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EARLY START

FBI Director To Testify Today; Crucial Week For Trump; Gorsuch Confirmation Hearings Start; Healthcare Huddle, Trump Meeting Ryan and Price; Trump Travel Ban Setback; President Set To Meet With Iraq's Prime Minister; Mr. Gates Goes to Washington; Clinton, "I'm Ready To Come Out Of The Woods"; Two Incidents Outside White House; Tennessee Teen Missing For One Week; Dwight Clark Stricken With ALS; South Carolina Stuns Duke 88-81; "Beauty & The Beast" Breaks Records; Secretary of State To Debrief Trump On Asia Trip; North Korea Claims New Rocket Engine Test; Stock Futures Slipping; Uber's No. 2 Executive Quits; G20 Drops Pledge To Fight Protectionism. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 20, 2017 - 04:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:30:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST: Moment of truth, FBI Director, James Comey is set to testify on Russian meddling in the election, that is today. In this hearing, Comey is expected to deny the president's unfounded claim that President Obama wire-tapped Trump Tower.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN CO-HOST: That is something that could humiliate the president as he goes into what could be the most important week of his presidency. With hearings for Supreme Court pick beginning today and a vote over the GOPs plan to replace ObamaCare looming. Welcome back everybody to "Early Start." I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: There's a lot going on. I'm Christine Romans. It's 31 minutes past the hour, another crucial week ahead for this president -- President Trump with his legislative agenda, his Supreme Court Legacy, and his credibility on the line here.

The drama starts this morning with two big hearings down the hill. In hours, FBI Director James Comey testifies to the House Intelligence Committee he is expected to contradict the president telling lawmakers that the Trump campaign was not wiretapped on orders from President Obama.

Comey is also likely to be asked about the alleged Russian Interference of the U.S. Election and whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

BRIGGS: Later this morning, Democrats may take aim at Supreme Court Nominee, Neil Gorsuch as the senate confirmation hearings begin. Let's start with the FBI Director's testimony. CNN's Ryan Nobles has the latest from Washington.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN NEWSOURCE NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave. This morning time will mark the first time that lawmakers can get FBI Director, James Comey to state publicly what his agency has learned about President Trump's claims that President Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower.

The White House has refused to back down. This is by both Republicans and Democrats stating that there is no evidence to back up the president's claim. Now in addition to pressing Comey on the wiretap issue, expect the members of congress to ask if the FBI has been able to conclude if the Russians were working directly with the Trump campaign to help elect the Republican.

This is something the administration has forcefully denied. The Republican House Chair of the Intel Committee, Devin Nunes has said he has not seen any evidence to suggest there was collusion. His Democratic counterpart, Adam Schiff though is not so sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you seen any evidence of any collusion between what I'll call Trump World Associates of campaign officials - Trump World and the Russians to swing the 2016 Presidential Election?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll give you a very simple answer. No.

ADAM SCHIFF, DEMOCRATIC REPRESENTATIVE: There is circumstantial evidence of collusion. There is direct evidence I think of deception and that's where we begin the investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: And this divide could be where the Congressional Investigation could breakdown. If the findings of the committee breakdown over party lines, that's where there is some danger that the whole probe could be written off by critics as being too political. It's something the leaders of both the House and Senate Intel Committees have promised they will work to avoid.

And while Republicans and Democrats seem to not be on the same page about Russian's influence on the election, both parties have been clear about one thing. No one has been able to provide any evidence to support the president's wiretap claim. That is a point that could be emphasized during today's hearing? Christine and Dave?

ROMANS: All right, Ryan thanks for that, a very busy day. No question. CNN will have live coverage of the House Intelligence Committee Hearing with FBI Director, James Comey. That begins in just a few hours, 9:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

NOBLES: On the senate side of the capitol this morning, confirmation hearings begin for the President Trump's Supreme Court pick Judge, Neil Gorsuch. The big question hanging over the nomination, what will Senate Democrats do?

