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Hope Hicks Resigns; NRA Pushes Back; Trump Calls Sessions Disgraceful. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 1, 2018 - 04:30   ET


[04:30:14] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If she stepped down, it should be only a short time before he does as well.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A chaotic, crazy 48 hours at the White House punctuated by this. Hope Hicks stepping down, leaving the president without one of his most trusted aides.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Now pressure ramping up on Jared Kushner. A new report says big loans went to his family business after he met with those lenders at the White House.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Take the guns first. Go through due process second.



BRIGGS: Wow, due process second. President Trump leaving Republicans and the NRA stunned. He appeared to back Democratic favored gun measures. Now several big companies are trying to take the lead on gun violence. Seated there to the president's left, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein. Who thought he'd come out to the left of her on guns?

ROMANS: Yes, that was something. But does he mean it? Is that Tuesday Trump and then he changes by -- you know --

BRIGGS: Yes. Is this immigration?

ROMANS: Tuesday Thursday.

BRIGGS: Tuesday versus Thursday Trump?

Welcome back, I am Thursday Dave Briggs. Not sure what that means exactly.

ROMANS: I am pre-Friday Christine Romans. BRIGGS: OK, there we go.

ROMANS: It is 31 minutes past the hour.

The president, who values loyalty above all, is now without one of his most loyal aides. White House Communications Director Hope Hicks is resigning. The long time Trump staffer set to depart in the coming weeks. I mean she has been there right there at the core for three years now in that amazing election and the first year of this presidency. Her decision comes just a day after Hicks admits she told what she called white lies to protect the president.

BRIGGS: A White House official says there is, quote, nothing nefarious about Hicks leaving. The president calling her outstanding, a great person whom he will miss. But an ally close to President Trump tells CNN, the president berated Hicks after her testimony to Congress Tuesday. A tearful Hicks announced her departure to the White House communications team saying she felt like now is the right time to go.

ROMANS: One of Hicks' close confidants tell us, quote, the last few weeks were really, really hard for her. The friend says Hicks started thinking seriously about resigning when the Rob Porter spousal abuse scandal erupted. Of course, Hicks and Porter were romantically involved.

BRIGGS: For those keeping score, this is four White House communications directors, plus one who took the job but never served, in just over a year.

For the latest, we go to CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the headlines of today's newspapers, White House Communications Director Hope Hicks leaving the White House. Certainly going to be stirring more concern here today in the West Wing. Of all the resignations here from staff members to even members of the cabinet and others, few have hit home like this to the president like Hope Hicks. She's one of his closest advisers. She has, in fact, been with him longer than nearly anyone here at the White House, since before he even decided to run for presidents.

Now, she decided on Wednesday to leave the White House. She said she'll be leaving in the coming weeks. She said she wants to pursue other opportunities outside the administration. But it certainly raises questions of why. Why the timing of now? Of course, she made her decision one day after testifying for some eight hours before the House Intelligence Committee and only about two months after she testified and took questions from the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe. There's no sign at all that she is a target of the investigation. There's no sign that she is more than just a witness in this case. But, of course, she has such proximity to President Trump.

So the resignation of Hope Hicks certainly one of the bigger bombshells here in a year in some months of staffing shake-ups here at the White House. The bigger question going forward, what will President Trump do without his close right-hand adviser? She, of course, sat right outside the Oval Office. Really was a -- not a political expert, she would say, but a Trump expert. So certainly, going forward, that is the question, what will President Trump do without his right hand, Hope Hicks?

Christine and Dave.

ROMANS: Yes, a lot of folks say you can't overstate how important she is to the president's, you know, the president's daily life.

All right, another damaging report this morning concerning Jared Kushner. "The New York Times" reporting his family's real estate business secured substantial loans after Kushner held meetings at the White House with lenders. Those loans include one for $184 million from Apollo Global Management after the company founder went to the White House to discuss infrastructure.

BRIGGS: Another loan for $325 million from Citigroup came shortly after a White House meeting between Kushner and Citigroup's CEO. Kushner stepped down as CEO of Kushner Companies when he started at the White House, but "The Times" reports he has retained a vast majority of his interest in the firm. Kushner's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, told "The Times" he has taken no part of any Kushner Company's business since he joined the White House. This is why White House visitor logs should be public.

[04:35:07] ROMANS: All right, the battle lines between Jared Kushner and the chief of staff, John Kelly, appear to be even more entrenched after Kushner's security clearance was downgraded. A source says Kushner remains exasperated by Kelly's decision, openly asking whether others in the West Wing, why is Kelly doing this, and feeling that everyone is out to get him. Now "The Wall Street Journal" is questioning whether Kushner and First Daughter Ivanka Trump should have positions in the White House at all.

BRIGGS: "The Journal," on its typically conservative editorial page, is suggesting they could serve the president better from the outside. Quote, Mr. Trump's second year could determine his president fate as Mr. Mueller's probe rolls on and midterm elections give Democrats a chance to take the House and impeach him. Mr. Trump needs the discipline that Mr. Kelly has imposed. Mr. Kushner and Ivanka have to decide if they'd serve themselves and the president better by walking away from their formal White House roles.

ROMANS: Democrats are cautiously optimistic, Republicans astounded after a fascinating, fascinating meeting between President Trump and lawmakers on guns. This was remarkable to watch. The president pushing to raise the legal age to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21. NRA leaders who had lunch with the president last weekend, directly appealed for him not to do that, not to raise the age.

BRIGGS: The president also rejecting an idea from the Republican Congressman Steve Scalise, who was shot and badly wounded last year. Scalise has called for a pro-concealed carry measure in a broader gun control plan.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you're going to put concealed carry between states into this bill, we're talking about a whole new ball game. And, you know, I'm with you, but let it be a separate bill. You'll never get this passed.


TRUMP: If you add concealed carry to this, you'll never get it passed.


ROMANS: The president did not hesitate to call out lawmakers who have shown no appetite for tighter gun control laws. Listen -- listen to this exchange.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of you people are petrified of the NRA. You can't be petrified.

In your bill, what are you doing about the 18 to 21?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't address it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't change that.

TRUMP: OK. Are you going to leave that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't address it, Mr. President. Look, I think we --

TRUMP: You know why? Because you're afraid of the NRA, right?


BRIGGS: Afterward, the NRA released a statement saying in part, while today's meeting made for great TV -- we'll talk about these companies later -- now to the statement that gun control proposals discussed would make for bad policy, that would not keep our children safe. The White House is expected to release its school safety proposals today or tomorrow.

More now from Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, Christine and Dave, surreal. That was the word used by Senator John Cornyn, the second ranking Republican, who sat in the meeting in the White House more than an hour long. And, frankly, it's the best word probably to describe what everyone was thinking after they walked out of that meeting. A meeting in which the Republican president, a president backed by the NRA throughout the campaign and who's repeatedly said how much he loves the National Rifle Association and Republicans' viewpoints and ideological (INAUDIBLE) when it comes to guns, sided more with Democrats on the policy issues than the Republicans sitting around the table. It raised very real questions as to where he actually stands on the gun debate.

If you talk to Democrats, obviously they were very pleased where the president ended up during that meeting. But they don't also have a lot of confidence that he's going to stay there. What you hear a lot is, is it Tuesday Trump or was it Thursday Trump? Now, what is that referring to? Immigration. If you remember, the president had a wide ranging meeting where he seemed agreeable to just about everything on a Tuesday when it came to immigration. Just 48 hours later, he had retracted just about everything he said. That immigration issue, DACA, that still hasn't moved anywhere on Capitol Hill. Democrats a little bit skeptical that this might actually be the same thing.

Now, where are Republicans on this? Furious. I can say that after talking to multiple aides who were involved in this process and several of the lawmakers as well. Why are they furious? Well, a number of different reasons. But most notably, this. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Take the firearms first and then go to court, because that's another system, because a lot of times by the time you go to court, it takes so long to go to court to get the due process procedures. Take the guns first. Go through due process second.


MATTINGLY: Now, guys, just to put what you just heard in perspective, imagine President Obama saying due process didn't matter. Take the guns first. That's what Republicans are saying at this point right now and that's why they're frustrated about the direction everything has gone.

Christine and Dave.

ROMANS: Can you imagine, Phil Mattingly, if the previous administration had said such a thing? OMG!


ROMANS: That's a technical term.

Two of the nation's leading gun sellers are limiting sales and they're right in the middle now of this gun debate.

Walmart will no longer sell guns to anyone under 21 years old. Recent events -- quote, recent events inspired that change. The company said its heritage has been serving sportsmen and hunters. It will continue to do so in a responsible way.

[04:40:03] This announcement came just hours after Dick's Sporting Goods raised its age of sale to 21. Dick's will also stop selling assault style rifles. It had been phasing them out in the Dick's stores since Sandy Hook, frankly.

And, you know, that Parkland shooting featured one of those, you know, modern sporting -- sporting rifles, although it was not purchased at Dick's.

Since that Parkland shooting, students and consumers have pressured companies to cut ties with the gun industry, forcing many brands off the sidelines.

Here's the Dick's CEO yesterday.


EDWARD W. STACK, CEO, DICK'S SPORTING GOODS: We concluded that if these kids are brave enough to organize and do what they're doing, then we should be brave enough to take this stand.


ROMANS: Meanwhile, more than a dozen businesses have cut NRA ties from insurance companies to car rental. There will be no more NRA branded credit card, airlines.

