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EARLY START

Flynn Asks for Immunity; White House Helped Nunes; Trump Tackles Trade Abuse; North Carolina Bathroom Bill; Tillerson at NATO Summit; Weather Forecast. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 31, 2017 - 04:30   ET

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


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[04:30:17] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Will former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's words come back to haunt him? Flynn is now asking for immunity to testify before congressional hearings regarding Russia.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Did the White House collude with House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes. A new bombshell report from "The New York Times" revealed it just might have.

BRIGGS: And 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.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Just a few little things going on this Friday morning, the 70th day of the Trump presidency.

BRIGGS: Oh, wow.

ROMANS: It's 30 minutes -- 31 minutes past the hour. Nice to see you all.

Let's start with this, an explosive revelation last night in the probe of Russian meddling in the U.S. elections. A lawyer for former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn says his client, quote, "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 Mr. Trump's closest advisers after it came out that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

BRIGGS: General Flynn's offer certainly raises the stakes in the probe. Three other former aides to 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 refusing to comment.

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

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, General Flynn's lawyers putting the offer out there that he will talk to congressional investigators if he is offered immunity. General Flynn's lawyers putting it in a statement this way saying, "General 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 publicized 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 General Flynn yet. The Senate Intelligence Committee refusing to comment. Of course, General Flynn resigned shortly after President Trump took office when it was revealed that General 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, General Flynn testify? Will he be granted that immunity? No details on any deal that might be forthcoming. But, you know, it's interesting to note that General Flynn had spoken last year in reference to Hillary Clinton's campaign staffers, some of her staffers actually a 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: The White House may have a tough time commenting on that and on what President Trump said on the campaign trail at a rally in Florida in September. Listen to what he said about immune just a few months before the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Wow.

BRIGGS: Boy, it's going to be difficult to push back on fake news when you just have to read the president's own words, why would you ask for immunity if you didn't commit a crime?

ROMANS: Certainly a huge storyline this morning.

And another bombshell report -- another one rocking the Trump administration -- according to "The New York Times," two White House officials, two White House officials gave House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes those intelligence reports the President Trump said backed up his claims about being wiretapped. Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee opened its first public hearings into Russia's election meddling as the House Intel Committee's investigation is simply crippled, stalled bipartisanship. We get more this morning from CNN's Manu Raju.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Good morning, Christine and Dave.

Another wild turn of events in the House Intelligence Committee when Devin Nunes' source were potentially revealed in a " New York Times" article suggesting that a couple of White House official may have allowed him on White House grounds to review the information that he 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 order of Barack Obama.

[04:35:02] 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 as he's refusing to comment when I've asked him on multiple occasions now.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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 its own investigation, trying to lay the groundwork and say that they are working to try to do a very deep dive on 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 publically? We don't know that yet, but we do know that Jared Kushner, the son-in-law to the president, will at least have a private interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Christine and Dave.

BRIGGS: Thank you, Manu. A civil war, meanwhile, brewing in the Republican Party. President Trump warning members of the conservative Freedom Caucus that he will fight them in the 2018 elections if they don't get on board the GOP health care plan. In a series of tweets, Trump named names, saying, quote, "Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team and fast. We must fight them and Dems in 2018."

Quote, "if Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan and Raul Labrador would get on board, we would have both great health care and massive tax cuts and reform."

Congressman Labrador is also firing back after being singled out by the president. His message to Mr. Trump, quote, "the Freedom Caucus stood with you when others ran. Remember who your real friend are. We're trying to help you succeed." That's just one of several tweets from Freedom Caucus members pushing back sternly against the president's words yesterday.

ROMANS: All right, 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." If Republicans are not able to coax six more Democrats, they've threatened to change Senate rules so that Gorsuch can be confirmed with just 51 votes.

New details on how the Trump administration plans to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. A draft memo, obtained by CNN Money, shows how the acting U.S. trade representative is laying out the agenda to Congress. The section of that draft that's getting a lot of attention is this, quote, "temporary revocation of tariff preferences if increased imports from NAFTA countries are a substantial cause of serious injury or threat or serious injury to the domestic industry." Translation, the government will tax imports from Mexico and Canada if imports spike and put U.S. companies at a disadvantage. During the campaign, the president ripped NAFTA as the worst trade deal in history, constantly pointed to U.S. trade deficits as evidence that Americas was losing to other countries, especially Mexico. The president's pick for U.S. trade representative is awaiting confirmation. The office did not respond to our request for comment. The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said the draft was not a policy statement.

Meantime, bids are rolling in for the border wall with Mexico. This is the deadline week, folks. The Department of Homeland Security will review them and ask companies to build wall porotypes in the San Diego border area. It will likely take months to narrow down the field. It could be years before part of the wall is complete. One company that is not bidding, CEMEX, the largest cement company in Mexico, a global leader with huge operations in the United States. It said earlier this month that it may provide materials to companies that do win contracts. Now the company is saying, no, we're not going to be part of the wall.

BRIGGS: All right, 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, quote, "difficult." We'll find out just why next live in Beijing.

