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Kushner And Russia Bombshells Rock The White House; Stoneman Douglas Students Face New Reality As Classes Resume; Royal Foursome To Appear In First Joint Engagement. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired February 28, 2018 - 05:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:30:24] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Major developments for the president and his inner circle. Jared Kushner's security clearance downgraded. Hope Hicks admits she tells white lies to protect the president. Now, Mr. Trump's own actions the focus of the Russia special counsel.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And, students today return to Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida two weeks, exactly, after 17 lives were taken. The chances of major gun reform appear thin.

Welcome back, I'm Christine Romans. Nice to see you this morning. Nice to have you back.

BRIGGS: Good to be back, my friend. It is 5:30 eastern time. I'm Dave Briggs.

Again, that will be a tough day for those students down there in Parkland, Florida. Alisyn Camerota will join us live on "NEW DAY" straight ahead.

We start though with the president. Was Donald Trump's decision to run for president tied at all to his company's business dealings in Russia? The Mueller investigation is now looking directly at the actions of President Trump before the 2016 campaign even began.

Sources say investigators are asking witnesses when Mr. Trump became serious about running for president and how that timing might coincide with his business moves, including the abandoned effort to brand the Trump Tower in Moscow.

ROMANS: Investigators also asking about potentially compromising information the Russians may have on Mr. Trump. The sources say they do not know whether Mueller has concrete evidence of wrongdoing but the questions indicate Mueller's team is reaching beyond the campaign at how the Russians might have sought to influence Mr. Trump.

The president has claimed any inquiries into his family's finances cross a line. It would exceed the special counsel's mandate.

An attorney for the president and The Trump Organization both declined to comment. This morning, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner no longer has access to the nation's most closely-held secrets, at least for now. The first son-in-law's interim security clearance downgraded from top secret to secret. The new clearance level will allow access to far less information excluding, for example, the presidential daily brief of top secret material.

A Republican source who has worked closely with the White House telling CNN the change, quote "directly undercuts Jared's main job."

For more, we turn to Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, something of a bombshell at the White House with Jared Kushner, the president's senior adviser and, of course, son-in-law no longer able to look at the nation's top secret intelligence information here. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has made good on his plan to sort of clean house in a security clearance front.

Jared Kushner, of course, for the last 13 months or so has been operating under a temporary security clearance. In the wake, of course, of the resignation of staff secretary Rob Porter, the chief of staff said he was going to institute a tighter policy for security clearances. Jared Kushner, the most prominent person to fall under that.

Now this, of course, will affect how he does his job. He's the -- essentially, the leader on Middle East peace. Now, he and his supporters say he's going to continue doing his job. He's going to stay on here but without that top secret security clearance, it certainly will be done in a different way.

Questions about Jared Kushner's security clearance and his standing here at the White House certainly will hang over this administration again today -- Christine and Dave.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right, Jeff Zeleny. Thanks, Jeff.

Jared Kushner's attorney claims his client has done more than what is expected of him in the security clearance process, insisting he will accept the decision about his downgrade. He's not going to ask for any type of special permission from President Trump.

A final resolution could come soon. A source telling CNN the FBI is expected to wrap up the background check within a month.

BRIGGS: Meantime, a report in "The Washington Post" says officials in at least four countries discussed ways they could manipulate Jared Kushner. According to the report, Mexico, Israel, China, and the United Arab Emirates considered taking advantage of Kushner. They would have used Kushner's intricate business arrangements, his lack of foreign policy experience, and financial troubles. ROMANS: It's not clear, based on U.S. officials familiar with these intelligence reports, if they acted on any of those conversations.

Kushner did not respond to CNN's questions. A spokesperson for his attorney says they won't respond to quote "unnamed sources peddling secondhand hearsay."

BRIGGS: All right. Let's bring in "CNN POLITICS" digital director Zach Wolf, live in Washington this morning.

ROMANS: Good morning, Zach.

BRIGGS: Good to see you, sir.

ZACHARY WOLF, DIGITAL DIRECTOR, "CNN POLITICS": Good morning.

