and locate hundreds of people with ties to al Qaeda. Some of these people believed to be in the West, though not in the United States. CNN national security reporter Ryan Browne has more from Washington this morning. Good morning, Ryan.

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Good morning, Dave. As you said, U.S. officials are telling CNN that these hundreds of people that they have identified from information -- they're working to identify, working to track -- from intelligence gathered during this January raid. Now, they say many of these individuals do live in the West and our particular concern is the threat they may pose to Europe. Now, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has carried out attacks in Europe before, most notoriously the 2015 office attack against the Charlie Hebdo newspaper.

Now, the officials are saying a lot of additional intelligence was gathered from this raid, including information pertaining to safe havens, pertaining to training techniques, bomb-making techniques, and al Qaeda targets. Now, President Donald Trump has said that vital intelligence was gathered during the raid but the raid has continued to court political controversy, particularly with regards to the death of a Navy SEAL and some civilian causalities that the Pentagon has admitted has occurred.

Now, U.S. officials say that additional actions will be taken based off the intelligence that was obtained in the raid. But the U.S. also conducted 20 airstrikes against al Qaeda last night in Yemen, targeting what they say were al Qaeda militants and al Qaeda infrastructure. Now, a U.S. Defense official tells us that those strikes were not related directly to the intelligence carried out the raid, but we're now hearing that also additional airstrikes were carried overnight -- last night -- Friday -- in Yemen, potentially targeting additional al Qaeda strikes.

Now, all this comes as the U.S. military is expanding its mission set against the terror group, which it considers al Qaeda's most capable and most dangerous affiliate -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Ryan, thanks for being up early for us, we appreciate it.

BROWNE: You got it.

BRIGGS: Always up early for us. Alisyn Camerota can tell us what's coming up on "NEW DAY" today.

ROMANS: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Alisyn, good morning to you. Did you talk to the Russians last year?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: I don't want to deny nor confirm --

BRIGGS: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: -- whether or not --


CAMEROTA: -- I had those conversations with --

BRIGGS: KG Camerota.

CAMEROTA: Funny you should bring those up, Dave, because obviously, we're going to be doing a deeper dive this morning on "NEW DAY" about exactly who in the Trump campaign did have meetings with this Russian ambassador and what their explanations are for having these meetings, and is this normal protocol? So we're going to be talking about that.

Also, something sort of amusing happened on Capitol Hill yesterday. Steny Hoyer and Rand Paul went on something of a scavenger hunt around the Capitol, looking for the new Republican replacement plan for Obamacare, and we're going to show you what happened on their scavenger hunt. Are people just wandering around behind me?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: I was looking --

CAMEROTA: Oh, Chris is --

ROMANS: Just random people. CAMEROTA: Chris is looking --

BRIGGS: Oh no, what's he doing?

CAMEROTA: He's looking for the replacement plan.

BRIGGS: Let us know if he has any luck. Good luck to you, Chris.

ROMANS: Oh my God, that's really funny. It's Friday. We are all losing our minds. The mystery that broke the internet earlier this week, it has been solved. Amazon says it was not a computer glitch. Oh, this was human error. That's right. Someone almost shut down the internet. That can happen. Details next.

BRIGGS: Yikes.


[05:54:45] BRIGGS: President Trump's call for another $54 billion in defense spending is reverberating in Russia. Fifty-four billion would be just a 10 percent spike for the Pentagon but it's more than the entire defense budget in Moscow. Now, generals there asking the Kremlin for more cash. CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson, live in Moscow. Nic, what's the Russian reaction here?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, Dave, the perspective from here is -- certainly for the generals and the Russian military for the last years have been going through a massive military overhaul, spending a lot on new tanks, on new aircraft, on cruise -- new cruise missile systems.

So what we had here just last week in the State Duma here -- the Parliament -- you had the defense minister, Sergey Shoygu, standing up in front of all the parliamentarians asking for another $200 billion to help fund the military over the next few years. He had a commitment of about $200 billion from the finance minister but he wants double that. So there's -- right now there's a tussle between the Finance Ministry and the Defense Ministry to get that extra money for the military. So when President Trump is calling, you know, for a 10 percent increase in the United States military, for the generals here that's music to their ears.

