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EARLY START

Susan Rice Denies Improperly Seeking Americans' Names; St. Petersburg Bomber Identified; Jared Kushner Travels to Iraq. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired April 4, 2017 - 04:30   ET

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


[04:30:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Unmasking versus leaking. Critical differences seemingly being ignored by the White House. Is the president trying to develop a story as more links to Russia emerge?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Democrats now enough support to filibuster the president's Supreme Court nominee. Will Republicans change the Senate forever and change the rules to get Neil Gorsuch on the bench?

ROMANS: And police reforms nationwide coming under review. Why does the attorney general want to examine changes made under the previous administration?

I think it's fair to say changes made under the previous administration are being examined across the government.

BRIGGS: Across the board.

ROMANS: That's their whole point and agenda.

BRIGGS: That's the theme.

ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. Congrats to the Tar Heels. 4:31 Eastern Time.

Amid the constant drip, drip, drip of connections between the president's associates and Russia one topic that's gotten some attention but not much is unmasking. And now the president doing his best to make unmasking sound illegal, firing off a barrage of tweets that seemed aimed to cooking up a scandal to distract from what might be a real one.

ROMANS: So what are we talking about here? All this began with a FOX News report that a high-ranking Obama official requested the unmasking of the names of Trump officials caught up in surveillance. That was followed by a Bloomberg News report naming President Obama's National Security adviser Susan Rice as the official who requested the unmasking, citing a leak from U.S. officials.

So what are we talking about? Unmasking is where a U.S. official requests the identity of an otherwise unnamed American caught up in surveillance of foreigners, but unmasking is not the same as leaking. An unmasked identity is only revealed to officials authorized to know.

BRIGGS: So after months of Trump supporters complaining about the source of leaks rather than the substance of them, the leak of the Susan Rice information has the president trying to stir the pot.

For more on unmasking and the response from Susan Rice, let's bring in CNN's Jim Sciutto in Washington.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, a source close to Ambassador Susan Rice tells me that the claims that she improperly unmasked the names of U.S. citizens caught up in surveillance is, in a word, false. That's coming from Ambassador Rice. But I've also spoken to former senior intelligence officials from both Democratic and Republican administrations to ask them about the process of unmasking. Is it unusual? Is it illegal? And their answer is unanimously no, not unusual, not illegal.

They say a couple of things. One, the law allows this. Two, for it to happen, the official requests it, but the U.S. intelligence community has to approve that request. Oftentimes, it is approved because that intelligence official wants to provide more information to the senior National Security official. As they're reading intelligence reports, they want to know more about what they mean, the significance.

That information is shared only between the briefer from the intelligence community and that official. It's not more widely disseminated. Now it's possible that the official could do that him or herself, but by the nature of it, it is only exchanged one to one.

There are open questions here how extensive was the unmasking, what was the justification for it. But this we know, this I know from speaking to multiple intelligence officials that this practice is not unusual, it happens, and two, it's certainly not illegal. There are protocols for this specifically established after 9/11 to allow for this unmasking under certain rules -- Christine and Dave.

BRIGGS: Thank you, Jim.

For her part, though, Susan Rice was asked last month on PBS News Hour about the allegations that Trump officials were incidentally surveilled during the transition. Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:35:06] SUSAN RICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: I know nothing about this. I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that account today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Now look, that certainly speaks to the credibility of Susan Rice as does the whole Benghazi situation where she misled the American public that that had to do with an Internet video, she's going to have to speak to why she was surprised to learn of that if she in fact asked for the unmasking. ROMANS: And the exact question was about what?

BRIGGS: About unintentional surveillance of Trump transition officials.

ROMANS: Not about --

BRIGGS: It was very direct and very spot on this subject.

ROMANS: Not about the Obama administration wiretapping?

BRIGGS: Correct.

ROMANS: The Trump --

BRIGGS: Also we need to know why did she ask for the unmasking. Was it in the interest of national security, because if it was not, it could have been on the interest of purely politics, which certainly would be a problem.

ROMANS: You could see a situation where whoever it was who was surveilling the White House, she wanted to make other people in the intelligence community aware.

BRIGGS: Aware.

ROMANS: Of how serious that was. That would be one argument.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: We just don't know.

BRIGGS: We need to know more.

ROMANS: We just don't know.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: The web of connections between the president, his associates and Russia seems to be spreading further this morning. The "Washington Post" reporting on a secret meeting in early January between a Russian connected to President Vladimir Putin and the founder of Blackwater, the Blackwater Security firm, Erik Prince. The meeting took place on the isolated Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean.

