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Little Clarity on Future of Gun Legislation; White House Silent on Interim Security Clearances; Hope for Calm in Syria. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 27, 2018 - 05:00   ET



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Half of you are so afraid of the NRA. There's nothing to be afraid of. We have it fight them every once in a while. That's OK.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: President says he is willing to fight the NRA, but after hearing from the lobby, the White House appears to back off a proposal to raise the minimum age on guns.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: (INAUDIBLE) classified information. The White House won't say after the deadline to deal with clearance has come and gone.

ROMANS: And a pause in fighting right now in Syria ordered by the Russian president. Why is it Vladimir Putin's call and is the peace holding on the ground?

[05:00:00] Early signs not so great on that.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is Tuesday, February 27th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

We start once again with gun control. Lawmakers and a nation weighing for some clarity on the gun issue. Well, they are still waiting. The president mentioning a few possibilities when he spoke to governors Monday at the White House. He was firm on the issue of bump stocks which increase the firing rate of a semiautomatic weapon.


TRUMP: By the way, bump stocks, we're writing that out. I'm writing that out myself. I don't care if Congress does it or not. I'm writing it out myself, OK?


BRIGGS: President Trump also told lawmakers he is willing to stand up to the NRA and they should be too.


TRUMP: Don't worry about the NRA. They're on our side. You guys, half of you are so afraid of the NRA. There's nothing to be afraid of. And you know what, if they're not with you, we have to fight them every once in a while. That's OK.


ROMANS: Despite that, the White House now appears to be backing away from the increased age requirement to buy some weapons to 21.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They want to raise the age of --

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: They did not bring up the age raising one time in that meeting. And again, the president is listening to the stakeholders here, the governors at the local levels. When they don't bring it up, that's very telling to him.


ROMANS: The president suggesting raising the age last week before sitting down with the NRA leaders over the weekend.

BRIGGS: The president is standing by his proposal to arm teachers. At least the ones he says can handle it.


TRUMP: I don't want teachers to have guns. I want highly trained people that have a natural talent like hitting a baseball or hitting a golf ball or putting. How come some people always make a four-footer and some people can't even take their club back, right? Some people can't take their club back.


BRIGGS: I love me some sports analogies. That is one I have not heard.

The president did renew push for his stronger background checks, but lamented the lack of better options for dealing with the mentally ill.


TRUMP: We're going to have to start talking about mental institutions, because a lot of the folks in this room closed their mental institutions also. So, we have no halfway. We have nothing between a prison and leaving him at his house which we can't do anymore.


ROMANS: The president also made a bold claim when he discussed a sheriff's deputy who waited to enter Stoneman Douglas High School while the mass shooting was under way.


TRUMP: You know, I really believe you don't know until you are tested. But I think I really believe I'd run in even if I didn't have a weapon. I think most of the people in this room would have done that too.


ROMANS: CNN's Jim Acosta asked White House press secretary Sarah Sanders to clarify.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He was stating as a leader, he would have stepped in and help the number of the individuals that were in the school, the coach and other adults. And even a lot of the students stepped up to protect other students.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Is he trained in firing a weapon? Is he trained in using a handgun or firearm of some sort?

SANDERS: I don't think that was the point he was making. He was saying that he would be a leader and would want to take a courageous action.


BRIGGS: President Trump's suggestion of arming teachers troubling many officials including Washington state's Democratic Governor Jay Inslee.


GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: I just think this is a circumstance where we need to listen that educators should educate and they should not be foisted upon this responsibility of packing heat in first grade classes. Now, I understand you have suggested this and we suggest things and sometimes we listen to people about it and maybe they don't look so good a little later. So, I just suggest we need a little less tweeting here and more listening and let's take that off the table and move forward.


ROMANS: An overwhelming majority of Americans say they want tougher gun control measures in the wake of the Parkland high school shooting. But there's not much movement on Capitol Hill. Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana repeating a line he's used before, insisting we need idiot control more than gun control.

BRIGGS: Even modest proposals run on the roadblocks on Monday, including a plan to tighten reporting to the nation's gun background check system. House and Senate Republicans will hold closed-door meetings today. We should hear from them afterwards.

Simply enforcing background check laws is not enough for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. The New York Democrat says stopping there would be a dereliction of duty.

ROMANS: All right. Joining us now live, CNN political analyst Josh Rogin, columnist for "The Washington Post" and friend of the show.

Josh, so many things to get to this morning. I want to stick to one question on the gun issue here because you know how politics works in Washington. GOP lawmakers meet behind closed doors to talk about guns and gun violence before they make any kind of public comments. I've heard nothing from Mitch McConnell. I've heard nothing from Paul Ryan on this issue.

Where do we stand?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: What we have seen from the White House is on Monday in the press conference was the effort to pass the buck to Congress.

[05:05:00] And the president is proposing a lot of things that are inside this purview, like arming teacher, et cetera. But that's not something the federal government would do. And on everything else, the White House is looking to Congress to sort of set the agenda and then and only then will the president weigh in.

Of course, that's a recipe for failure because as we have seen over the years, Congress is not likely to come up with any bipartisan solution that can pass. As you pointed out, leadership is not interested in doing it anyway. So, it doesn't look good.

