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EARLY START

Trump-Russia Mystery Deepens; Kushner To Be Questioned By Senate; Questions Remain About Nunes White House Visit; Trump Altering U.S. Approach To Climate Change. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 28, 2017 - 05:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[05:31:05] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN HOST: Will Devin Nunes recuse himself as chair of the House Intel Committee's investigation into Trump-Russia connections. A growing number of Democrats say he must following new revelations about his own intelligence gathering.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST: And this morning, questions emerge after word of a meeting between the president's son-in-law and a Russian official. Was Jared Kushner's meeting about the transition or his private real estate company?

BRIGGS: And major changes to American policy on climate change being rolled out today. We have details on the president's next executive order. Welcome back to EARLY START, I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's 31 minutes past the hour. Two top Democrats say the time has come for House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation into contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign. The demand comes after a series of revelations, the latest that Nunes was on White House grounds the night before he told President Trump that his aides' communications were picked up in surveillance by U.S. officials.

BRIGGS: Now, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and ranking Intel Committee Democratic Adam Schiff both say Nunes must step aside. Pelosi saying in a statement, "A chair of the House Intelligence Committee has a serious responsibility to the Congress and to the country. Chairman Nunes' discredited behavior has tarnished that office." And here's what Schiff told CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It would be very difficult to maintain the credibility of the investigation if the chairman did not recuse himself from matters involving either the Trump campaign or the Trump transition team. There's just no legitimate reason to have gone to the White House at night to obtain information and then later share it with the White House instead of sharing it with his own committee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: CNN asked Chairman Nunes whether he plans to recuse himself. He declined to comment. More of what he had to say on that in a moment. BRIGGS: Also this morning, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner under scrutiny after the revelation of a meeting with a top Russian banking official, one appointed by Vladimir Putin. Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov in December. Gorkov is chairman of VEB. That's a state-run bank that's under U.S. sanctions over Russia's meddling in Ukraine.

ROMANS: The meeting raises a number of questions, most notably in what capacity did Kushner meet with Gorkov? The White House says the meeting was a routine part of Kushner's job during the transition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Jared did a job during the transition and the campaign where he was a conduit to leaders, and that's until we had a State Department -- a function -- a place for people to go. Remember, we had a delay in some of these things and that was his role.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The Russians have a different view, however. VEB says Kushner met Gorkov in his role as head of the Kushner real estate empire, not as a Trump aide. Kushner has been trying to attract financing for a building project in Manhattan. Now, all this raises the prospect that Kushner used his perch on the transition to conduct private business with a sanctioned company.

ROMANS: This all came hours after Kushner agreed to testify to senators investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials because of his role arranging meetings between top campaign advisers and the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

I want to dig in and get some more context on the Trump administration's widening entanglement with Russia here. Let's go live to Moscow. We want to bring in CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen. Fred, good morning to you. There are some suggestions this meeting may have been more business than government, so is this Russian bank in a position to finance a Kushner real estate project in New York?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. Well, on the face of it, it certainly would be, and it certainly would be in the portfolio of the bank to fund infrastructure projects, and they don't just do that in Russia. They actually do that in other places around the world, as well. One of the things we have to keep in mind, though, is when that meeting took place that bank was under U.S. sanctions and had been under U.S. sanctions since 2014, so it would have been pretty much impossible for a U.S. business entity to do business with that Russian bank.

[05:35:10] Now, we asked this bank what exactly this meeting was about. They didn't tell us but they did say that the meeting back then was part of what they call a "road show" where the bank and its leadership were looking for what they called new business opportunities. And they say that they met with several financial officials and that they also met with people from the business community and that Jared Kushner was one of those people that they met with.

However, we do have to point out that this bank is very closely connected to the Kremlin and very closely connected to Vladimir Putin. The head of this bank, Sergey Gorkov, was, himself, appointed directly by Vladimir Putin and the bank is state-owned. In the past, it's funded large infrastructure projects here in Russia -- for instance, all of the infrastructure around the Sochi 2014 Olympics. Apparently, it also bailed out some oligarchs closely connected to Vladimir Putin in the past, especially since sanctions against the U.S. have been in place.

And Sergey Gorkov, the chairman, himself, also an interesting figure. He actually graduated from the Intelligence Academy here in Russia -- from the Federal Security Service -- the FSB -- in 1994, then went into banking, and then ended up at the head of this state bank here in Russia, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Fred Pleitgen. Drip, drip, drip on the Russia connections. Every day, another development. Thanks, Fred.