You know, corporate activism can be good for business. Which has some questioning motives. Consumers love companies that take a stand, right, especially young consumers. And as this "New York Times" op-ed says, people may prefer that their brands prove this love by identifying with favored social causes rather than through the old fashion expedient of paying their workers a little bit more money. So there is a cynical business view out there that these companies have really run the numbers and know they want to be on the right side of history and right side of a life-long brand affiliation of young consumers.

BRIGGS: So Ed Stack doesn't make this decision in a bubble. He has to sit down with the entire boardroom. How are these decisions made in your --

ROMANS: They had already -- they probably had -- they run the numbers. They look at what the short term loss could be because of this, what the short term publicity could be because of this. There will be some people who hate it. There will be others who love it. There will be new customers and they'll lose some customers. But, longer term, where do they see this? Where do they want to be on the side of history.

You know, Delta Airlines, interesting news.

BRIGGS: Oh, boy.

ROMANS: It's been in this debate. FedEx is in this debate. Now Walmart, which is -- it doesn't break out its gun sales, but you can assume that Walmart is the biggest seller of guns in America because it's the bigger seller of everything in America, raising the age to 21. That is a big deal. Kids and companies are the leaders on this debate now. Congress, the president, I don't know what they're going to contribute, to be quite honest. I don't --

BRIGGS: Following big business.

ROMANS: Yes. BRIGGS: It's extraordinary.

ROMANS: Kids and business.

All right.

BRIGGS: Ahead, the teachers strike in West Virginia is not ending today as planned. Why all public schools across the state remain closed, next.


[04:46:34] BRIGGS: It's 4:46 Eastern Time.

And another big story from "The Washington Post." Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigating a period of time last summer when President Trump appeared to be trying to drive Attorney General Jeff Sessions to quit. Mr. Trump publically attacking Sessions in July of 2017, describing him as beleaguered, very weak and disappointing. Mueller's team reportedly questioning witnesses about the president's state of mind to determine whether he was trying to force Sessions out to undermine the Russia investigation.

ROMANS: "The Post" also reporting Mr. Trump has been referring to the attorney general behind the scenes as Mr. Magoo. A new attack yesterday with the president now calling the attorney general disgraceful. This time Sessions is responding forcefully.

Here's CNN's Laura Jarrett.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at long last, after months of public attacks by the president and too many tweets to count, the attorney general finally hit back. The rare statement from Jeff Sessions just hours after the president essentially called him a disgrace and took a shot at the inspector general, the internal watchdog at the Department of Justice.

Sessions said, in part, as long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.

Now, the backdrop to all of this drama is that on Tuesday, Sessions had told reporters that the inspector general would deal with the allegations outlined in the House Intelligence Committee, the Republican memo. The so-called Nunes controversial memo outlining purported surveillance abuses by the FBI surveilling Carter Page, the former Trump associate, and he said he would make sure that the inspector general made sure that the process was carried out appropriately. But clearly that wasn't good enough for the president, who took direct aim at the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, as a so-called Obama guy.

But the real question now is, what does this statement from the attorney general mean for his future at the department and whether it will have any effect on how the president treats him. Dave. Christine.

BRIGGS: Laura Jarrett, thank you.

The president and his attorney general may be in the same room later today. That is if the president puts in an appearance at a White House opioid summit. Definitely set to attend, Attorney General Sessions, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson, and the new HHS secretary, Alex Azar, along with Melania Trump. This week, the Justice Department announced a new opioid task force. It will target legal manufacturers and distributors of opioids who Sessions says are driving the epidemic.

ROMANS: You cannot imagine the profits they have made while America has just devolved into this crisis.

The House Oversight Committee requesting all documents relating to the redecorating of HUD Secretary Ben Carson's office and the department's handling of a whistleblower. Chairman Trey Gowdy setting a March 14th deadline to receive the documents. HUD spent $31,000 on a new dining room set for Carson's office. $31,000. CNN also reporting a top HUD employee says she was pressured to find the funds beyond the legal $5,000 limit and she was demoted when she pushed back. Carson and his wife Candy tweeted last night that there has been no dishonesty or wrongdoing.

BRIGGS: And an abrupt shift. The -- all public schools remain closed in West Virginia today. Governor Jim Justice and union leaders had announced a deal to end the teacher's strike. The deal had been subject to approval by legislatures, but thousands of school employees and their supporters returned to the capitol demanding immediate action on health insurance and a proposed pay increase. Today marks the sixth day of the walkout.

[04:50:20] ROMANS: Dalton High School in northern Georgia closed today after a teacher barricaded himself in a classroom and fired a gun out a window. A teacher. Randall Davidson charged with aggravating assault and terrorist threats. Police say the 53-year-old social studies teacher refused to let students into his classroom Wednesday morning. And when the principal tried to enter the room with a key, Davidson fired a handgun, sending the school into lockdown. The teacher eventually surrendered. No one was injured, except a female student who was hurt her ankle while running.