Gorsuch needs 60 votes to win set a confirmation which means eight Democrats would have to cross the aisle and vote for him. Republicans say they are confident. They can crawl enough Democrats probably leaning on those facing re-election and states won by President Trump.

But many Democrats are still angry that President Obama's Supreme Court nominee never got a hearing last year. They may look to retaliate and dig the heels in against Gorsuch.

ROMANS: Senator Richard Blumenthal vowing to fight against confirmation if he finds that Gorsuch has promised the president he will rule against abortion right.

[04:35:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, U.S. SENATOR: Donald Trump has in fact established a litmus test promising - absolutely promising that he would nominate someone who will overturn Roe V. Wade if he fails to be very specific and forthcoming and direct in disavowing that claim. We have to assume inescapably that he has met the litmus test.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But if he does fail - final question, are you prepared to potentially filibuster?

BLUMENTHAL: Not only filibuster, but use every tool that we have if he is, in fact, out of the mainstream in that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The Republicans are making clear they will do what it takes to get Gorsuch on the High Court even if it means changing senate rules to cut off the possibility of filibuster.

Today, Republicans are expected to praise Gorsuch's record on Conservative issues and play up his similarities to the man he hopes to replace, Justice Antonin Scalia. The hearing is expected to last four days. Republican leaders hope for a vote date next month.

BRIGGS: Is your feel like they're going to hold their fire for a bigger fight, this one may not be worth using all their capital.

ROMANS: We'll see.

BRIGGS: We'll see.

ROMANS: We'll see.

BRIGGS: It will be fun. Healthcare Reform, a top priority for President Trump today, he'll be meeting with House Speaker, Paul Ryan; Health and Human Services Secretary, Tom Price and Ezekiel Emanuel, the key architect of ObamaCare.

House Republican scrambling to secure the 216, they need to pass their repeal and replace bill ahead of Thursday's critical floor vote. More than two dozen Republicans are against the measure or leaning that way, 26 by our count enough to kill the bill of No Mind Change.

Trump Administration signalling it may be willing to phase out the Medicaid expansion earlier to satisfy those Conservative critics.

ROMANS: But Republican leaders are keenly aware that the further they move this bill to the right, the harder it will be to pass in the senate where Republicans are worried about the impact of Medicaid changes on older, lower income Americans. The House Speaker conceding changes may be needed to better support that demographic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL RYAN, HOUSE SPEAKER: We believe that we do need to add some additional assistance to people on those older cohorts. If the person in their 50s and 60s does have additional healthcare cost and say a person to 20s and 30s the tax credit adjusts for that, we'll you're right in saying and we agree we believe we should have even more assistance and that's one of the things we're looking at.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: A source tells CNN top White House aides are divided over proposed changes to the healthcare overhaul with the Presidential Adviser, Steve Bannon favoring a more conservative approach. The Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus advocating for Paul Ryan's strategy but I thought it was notable that Paul Ryan yesterday conceded that there is a demographical cohort as he said...

BRIGGS: Cohort...

ROMANS: ...that's going to need a little more help you've got the AARP pushing hard on this "age tax"...

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: ...where the very people who supported Donald Trump, older, lower income, rural Americans would really be hit according to AARP and CBO and others under this new healthcare blah, blah.

BRIGGS: This is a civil where we want to be with this bill. Surprisingly, we'll see it should be a fascinating week on that. Also, the Trump Administration's revised travel ban suffering yet another setback in court.

U.S. District Judge, Derrick Watson denying a Justice Department requests to clarify the scope of his decision to block the Executive Order. Judge Watson insisting there is nothing unclear about the scope of his ruling and that means the 90-day ban on six mostly Muslim nations as well as the 120-day ban on all refugees remains halted.

You may recall it was seven countries under the first travel ban. One country the administration removed is Iraq. Later today, Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi is slated to meet with President Trump to topics on the agenda the fight against ISIS and economic assistance to Iraq.