BRIGGS: Let's talk about Jared Kushner, the first son-in-law. Everyone from the White House says well, he can still essentially do his job as he was doing it before which begs the question why was he reading the presidential daily briefing if it wasn't required for his current job?

WOLF: I think -- there are so many questions that fly around about this White House.

[05:35:00] I think what we really need to look at here is that those countries it was reported that were looking for ways to get leverage over him, three of them are directly related to his portfolio -- this kind of massive portfolio.

He's in charge of China, he's in charge of Mexico, and he's in charge of Mideast peace. So that's kind of a -- that's a lot of the globe. So he needs to be in the know, I think, on what the government knows.

TEXT: Kushner's portfolio -- broker, Middle East peace; advise on relationships with Mexico, Canada, and China; oversee the Office of American Innovation; fight drug addiction; revise NAFTA.

ROMANS: I don't know. Mike Rogers, yesterday, testifying, asked specifically about what we are doing today -- what the NSA is doing today to stop the Russians from meddling again in the election. He says he has not gotten the green light from the White House to stop it -- listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE ROGERS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: It's probably fair to say that we have not opted to engage in some of the same behaviors that we are seeing.

President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion there's little price to pay here --

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Bingo.

ROGERS: -- and that, therefore, I can continue this activity. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The White House, you know -- Sarah Sanders said no, we're going more than the Obama administration ever did. The Obama administration threw out diplomats and seized property, and talked about big sanctions.

BRIGGS: But it didn't stop interference --

ROMANS: But didn't -- but it didn't --

BRIGGS: -- to that point.

ROMANS: But didn't -- and didn't do enough on that front.

Is this White House doing enough on Russian meddling?

WOLF: If the director of the NSA says they're not actively doing anything, I think there's little way to say they're not doing -- there's -- you can't really say --

BRIGGS: Right.

WOLF: -- enough if you're -- one of your top spies is saying they're not doing much. That's -- that was --

ROMANS: Right.

WOLF: -- an incredible admission yesterday --

ROMANS: It really was.

WOLF: -- to hear that from him.

TEXT: Obama versus Trump on Russia.

Trump: discussed interference with Putin in Germany and Vietnam. Repeatedly dismissed evidence of Russian meddling. Trump says he takes Putin at his word that Russia didn't meddle. Has not imposed sanctions passed by Congress last year.

WOLF: And he's a carryover. He was actively involved with the Obama administration in the same role so he should know, I think, what the difference is.

BRIGGS: It was terrifying and no amount of urging from anyone in the Intel Community seems to budge the president on Russian meddling.

But let's talk about Hope Hicks, the White House communications director who's really been with the president all along, throughout the campaign --

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- through the transition, and throughout this entire year- plus in the White House. She testified before the White House -- or the Congressional Intel White House -- the House Intel Committee. Excuse me -- I got that out. The House Intel Committee --

WOLF: That's a lot.

BRIGGS: -- though, really is partisan bickering. I don't know what we can gather from anything that comes out of that committee thanks to the Devin Nunes versus Adam Schiff narrative that's developed.

But she did say that she's had to tell some little white lies on behalf of the president.

She's already talked to Bob Mueller, we understand, for several hours. Do you think that one admission might cause him to relook at the testimony and call her back?

WOLF: I don't think that there's a special grouping of little white perjury out there. Robert Mueller is unlikely to look at a white lie as something -- oh, that's OK, let's just move on. So, yes, I think there's a good chance that they could go back.

It's not clear to me as -- you know, you talked about the partisan bickering. Were the white lies in carrying out official duties or -- all of that needs to be worked out.

So I don't want to go too far --

BRIGGS: Yes.

WOLF: -- but it's certainly incredible when people are pleading guilty to things, like perjury, to admit that you've told white lies on behalf of the president.

ROMANS: All right.

Meanwhile, election 2020 has begun. The president has --

BRIGGS: It's here.

ROMANS: -- hired his guy, Brad Parscale, yesterday. Officially going to run -- he was the digital guy in the last campaign.

BRIGGS: Digital guru.

ROMANS: Eric Trump's wife, Lara Trump, a senior adviser to the campaign. Here we go. This president is ready for four more years.