Jury selection begins today in Orlando for the trial of Noor Salman, the widow of Pulse Nightclub shooter Omar Mateen. Prosecutors allege Salman knew about her husband's plans for the 2016 attack. An attack that killed 49 people and wounded dozens more. She is charged with obstruction of justice and proving material support to a terrorist organization. Mateen had declared his allegiance to ISIS. The trial will take place just two miles from the Pulse Nightclub.

BRIGGS: OK, meet Chicago's cannabis candidate. Benjamin Thomas Wolf, a former FBI agent and current college professor, is challenging incumbent Mike Quigley in the Democratic primary for Illinois Fifth Congressional District. Wolf's campaign ad, shot in his apartment, features him smoking a joint in front of an image of the American flag. He says he wants people in favor of legalizing pot to know he hears them. Wolf admits he's taking a risk in his attempt to connect with voters. He believes legalizing marijuana would reform the criminal justice system and bring in billions in tax revenue.

ROMANS: And get him some exposure on national television.

BRIGGS: Touche. It works.

ROMANS: All right, another down day on Wall Street, a fitting end for the worst month in two years. God, February was just so crazy and rough. We'll tell you what's next.


[04:56:25] BRIGGS: Well, the club of former Trump communications directors is adding another member. Hope Hicks resigning and late night comics took some parting shots.


SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS": According to "The New York Times," White House Communications Director Hope Hicks told the White House Intelligence Committee yesterday that she has occasionally had to tell white lies. White lies. Or as Melania calls them, vows.

CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": And White House Communications Director Hope Hicks reportedly admitted to investigators that she told some white lies on behalf of President Trump. Yes. Yes. Then Hicks admitted that that was a white lie and in fact she actually makes up (EXPLETIVE DELETED) all the time.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": She did acknowledge that she sometimes tells white lies for Trump. Well, duh! Telling lies to white people is what got Trump elected.


ROMANS: I knew that was coming. I knew that was coming.

BRIGGS: But it's interesting, right, because the reporting is that the president was furious at that. Even though he's told, according to "The Washington Post" more than 2,100 false or misleading statements in just over a year, he was angered that she admitted to telling a white lie.

ROMANS: Right. No, this is -- and this is somebody who -- one of the things about Hope Hicks that many people accredit her with is being able to manage through Trump's outbursts when he gets angry, you know, that she always manages to manage him and other people around him.

BRIGGS: Now it's someone else's job.

ROMANS: Anyway, Trump without Hope.

Let's get a check on CNN Money this morning.

Global stocks falling overnight after another down day on Wall Street. The Dow down 380 points. That's about 1.5 percent. The S&P losing about 1.1 percent.

It's a fitting end for both -- both averages. The worst month in two years. The worst month in two years. February was a wild one on Wall Street. Inflation fears sparked a market selloff, including two 1,000 point plunges on the Dow in one week. Quickly followed by its best week in five years. You know, a snap back. Inflation worries are here to stay. The concern to combat information, the Federal Reserve will raise interest rate father than planned. So look for any kind of inflation and interest rate guessing to really move stocks in the weeks and months ahead.

Spotify is going public, but its initial public offering is not like other IPOs. Spotify plans a direct listing, meaning it will sell shares directly to investors. It won't hire a Wall Street bank to underwrite the stock offering. That will save Spotify hundreds of millions in fees. But underwriters provide price stability for a new stock. So Spotify warns it may have a volatile start. Spotify is the biggest music streaming company in the world, 159 million monthly users.

Hash tag time's up for the gender pay gap, at least in some work places. According to a recent survey of HR execs, 48 percent of companies are reviewing their pay policies. Why? To close the gap between male and female employees. The survey was inspired by the hash tag Me Too movement and the call for women's equality in the workplace. On average, women earn about 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. The gap is even wider for women of color.

And what I've been hearing from some people in their -- people in leadership teams on some of these companies is, they're worried about a worker shortage, a good worker shortage, and they feel like if they don't have and can't prove that they have equal pay, they can keep the best talent better.

BRIGGS: So we're seeing this going to improve here ahead?

ROMANS: Well, I have --

BRIGGS: I mean we hope. You've been saying that for a while but --

ROMANS: I've been saying it for 20 years.

BRIGGS: You have. You have. You've been on it.

ROMANS: And we're still at 80 cents on the dollar. So we'll see if it works.

BRIGGS: All right, EARLY START continues right now as we try and recap an insane last insane 24 hours at the White House.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If she stepped down, it should be only a short time before he does as well.


[05:00:01] BRIGGS: I don't know about that exactly. But a chaotic 48 hours at the White House, punctuated by this, Hope Hicks stepping down, leaving the president without one of his most trusted aides.