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Trump Irate Over Russia 2020 Intel Assessment; Candidates Gear Up For Nevada Caucuses; Jet Fuel Tanker Explodes in Indiana; NFL Owners Agree to Terms of New CBA Proposal. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 21, 2020 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The Russians are back and the president is irate, but not because of the Russia threat.


He's just unwilling to accept the facts.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: The Nevada caucuses a day away. The candidates making a final pitch and a dash for cash.

ROMANS: And a catastrophic tanker fire in Indianapolis. The driver lucky to be alive, and wait until you hear who saved him.

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

JARRETT: And I'm Laura Jarrett. It's Friday, February 21st, 5:00 a.m. here in New York.

Well, America's Russia nightmare 2.0, here we go again. Briefing lawmakers last week, the intel community said it believes Russia is already taking steps to interfere in the 2020 election with the goal of helping President Trump win. This assessment comes less than nine months before America votes. Three sources tell CNN the briefers said Russia's interference is also designed to raise questions about the integrity of the election system itself.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: This is not a big surprise but it illustrates the tremendous challenge that the intelligence community has where they're teeing up facts that our president doesn't want to hear.


ROMANS: The new revelations once again prompting an assault on intel community. The first time we went through, the president was so aggravated by the exposure of Russia's meddling, he fired the person in charge of getting to it bottom of it, FBI Director James Comey, which led to the Mueller probe.

JARRETT: Now, round two and the president is again unable to accept both his victory could be legitimate and an adversary could be interfering.

Already, intel officials who try to sound the alarm are paying the price and loyalists, not career intel professionals, are overseeing national security.

Here's White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Laura and Christine, it's really a fascinating turn of events that we're learning about and I want to start with last week.

There was this intelligence briefing on Thursday on Capitol Hill with a group of bipartisan lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, with this official, Shelby Pierson, who is in this role. Essentially, she is overseeing all of the intelligence related to election security. She's coordinating all of that. It's a new position that was created last summer.

And she told these lawmakers that their latest assessment is that Russia is trying to interfere in the 2020 election and that they are favoring President Trump to win. Now, she told this to a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

We are told by sources the Republicans in the room grew angry with this assessment and then later, the president found out about what exactly had been telegraphed to them and he got irate with the acting director of national intelligence -- that would be this official's boss -- and that's Joseph Maguire, someone who was widely expected to be permanently nominated to that job.

But we are told now that after that briefing happened on Thursday, he met with the president on Friday. That's when they had that tense exchange over this briefing because essentially, the president was operating under this belief that Democrats would try to weaponize that information against him. Even though it's a classified briefing, they're not allowed to repeat that when they're not behind closed doors.

The House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff was in the room and, of course, he has been one of the president's biggest foils through all of the impeachment inquiry and the impeachment trial.

And we're told that the president blew up on Maguire and essentially, now we are learning, of course -- learned days later that now, Ric Grenell is going to be named as the acting director of national intelligence until the president picks someone else to take that top job. Now, we are being told by officials that the two are coincidental -- the Russian report and the idea that Grenell is now going to be taking over as the director of national intelligence.

But, of course, the question is going to be whether or not the president is receiving intelligence he does not like and that is why he is changing, essentially, who it is giving him the information.


ROMANS: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thank you for that.

President Trump now says he's considering Doug Collins of Georgia to become the permanent director of national intelligence. Collins was a staunch defender of the president during impeachment. He could face some of the same criticism that's been raised about Richard Grenell, very limited intel experience.

Also, CNN has confirmed Kash Patel, a former aide to Congressman Devin Nunes, will be an adviser to Grenell at the DNI office. Kash Patel was directly involved in efforts to discredit the assessment that Russia interfered in 2016.

JARRETT: With the Nevada caucuses set for tomorrow, Bernie Sanders is surging in the polls after emerging unscathed from a scorched-earth debate in Las Vegas. There are lingering questions about whether his rivals will unite around him if he is the nominee.

But the Vermont senator is confident he will have the backing of at least one critical Democrat, Barack Obama.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to tell you that he and I are best friends, but we're friends, and I have talked to him on and off for the last many years. If I win, I'm sure he'll be there at my side. If somebody else wins, he'll be there at their side.


JARRETT: Sanders and Obama had their disagreements on some big issues, like the Trans Pacific Partnership, but Sanders says the former president's support is necessary for any Democrat who wants to beat Donald Trump.

The president is holding a rally in Las Vegas today.


It will be the third time he has rallied in a state where Democrats are about to vote.

ROMANS: Democratic presidential contenders are racing to refill campaign coffers, early nomination and now looming, big money ad buys and Super Tuesday states, along with almost half a billion dollars Michael Bloomberg has already poured into his campaign.

The former New York City mayor isn't even on the ballot in Nevada. Bloomberg down-playing his first rough debate.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, the real winner in the debate last night was Donald Trump because I worry that we may very well be on the way to nominating somebody who cannot win in November.


