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EARLY START

Trump Calls On Congress To Probe Wiretapping; White House Aides Struggle To Defend Claim; Travel Ban To Be Released As Soon As Today; U.S. "Strongly Condemns" North Korea Missile Tests. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 6, 2017 - 05:00   ET

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


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The FBI seeking the denial because Mr. Trump's claim implies the bureau may have broken the law by obeying President Obama's order. So far, no comment from the Justice Department.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump now asking Congress to investigate the wiretapping claim, a claim he made with no evidence. It is getting a mixed response. House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes saying his committee will look into the matter but as part of its broader probe on Russian campaign meddling.

But other Republicans now pushing back against the president's wiretapping claim and former National Intelligence Chief James Clapper telling NBC it simply did not happen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time or as a candidate or against his campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the FBI, for instance, had a FISA court order of some sort for a surveillance, would that be information you would know or not?

CLAPPER: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You would be told this.

CLAPPER: I would know that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If there was a FISA court order on something like this?

CLAPPER: Yes, something like this, absolutely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: More now from White House correspondent, Athena Jones. She is covering the president for us in West Palm Beach, Florida.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave. The president spent the weekend here in Florida. It was his fourth trip to his Mar-a-Lago estate since taking office, but it was a series of tweets launched before sunrise on Saturday morning that dominated the headlines.

In those tweets, President Trump without offering evidence accused President Obama of having his, quote, "wires tapped in Trump Tower." Those explosive allegations prompting a vigorous denial from President Obama and repeated calls for President Trump to provide evidence to back up his claims.

Rather than providing that evidence, the White House is calling on congressional intelligence committees that are investigating the Russian activity and ties between Trump aides and Russian officials.

Those committees are asked to look into, quote, "whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016." Now Democrats and Republicans are asking what the President is basing his accusations on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I'm not sure what it is he is talking about. Perhaps the president has information not yet able to us or the public. If it is true, obviously we will find out very quickly. If it isn't, then obviously he will have to explain what he meant by it.

SENATOR SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: The president has called for congressional investigations into the allegations that he made starting yesterday morning. So I would expect that he is going to want to provide our committee with any evidence that he has.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: So there you have a Republican saying she expects the president to provide evidence backing up his claims if there is any. This comes as we learn late Sunday night that the FBI asked the Justice Department on Saturday to refute the president's assertion that President Obama had ordered wiretapping would be illegal -- Christine, Dave.

ROMANS: All right, Athena Jones for us in West Palm Beach. Thank you so much. Let's discuss this with senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter, the host of CNN "RELIABLE SOURCES," and political economist, Greg Valliere, chief strategist for Horizon Investments in Washington. Thanks both of you.

Let me start with you, Brian. Walk me through the evidence trail here of where the president got this idea. We are talking about a website on a radio show and then another website and in the president's brain and then on Twitter, right?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: This seems to start on Thursday. There's been this idea for a while that President Obama is doing whatever he can do to undermine new President Trump.

Mark Levin, the conservative radio talk show host, took this to a new level last Thursday by saying there was a silent coup underway. Obama and his aides trying to take down Trump and he presented a chronology of events using some news stories to back him up.

Then Friday, Rush Limbaugh picks up on this idea, and Breitbart, the website, you know, recently run by now Trump's chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Breitbart published a story about this idea and it was circulated in the west wing.

According to our own CNN Jeff Zeleny, this article infuriated President Trump. By Saturday morning, we saw him tweet about this theory. He said he had just found about this theory and shared it on Twitter.

So the best evidence -- all the evidence shows that this was coming from Mark Levin and Breitbart. And by the way, in some ways, they have succeeded. They have created a whole new storyline for Trump loyalists to say this is all Obama's fault.

BRIGGS: Of course, this is a President who constantly derides media reports using anonymous sources. This man based on a media report based on anonymous sources. But Greg, it is one thing how big a story this is if it is true. What about if it is false? How big a story is it if in fact none of this is true?

GREG VALLIERE, CHIEF STRATEGIST, HORIZON INVESTMENTS: I'm not sure it damages him all that much with his base. His base is in a different universe. He can make a case, guys, that the Obama administration intelligence community is out to get him. I think you may not believe it, but that is a case that he can make.

[05:05:03]Frankly, I think the bigger problem for him is that this is still another distraction. We are getting into spring now. We have to start talking about Obamacare and tax reform and all of these issues that he wants to get done. He keeps stepping on his message and all of these big issues keep getting moved to the back burner.

ROMANS: Greg, I'm so glad you bring that up because in a way, his team saying look at what we accomplished. We are doing more to transform the economy. President Trump himself is the one who changed the story line this weekend.

We would be talking today about the Sessions stuff could have petered out eventually. Maybe a little Kate McKinnon on SNL maybe for 2 seconds on TV or 15 seconds on TV. The president himself has stepped on that message.