BRIGGS: Yes, this will require presidential leadership much like the immigration issue which still remains unsolved and kicking the can down the road.

But let's talk about this relationship between the United States and North Korea. We are now after the Olympics. We have now laundered the reputation of the North Korean regime via the Olympics. The president sent a family member to the closing ceremonies, like Kim Jong-un did to the opening ceremonies.

Where is this relationship right now? Where is it headed?

ROGIN: Well, we've had two weeks of really fascinating diplomacy where the vice president went to South Korea. I went with him. It seems like we're on the verge of direct talks -- talks about talks with North Korea.

But last night, I spoke with the U.S. Ambassador Joseph Yun, who is our special envoy to North Korea. He is retiring.


ROGIN: And his last day is Friday. He told me that even though Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked him to stay, he felt it was time to go. So, that shows you how far we really have to go before we can have good diplomacy.

I mean, the Trump administration is threatening war. President Trump went to the cameras and said he might move to phase two which he said is an attack on North Korea. And we have the top diplomat in charge of North Korea leaving the administration.

ROMANS: Hid he say why? He wants to retire? There's too much work? He doesn't feel like he is on the same page as the administration? Did he say why?

ROGIN: Well, he wouldn't say on the record why he is retiring. He has been a Foreign Service officer for 40 years.

So, I can tell you the facts that Joseph Yun was never respected by the White House. He was not put in a position to represent the White House. He is going around the world trying to do diplomacy.

Nobody knows if he expects for the president. He is working hard to avoid a military option and the White House is working hard to promote a military option. So, they are not on the same page.

He doesn't want to work for the Trump administration. I think that's clear. And I guess if we're going to have diplomacy, Trump is going to have to get his own guy to do it, because Joseph Yun is not interested.

ROMANS: Two false moves and you could have war with North Korea. We don't have a South Korean ambassador, right, and we don't have special envoy. What is the brain trust?

ROGIN: Well, right now, it is run out of the White House. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on a parallel, but separate track. It's kind of mess actually. What we have here is we have a game of brinksmanship, where the North Koreans are moving towards having the capability to hit the United States with a nuclear weapon and we're increasing sanctions and pressure, and trying to threaten not to do that.

In the middle you have the South Korea government which is just begging all sides to sit down at the table and talk. Now, I think there is an opening for talk here. I think both sides have shown some willingness to do that.

It doesn't solve the problem. It doesn't get you to a peace deal right away. But the window is closing. The further an long we go, the more imperative it is for both sides to take steps to try to avoid an armed conflict that would be devastating to the entire Korean peninsula, not to mention Japan, not to mention United States. So, time is of the essence.

BRIGGS: So, with that said, is this the time to send Ivanka Trump to the closing ceremonies?

ROGIN: Well, you know, the Olympics are the Olympics. There is nothing wrong with sending Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter there. It is a show of support of the Trump family for the games.

Now, the problem is she is inevitably going to get asked a lot of uncomfortable questions. One about whether or not the United States is actually going to attack North Korea which she has memorized her lines about. She is not qualified to talk about it, but she said the right thing which she repeated the policy.

The other is she got asked about a dozen credible accusations of sexual harassment or sexual assault by her father. She gets on TV and says, well, that's not appropriate. She should have known that she's going to get asked something like that.

ROMANS: Yes, you can't have it both ways. You can't say, oh, I'm here as a family member when you are a senior adviser with a portfolio to the White House.

ROGIN: Well, that's exactly right. It's an appropriate question and she gave what is a perfectly reasonable answer. If she wants to believe her father, she can say that. She cannot say she is traveling to represent the United States of America on the taxpayers' dime and questions are off-limits.


BRIGGS: Yes, when it's convenient.

ROMANS: All right. Josh Rogin, come back in a few minutes. CNN political analyst, columnist for "The Washington Post" -- always nice to see you.

ROGIN: Likewise.

BRIGGS: Good stuff there from Josh.

All right. The White House refusing to say whether any interim security clearances were revoked last week. Earlier this month, Chief of staff John Kelly ordered a stop to clearances pending since June 1st, including Jared Kushner. The deadline passed on Friday.

[05:10:01] So, did anyone get clearance revoked?


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As we said many times before, we're not going to discuss individual clearances. That goes to a broader number or an individual number. So, I'm not going to get into that today just as I haven't in the past.


BRIGGS: Kelly ordered the revocation of all interim security clearances and fallout from the Rob Porter scandal. That former White House aide served for one year under temporary clearance despite domestic abuse allegations against him.

ROMANS: All right. White House communications director Hope Hicks set to appear in a private meeting in the House Intelligence Committee. Hicks is one of the President Trump's longest serving aides. Her appearance delayed over whether she could discuss the transition and her time at the White House.

Hicks appears to have knowledge about the key events in the first year of the presidency. That includes the initial misleading statement about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russians at Trump Tower.

Right now, a humanitarian pause in effect in Syria's devastated eastern Ghouta. Is it holding? And why do the Russians decide when the Syrians stop shelling civilians? We're live in the Middle East.