BRIGGS: There, indeed, is. Helping us break it all down this morning, political analyst Ellis Henican, the author of "Trump's America" column for the Metro Papers. Good morning to you, sir.

ELLIS HENICAN, POLITICAL ANALYST, AUTHOR, "TRUMP'S AMERICA" COLUMN FOR METRO PAPERS: Good morning, Dave.

BRIGGS: To Christine's point, it is a lot more drips, a lot more smoke. Is there any fire? What is at the heart of the problem here for Jared Kushner and the Trump administration?

HENICAN: Well, let's just agree on this much. Mr. Gorkov and Jared were not there discussing the new Christmas club account at the bank there, right? I mean, one of two things are going on. Fred is absolutely right that with these sanctions it would be very difficult for the bank -- a Russian bank -- to finance a Kushner family real estate deal. But one of the great hopes of Vladimir Putin and business oligarchs in Russia is that the Trump administration would remove those sanctions -- a huge, huge agenda. So, if you can get together with the son-in-law and the adviser and arrange that, boy, you've got a lot of progress.

ROMANS: Fred had reported that VEB bank said that it was part of a road show which would suggest, you know, one of the bank --

HENICAN: Potential business.

ROMANS: Right. When banks do a road show it's about meeting with investors or meeting with borrowers and talking about potential business deals, not government access or sanctions.

HENICAN: That's absolutely right, which is part of what raises the questions here. Listen, we're back to the same question we continually face about these ties. Government officials also doing private business. Where are the lines, how do you separate them? How do you make sure that when you're in one role you're not also in the other role? It still needs a little untangling, I'd say.

BRIGGS: He had not -- Jared Kushner had not yet stepped away as his -- you know, from his role ahead of this. Not just real estate holdings, this is a multi-billion dollar real estate empire so a lot of questions have to be answered, as they do on this Devin Nunes story which he talked about yesterday on CNN. Why was he at the White House the day before giving this information to President Trump about some type of surveillance -- listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I'd been working this for a long with many different sources and needed a place that I could actually finally go because I knew what I was looking for and I could actually get access to what I needed to see. I'm quite sure that I think people in the West Wing had no idea that I was there. Look, I go over there a lot. I go over there often for meetings and briefings.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Now, to be clear, he was at -- he was on the White House grounds, he was not in the White House, but what type of problem does this present?

HENICAN: Well, it's a strange defense, isn't it? This is the "I needed a room" defense.

BRIGGS: Right.

HENICAN: Hasn't anyone ever told you "get a room?"

BRIGGS: Look, I don't know how difficult it is to find a secure facility --

HENICAN: It's not that hard.

BRIGGS: I'm not sure.

HENICAN: In Washington, there are almost as many secure rooms as there used to be phone booths.

ROMANS: I just don't understand --

HENICAN: They're all over the place.

ROMANS: -- what he was doing. There are so many questions. I just still cannot -- it wasn't Russia, it wasn't surveillance related to Russia, so it was something else. I mean, there just -- when are we going to get the big reveal of what this is all about? That's what's so frustrating.

HENICAN: Well, you're right. We don't know who it is he was meeting with, we don't know what the information is, but I will say this. There's an awful lot of suspicion among both Republican and Democratic members on the House Intelligence Commission about why aren't you -- why aren't you telling us this stuff? If you're gathering this information, if it's important information, why deliver it to the potential targets of the investigation before it is you're telling your fellow committee members.

ROMANS: And --

BRIGGS: Do you think he will step down from the committee?

HENICAN: I think it's unlikely. I think there's a pretty strong argument --

BRIGGS: Do you think he should?

HENICAN: I think it would be much better to have an independent investigator on all of this stuff.

ROMANS: Well --

HENICAN: I'm not holding my breath on that.

ROMANS: One last -- I want to -- I want to show this tweet from the president last night at 9:30. "Why isn't the House Intelligence Committee looking into the Bill & Hillary deal that allowed big uranium to go to Russia, Russian speech money to Bill, the Hillary Russian reset, praise of Russia by Hillary, or Podesta Russian Company? Trump Russia story is a hoax.#MAGA!" Do you -- does he help himself?

[05:40:15] HENICAN: You know, it seems like deflection to me. I don't know. I mean, there may be stuff you could go poke around on Hillary's relationship with somebody, but --

ROMANS: You make a point that if that were Rex Tillerson, not --

BRIGGS: And if those were all Republican names in that situation wouldn't that be investigated by Democrats?

