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Attorney for Michael Flynn Says His Client Will Speak If Granted Immunity; Devin Nunes' Sources Potentially Revealed In "New York Times" Article; Trump Warns Freedom Caucus He Will Fight Them In 2018 Election; Trump Administration Signaling Major Shift In Policy On Syria; Us Debt Likely To Double Over Next 30 Years; Trump Plans To Sign Two Executive Orders Today To Help Combat Foreign Trade Abuses; Secretary Of State Tillerson In Brussels Attending First Nato Summit. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 31, 2017 - 04:00   ET


MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: When you're given immunity, that means that you probably committed a crime.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST, EARLY START: Will former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's words come back to haunt him? Flynn is now asking for immunity to testify before congressional hearings on Russia.

BRIGGS: Was the White House colluding with House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes? A new bombshell report from "The New York Times" reveals that may be the case.

ROMANS: The war is on in the Republican Party. President Trump warning the Freedom Caucus to get on board with the GOP agenda or lose in 2018.

BRIGGS: Ordinarily our lead story.

ROMANS: There is so much going on. Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. On an ordinary 24 hours in politics, it's Friday, March 31, 4 AM in the East, an explosive revelation last night in the probe of Russian meddling in US elections. A lawyer for former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn says his client "certainly has a story to tell" to congressional investigators, but will only tell it if he's granted immunity from prosecution.

Flynn was forced to step down as one of President Trump's closest advisers after it came out that he misled Vice President Pence about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

ROMANS: Gen. Flynn's offer certainly raises the stakes in the probe. Three other former aides of the president have already said they'd testify freely without immunity - former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former advisor Roger Stone and former foreign policy advisor Carter Page. So far this morning the White House is refusing to comment.

Let's get the latest now from CNN's Jessica Schneider.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, Gen. Flynn's lawyers putting the offer out there that he will talk to congressional investigators if he is offered immunity. Gen. Flynn's lawyers putting it in a statement this way saying Gen. Flynn certainly has a story to tell and he wants to tell it should the circumstances permit.

Then going on to say, no reasonable person who has the benefit of advice from counsel would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized witch-hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution.

But right here on Capitol Hill, a spokesman for the House intelligence committee saying that they haven't gotten any request from Gen. Flynn yet. The Senate Intelligence Committee refusing to comment.

Of course, Gen. Flynn resigned shortly after President Trump took office when it was revealed that Gen. Flynn hadn't disclosed his communications to Vice President Mike Pence about his communications with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

So, a lot of questions swirling here. Will, in fact, Gen. Flynn testify, will he be granted that immunity, no details on any deal that might be forthcoming.

But you know what's interesting to note that Gen. Flynn had spoken last year in reference to Hillary Clinton's campaign staffers, some of her staffers actually as Secretary of State as well, putting it this way saying, when you are given immunity, that means you probably committed a crime. So, could those words come back to haunt him? At this point, the White House not commenting on this.

Dave and Christine?

BRIGGS: Jessica, thank you. Those words, come back to haunt Michael Flynn, probably, Christine. But how about Donald Trump's own words on the campaign trail in September at a rally in Florida? Listen to what then the candidate President Trump said then.


DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: - aides took the Fifth Amendment and her ring leaders were given immunity. And if you're not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for? Right?


BRIGGS: Look, he gave us the question. Why do you ask for immunity if you have not committed a crime?

ROMANS: I will say you could fill an entire broadcast with things Trump said on the campaign trail that he now doesn't say or says the opposite as a president. So, there's a lot of soundbites like that, but it's very, very fascinating given the developments in the Flynn case. BRIGGS: Yes. Look, you could argue this is a simple legal maneuver to protect your client and it certainly is. But when you've said that, it's difficult to maneuver and how does Sean Spicer answer that allegation today at 1 o'clock, does he say that the word immunity is not on this letter because technically the word is not?


BRIGGS: But ask any attorney and they'll say that's what they were talking about. Lot to get to today. Another bombshell report rocking the Trump administration. According to "The New York Times," two White House officials gave House intel chairman Devin Nunes those intelligence reports that President Trump suggested might back up his claims about being wiretapped.

Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee opened its first public hearing into Russia's election meddling as the House Intel Committee's investigation remains crippled by partisanship.

We get more now from CNN's Manu Raju.

MANU RAJU, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Good morning, Christine and Dave. Another wild turn of events in the House Intelligence Committee when Devin Nunes' sources are potentially revealed in a "New York Times" article suggesting that a couple of White House officials may have allowed him on White House grounds to review the information that he's secretly briefed the president on regarding incidental collection of communications, something that the White House has used to try to defend itself against President Trump's so far unsubstantiated claims that he had been wiretapped under the orders of Barack Obama.

[04:05:20] Now, after the revelation of those two names, the White House not commenting on that report, neither Devin Nunes will either. He will not say whether or not the White House had any role whatsoever. Actually, refusing to comment when I have asked him multiple occasions.