VALLIERE: Yes, and Christine, today we would be talking about the new immigration rules and Obamacare fight reaching a crescendo in the House in the next week or two, but all of these issues are now being obscured by such incendiary charges that he made over the weekend.

ROMANS: To be fair, we are trying to talk about those things too. We really are trying to show, but these things matter to people and business.

BRIGGS: And to be fair, former Bush attorney general says he thinks he is right that there was surveillance conducted at the behest of the attorney general, not of President Obama. Who is speaking for the president in terms of showing the evidence where this came from?

STELTER: President Trump is the de-classifier-in-chief. If he had wanted to provide this over the weekend, he could have. Instead, Sean Spicer says there will be no comment from the White House. That is not quite true.

Last night some of his aides were tweeting about this, criticizing the media. But I think you mentioned earlier, Spicer will not be having an on-camera briefing today. We won't see him answer questions from reporters.

He will take questions off camera. Not the same effect. Not the same impact. I wonder if he is trying to avoid having to address this on camera.

ROMANS: The last on-camera White House response we basically have is Sara Huckabee Sanders. This is how she responded on ABC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPARTMENT PRESS SECRETARY: Let's look into this, if this happened, if this is accurate, this is the biggest over reach --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States is accusing the former president of wiretapping him.

SANDERS: I think that this is again something that -- if this happened, Martha --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If, if, if.

SANDERS: I agree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is the president saying it did happen?

SANDERS: Look, I think he is going off information that he is saying that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: If I had a dollar for every time I heard somebody say the president believes this to be true or some iteration of that. When you are the leader of the free world and potentially have to lead the world in some kind of international crisis, how do you trust the president's information?

STELTER: David Farenthold (ph) says the president has the ability to be the most informed person in the world. He has the intelligences agencies at his disposal, the FBI and NSA and State Department, et cetera.

When President Trump instead turns to Breitbart or Mark Levin's radio show or other sources, frankly, any media sources, even the most credible media sources rather than his government information, it certainly leaves a lot of people confused and caused this weekend of chaos.

You have "The Washington Post" saying 17 sources are describing the president who's besieged, seething at the cable news coverage. That's the story the president is waking up to today about the disarray in his White House once again caused by his own tweets.

BRIGGS: Greg, we have three senators on the Intelligence Committee saying there is no evidence. What is President Trump's next move? Does it has to be the Department of Justice confirming some source of wiretapping?

VALLIERE: Well, we got to see what Comey does. We got to see the Justice Department, but you make a good point about Republicans. I think one of the key stories is how many start to defect? Not just Lindsey Graham and John McCain, but a lot more like Marco Rubio start to feel this guy is becoming a political liability. We are not there yet, but I do think that is going to become the next big story?

ROMANS: Greg, Obamacare, we are looking for some sort of overhaul this week. Can the president and Paul Ryan hold the conservatives together? That is the other big story.

VALLIERE: Well, he needs to inject himself into this debate. It could stall out in the House despite the efforts of Paul Ryan. A lot of conservatives don't like these refundable tax credits. I think Trump himself has to get involved. Does he have that time?

Now we are hearing stories who goes next? Does Priebus go? Does Spicer go? There is all this intrigue within the White House. I think that will preclude Trump from playing a really big role on health reform.

STELTER: And Trump personality, at the end of the day, this is about personality. This is about a 70-year-old guy who seems to be under attack from all sides who is paranoid about all of this and frustrated by the leaks. All of that must be overwhelming and it is affecting his aides like Reince Priebus.

[05:10:05]ROMANS: Interesting. You cannot afford another defection now, big palace shuffling. All right, guys, come back in about 20 minutes. We'll talk about it more. Thanks.

BRIGGS: All right, is today the day we finally see the new travel ban from the White House? Signs point to yes. We are live in Washington with what it all means next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: The White House possibly getting a chance to change the narrative today as aides prepare to announce President Trump's new travel ban. We've had false starts on this before, but we are told it is coming as early as today.

The order was delayed last week in an effort to keep the focus on good press for the president's address to Congress. So far, we are hearing the president will rescind his previous executive order and replace it with this new substantially revised order.

CNN justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, has more from Washington this Monday morning. Laura, what are your hearing? Is there an update on timing and how will the version of the EO as they are known be different from the first?

[05:15:02]LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Christine, we expect to see the new executive order as early as today and the most significant change we expect to see is that the green card holders and those with existing visas will be excluded from the travel ban.

So very different from last time. But we've also heard that several top members of the president's cabinet wanted Iraq removed from the list of previously banned countries. That is something to watch for as well.

And finally, Christine, we expect to see the old executive order officially revoked as you say. Despite the fact that we heard top men in the administration previously about keeping the old one on some sort of dual track with the new one.