HENICAN: Yes, fair enough. I think -- I think you're right about that. The one thing I would say is that in the end, it's a whole lot more interesting what the current president and his people are doing than what someone from a past administration is doing. Fair enough?

BRIGGS: Some would disagree with that notion.

HENICAN: No, it's -- these are the guys who are running the joint -- Dave, Dave.

ROMANS: Right. Ellis --

HENICAN: We've got to pull him back from the edge on this, right?

ROMANS: I'm out of it. All right, thanks, Ellis. Nice to see you.

BRIGGS: It's a big country. ROMANS: It is a big country. The White House and Republican lawmakers are looking to quickly move on from the health care failure and on to tax reform, but from the president on down, the term tax reform is often used interchangeably with tax cuts. They're two very different things.

Tax cuts are an easier sell. Usually, they're proposed along with some cost-saving measure to lower the lost revenue. Last time that happened was under George -- President George W. Bush, remember, in 2001? And president Obama kept those tax cuts in place though some aspects were changed during budget negotiations. Real tax reform basically restructures or rewrites the entire horrible tax code.Experts say the goal is to make it simpler, fairer, and more efficient. That may include removing deductions or credits, some of which, oh, by the way, special interest groups will loudly defend.

BRIGGS: Oh, yes.

ROMANS: The last time Congress pulled off real reform was in 1986. Regardless of what lawmakers decide the general rule is that the plan has to be revenue neutral over 10 years. Without the cuts to Obamacare that the administration was hoping for, that will be difficult. And I've been watching this moving goal post, you know. We're going to have a 15 tax rate for companies.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: We're going to have a 20 percent tax rate -- something around 20 percent so what the number is will be the big question. And there will be some industries -- a lot of companies don't pay 35 percent corporate tax rates.

BRIGGS: Sure, those large corporations --

ROMANS: Yes, they have big tax --

BRIGGS: -- rarely do.

ROMANS: So you --

BRIGGS: I think the effective rate is 19 percent, ballpark.

ROMANS: Seventeen to 19.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: So if you lower the tax -- you know, the tax rate to 20 percent some of these companies might have to pay more taxes.

BRIGGS: But also, the early reports are that out of the House will come one plan that suggests --

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

BRIGGS: -- less relief for the middle-class and has that border adjustment tax whereas, the White House disagrees on both of those notions. So hopefully, whatever it is, they get on the same page before unveiling a bill, but it's a massive tax.

ROMANS: It is -- it sure is.

BRIGGS: All right. Still ahead, the Secretary of Defense fighting back criticism amid accusations a coalition airstrike killed civilians in Mosul. It's just one part of the city facing dire circumstances. We're live on the ground in Mosul, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:47:16] ROMANS: New details about the executive order President Trump plans to sign later today, dramatically rolling back climate change regulations. The measure rescinds at least six Obama executive orders designed to curb climate change and regulate carbon emissions. It ends a moratorium on coal mining on federal land. It removes requirements that federal officials consider the impact of climate change when making decisions.

BRIGGS: The White House says the order prioritizes jobs over the fight against global warming, adding the executive order focuses more on clean air and clean water and less on regulating global warming. The move may signal America's exit from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement.

The nuclear option is looking more and more likely in the battle over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Right now, 14 Democrats say they will participate in a filibuster when the Senate Judiciary Committee votes on Monday. Six other Democrats say they will not support Gorsuch but are not committing to a filibuster. Right now, the Senate needs 60 votes to confirm Judge Gorsuch. If Democrats filibuster, GOP leaders say they will invoke the nuclear option and change the Senate rules so only 51 votes are needed to push the nomination through.

ROMANS: All right. The Trump administration is also threatening to cut off funding for sanctuary cities. The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, insisting they put dangerous criminals on the streets and make the nation less safe. Sanctuary cities are communities that limit cooperation with federal immigration officials. Sessions warns a crackdown is coming soon with billions of dollars in funding being pulled. He did not specify which cities will be targeted.

BRIGGS: A powerful cyclone hitting Australia at this hour causing widespread damage. (Video playing) Check out the debris being churned up by the storm's fierce winds. Officials say more than 50,000 homes along the Queensland coast and outlying areas don't have electricity. Thousands of people have been evacuated. No deaths have been reported. Satellite images tell the story. You can see the huge area the category four storm covers.

ROMANS: Wow.

BRIGGS: Unbelievable.

ROMANS: All right, wishing them well there.