Following the meeting, Mr. Trump will hop on a plane to Louisville, Kentucky where he'll hold a rally this evening.

ROMANS: Bill Gates will make an appearance to the White House today. The co-founder of Microsoft is opposed to the president's budget cuts to foreign aid. In a blog post, Gates extol the work that U.S. foreign aid supports citing the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, HIV-AIDS Efforts and Anti-Polio Programs. He also says that it helps create markets for U.S. exports and helps strengthen U.S. influence across the globe. Gates says, "When you help a mother, save her child's life, she never forgets. Withdrawing now would not only cost lives, it would create a leadership vacuum that others would happily fill."

Gates is expected to talk about these issues with the president. He met with then President-elect Trump back in December. After that meeting, Gates told reporters the two discussed innovation, health and foreign aid among other topics.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation a major player in privately funded foreign aid programs. The Foundation vows to help the world's poorest people list (ph) themselves out of hunger and poverty and to use science and technology to help save lives.

BRIGGS: Hillary Clinton letting the world knows she is through licking her wounds and is leaving her low profile behind. Listen to the defeated Democratic nominee for president speaking to an overflow crowd at a St. Patrick's Day event in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

[04:40:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am ready to, you know, come out of the woods.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: And to shine the light on what is already happening around kitchen tables at dinners like this to help draw strength that will enable everybody to keep going.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Mrs. Clinton told the crowd she and her friends are "having a hard time watching the news these days" which we take no offense to, Mrs. Clinton.

ROMANS: No, no. We are just the messenger. We are just the messenger.

White House security under scrutiny this morning, a string of embarrassing incident putting pressure on the secret service as two men set off alarms at the White House in one day, more on that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:45:00] ROMANS: Two new security incidents at the White House this weekend. Late Saturday night, the secret service detained a man who claimed to have a bomb in his vehicle. No confirmation yet whether any device was found. President Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago State in Florida at the time he was not in the White House.

Earlier Saturday, an unarmed man was arrested for jumping over a bicycle rack in front of the White House. He told authorities he was trying to deliver a document.

BRIGGS: Police still hoping for a credible clue this morning, seven days after a 15-year-old Tennessee girl was abducted by a teacher at her high school. Elizabeth Thomas is alleged kidnapper. Fifty year old, Tad Cummins is believed to be armed and dangerous. Police say they received 250 tips from 24 states but none have helped locate the girl. Thomas and her captor were last tracked by investigators to Decatur, Alabama.

ROMANS: Legendary NFL Charge, Dwight Clark diagnosed with ALS, the former wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers posting the devastating news online. The 60-year-old Clark says, "He has lost significant function in his right hand, midsection, lower back, and right leg."

He can no longer play golf or walk long distances. Clark suspect football is to blame for the disease and says, "He hopes the league and players union work together to make the game safer".

BRIGGS: Such a terrific guy.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: You never hear a bad word about Dwight Clark successful...

ROMANS: Wish him well.

BRIGGS: ...off the field as well, but college basketball Sweet 16 is set. Duke is out.

ROMANS: That's your team.

BRIGGS: That is my team and that is my bracket. The second seated Blue Devils stunned last night by seventh seated South Carolina, 88- 81. Duke led by 7 at the half but the Gamecocks found their touch to the second half shooting better than 70% in the field with Duke done only North Carolina remains in the ACC and South Carolina reach to the Sweet 16 after going 44 years without an NCAA tournament win, needless to say your top trending story on twitter this morning people love to hate Duke.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: That is a tough one for basketball fans.

ROMANS: My Cyclones are out, so that's not trending.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIGGS: No, not so much.

ROMANS: Cyclones are out, sorry guys.

All right, Disney's Live Action Version of its classic "Beauty & The Beast" saying, "Hello" to some big dough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bon jour.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bon jour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bon jour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bon jour.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There goes the baker...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: There is Emma Watson starring as Belle. It broke the record for the biggest March debut of all time earning $170 million. It's the best opening weekend of 2017 so far. Apparently, people need a break from basketball.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: Even more impressive, the film raked in $350 million worldwide this weekend, a very big - a very big hit for Disney Live Action remake of a remake of a remake and they did a...