The "Post's" sources saying the meeting was to set up a backchannel line of communication between the Kremlin and President-elect Trump. It was an attempt to do that. Erik Prince was not a part of the Trump campaign or transition, but he does have ties to Trump's inner circle, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and his sister, Betsy DeVos, is the secretary of Education. The White House says it was, quote, "not aware of any meetings Prince had." And a spokesman for Prince called this claim of a connection, quote, "a complete fabrication."

The House Intelligence Committee plans to meet at noon today -- that's right, the House Intelligence Committee plans to meet at noon today with the future of its Russia investigation hanging in the balance. The full committee convened last night for the first time since its top Democrat Adam Schiff called on Republican chairman Devin Nunes to recuse himself.

The topic of Russia and its alleged ties to the Trump administration will be on the table. A highly unusual trip to the White House by Nunes two weeks ago, I dare say, an infamous trip to the White House, I should say, now -- two weeks ago that has been talked about ad nauseam, it idled the committee and called into question its ability to proceed with a credible investigation, after a pause. Now it looks as though they are going to begin again with some hearing.

BRIGGS: Again a little context here. Now that we know these documents came from the NSC, the National Security Council, Devin Nunes had to do them at the White House.

ROMANS: That's where he would see those documents.

BRIGGS: That's where you would see those documents so it gives him a little cover for why he was there.

A showdown of historic proportions unfolding in the Senate this week over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. By CNN's count, at least 43 Democrats now opposed the president's pick. That's enough to sustain a filibuster and block confirmation unless Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell follows through on his threat to invoke the nuclear option.

That means changing the rules so only a simple majority of 51 votes would be needed to push through Gorsuch and likely all future Supreme Court nominees. It is not certain whether all 52 Republican senators will back McConnell if he decides to deploy that nuclear option. If just three members of his party balk at the idea, the rule change would not have enough support to pass and Gorsuch's nomination could be blocked.

We'll ask Ellis Henican and David Drucker about this in the 5:00 a.m. hour.

ROMANS: All right. Police reforms enacted by the Obama administration could be in jeopardy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordering a review of all agreements made with troubled departments. He wants to make sure they don't conflict with the president's goal of promoting officer safety and morale while fighting violent crime. Since 2009 the Justice Department has conducted 25 investigations into law enforcement agencies and is currently enforcing 14 consent decrees and agreements.

BRIGGS: House Republicans seeming close to a reboot of their health care overhaul after all. Vice President Mike Pence meeting with House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows to pitch a new proposal that essentially gives states more flexibility to repeal Obamacare regulations like those essential health benefits. The Freedom Caucus helped sink the administration's first repeal and replace bill. Chairman Meadows says he is intrigued by the new approach but needs to see more details. House Republicans will discuss the plan when they meet later this morning for their weekly caucus.

The Trump administration plans to file an appeal on Friday in an attempt to lift a court order blocking its six-nation travel ban. The case will be heard in May by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. That's the same court that ruled against the president's first travel ban. Last month a federal judge in Hawaii halted the administration's revised executive order, ruling it likely violated the Constitution by targeting Muslims.

[04:40:02] ROMANS: All right, 4:39, 4:40 a.m. in the East today. It's Equal Pay Day. What is that? Its significance to earn the same amount as male counterparts make in one year. Women would have to work one year and part of the next year. That extra time ends today. Women earn about 80 cents for every dollar men makes. This is according to the Census Bureau. It works out to be little more than $10,000 less per year. For a 20-year-old entering the workhorse it amounts to $418,000 over a 40-year working career.

Now the pay gap changes dramatically when you factor in race. Hispanic women earn just 54 cents compared to what a white male earns. African-American women make 63 cents on the dollar. And Asian women have a narrower work gap, about 85 cents. That's the narrowest gap actually that exists. Asian women. That's according to the National Women's Law Center.

So why and what's being done about it? Well, the gap has been closing slowly over the past 20 years. Experts say only really Congress has the power to act on a national scale and companies are also partially responsible. But many keep their pay data private.

As for today, Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In" organization teaming with businesses to offer 20 percent discounts to make up for the pay gap. For the next week, shoppers can get discount on Luna bars and Procter & Gamble products. Ride-sharing service Lyft will donate 20 percent of each ride today to charity and local stores in 25 cities are also joining in on the discounts. I would rather not have a discount, America. I'd rather have make sure all those companies and everybody is paying the same --

BRIGGS: Pass judgment on that.

ROMANS: No, but, you know, the thing is about even when you --

BRIGGS: That's not going to make up the gap.

ROMANS: No, no. Even when you adjust for two people with the same education, the same age, in the same job no matter what the category is, men make a little bit more, and the why is what's been fascinating. I've done a lot of work over this over the years. It's not just raw discrimination and it's not just the maternity tax that women step out and then they lose opportunities when they're out for three months and they have a baby.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: It's a whole bunch of different things. So I mean I'm actually encouraged --

BRIGGS: Is negotiation a part of this, though?

ROMANS: You know, some people say it is.

BRIGGS: Maybe in Hollywood.

ROMANS: Yes. Yes. But I don't -- you know, I don't really worry about people making a few million dollar.

BRIGGS: Right. Right.

ROMANS: More than a few million dollars more, I'm worried more about the rank-and-file women. You know.

BRIGGS: At least it's changing but clearly way too slow.

ROMANS: Yes. And I've looked at some Census statistics that show that unmarried, college educated women in big cities, they make more than their male counterparts. So maybe it's millennial women who are finally going to take everything that --

BRIGGS: Yes. They're going take charge and not accept it.

ROMANS: All right. Since taking office, President Trump has earned $78,332 in salary as the commander-in-chief. He just donated it all to the National Parks Service, turning over a check to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The money will be used for improvements to the nation's historic battlefields which are $229 million behind in deferred maintenance.

The Sierra Club calls the donation a publicity stunt, pointing out the president is currently trying to slash the budget for national parks to historic lows.

BRIGGS: Drop in the bucket in a sense.

ROMANS: Yes, I mean -- look, I love me from revolution and civil war battlefield. I think that's --

BRIGGS: Field trip.

ROMANS: Field trip.

BRIGGS: Let's do this.

All right. Breaking overnight, the death toll rising in that deadly attack on the metro in St. Petersburg, Russia. Officials now revealing the identity of the bomber. We'll take you there live next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:47:20] BRIGGS: All right. Breaking news, authorities in Russia identifying the suspect behind the deadly bombing of a metro station in St. Petersburg. The blast killed 11 people, left 51 others injured. The Kremlin describing the incident as a terrorist attack. Let's go live to St. Petersburg, Russia, bring in CNN's Oren

Liebermann with the very latest.

Good morning to you. We know the individual. Is yet any group taking credit, Oren?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No group has yet taken credit but still less than 24 hours since this attack happened and the identity of the suspect has just come out and Kyrgyzstan security authorities who say the man behind this deadly bombing that happened from a short distance from us down -- from metro station where we're standing right here is Akbarjon Djalilov, born in 1995. That makes him 21 or 22 years old. Born in Kyrgyzstan, a Russian citizen. That is who authorities say is behind this deadly bombing. It was 11 dead, it has just risen to 14 dead and dozens more wounded.

As that happens there is still a flurry of activity happening here behind me. There are some nine to 10 fire trucks, as well as two paramedics. They've run at least three different fire hoses and blocked off the Sennaya Square station. It is between this station and the next station down the subway line. That is where this explosion happened. And just a short distance past that is where police found another unexploded device. A kilogram of TNT hidden within a fire extinguisher.

We don't have an explanation for this flurry of activity yet but we're certainly keeping an eye on it especially as they keep this station close. So again the major update is that authorities have identified a suspect here, 21 or 22-year old Akbarjon Djalilov. He is from Kyrgyzstan, he is a Russian citizen. That answers the who, that tells us who is behind this. Now the investigators are working on the how and the why and the question, was Djalilov working alone?

BRIGGS: Right. All right, Oren, we'll check in with you next hour. Thank you.

ROMANS: OK. What happens when two iconic Internet companies join forces? Apparently one very boring name.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIGGS: Inexplicable, right?

ROMANS: We're going to check on CNN Money Stream.

BRIGGS: Not a good reception online.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:53:39] BRIGGS: It may be the person that President Trump trusts the most. Son-in-law Jared Kushner's White House portfolio already includes advising the president, brokering Mideast peace, leading the Office of American Innovation to overhaul bureaucracy, restore the Department of Veterans Affairs, to help end drug addiction, and shadowing the secretary of State, maintaining relations with Mexico, Canada and China. That's all. Now you could add Iraq to the list. Kushner is there traveling with

the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, meeting with Iraq's prime minister on U.S.-led coalition and the fight against ISIS.

Whew. CNN's Ben Wedeman has it all covered for us live in Irbil with more.

Good morning, Ben. What's the essential mission of this trip to Iraq?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think in the case of the 36-year-old Jared Kushner it is get to know the place. He's never been here. He doesn't have any military of diplomatic experience so he's being accompanied by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the general who coordinates the International Coalition Against ISIS.

Yesterday they were in Baghdad meeting with senior Iraqi officials including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. We understand that part of their trip will also include a visit to the northern part of the country where they may be meeting with U.S. forces involved in the offensive against ISIS in Mosul where that battle at the moment is proving to be quite difficult, really house-to-house, street-to-street fighting particularly in the old city.