WOLF: Right. Well, he was ready on the first day of his presidency --

ROMANS: That's right.

WOLF: -- for four more years, so don't get -- don't get too far ahead of ourselves there. He's a -- you know, he's been raising money. This is -- this is checking a box and moving forward and being

official, but this has been something that's been in the works for a good long while and we shouldn't expect, I think, that there's anything else going on.

BRIGGS: All right. Let's focus, then, on what's right in front of us and that is the possibility or lack thereof of anything approaching gun legislation. Here's Paul Ryan yesterday on that faint possibility.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We shouldn't be banning guns for law-abiding citizens. We should be focusing on making sure that citizens who should not get guns in the first place don't get those guns, and that is why we see a big breakdown in the system here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: There shouldn't be much question about what happens with the Republican-controlled House or Senate -- nothing. Maybe something on background checks.

The question really is as we approach 2018, do you think Democrats will coalesce around gun rights as a political issue or is that too hot for the Democratic Party, either?

WOLF: I -- you know, I think it's going to be a main issue for them and something that they will come back to. I don't think it will ever be the top issue.

As you said yourself earlier this morning, is it the single issue that people are going to vote on? I'm not sure that's the case. We've seen, you know, peaks and valleys of support for gun control after a shooting. If there's not a shooting for a little while it sort of gets it to the back --

[05:40:02] ROMANS: Yes.

WOLF: -- of people's minds and they're less interested.

And then, there's the issue of saying yes, I'm for gun control but what specifically about gun control are you for? There's like there's no panacea thing that will --

BRIGGS: Yes.

WOLF: -- solve this problem, so there's no really good excellent piece of legislation out there that I think, you know, people can take back to their voters.

ROMANS: I might be a Pollyanna, but I think when I look at other recent movements on climate change, on gay marriage, and other things it was energized young people and companies that actually started to --

BRIGGS: No question.

ROMANS: -- lead on that.

Maybe you see no leadership from Congress and you see the movement starting to come from outside and things change.

BRIGGS: It's still a wild card on the president, though, who has --

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- been all over the map.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: If he takes leadership on this issue, a possibility.

ROMANS: Zach, nice to see you. Oh, go -- finish up.

WOLF: Yes, thanks.

I was just going to say on climate change and gay marriage, Congress basically did nothing on either of those issues.

ROMANS: Right, right.

WOLF: So, yes --

ROMANS: Right, right.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: All right, thank you. Nice to see you.

WOLF: Thanks.

ROMANS: Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will make an emotional return to their classrooms this morning. They'll be on a modified half-day schedule the rest of the week.

Three victims from the massacre remain hospitalized in fair condition.

And we're learning the carnage could have been worse. The shooter still had more than half his ammunition remaining when he fled. Investigators telling CNN he may have tried to break a window to fire on students as they ran from the building but the hurricane-proof windows did not break.

Georgia Republicans sparring with Delta, vowing to block a tax break after it stopped discounting flights for NRA members. Now, Georgia State Senator Michael Williams is making this claim about Delta to CNN's Brianna Keilar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL WILLIAMS (R), GEORGIA STATE SENATOR: And if they're going to pull the discount for NRA members, why not pull it for Planned Parenthood or some of the left organizations out there?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: She pressed him for proof that Delta is offering discounts to Planned Parenthood. He told her he didn't know the source but they had seen it on Google.

A few problems here. There's no evidence this claim is true. Planned Parenthood doesn't have members and Planned Parenthood told CNN donations to the organization doesn't come with corporate perks or discounts.

Delta did not respond. It does offer corporate discounts to groups of 15 or more. Facing consumer pressure, Delta is one of a dozen companies ending discounts for NRA members.

The NRA calls this political cowardice. Delta claims it's just trying to be neutral in the gun debate.

But, boy, if you look on social media you can see everything from Apple to -- what else -- FedEx and a lot of other companies are coming under scrutiny here from consumers who want them to end their relationships with the NRA.

BRIGGS: And that lieutenant governor of Georgia, he made clear that the NRA is for conservatives. I don't know if they liked that because now they become truly a political organization.