BRIGGS: Looks fantastic. I can't wait to see Gaston.

ROMANS: Gaston.

BRIGGS: That's my favourite character.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: Bon jour.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: All right, more bad news for Uber. Another executive is leaving that company. We will tell you why -- another bad headline for Uber. We're going to tell you why he ended his stint to the company after the six short months when we have checked on CNN Money Stream next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:50:00] ROMANS: FBI Director, James Comey expected to shine new light today on the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. The U.S. Intelligence Community has said Russia hacked DNC and the Clinton campaign in an attempt to help President Trump win.

How is the Russian Government reacting to the investigation, CNN's Senior International Correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh join us live from Moscow. We hear they're too busy to watch the hearing but I assume this is going to be something that will be, you know, it's pretty - it's pretty critical and key for Russian authorities.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they say that the schedule is packed with other stuff today at this point and they won't be watching James Comey and Mike Rogers as they sit down today but you can be sure they have somebody aside keeping the TV on.

The Kremlin Official Line from Dmitry Peskov, their spokesman is that they're not expecting new detail frankly to emerge and the drumbeat with allegations against Russia about meddling in the 2016 campaign is "a broken record with a futuristic song" I but it doesn't correspond in their mind (ph) into the present day reality that they are living in but yes, it will, of course, be on the Kremlin to either ignore or answer any granular detail that James Comey will be under pressure to provide.

You've got to bear in mind though that this is sort of a two ways of looking at how this plays out for Russia. Yes, they are probably relishing the idea that even though they deny allegations of meddling in the election that somehow capable of being global puppet masters and pulling the strings of the billion dollar campaign that are behind who sits in the White House, but bear in mind too also that if they were hoping Donald Trump conspicuously absent in his criticism of Vladimir Putin and Russia, that's rare for Republican Presidential Candidate and in fact the president itself if they were hoping he might be more friendly to the Moscow's point of view or more pliant.

Well, that's coming very difficult now for White House. There's always surrounded by accusations of collusion with Russians and intense scrutiny about that. So, however the hopes there may have been for some sort of on tone (ph) perhaps between Moscow and Washington that does look pretty unlikely in the years ahead. May be the only consolation that Kremlin get here is to observe from afar the chaos inside the beltway now frankly...

ROMANS: Yes.

PATON WALSH: ...that those partisan hearings will get underway.

ROMANS: Yes, totally. I wonder, Nick, can you tell us on the streets there, do Russians care - every day, Russians seems to care about the investigation?

PATON WALSH: There is an element of fatigue to some degree. I think many Russians think now pretty not that (ph) if they don't - we can't reach across the Atlantic and undermine your entire electoral process, but I think to some degree it's all dependent on what state TV provides them as their viewpoint and that's very much the monopoly on broadcasting.

Here, they were quite Trump favorable that eased off perhaps slightly in that to some degree but we just have to work out of it. Well details emerge and when that moves the story forward or whether we're still in this very diffuse era of allegations and counter allegations.

[04:55:00] ROMANS: Sure, right now, live coverage about hearing with the - with the FBI Director begins in about four hours, so thanks for that, Nick Walsh. BRIGGS: Meanwhile, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson fresh off his first official visit to Asia set to meet with President Trump later today. Tillerson spent the final leg of his the trip in China paving the way for Chinese President Xi first meeting with Mr. Trump but that visit largely overshadowed by concern about North Korea's test of a new rocket engine. For more, let's go to CNN's Will Ripley live in Beijing. Good morning, Will.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORESPONDENT: Hi, Dave. Yes, you have that right. They'll leave it to North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Un to try to steal the spotlight at the same time that this is a very important meeting between America's top diplomat, Secretary Tillerson, and the Chinese President, Xi Jinping.