JARRETT: Meantime, Elizabeth Warren is looking for a bounce after her strong showing at the debate. In a CNN town hall last night, she kept up her attacks on Bloomberg's nondisclosure agreements with women who sued his company.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I wrote up a release and covenant not to sue and all that Mayor Bloomberg has to do is download it -- I'll text it -- sign it, and then the women or men will be free to speak and tell their own stories.


JARRETT: Former VP Joe Biden needs a strong showing in Nevada and South Carolina to revive his campaign. He's again facing questions about age and health.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some express concern about the ages of you and Sen. Sanders. Would you, if you are the nominee, go as far to commit to only one term if it meant uniting our party?

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I wouldn't do that. By the way, the two youngest men on the stage now are me and Buttigieg. No -- see, that's the way it goes. You know what I mean?

I'd give all my medical records -- everything, OK -- the whole deal, so you know who I am.

Anybody who starts off saying I'm only going to serve one term is already behind the eight ball because then you're a one-term president and no one worries about what the hell is going to happen after that.


JARRETT: Nevada votes tomorrow. CNN will take you inside the results, special live coverage starts tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

ROMANS: All right, the president leans heavily on his rebranded trade deal with China but new details mean fresh uncertainty for farmers caught in the middle.



ROMANS: Eleven minutes past the hour.

New estimates show China could purchase much less farm product from the U.S. than thought, renewing uncertainty around the phase one trade deal. The president has promised huge farm purchases from China and after $28 billion in bailouts to American farmers, he told those farmers, hey, buy more land, buy bigger tractors. But now, the top USDA economist estimates exports to China will reach roughly $14 billion in a year that end September 30th, that's far short than the president's promise of $40 billion in ag products this year.

According to "The Washington Post", USDA chief economist Robert Johansson said some of the discrepancy the difference between a calendar and fiscal year meaning October, November, December numbers are not included in the estimate. But any way you slice, it doesn't look like those huge numbers the president has promised.

Joining us this morning, CNN business lead writer Matt Egan.

Good morning, Matt.

I mean, this has been something the president has called, you know, promise kept, that all this farm purchases are going to happen. From the very beginning, there have been questions whether or not we're going to make these numbers.

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS LEAD WRITER: We got to watch this situation really closely, Christine, because there's big implications for both the trade war and the election. The fact that the United States and China have stepped back from the brink, that has been a really big positive for the economy, stock market and for American farmers.

But as you mentioned, there's always been some doubt that China would be able to really ramp up its ag purchases, and that has been central to this trade thaw that we've seen. And that doubt has now been amplified by the coronavirus, which has really just shutdown large parts of Chinese economy.

I mean, Apple says they're not going to be selling as many iPhones in China or making as many iPhones. Adidas says their business is down. Airlines are getting crushed, so it only stands to reason that China might be buying fewer products, including from the United States.

So, we've got to watch what happens next closely because if China fails to live up to its promise here, that's obviously going to hurt American farmers --

ROMANS: Right.

EGAN: -- which could backfire in the election from some of those key farm states the president needs to win, and Trump could always retaliate by escalating this trade war as a pretty tricky time for the economy.

ROMANS: Yes, farmers have been very, very patient in some of those really important swing states. We'll see how patient they can be.

Look, markets seemed to be a little bit unfazed by the rise of Bernie Sanders. He is the front-runner in almost these polls, and when you talk about socialism versus capitalism, you know, people on Wall Street don't want Bernie Sanders to be president. Why -- why isn't the market reacting? EGAN: Right, if you had told me, as you could see on that chart, if you told me that the Dow was going to be nearing 30,000 and Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist was going to be leading in the polls for the presidential nomination, I would have said no way. But here we are.

I think there's a few schools of thought. One is that maybe it's just too early, right? The markets are just -- they're focused more on the economy which looks pretty sturdy, the trade war, which looks pretty, and all that easy money from the Federal Reserve.

There's another thought maybe investors are just saying, listen, even if Bernie was president, he'd never get through his ambitious agenda which includes banning fracking and wealth tax and breaking of banks. He'd never get that through Congress.

But I thought really one of the most intriguing explanations from what I've been talking about with investors is that this rise of Bernie was actually bullish for stocks. And that's because investors see Bernie Sanders as possibly an easy foil for President Trump. And if Trump wins re-election, that means four more years of light regulation, low taxes, and that's not to mention his laser focus on the stock market itself.

ROMANS: Yes, absolutely. You know, the stock market, you know, the Nasdaq is up something like 80 percent since the president's election night. And it's central to the president's re-election message is a strong economy, a strong stock market.


But White House economists are admitting the growth will not be as strong as the president has promised. And to get 3 percent economic growth over the next decade, you're going to need Congress to do some heavy lifting like immigration reform, like more workers. What about this?

EGAN: Yes, it is an interesting admission. The White House economists came out and said that, right now, they're seeing 2.4 percent growth this year, that's if Congress doesn't take any further action. They're also seeing 2.3 percent growth next year.

Now, if you look at the chart, that means the economy is going to be growing pretty similar to when President Obama was in office. This is not shabby growth at all, especially this late in economic cycle. I mean, this is the longest expansion in American history.

ROMANS: Right.