Ahead, the FBI lab now looking at a letter sent to a Virginia military base where 11 people got sick after the letter was opened. What investigators know and what they don't.

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[05:47:08] BRIGGS: The FBI is investigating a suspicious letter sent to a military base in Virginia. Officials say 11 people got sick after the letter was opened at Joint Base Fort Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington. Three people were taken to the hospital and are in stable condition.

Law enforcement officials say field tests for the letter came back negative for any harmful substance.

Officials say the letter contained derogatory language. At times, it was unintelligible. It was addressed to a commanding officer at the base. Investigators are looking into what relationship if any the sender had with the base.

ROMANS: Housing and Urban Development Sec. Ben Carson and his family under scrutiny after $31,000 was spent last year to replace an office dining room set. That revelation follows a CNN report about a top HUD employee who says she was pressured to find funds beyond the $5,000 legal limit to renovate Carson's office.

BRIGGS: Helen Foster alleges she was demoted after pushing back on that request. She claims she was told Carson's wife, Candy, was behind it.

A department official at HUD is disputing whether the dining room table is subject to the $5,000 limit since it was unrepairable, and says the decision to replace it was made by career staffers in charge of the building.

Candy Carson did not respond to CNN requests for comment.

ROMANS: A Housing voucher, by the way, is $2,000 a month, so put that in perspective.

BRIGGS: Max.

ROMANS: Max, $2,000 a month for Housing vouchers, so you can put that into perspective.

BRIGGS: You can -- you can house someone from anywhere from 15 months to --

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: -- two years for that $31,000 dining room table.

ROMANS: And he's cutting --

BRIGGS: Those are some bad optics.

ROMANS: They really are. All right.

A federal judge who was attacked -- once attacked by the president for his Mexican heritage -- he has now handed down a ruling that could pave the way for Mr. Trump's border wall. U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel deciding the administration does have the authority to waive certain environmental laws to begin construction.

Judge Curiel pointing out he ignored politics in reaching his decision. He writes, "In its review of this case, the court cannot and does not consider whether underlying decisions to construction the border barriers are politically wise or prudent."

BRIGGS: The president came under criticism in June of 2016 when he said Judge Curiel, who was born in Indiana, was biased against him because of Curiel's Mexican heritage.

Mr. Trump, in a tweet last night, writing, "U.S. judge sided with the Trump administration. Now, this important project can go forward."

In reality, Judge Curiel's 100-page order does not mean construction of the wall will yet begin, but Congress first has to authorize or provide funding.

ROMANS: A battle escalating between Oakland's mayor and immigration officials. Federal agents have arrested more than 150 people in Northern California since Sunday.

The day before operations began, the Oakland mayor, Libby Schaaf, warned the public. She said she was warning them to protect residents. Oakland is a sanctuary city with a policy of not coordinating with federal immigration officials.

The ICE deputy director criticized that mayor. He described it as a reckless decision that increased the risk for his officers. Mayor Schaaf says she doesn't regret it.

[05:50:06] All right. Papa John's breaking up with the NFL, ending an 8-year sponsorship with the league. Details in "CNN Money," next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Right now, a royal first. Meghan Markle making her working debut alongside fiance Prince Harry, as well as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

CNN's Anna Stewart live in London with all the details. Fill us in.

ANNA STEWART, CNN JOURNALIST: Well, they are all on stage right now speaking at the inaugural Royal Foundation event here in London, and they're talking about some of their royal initiatives.

[05:55:03] Now, these royals have taken a really different approach to charities compared to some of the older royals. Rather than just lend out their name and become a sort of patriot of the charity, they've actually brought a lot of charities under the thought (ph) of their own foundation and they play a really active role.

So, they have Prince William here speaking -- opening this event up. And then, we will have all four of them on stage to answer questions from the "BBC" presenter.

Now, this is sort of the first time that we have seen Meghan Markle with the Duchess of Cambridge. We saw them stepping out in Sandringham over Christmas, but it will be fantastic to see the chemistry these girls now have.