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[04:43:57] BRIGGS: President Trump plans to sign two executive orders today to help combat foreign trade abuses. The goal, reducing America's half trillion dollars trade deficit. The signings come just one week before Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the U.S. Mr. Trump has repeatedly accused Beijing of hurting the American economy with unfair trade practices. And take a look at this latest tweet on the subject. "The meeting next week with China will be a very difficult one and 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 from Beijing this morning with the latest reaction from China.

Good morning, Will.

President Trump there saying it will be a difficult meaning. Is that how the Chinese see it?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They do, Dave. And you know that the Chinese government watches President Trump's Twitter account very closely, even though Twitter is banned here in China. And so when they hear from the U.S. president essentially the groundwork for these very difficult discussions, they have been coming up with their own response. And their response will be that they don't believe China is engaging in unfair trade practices, currency manipulation, as the president has accused. They say that this is simply market conditions. The bottom line is that it's less expensive to manufacture goods here in China, which is why a lot of American companies send their raw materials here, they're put together in China and then sent back to the U.S.

[04:45:21] So China's preparing for the possibility of the Trump administration imposing higher tariffs on Chinese goods. The kind of goods that China sells a lot more of to the United States than China buys back. So things like furniture and steel. And if the U.S. does that, China could respond by perhaps cutting exports of consumer electronics, which would raise prices for American consumers. They could buy fewer U.S. agricultural goods, or other types of materials that they purchase from the U.S. And they could even target U.S. companies that are doing business here in China by enforcing regulations and making it very difficult for those companies to operate here, which, of course, could lead to a trade war, which would be really catastrophic economically. But as important as this relationship is between the U.S. and China,

there are a lot of disagreements. For a long time the U.S. has accused Chinese companies of unfairly undercutting the U.S. markets. That's why the Trump administration wants to investigate and enforce these anti-dumping laws to prevent that kind of activity and also collect the billions of dollars in unpaid fines. They also want to look into the causes of the trade deficit and try to correct them.

Dave.

BRIGGS: As the prospect of a trade war and of a world war considering what's happening in North Korea, this is a pivotal meeting. Thank you so much, Will.

ROMANS: All right, back here, in North Carolina, lawmakers, LGBT activists and sports fans all waiting to see how the NCAA reacts to Thursday's repeal of the state's controversial bathroom bill. HB-2 required transgender people to use the bathroom listed on their birth certificate. Not the bathroom listed on their birth certificate, the bathroom that identifies with their gender listed on their birth certificate. The NCAA has threated to move championships out of the state if HB-2 was not repealed. Because the new measure still allows for discrimination against LGBT people, it's unclear if it will be enough to satisfy the NCAA. CNN's Martin Savidge has the latest.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the new bill has essentially three parts. It repeals House Bill 2, that's the controversial legislation that mandated people use the bathroom according to their sex as listed on their birth certificate. North Carolina now is going to revert back to the way things were before and has no gender ID requirements.

It also says that the state will regulate privacy protections for multiple occupancy restrooms, shower and changing facilities. And lastly, and this is the controversial part, it imposes a moratorium on local non-discrimination ordinances regulating public accommodations and private employment practices until December 1, 2020. The governor of North Carolina, that is Roy Cooper, addressed the criticisms even from his fellow Democrats who see this as failing the LGBT community.

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GOV. ROY COOPER (D), 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: The truth is, there's no guarantee that the state has satisfied the NCAA's concerns. We do know just last week the organization said that absent of any change in the law, it would not hold championship events in North Carolina. The NCAA is now saying that its board will have to get together, review the new law and then determine whether it is good enough to allow championships back into the state.

Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: All right, thank you so much for that, Martin.

Georgia's governor is declaring a state of emergency after a huge chunk of an elevated highway in Atlanta collapses following a fierce fire. Look at these pictures. Thick, black smoke and flames billowing from the scene on I-85. Part of the interstate bridge collapsed, bringing traffic to a standstill at one point. People are being advised to steer clear of this area, by the way. The city's mayor making it clear, the incident is not linked to terrorism. Authorities are currently trying to determine what in the world sparked that fire. Fortunately, no reports of any injuries. Thank goodness.

BRIGGS: Wow.

All right, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Brussels this morning attending his first NATO Summit. A crucial one at that. Will Tillerson express President Trump's harsh tone towards NATO, that it's obsolete? We'll go live to Brussels, next.

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[04:53:36] ROMANS: Welcome back.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Brussels this morning attending his first NATO Summit, a meeting he once planned to skip. He's likely to be met by skeptical partners in the alliance. President Trump has caused alarm by calling NATO obsolete and suggesting the U.S. would not protect members if they do not increase their military spending. CNN's Nic Robertson is in Brussels.

Nic, do we expect Tillerson to echo the president's criticism?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You know, I think we're going to hear him amplify the message on spending. Secretary Tillerson literally arrived here just a couple of minutes ago. He made brief statements on the way in. He said he wants to talk about NATO's common position in the fight against ISIS, NATO's position against Russian aggression in Ukraine, and also what he described as NATO resourcing, which really is a euphemism for that 2 percent of GDP commitment that NATO allies are signed up for but 23 out of the 28 have not made that commitment and that's something President Trump, Vice President Pence have spoken about. Defense Secretary James Mattis has spoken about. And Secretary Tillerson expected to amplify that message here.

But he will find pushback from the Europeans. The Germans, for example, halfway down that table of countries failing to meet the commitment, have major elections later this year. What we heard from another foreign minister going into the meeting was, yes, we are trying to speed up our spending, to make that 2 percent commitment, to we need to do it strategically. We can't just jump into it, if you will. So we'll hear more of that.

[04:55:10] But the message perhaps will resonate across and around the table perhaps no more so than here in Belgium, the home of NATO, the headquarters of NATO. They are right at that bottom almost of that list of countries that don't make up 2 percent of GDP.

Christine.

ROMANS: It's fascinating, Nic. You can say one thing on the campaign trail, but when you have to go right to your -- you know, right to NATO's house and have that conversation, that might be a little bit more difficult. Thanks so much for that. Nic Robertson in Brussels for us.

BRIGGS: Of course, as Nic relayed to us, five of the 28 NATO countries pay that 2 percent.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: So that does give the president a little cover on that.

All right, to weather now. Rain along the East Coast today. Even some spring snow in New England. The latest now from meteorologist Derek Van Dam.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Dave and Christine.

This same storm system responsible for this week's multi-day severe weather setup continues to move to the north and east, weakening as it does so, but it's still going to pack quite a punch. This time with snowfall and heavy rainfall.

Here's a look at the latest winter storm watches and warnings across upstate New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, parts of Massachusetts into Rhode Island and Connecticut. By the way, this includes Boston. You could see upwards of six inches of snow. Heavy, wet snow, by the way, as this system hugs the coastline. Where you see that shading of yellow from Philly to New York, maybe two inches, locally hire amounts anticipated, as this system finally exits the New England coastline by Saturday midday.

Now, we focus our attention out west. That is another storm system bringing snowfall to the mountains of the Rockies and across the plain states. That's our next weather maker we're going to keep a close eye on. Here's the latest weather watches across Utah, into Wyoming and Colorado, taking you through the course of the weekend. Temperature warming up somewhat by the end of the weekend into New York City.

Back to you.

ROMANS: All right, thank you so much for that. That's your weather.

Let's get a check on your money this morning. The Nasdaq sitting at the highest level of all time right now making history, folks. Futures ticking slightly lower right now. The stock markets in Europe and Asia dropping as well.

Today marks the end of the first quarter, if you're wondering, and check out the gains. The Dow up almost 5 percent in the first three months of the year. The Nasdaq is a big winner. Look at that quietly response (ph), 9.8 percent. The S&P 500 has about a 6 percent gain. One of the craziest stories in the stock market this week is Sears.

Sales are plunging. Shoppers are skipping the store when they go to the mall and there are rumors of bankruptcy could be near. Its sold its Craftsman brand and -- Black -- to Black Y Decker to raise some cash, but the troubled retailer stocks hit an all-time low earlier this year. Then this week, look at this, a turnaround. Shares of Sears are up 50 percent in the past six days. That's thanks in part to the company's CEO and a board member. They've been buying up huge chunks of the stock as it has tumbled here.

Turning to tech. FaceBook taking direct aim at GoFundMe as the social network expands into other realms of the Internet. FaceBook will expand its charitable giving tools to include personal fundraisers. Users 18 and older can create money -- can raise money for themselves, for a friend or even something not on FaceBook, like a pet. Of course, there's a catch. Donations to personal fundraisers come with a transaction fee of 2.9 percent plus 30 cents per donation.

BRIGGS: Ah.

ROMANS: The company tells us they're not out to make money, but the fee is needed for security and fraud protection.

All right, finally, SpaceX making space history. The Elon Musk side project launched a previously used rocket in Cape Canaveral. It successfully made it into orbit marking the first time the same rocket has been used in two separate missions. It dropped off a satellite 22,000 miles into space. The rocket then returned to earth. It landed on a remotely piloted platform known as a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. That is your cool stuff for the morning. You're cool money news for the morning.

BRIGGS: Elon Musk versus Jeff Bezos. It's going to be a fascinating space battle.

ROMANS: I know, isn't it. Space race.

BRIGGS: All right, EARLY START continues right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FLYNN: When you are given immunity, that means that you probably committed a crime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Will former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's words come back to haunt him? Flynn is now asking for immunity to testify before congressional hearings on Russia.

ROMANS: Did the White House conclude with the House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes? A new bombshell report from "The New York Times" reveals he just might have.

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

ROMANS: Oh, fighting words.

BRIGGS: Wow, it is dramatic word and fight back from the Freedom Caucus.

Good morning, everybody. Thanks for getting an early start with us. I'm Dave Briggs on an extraordinary day in United States politics.

ROMANS: I know. Seventy days and here we go. I'm Christine Romans. It's Friday, March 31st. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

[04:59:56] Let's start here with this explosive revelation last night in the probe of Russian meddling in U.S. elections. A lawyer for former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn says his client, quote, "certainly has a story to tell" to congressional investigators but will only tell it if he's granted immunity from prosecution.