BRIGGS: Oh. ROMANS: The girl by the bull is staying put, at least for the next few months. We'll get a check on CNN Money Stream, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:53:35] BRIGGS: The death toll growing in Mosul where 112 bodies have been recovered from a site of what Iraqi officials say was a coalition airstrike, and the Secretary of Defense pushing back amid criticism of the coalition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: No military force in the world that has proven more sensitive to civilian casualties. We go out of our way to always do everything humanly possible to reduce the loss of life or injury among innocent people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: For more on the situation on the streets of Mosul let's bring in CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon, joining us live from a very active situation in Mosul. Good morning to you. World leaders focusing on what happened with these civiliancasualties. Do we have any more answers?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At this stage, no, not really. It's still being investigated by both the U.S. and the Iraqi side. There's all sorts of different explanations that have been put out there. We heard that it was an airstrike that was called in against a suicide truck bomber. There have also been reports of airstrikes that were called in in that particular neighborhood against sniper positions.

One needs to bear in mind that in looking around here you get a little bit of an idea of the degree of the devastation. And that is, in fact, a massive crater that has been left in the middle of the road, quite possibly by an airstrike. It also could have been because of a suicide car bomb or a truck bomb. But when you look at this devastation you really begin to gain a little bit of appreciation as to just how intense the fighting has been.

[05:55:15] But also,just how murky this battlefield is because as these airstrikes are being called in, as the artillery is being fired and the gun battles are unfolding, the vast majority of these neighborhoods, they still have their civilian populations living amongst them, and especially when it comes to Western Mosul and you compare it to the east. This is a much more densely populated area. ISIS was much more entrenched in this part of the city. And off of the main road here you have these very narrow alleyways that vehicles can't go down.

So what the Iraqis now, at least, are saying is they're going to try to advance and they're going to have to advance more on foot. They're going to be calling in less airstrikes. They're going to be using drones, sniper teams to try to advance. We've been hearing quite a bit of artillery fire and gunfire in the surrounding areas. As you were saying, very much still an active battlefield which makes it all the more difficult.

The incident that is among those being investigated that you were referring to there, Dave -- in that particular case we spoke to an eyewitness from the same neighborhood who was there when this all happened, living a few houses down, and he said that civilians were screaming from underneath the rubble "save us" but it actually took rescue workers a few days to be able to get to that neighborhood.

There are very few civilians around here. In fact, it's almost eerily quiet right now. But one woman who we spoke to was still waiting behind in her house and the reason was because the day before this neighborhood was liberated, Dave, she said ISIS took her husband away and she's waiting -- hoping he's somehow going to come back.

BRIGGS: The search for answers continues. Thanks so much, Arwa. Stay safe.

ROMANS: All right, 57 minutes past the hour. Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning. One month ago today the Dow hit 12 straight record closing highs, tying an all-time record. Today, a streak of a different sort. Right now, the Dow is on an eight-session losing streak, the longest losing streak since 2011. The worries are coming from Washington. Tax reform is priced into the stock market along with hopes of more deregulation and a big spend on infrastructure. The big question now, is the Trump bump slowing turning into the Trump slump? We might see a little bit of relief today. If things hold as they are now you would break that losing streak.

The fearless girl will be staring down the Wall Street bull for at least the next 11 months. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announcing the statue will stay after her temporary permit expires until at least February 2018. The mayor says it's a fitting path for a girl who refuses to quit. State Street Global Advisors put up the statue earlier this month to advocate for getting more women on corporate boards. More than 28,000 people have signed a petition to keep her there.

We told you yesterday about the Twitter backlash United Airlines faced after removing two teenage girls from a flight for wearing leggings. That was against the company policy for travelers on United passes, so really deeply discount or free travel for employees' families. There were a lot of good tweets on both sides of this issue. This was like --

BRIGGS: There sure were.

ROMANS: -- made for social media. This one might sting United the most. Rival Delta tweeting, "Flying Delta means comfort. That means you can wear your leggings."

BRIGGS: Chrissy Teigen really lit up the internet last night.

ROMANS: What'd she say?

BRIGGS: I can't repeat it. Check it out on Twitter. I don't think --

ROMANS: Oh, really?

BRIGGS: I think she said that she literally wore no pants --

ROMANS: Oh my goodness.

BRIGGS: -- on United.

ROMANS: All right, thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. I'm pro-leggings. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHIFF: It would be very difficult to maintain the credibility of the investigation if the chairman did not recuse himself.

NUNES: Nobody was sneaking around. I was concerned about Americans' identities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Devin Nunes has told us nothing.