Now, Adam Schiff yesterday raised some concerns. I asked him specifically, do you think the White House is involved in any effort to undercut your committee.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: What's the best route to doing a credible investigation. If there's been a substantial question about whether we can do that, then we need to take whatever steps are necessary to restore credibility to the investigation?


RAJU: Now, the question going forward is whether or not the House Intelligence Committee can produce a bipartisan product in a committee that has really been bogged down in partisan politics and this comes as the Senate Intelligence Committee is moving forward in its own investigation, trying to lay the groundwork and say that they are working to try to do some very deep dive in the issue of Russia meddling and also any of those connections that may have allegedly occurred between the Trump campaign, officials as well as Russian officials holding their first hearing yesterday. The question is whether - who will be the first of the Trump associates to come and testify publicly. We don't know that yet, but we do not that Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of the president, (inaudible) on a private interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Christine and Dave?

ROMANS: All right. Manu Raju, another very busy day for him.

A civil war is brewing in the Republican Party. President Trump warning members of the conservative Freedom Caucus that he will fight them in the 2018 election if they don't get on board with the GOP health care plan.

In a series of tweets, of course, Trump named names saying the Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team and fast. We must them and Dems in 2018.

If Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan and Raul Labrador would get on board, we would've both - we would've both great healthcare and massive tax cuts and reform.

Iowa Congressman Raul Labrador is also firing back after being singled out by the president. His message to Mr. Trump, the Freedom Caucus stood with you when others ran. Remember who your real friends are, we're trying to help you succeed.

BRIGGS: Meanwhile, President Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court edging a bit closer to confirmation ahead of Monday's vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Two Democrats declaring their intention to vote for Neil Gorsuch when his nomination reaches the Senate floor.

Republicans only need to peel off eight Democrats in total to reach the 60 vote threshold required to confirm Gorsuch. Now, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp say they will side with Republicans.

Manchin saying in a statement, after considering his record, watching his testimony in front of the judiciary committee and meeting with him twice, I will vote to confirm him to be the ninth justice on the Supreme Court.

Now, if Republicans are not able to coax six more Democrats, they've threatened to change the Senate rules, so that Gorsuch can be confirmed with just 51 votes.

ROMANS: Right. The Trump administration signaling a major shift in US policy on Syria. Secretary of State in Turkey announcing the White House will not pursue an end to the Syrian Civil War or the removal of President Bashar al-Assad.

Tillerson says the longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people. Sen. John McCain blasting the Secretary of State saying, this overlooks the tragic reality that the Syrian people cannot decide the fate of Assad or the future of their country when they're being slaughtered by Assad's barrel bombs. A real big change in policy there.

America has a major issue almost no one in Washington is talking about. But a new report may change that. The US debt is likely to double over the next 30 years. That's according to the Congressional Budget Office. Right now, the debt amounts to 77 percent of GDP. Or 77 percent of the size of the economy. That's already at the highest level since the post-World War II era. If current law remains in effect, it will jump to 150 percent by the year 2047.

There are three main drivers of the debt. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And the interest on the debt, which will more than quadruple over the next 30 years due to rising interest rates and the growing pile of borrowed money. The problem is that while both spending and revenue are projected to grow, spending will far outpace revenue. And President Trump's push for big tax cuts, his promise not to touch entitlements could speed up the increase.

One thing that could help is if the president achieves his goal of 4 percent economic growth, the CBO projects an average GDP rate of just over 1.9 percent over the next 30 years, the president has promised 4%, which most economists say would be very difficult to reach. We just got the latest numbers on the fourth quarter. They were increased 2.1 percent for the fourth quarter.

But this math is something that should be at the backdrop or the forefront of every discussion that happens in Washington. When you have the debt such a big size of your economy, at some point, you don't have the wiggle room to spend on education or on the military or on anything else when you're just spending so much to service your debt.

[04:10:19] BRIGGS: And when you've pledged not to touch entitlements and perhaps $1 trillion infrastructure package, it's bound to even get worse.

ROMANS: Remember on the campaign trail when Trump said that he could - in eight years, he could get rid of the national debt.

BRIGGS: Yes. That's going to be a tough pledge to back up here.

Well, President Trump just hours before he signs two executive orders today aimed at reducing America's trade deficit is turning his sights on China, tweeting that next week's meeting with the Chinese president will be a "difficult one." We'll find out why live from Beijing next.


ROMANS: President Trump plans to sign two executive orders today to help combat foreign trade abuses. The goal is to reduce America's $0.5 trillion trade deficit.

[04:15:04] The signings come just one week before the Chinese president Xi Jinping visits the US. President Trump has repeatedly accused Beijing of hurting the American economy with unfair trade practices.

Take a look at his latest tweet. The meeting next week with China will be a very difficult one, in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses. American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives.

CNN's Will Ripley live form Beijing this morning with the latest reaction from China. Good morning, Will. President Trump says this meeting next week will be difficult. Is that how the Chinese see it?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Christine. They're really digging in their heels on this because they feel that Donald Trump's accusations of unfair trade practices are just not true.