[04:55:13] This is a fight in the western part of Mosul where we've seen mounting civilian casualties in which of course it's believed the United States may have had a role in a series of airstrikes on the 17th of March, although the precise details of that particular day are not all together clear.

Now Mr. Trump, the father-in-law of Mr. Kushner, the president, is -- has in the past said some things that have riled some Iraqis. For instance he did say as a candidate and as a president that the United States should have taken Iraq's oil after the 2003 us-led invasion. President Trump also did include Iraq in his initial travel ban, although it was later removed, so some Iraqis not all together thrilled with this president. Others, however, going back to an old Iraqi tradition, do admire a strong man -- Dave.

BRIGGS: No doubt about that. Thank you, Ben.

ROMANS: All right. The National Hockey League at odds with its players association over the decision not to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. The NHL typically pauses its season for a few weeks while players compete for their national teams. But the league in a statement says a majority of owners were adamantly opposed to sending players to the Korea games. It comes after the International Olympic Committee said it would no longer reimburse the cost of player travel and insurance. The players association called the decision shortsighted.

What do we think of this, Dave Briggs?

BRIGGS: Shortsighted is spot on. Like anything you can do to grow the game, I think it's great for the game. And there are players that want to go, that still want to go even if they have to foot the bill. ROMANS: Are these NHL teams like claiming poverty? Are they poor?

BRIGGS: Well, no, they want to protect their assets which you can understand from a business model, right?

ROMANS: I see. I see. I guess, I guess. Yes.

BRIGGS: But we shall see. Maybe it's not over.

Redemption, though, for North Carolina winning the national championship a year after losing the title on a buzzer-beater to nova. The Tar Heels beating Gonzaga 71-65 in Phoenix Monday night. The game close throughout. UNC trailing at the half, but scored the first eight of the second half and the last eight of the game to close out the victory.

The sixth national championship in North Carolina's storied history, third since 2005 for Roy Williams. The win setting off a wild celebration as you can see the school posting this great time lapsed video of Carolina students swarming the streets in Chapel Hill to celebrate, but celebrating from what it appears very peacefully. You don't see any fires or cars tipped over so it looks like a student body that is well used to celebrating national titles. They know how to do it.

ROMANS: Yes. I'd say. I'd say. Congratulations to all of you and Gonzaga, great season.

Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream right now. Dow futures slipping this morning after a slight drop Monday. Stock markets in Europe, they're a little higher. Shares in Asia falling overnight. Tokyo down 1 percent.

There's a growing sentiment on Wall Street. The optimism over President Trump's policies could be waning. One of the hottest stocks yesterday of this year, Tesla, look at this, shares jumping 7 percent. After that upbeat report on vehicle deliveries the stock is up nearly 40 percent in 2017.

Tesla, Dave Briggs, is now more valuable than Ford by market cap. Think of that. And General Motors is not far off. It needs about $3 million more in market value to get there. Just shows you the enthusiasm at least in the market on Tesla.

More proof this morning that a college education is key. A college education is key to achieving one piece of the American dream. 55 percent of students who graduate without debt, without debt, own a home by age 33. That's according to analysis from the New York Federal Reserve. They have a brand new study for students with debt after college. 52 percent become home owners. But of those who did not graduate college only 28 percent will own their home in their 30s.

If you -- will get you everywhere. There's a lot of competition for the jobs, obviously. A separate report from the Census Department this week shows a percent of Americans 25 and older with a college degree is at an all time high. 33 percent of adults have a college degree, 10 years ago it was only 28 percent. Back in 1940, when the Census started keeping track, it was just 4.6 percent.

I mean, my advice is the degree is worth it. Keep the debt down on the front end. 529 college plans, everybody. Save your money.

BRIGGS: I got to write that down.

ROMANS: 529 college plans.

BRIGGS: Good. Got it.

ROMANS: All right. We'll talk in the break. Verizon is expected to close its purchase of Yahoo in the next few months, and it already owns AOL. So many have questioned what the company will do with those two struggling, but legendary Internet properties. AOL, Yahoo, the name recognition of each. Now we have the answer. Kind of. The two will be combined into one company called Oath. Oath. It will launch this summer.

(CROSSTALK)

BRIGGS: We need music for that story.

ROMANS: An AOL spokeswoman tells us Oath will be one of the most disruptive brand companies in digital.

[05:00:02] AOL's chief executive Tim Armstrong will likely oversee this new company. Reports say Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer will not be part of it. Oath.

BRIGGS: The name was crushed on Twitter yesterday.

ROMANS: Oath. Yes, I know.

BRIGGS: Yahoo is so iconic.

ROMANS: I know.

BRIGGS: All right. EARLY START continues right now.