BRIGGS: Of course, the heart of all of this, Laura, how will the delays we've seen for the new order undermine the government's rational that it was imperative to national security?

JARRETT: It's going to be really interesting to watch how this narrative plays out in court, Dave, because to the extent the administration took over a month to rewrite the travel ban, to comply with a court order, no judge would blame them for that. They're trying to get it right.

But if in fact they delayed this rollout for some political reason connected to the speech or otherwise, then that could come back to bite them the minute the government lawyers starts using words like emergency in court again.

ROMANS: And there are various lawsuits frankly out there regarding the first executive order. Where do those lawsuits stand right now, Laura?

JARRETT: Well, lawyers at the Justice Department had tried hard in these intervening weeks to get the active cases put on hold while they were reworking this executive order. Several judges said no and those are barreling ahead.

So the question now is what happens when the new executive order comes down? Do these lawsuits start over again from scratch or do immigration lawyers try to argue that this ban is just like the old one and it should be presented again -- Christine, Dave.

BRIGGS: Thank you, Laura.

ROMANS: Fun is not the word I was going for. Ahead of that executive order on travel, the Trump administration taking action on worker visas. Starting April 3rd, the government will suspend expedited processing of H1B visas. These are visas that are designed to help high-skilled foreign workers stay at U.S. companies or come to U.S. companies.

Under the current system, companies submitting applications for potential employees can pay extra for expedited processing. The fee is $1,200. It is refunded if Immigration Services does not respond within 15 days.

Processing time for normal applications is 3 to 6 months. So this is an important tool for companies that need to fill positions quickly. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service Office says it's making the move to clear a long backlog of the applications with extension request.

President Trump has accused companies, though, of abusing this program as a way to hire foreign workers to take jobs away from Americans at lower salaries.

BRIGGS: North Korea launching a new series of ballistic missile tests. Global condemnation pouring in quickly overnight. We are live in Seoul next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:22:13]

BRIGGS: The United States strongly condemning the latest ballistic missile launch by North Korea. The State Department warning the U.S. will defend itself and its allies, and its prepared to use the full range of capabilities at its disposal against what it calls a growing threat. The North Koreans test firing four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan last night. Three of them landing within 200 miles of Japan's coast.

Let's get the latest from CNN's Paula Hancocks live in Seoul, South Korea this morning. Good morning to you. Important distinction just how this launch differs from those we've seen in the recent past.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave, what we know from these four missiles this morning, according to the U.S. and South Korea is they went about 600 miles in distance. They also went as high as 160 miles plus. So that just shows the range is much further.

According to one U.S. official saying that they believed initial reports suggest this is an intermediate missile. We have not had confirmation of that yet.

Obviously Washington and Seoul and Tokyo poring over that U.S. satellite data to try and find out exactly what North Korea fired this morning. We have seen this kind of range before. Not recently.

We have seen some relative restraint from North Korea in recent months certainly since before the U.S. election that was just one previous missile a few weeks ago. That again was a missile that had showed improvements according to experts using solid fuel meaning it was more mobile and could be set up quicker. It was harder to track.

So this is the concern certainly in South Korea as well. North Korea is learning something each time it tests. There was a National Security Council meeting Monday morning.

The acting president, (inaudible), saying that North Korea is acting in defiance of the international community. Also saying the consequences of a nuclear arms North Korean regime would be appalling beyond imagination.

The timing is not a surprise, though. The joint U.S. and South Korea military drills starting just last week. They are annual. They are defensive in nature according to the U.S. and South Korea. But every year, Pyongyang is angered by them and reacts this way -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Paula, thank you. Ultimately, we're left with strong condemnation -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, U.S. backed Iraqi forces are making a big push to recapture Western Mosul from ISIS. Right now, they are closing in on the region known as the old city storming neighborhoods near the city's main government complex.

Tens of thousands of civilians are fleeing the area. The U.N. is warning over 400,000 people could ultimately be displaced. ISIS fighters accused of chemical weapons. The Red Cross says at least 12 Mosul residents are being treated now for injuries consistent with a blistering chemical agent.

[05:25:02]The White House in a precarious position today. Did the president have any proof he was wire tapped before he accused President Obama of doing just that or is this just a deflection gone wrong?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIGGS: The FBI now asking the Justice Department to rebuke claims from President Trump that he was wiretapped on orders from President Obama. If the President has proof, where is it? If he doesn't, why launch this latest Twitter tirade?

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

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Monday morning. We have a lot to get through this morning. It's 30 minutes past the hour. This morning, the White House facing a daunting challenge as friend and foe alike call on this White House to prove the explosive claim in President Trump's tweet storm that President Obama had him wiretapped.

It's an allegation Mr. Trump made without offering any evidence and which everyone in a position to know has so far denied.