They say it's market conditions. The fact that Chinese goods are just so much cheaper than American goods. That's why more Americans are buying hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of items from China, far more than what China is buying from the US.

Donald Trump's executive order pledges to investigate the causes of America's massive trade deficit and also to step up enforcement of anti-dumping laws that essentially a lot of Chinese companies and others from other countries have been accused of unfairly undercutting American companies, by flooding the market with goods at a much cheaper price. Steel would be one big example of that.

And so, Trump is pledging to get tough. And China getting ready to get tough right back, which, of course, everybody wants to avoid a trade war, Christine, which could be really catastrophic economically.

ROMANS: Absolutely. Lots of complaints from American companies for years about intellectual property theft, about hacking, about stealing of corporate secrets and then turning around and manufacturing using that stolen IP. So, there's a lot of things on this list.

What has stymied American officials, though, over and over and over for 25 years is that, with the Chinese, you can't just talk about money issues. You have to talk about many issues and you talk about North Korea. You talk about money issues, you talk about policy with Japan. It's much more complicated than just different levers that can be pulled separately.

RIPLEY: And the X factor right now, Christine, is what is North Korea going to do either before President Xi's visit or possibly during because we know from satellite data, analysts have been saying that North Korea just needs to push the button on their next nuclear test. That would be nuclear test number six.

If Kim Jong-un were to be so brazen as to do that just before or even during President Xi's trip to the United States, that would undercut the argument that China has a whole lot of leverage over North Korea because of such a provocative act. It would clearly show a disrespect for its Chinese neighbor.

ROMANS: It is fascinating. We're so glad you're there in Beijing to follow it all for us. Will Ripley, nice to see you this morning. Well, have a great weekend.

BRIGGS: Such a pivotal meeting also with the backdrop of at Mar-a- Lago on a Thursday.

Elsewhere, North Carolina lawmakers, LGBT activists and sports fans alike all waiting to see how the NCAA reacts to the repeal of the state's controversial bathroom bill. Governor Roy Cooper signing a measure ending a requirement that transgender people use the bathroom that matches the sex on their birth certificate.

The NCAA had threatened to move championships out of the state if HB 2 was not repealed. Cooper says the repeal bill is not a perfect deal, but sets the standard of path toward ending discrimination against LGBT people.


ROY COOPER, GOVERNOR OF NORTH CAROLINA: This law I'm signing today is not just about North Carolina's reputation or jobs or sports. It's about working to end discrimination.


BRIGGS: Now, because the new measure still bars North Carolina cities from banning anti-LGBT discrimination until 2020, it's still unclear whether it will satisfy the NCAA. Mark Emmert, who is the president of the NCAA, was asked about this yesterday, ahead of the final four, and he has sensed (inaudible) mixed metaphors. They're saying we'll decide next week once we really review this pullback.

ROMANS: A lot of people are saying repeal or is it too weak of a repeal.

BRIGGS: I did not satisfy the transgender community. Will it satisfy the NCAA? We'll see. Texas is making a similar move. They host the final four next year. So, it is a sports story indeed.

All right. Around the world now. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Brussels this morning, attending his first NATO summit, but will Tillerson express President Trump's harsh message that NATO is "obsolete." We'll go live to Brussels next.


[04:23:50] BRIGGS: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Brussels this morning attending his first NATO summit, a meeting he once planned to skip, is likely, though, to be met by skeptical partners in the alliance as President Trump has caused alarm by calling NATO obsolete, suggesting the US would not protect members if they don't increase military spending.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: CNN's Nic Robertson in Brussels. Good morning to you, Nic. Do we expect Tillerson to echo the president's criticism or, like so many Trump officials have had to do, walk it back and reassure our allies? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we're expecting is for him to amplify the message that the NATO allies need to increase their ability to spend that 2 percent of GDP, a NATO commitment, on defense spending.

It was agreed in 2014 at the NATO summit in Wales. The NATO allies agreed that they would have a 10-year period to do that. And right now, of 28 NATO members, only five pay their way up to that 2%. United States is at 3.61%, the biggest spender.

You have Poland, Estonia, Greece, Britain, all above that threshold, but the pushback that he's likely to hear from the NATO allies here is we've agreed to increase, we are increasing, but we need to do it efficiently. We need to consider how we do it.

[04:25:11] Let's take the case of Germany. They've got major elections later this year. They're unlikely to make significant changes to their defense spending in that period.

Take Belgium, it is right close to the bottom of the list, the worst offender, if you will. Belgium is the home of NATO. So, it's a message that the Europeans here and are responding to in some ways positively, but it's not a one-way street. They are going to push back on this message. We've also heard from the French Foreign Minister arriving this morning saying, he wants to hear more from Secretary Tillerson about the United States position on Syria. So, we can expect these talks to be a little bit of give and take on both sides here, David.

BRIGGS: No doubt. A pivotal summit for our allies and certainly Rex Tillerson. Thank you, my friend.

ROMANS: All right. Former national security advisor Michael Flynn seeking immunity before he testifies in any Russia probes. Flynn's attorney saying he has a story to tell. More on that next.