The defense minister also, during that speech in the Parliament, let slip a detail that hasn't really been talked about a lot publicly by military officials here and that is the information warfare forces. That's part of the military here that are dedicated -- over the past couple of years they've dedicated a unit to, essentially, cyberwarfare. To trolling, to hacking, to creating fake news. So this -- the defenseminister laying out why he should get more money, and part of it is to beef up that information warfare forces as well -- Dave.

BRIGGS: That's the new battlefront. Thank you, Nic, appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right. Let's get a Friday edition check of CNN Money Stream. Incredible demand for Snapchat. The stock soaring during its Wall Street debut. The IPO was priced at $17 a share. It surged to $24 a share when it opened for trading at 11:19 a.m. One analyst tells us there were 30 million shares trading hands in just the first minute of trading. Right now, Snap has a market valuation of nearly $35 billion. It's IPO, one of the only bright spots yesterday as stocks pulled back.

We could see more losses at the open today as well. You know, it's been a huge, huge 2,500-point Dow rally since the election. Now you're seeing a bit of a pause. There's what global markets are doing right now.

Finally, on this Friday, a reminder as you head to work, typos have consequences. Amazon says the incident that made some popular websites inaccessible this week was the result of human error. An employee on the web services team was working on the billing system. This person meant to take a small number of servers offline but incorrectly entered a command and removed a much larger set of servers.

That caused file sharing issues for companies like Slack. It hit development platform GitHub, collaboration site Trello, the mobile payment service Venmo, plus some news organizations couldn't publish stories. Amazon owns 40 percent of the cloud services market so when it goes down it takes a whole lot of companies with it. But there was so much grumbling this week about --

BRIGGS: Was there?

ROMANS: -- inaccess -- you know, we were in political land on Tuesday and Wednesday, right --

BRIGGS: In the weeds.

ROMANS: -- but there was so many people who were --

BRIGGS: I missed that.

ROMANS: -- just complaining about the slow internet. And now it turns out it was just one fat finger. One human --

BRIGGS: One fat finger? That's a lot of power --

ROMANS: -- error. It really is.

BRIGGS: -- for one person to have --

ROMANS: It really is. So interesting. And a lot of people --

BRIGGS: -- that totally upset the internet.

ROMANS: -- this morning asking me about Snap, you know. The professionals got Snap at $17 a share, so the little Joes like us go out and they but it at $24 a share, so now we'll watch and see what happens on that.

BRIGGS: And they lost $500 million last year?

ROMANS: Yes. Not making any money but really had a good IPO. Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Got to love that -- and I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now.


SESSIONS: I have recused myself.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: It would be better for the country if he'd resign.

SESSIONS: I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russianintermediaries about the Trump campaign.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: That's just not true.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Democrats are lighting their hair on fire to get you to cover this story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, do you still have confidence in the attorney general?


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA: What we've seen so far is scary -- very scary.

MARIA ZAKHAROVA, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESWOMAN: Mr. Kislyak is a well-known world-class diplomat. Stop spreading lies.

ROMANS: Two more high-level Trump aides revealing they also met with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to deny that I've talked with them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In order for us to do our investigation we're going to need the FBI to fully cooperate. At this point, the director is not willing to do that.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CUOMO: All right. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, March 3rd, 6:00 here in New York.

And up first, President Trump is back on Twitter and off his unity kick, attacking Democrats and standing by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions recusing himself from any investigation involving Russia and the president's campaign. He is facing a firestorm of criticism for failing to disclose that he met with a Russian ambassador twice during the 2016 race. CAMEROTA: This, as we learn about more Trump campaign aides who met with that very same Russian ambassador. So why does Russia continue to loom over the Trump administration on day 43 of his presidency? Let's try to get some answers. We begin our coverage with Sara Murray. She is live in Washington -- Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Good morning, Alisyn. Well, Jeff Sessions may have recused himself, but the --