EGAN: Veteran market analyst Sam Stovall points out that President Trump is actually on track to be the first Republican president to not have a recession in his first term in office since Teddy Roosevelt in 1901.

ROMANS: Wow. EGAN: But the fact that 3 percent goal has proved to be elusive is important, and I think it reflects a few things. I mean, the United States has aging demographics. We just don't have the talented workers that we need to grow faster. Global growth has been pretty slow. The trade war certainly depressed business spending, and listen the tax cuts, I mean, that prove today be a bigger impact for Wall Street and corporate America than the real economy.

ROMANS: Yes, and those tax cuts did not pay for themselves at 2.3 percent economic growth last year.

EGAN: No, they didn't.

ROMANS: All right. Matt, than you so much for that.

Laura, what's up next?

JARRETT: All right, Christine.

Well, some big changes could be coming to the NFL playoffs. Coy Wire has this morning's "Bleacher Report", up next.



JARRETT: An Indianapolis interstate badly damaged after a tanker carrying 4,000 gallons of jet fuel overturned and exploded. Look at those flames.

The driver survived but suffered serious burns. It could have turned out a whole lot worse for him if not for Holly McNally. Holly had just had a baby five days earlier. She was leaving the hospital after visiting her newborn in the intensive care unit, when she spotted the tanker driver staggering out of his semi.


HOLLY MCNALLY, MOM CREDITED WITH SAVING DRIVER'S LIFE: I'm scanning and people are videotaping and watching but nobody's running over there. Smoke was hitting us.

And I was like just praying like God, please let me get out of here so I can go see my baby. I thought what if that's my son. What if that were Conner, you know, when he's 30? Would you want somebody to just leave him there?


JARRETT: Holly the hero.

Now, the driver is still in critical condition this morning.

ROMANS: All right, 21 minutes past the hour.

NFL owners agree to a new collective bargaining agreement setting up a players vote that could include major changes to the league.

Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hi, Coy.


A lot of proposed changes here, but this plan could give you your Chicago Bears a better chance of making the playoffs as soon as next season. Fourteen teams will make the playoffs instead of just 12 according to ESPN. But that is only if the players sign-off on it.

Right now, the two best teams in each conference get buys during wildcard weekend. But only one from each conference would automatically advance into the new proposal. Under the new format, the defending Super Bowl champs, for example, the Chiefs, they would have had to play last season against the Steelers who would have made the playoffs. The Rams would have made it from the NFC.

The owners are also trying to increase the number of regular season games from 16 to 17. It's something they pushed for during the last CBA negotiations in 2011. Remember, those included a lockout.

Now, some big name players are not happy with the potential new deal. Houston Texan Star JJ Watt posting on Twitter: Hard no on that proposed CBA. The Packers questioned the balance of revenue sharing between owners and players with a tweet with the hashtag, know your worth.

Now, the current collective bargain agreement ends after this upcoming season.

Did you hear what Red Sox legend David Ortiz had to say? He's speaking out on baseball's sign stealing scandal? But he is sounding off on the whistle-blower not the Astros players who cheated their way to a World Series title. He's blasting current Oakland A's pitcher Mike Pierce.


DAVID ORTIZ, PLAYED 20 MLB SEASONS: I'm mad at this guy, the pitcher that came out talking about it and let me tell you why. Oh, after you make your money, after you get your ring, you decide to talk about it. Why didn't you tell about it in the season when it was going on? Why didn't you say, I didn't want to be no part of it, so now you looking like a snitch?


WIRE: Now to a scary moment in the Rockets Warriors game. A ball boy seeing his life flash before his eyes. It's actually a hilarious moment, Christine.

Golden States' Juan Toscano-Anderson stealing the ball and suddenly charging back towards that ball boy who thought he had plenty of time to wipe the floor, but he quickly had to abort mission to get out of the way. Christine, I can only equate this to when you and I sometimes you get

put on camera and you're not ready for it.

ROMANS: Yes, exactly.

WIRE: That's the worst feeling in the world.

ROMANS: Those are great reflexes. NBA quality reflexes right there by that ball boy.

WIRE: Quick as a cat. I am surprised by the agility and reaction time. You're right.

ROMANS: All right, Coy Wire. And I never get caught off camera not ready.

WIRE: No, never.

ROMANS: I mean, we are trained professionals.


ROMANS: All right. Coy Wire, nice to see you. Have a great weekend, Coy.

WIRE: You too. You too.

ROMANS: Laura, what's coming up?

JARRETT: All right, Christine.

Well, the president simply cannot square his legitimate election win with legitimate interference from Russia. Given a chance for a redo, he is digging in. What it means for the intel community.



JARRETT: The Russians are back and the president is irate, but not because of their threat. He's just unwilling to accept the facts.

ROMANS: The Nevada caucuses a day away. The candidates making a final pitch and a dash for cash.

JARRETT: And a catastrophic tanker fire in Indianapolis. The driver is lucky to be alive. Just wait until you hear who saved him.

Good morning. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

ROMANS: Good morning, everybody. I'm Christine Romans. It is 30 minutes past the hour this Friday morning.

America's Russia nightmare 2.0.