[05:15:15] ROMANS: The White House demanding the Syrian government honor the U.N.-declared cease-fire and stop bombing rebel held areas so humanitarian aid can get through. The call comes amid reports of chemical attacks being launched against terrorized civilians. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordering a daily five-hour pause in hostilities in the battered Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta. That pause runs from 2:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

Sam Kiley monitoring the latest from Istanbul. Sam, is that Russian pause holding and why does Vladimir Putin get to call the shots here?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The pause is holding to some extent. There have been allegations in the last hour or so coming from the Russians that it is the rebels that are not observed the humanitarian pause and therefore also flouted the United Nations Security Council resolution of the week calling for a complete cessation of hostilities right across Syria. The Russians accusing the rebels of mortaring the humanitarian corridor, that the Syrians had tried to establish.

There is absolutely no evidence for that. Where there is a bit more evidence is on the rebel side. The rebels have been attacked with surface-to-surface military, with artillery, with one death reported in the town of Douma.

That said, it is very interesting that even dialing down the level of violence ordered not from Damascus, but from the Kremlin indicates just how powerful that Russian administration is over Damascus. And that power really divides from the fact that just over two years ago, the Russians were able effectively to save the Damascus regime from collapse. They deployed ground forces. They deployed Russian air force and surface-to-air missiles to protect Syrian air space against for example, Turkish calls for a no-fly zone to be imposed on the Damascus regime.

So, the regime is feeling pretty secure, but only with Russian backing. That security, though, does allow a degree of Russian pressure to be brought to bear. The humanitarian corridors we have seen before during the capture of Aleppo. They are safety valves to get people out, but also a bit of humanitarian window dressing for Damascus and Kremlin.

ROMANS: All right. Sam Kiley for us in Istanbul, thank you for that.

Overnight though, U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said if there is incontrovertible evidence of chemical weapons used, the U.K. could play a role in air strikes against the Syrian regime.

BRIGGS: All right. We'll shift to some sports ahead. The defending champion Golden State Warriors heading to Washington, D.C. today, but they won't visit the White House.

Andy Scholes has more in the "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:22:26] BRIGGS: Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade getting emotional speaking about a Stoneman Douglas High School student being laid to rest wearing his jersey.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Andy.


Joaquin Oliver was one of the 17 who lost his lives in the shooting. And he was known for love for sports, especially the Miami Heat and Dwyane Wade. He was laid to rest wearing a Wade Heat jersey. That hit home for wade who said he is dedicating the rest of his season to Joaquin.


DWYANE WADE, MIAMI HEAT: I don't know the word for it. I retweeted it on Twitter. You are going to make me cry. It is emotional thinking about that and his parents felt that burying him in my jersey was something he wanted. So, I take a lot of pride in what I have done in this state and what I have meant for the youth. So, I appreciate it.


SCHOLES: The Heat will be wearing Stoneman Douglas patches on their jerseys for the rest of the season.

All right. The Golden State Warriors will be in Washington, D.C. today, but they will not celebrating their recent championship at the White House. Head coach Steve Kerr, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry have all been outspoken about their views on President Trump. And President Trump meanwhile also rescinded their invitation to celebrate their championship.

After a win over the Knicks last night, Klay Thompson revealing instead of the traditional trip, the team will spend time with youth in the area.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KLAY THOMPSON, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: The White House disagreed. There are other circumstances that we feel uncomfortable doing. We will not make it political. We will take kids to the African-American museum and hopefully teach them things we learned along the way.


SCHOLES: Pelican star Anthony Davis with a historic game against the Suns last night. Davis dominating, 53 points and 18 rebounds in the 125-116 win. Davis is the second player in NBA history with at least 50 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks in a game.

All right. The NFL is expected to demand Cowboys owner Jerry Jones pay the league back millions of dollars in legal fees after he put up a fight over Roger Goodell's contract extension and the Ezekiel Elliot's suspension. That's according to multiple reports.

"The New York Times' who cites five unnamed legal officials characterized the reimbursement as a fine to be levied on Jones by Goodell for conduct detrimental to the league.

[05:25:00] But ESPN is reporting that it is simply an old rule that states that owners who bring litigation against other owners must reimburse them for the legal fees. Jones and the Cowboys have not commented yet on these reports.

Finally, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson putting on a show while taking batting practice with the Yankees yesterday. He blasted six home runs in spring training. Wilson claims it was his first batting practice of the year. But Yankees Slugger Aaron Judge isn't buying it. He told reporters that I think he's been practicing. Wilson's baseball rights were traded from Rangers to the Yankees this past off season.

Guys, I'll tell you what, if football doesn't work out, Russell Wilson, he can look he can play some baseball. He was once upon a time a fourth round pick in baseball. So, he's got talent.

BRIGGS: How about Tebow and Russell Wilson in the same outfield someday? I mean, that certainly --

SCHOLES: Quarterbacks playing outfield, right?

ROMANS: All right. Andy, thank you so much.

President Trump says he would have been ready to act at Stoneman Douglas High School.


TRUMP: I really believe I'd run in even if I didn't have a weapon.


ROMANS: The White House now is backing off a proposal to raise the minimum age for owning certain guns.