They're not just going to be sister-in-laws (sic), they're neighbors. They both live in Kensington Palace in the flat -- some cottages next to each other. And soon, they will be proper sort of work buddies because as of May when Meghan marries Prince Harry, she will become the fourth patron of the Royal Foundation -- Christine.

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

BRIGGS: May 19th, your life will shut down, I think.

ROMANS: You know, but I --

BRIGGS: Turn everything off.

ROMANS: I don't have an invitation yet, actually. The invitation has -- just must be lost in the mail.

BRIGGS: There's still some time. You're on the "B" list. Meanwhile, a sixth grader getting credit for bringing an end to the West Virginia teachers' strike. After a cooling off period today, teachers return tomorrow following a 5-day walkout. Governor Jim Justice announcing a five percent raise for school employees in the first year as long as lawmakers approve.

The governor said he decided on the larger pay hike after that conversation with a sixth grader.

ROMANS: That's right. Gideon Titus-Glover, whose mom is a teacher, asked why funds were being spent on tourism -- extra money on tourism. The governor talked about return on investment. Gideon asked the governor wouldn't it be an investment to invest in smart teachers? Smart kid.

The issue of insurance still unresolved and that's going to require a task force.

BRIGGS: The Rev. Billy Graham will lie in honor today and tomorrow at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. Graham is only the fourth private citizen to lie in honor -- similar to lying in state -- in recognition of his contributions to the nation.

President Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be among the speakers at a service for the world- renown evangelist who died last week at 99. Graham's funeral will be held in Charlotte, Friday.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on "CNN Money" this morning.

Interest rate fears are back. Global stocks lower after a sell-off on Wall Street. The Dow down 300 points, its first drop in four days. Nasdaq and S&P 500 down more than one percent.

The new Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell, he said he's optimistic about the U.S. economy, so why in the world would the Dow fall 300 points if the big Fed guy is happy? Well, investors worry that means faster interest rate hikes are on the way. The Fed plans three rate hikes this year.

Amazon already owns your doorstep. Now it wants to secure inside your house.

The company is buying home security company Ring. It makes security cameras and Internet-connected doorbells. That will pair nicely with Amazon Key, a smart door lock that allows Amazon to drop packages inside people's houses.

Amazon did not disclose how much it's paying or any other details of that deal.

Papa John's is breaking up with the NFL, ending an 8-year relationship with the league. Last year, then-CEO John Schnatter blamed slumping pizza sales on the NFL -- specifically, how the league handled player protests.

His comments sparked criticism, forcing Papa John's to apologize. He left the company at the end of the year.

Papa John's says the decision to cut ties with the league was mutual. It will keep partnerships with 22 individual teams. And that story makes me hungry.

BRIGGS: Yes, always. They say they'll have a new sponsor by 2018.

It's hard to ignore, right? I mean, I initially criticized him for that assessment but look, ratings are down. They're down, in part, because of national protests -- the National Anthem protests.

ROMANS: Do you think so?

BRIGGS: Oh, no question about that. People will tell you --

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- online, according to polls, that they're watching less, in part, because of those protests. That means less reminders to go get pizza.

ROMANS: All right.

BRIGGS: Just saying, who knows?

ROMANS: Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

"NEW DAY" starts right now. Alisyn Camerota live from Parkland, Florida where students return to Douglas High School.

Have a great day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to do with Russia. I have no deals there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Investigators for Robert Mueller for have been asking about business activities of Donald Trump in Russia prior to the 2016 campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a president who could be incredibly compromised.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just because they are asking doesn't mean they have evidence of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact he's been downgraded suggests that he really is not in a position to continue the significant role in this White House.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's a valued member of the team and he will continue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're getting this blurring of behavior in his private and public roles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to take it as it comes along every single day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to feel the presence of emptiness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're more connected than ever. I don't think anything is ever going to change this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your new day. It is Wednesday, February 28th, 6:00 here on the east coast.

I am in New York; Alisyn is back in Parkland, Florida. A very important day there. We're going to check in in one second, but here's our "Starting Line."

We've had several major Russia revelations rocking the West Wing. CNN has learned special counsel Bob Mueller's team is investigating President Trump's business dealings with Russia.