But this new rocket engine certainly alarming for North Korean watchers because it shows that they are making progress towards their ultimate goal of a nuclear-tipped ICBM capable of reaching the mainland United States.

That is why you heard Secretary Tillerson over this Asia trip not only here in China but also in South Korea and Japan saying that it is a dangerous situation right now on the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. wants China to use its economic leverage to reign in North Korea because China is the country's only meaningful trading partner.

But China thinks that the U.S. is responsibility to stop joint military exercises with South Korea which certainly make Pyongyang angry every year that they happen, Dave.

BRIGGS: Very welcoming response there from Mr. Tillerson. Will, we're hearing Japan held their first evacuation drills in preparation of any missile launches from North Korea, what do you know about this?

RIPLEY: You know, I live in Japan and they often practice for natural disasters, but this is the first time that we're seeing North Korean missile drills along the Japanese Coast.

This Village of Ogo where school children heard the sirens and then had to basically practice what they would do if there was an air raid. This is just 200 nautical miles from where these North Korean missiles landed in the Sea of Japan not too long ago.

And so for people who lived through World War II in Japan, this brings back very painful memories of the air raid drills that they use to do and of course with North Korea developing nuclear weapons brings back a lot of those fears as well.

BRIGGS: Scary situation for those kids. Thank you, my friend.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this Monday morning. Dow Futures pointing slightly lower. The big test for the stock market this week, there's trouble for the healthcare overhaul for shadowed trouble for tax reform or infrastructure any such suggestion could rattle market.

Shares in Europe are trading lower. Stock markets in Asia closing mixed overnight. Another day another bad headline for Uber, Jeff Jones is stepping down as Uber President. He was on the job just six months. He came over from target. Jones headed Uber's ride hailing operations marketing and customer support. He was second in command to the CEO, Travis Kalanick.

The CEO says Jones did not see a future at Uber and decided to step down. Kalanick himself was the center of the latest controversy after a tape of him getting into an argument with an Uber driver was released by Bloomberg. It was not very - well favorable to him. He has since apologized with some leadership help.

The company is also facing sexism allegations from a former engineer. It hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to help investigate those claims. Leaders from the world's biggest economies have dropped a longstanding public endorsement of free-trade. This is a bombshell. This happened after their first meeting with the Trump Administration.

The G20 issuing the statement at the close of its summit this weekend, "We are working to strengthen the contribution of trade to our economies", sounds kind of bland, right? But, there's a very key part missing here. This phrase which was included in last year's formal statement, "We will resist all forms of protectionism".

This, Dave Briggs, has a complete role reversal. It shows the influence of the Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin and President Trump. Usually, the United States is goading countries to keep provisions on free-trade against...

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: ...protectionism. Usually, it's the U.S. insisting that you have that last little paragraph, you know, saying, "We will resist protectionism". Now, as other countries try to convince the U.S. to keep up the fight.

BRIGGS: But do we know that this was at the insistence of the United States or just...

ROMANS: The reporting is that insistence of the United States and this is - this is...

BRIGGS: Britain as well perhaps...

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: ...a total role reversal here when you have the big developed economies...

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: ...moving in a different way after years of trying to convince the developing economies to reject protectionism that shows you the world...

BRIGGS: Major, major change.

ROMANS: ...total in the world.

BRIGGS: It is indeed.

"Early Start" continues right now.

[05:00:00] ROMANS: Head of the FBI on Capitol Hill today - today testifying finally about Russian interference in the election and that unfounded claim that President Trump was wiretapped by President Obama.

BRIGGS: It's a very important week for Trump. The Supreme Court pick facing tough questions in the senate, the GOPs Healthcare Plan out for a vote in the House, we are all breaking it all down. Good morning and welcome to "Early Start". I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Just got the paper, cut off the prices (ph)...

BRIGGS: What have you got?

ROMANS: ...5 a.m., you can take the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal --