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Tillerson & Lavrov Talk Syria; Spicer Draws Fire Comparing Assad to Hitler; United Airlines CEO Apologizes... Again; Dortmund & Monaco Fans Show Solidarity. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 12, 2017 - 05:00   ET


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Happening right now: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The visit comes at a critical time as U.S. officials accused Russia of a cover-up of Syria's used of chemical weapons.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The Trump administration issuing a rare apology after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made a comparison between Adolf Hitler and Bashar al Assad.

[05:00:05] Good morning, everybody. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

SANCHEZ: Great to be here with you this morning, Christine.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

SANCHEZ: I'm Boris Sanchez. It is Wednesday, April 12th, 5:00 a.m. on the East Coast.

And it is noon in Moscow, where a meeting between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is now underway. Syria is in the spotlight in Moscow.

In opening remarks, Lavrov denounced the U.S. missile strikes launched in response to the Syrian regime's chemical weapons attack on its own people. Lavrov calling it fundamentally important that there be no more U.S. strikes on Syria.

Yesterday, President Trump warned Vladimir Putin directly against backing Assad in a new interview. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Frankly, Putin is backing a person that's truly an evil person, and I think it's very bad for Russia. I think it's very bad for mankind. It's very bad for this world.

But when you drop gas or bombs or barrel bombs -- they have these massive barrels with dynamite and they drop it in the middle of a group of people. And in all fairness, you see the same kids no arms, no legs, no face. This is an animal. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: By far, the strongest language we've heard from the president on that.

For the latest, let's go live to CNN's Paula Newton in Moscow.

Paula, the president with some very strong language about Bashar al Assad. But we just heard a foreign minister from Russia saying that the U.S. position on Syria is a mystery to them. Why is that?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Boris. Basically saying we had U.S. airstrikes in Syria, but what do you want? What is the policy?

It was so interesting. These were harsh words from Sergey Lavrov to start off this meeting, no conciliatory. Boris, he even brought up the fact that, look, you guys have not filled your State Department post. We don't even know who to call to get any kind of indication about what your policy is.

He then reiterated in saying, look, we do want frank discussions. And he said that the visit was timely.

For his part, Rex Tillerson saying, yes, frank discussions are what we need. He wanted to come to some kind of agreement on terms of at least what the differences are, so that they could begin to work on them piece by piece. But it was interesting, definitely Sergey Lavrov wanting to start off with his grievances right off the bat putting them on the record as the press was in the room before this meeting started.

Interesting to note, too, Boris, right now, the Kremlin spokesperson is on a phone call. We expect to find out in the next few minutes as to whether or not Vladimir Putin will meet with Rex Tillerson. If he doesn't, it will be the first times that a Russian leader does not meet with a secretary of state on their first visit into Russia and will come as a particular insult to Rex Tillerson, someone who already knows Vladimir Putin and had been here as the chief of Exxon.

SANCHEZ: Yes, Paula, it would also certainly be a surprise because the two have had a very fruitful relationship before. Of course, Tillerson as the CEO of ExxonMobil.

Paula Newton, reporting from Moscow -- thank you.

ROMANS: All right. In Washington this morning, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer doing some damage control, apologizing for comments he made Tuesday comparing Bashar al Assad to Adolf Hitler. Spicer arguing that at least Hitler didn't use chemical weapons. Something that's not correct, by the way, since Hitler, in fact, had millions of people, mostly Jews, murdered in gas chambers.

It was a remark that had reporters sort of confounded and they pressed him. And his successive attempts to clarify what he meant were only more baffling. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You know, you had a -- you know, someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons.

I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no -- he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing -- there was not -- he brought him into -- the Holocaust center. I understand that. I'm saying in the way that Assad used them where he went into town, dropped them down to innocent, into the middle of towns. It was brought -- so the use of it --


ROMANS: And then Holocaust centers -- he meant concentration camps, I assume.

Spicer finally made what for the White House is a straight up apology on CNN's "SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer.


SPICER: I was obviously trying to make a point about the heinous acts that Assad made against his own people using chemical and gas. And, frankly, I mistakenly used an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust, for which frankly there is no -- there is no comparison. And for that, I apologize. It was a mistake to do that.


ROMANS: Boris, it's one of those sort of first rules of politics, you don't compare the Holocaust to anything.

SANCHEZ: To anything.

ROMANS: I just --

SANCHEZ: At a loss of words.

ROMANS: Speechless.


We want to bring in a new face for EARLY START, "Bloomberg News" White House reporter Shannon Pettypiece.

Shannon, good morning. Thank you so much for joining us.

ROMANS: Hi there.

SANCHEZ: We have to start with these comments from Sean Spicer.

[05:05:02] It's the second day in a row that Sean Spicer has made comments that are factually kind of off. We do have to ask, is it time for the White House, for Sean Spicer specifically to clean this up and get things right from now on? This is particularly offensive.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: I mean, from the very first day, Sean Spicer's role as spokesman has been controversial. You might remember his very first day on the job, inauguration day, when he called all the reporters into this fiery press conference about crowd sizes at the inauguration and basically attacked the media for not showing the photos he wanted shown.

It's been, you know, sort of an ongoing thing among those in the president's close circle of friends, I know there's criticism of Spicer. One person described him as demeaning to the job of spokesman. He has a lot of critics out there.

He also has a lot of supporters though within the White House.


PETTYPIECE: A lot of people who like him. And in Trump's base, he is very -- you know, viewed very favorably among Trump supporters as the defender of the president and as someone taking on the mainstream media. So, he really has it on both sides.

ROMANS: I mean, he's got one of the hardest jobs in Washington right now, quite frankly. I mean, sometimes you hear criticism that he has an audience of one, that's Donald Trump, the president of the United States. But he's got to stand up there and fight for his credibility every single day.

Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi issued a statement saying he should be fired. She said the president must immediately disavow his spokesman's statements. Either he is speaking for the president or the president should have known better than to hire him.

My cynical brain says, well, now, he's for sure safe, you know? I mean, the president is not going to fire him because Nancy Pelosi says he should go.

PETTYPIECE: I don't think he's going to be fired tomorrow, but the president is going through a process of really thinking about his staffing as has been kind of wildly reported about the palace intrigue and where we go from here.

I think that Sean Spicer was trying to clean this up as quickly as he could yesterday. He could have moved quicker. He first tried to clarify it in the press briefing. That didn't go over well.

He put out a statement shortly later that really didn't -- wasn't a full apology. Then it was maybe about four hours later where he hastily went to CNN and be your producer there and said, I want to go live, and then did a full apology to really try and clamp this down I think in hopes that we wouldn't be talking about this story for three days like we are United Airlines with another botched apology.

ROMANS: Exactly.

SANCHEZ: Yes. One quick question about the palace intrigue that you mentioned. In the past couple of days, somebody that's been wrapped up in this palace intrigue is Steve Bannon. His alleged battles with Jared Kushner. I shouldn't say alleged anymore because yesterday, the president acknowledged that there was some in fighting in the White House to "The New York Post".

I want to read you some of the comments that he made about Steve Bannon after being asked if Bannon had his full confidence. He said, quote, "I like Steve, but you have to remember, he was not involved in my campaign until very late. I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn't know Steve. I'm my own strategist. Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will."

That's not exactly a full throated vote of confidence in an adviser that is at one point seemed that he had the president's ear fully.

PETTYPIECE: Yes. I thought that was a very strong statement, and this point that, hey, Steve Bannon didn't come in until August was a point I heard another administration official making to try and back walk the influence that Steve Bannon's had on this White House and this presidency.

It's a reminder though, and anybody should know this, Steve Bannon as well as anybody else, there is only one top adviser to the president and that's his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. And family comes first with this president. And anyone who spars with family or tries to come in between him and his family is doing so at their peril. So, a warning shot if not a beginning of an end.

ROMANS: Shannon, can I ask you quickly? The president sat down with Maria Bartiromo at FOX Business yesterday and he talked his legislative priorities and his agenda and he talked about putting health care reform before tax reform again.

I want you to listen to this sound.


TRUMP: We're going to have a phenomenal tax reform but I have to do health care first. I want to do it first, to really do it right. Health care is going to happen at some point. Now, if it doesn't happen fast enough, I'll start the taxes. But the tax reform and the tax cuts are better if I can do health care first.


ROMANS: Is there a -- is there a window into the priorities for this president here? Does he have the same priorities as Paul Ryan and Congress at this point?

PETTYPIECE: Yes, I don't know if there's a misunderstanding, a miscalculation of what the situation is on the hill before they left for this break where it was basically like deadlock, they had made no progress. People in the White House keep suggesting that they've made progress. Maybe there's some secret, you know, coalition that's formed that I don't know about. [05:10:02] But I and those on the Hill don't see health reform going

somewhere. So, I don't know where they're going with this effort. I guess we'll see in two weeks when Congress comes back.

SANCHEZ: A lot of people moving in a lot of different directions there.

ROMANS: I know. And I'm telling you, the CEOs he sat with yesterday, they want to see tax reform, they want a plan. You know, Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, has been working for a couple of months on tax reform. Just interesting that this health care thing keeps bubbling up there.

OK, come back in a half an hour. Get a cup of coffee. We will talk to you. We'll talk to you again. Thanks for getting up early for us, Shannon. Nice to see you.

Time for an early start on your money this morning.

The Trump administration set to inform federal agencies today that the president's federal ban on hiring is over. The Office of Management and Budget expects agencies to begin carrying out more targeted and surgical cuts to agency staffing. This is an attempt by the Trump administration to make good on the president's promise to drain the swamp. Just days after he became, President Trump signed a presidential memorandum imposing that hiring freeze on the federal government.

OMB Budget Director Mick Mulvaney isn't providing figures on job cuts, but says the Trump can run the government more efficiently than the Obama administration. Fewer people. This comes just a day after this meeting. The president met with top CEOs at the White House on how to make those cuts. They also talk about infrastructure, tax reform, all of the big wish list of corporate America.

SANCHEZ: And it's a story that everybody is talking about, that the United Airlines viral video that at one point yesterday almost cost the company a billion dollars. Today, they're apologizing for the third time as the video came out of a passenger being dragged off of one of their airplanes. The latest on this story, next.


[05:15:43] ROMANS: All right. United Airlines trying to wake up from its public relations nightmare. The airlines CEO has apologized yet again for a passenger being dragged off of a sold out United flight so that crew members could make the trip from Chicago to Louisville, so they could prevent another flight the next day from being canceled.

Chief executive Oscar Munoz saying this, "I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight. And I deeply apologized to the customer forcibly removed and to all of the customers aboard. I want you to know we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right."

A textbook perfect response to a crisis like this but it took three tries to get that response.

The passenger identified as Dr. David Dao is being treated at a Chicago hospital. His attorney says Dao appreciates the outpouring of support.

Let's get more on this story now from CNN's Rene Marsh.


RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Boris, United Airlines CEO sent out his third message and Oscar Munoz finally got his tone right. But it took two days, a viral video, and fierce outrage from just about everyone who saw that video before. The airline made a direct apology to the passenger who was dragged off of that oversold United Airlines flight on Sunday. He called it truly horrific and pledged a thorough review of how the airline handles oversold flights and how it works with law enforcement. He said the review would be completed by April 30th.

Now, this new statement comes after Munoz doubled down in an e-mail sent to employees actually defending the flight crew and calling the passenger disruptive and belligerent. And in Munoz's first statement, he only apologized for having to re-accommodate passengers.

This has been a disaster for the airline. The press office has not really been responsive and today, lawmakers are demanding the Department of Transportation launch an investigation. We know that the agency said that it was reviewing the incident to determine if the passenger's rights were violated.

Back to you.


ROMANS: All right. There will be investigations. There's a company investigation. There's a Department of Transportation investigation, and there will be business school case studies of how you respond.

SANCHEZ: We mentioned earlier at one point they had lost almost a billion dollars yesterday.

ROMANS: The stock hit about 4 percent. It's down a little bit in premarket trading this morning. We'll watch and see if it recovers. I think it might. I think it might.

In many markets, your only choice is United. And if you -- most customers choose the flight that they want at the cheapest price. So that is the overriding --

SANCHEZ: I've got to tell you, Christine, I'm excited about this story. We don't have a lot of Miami Marlins highlights on EARLY START. But it was cat like quickness not by a Marlins player but by an actual cat who crashed the home opener last night.

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


[05:23:02] ROMANS: Dortmund soccer fans coming together showing solidarity with visiting Monaco fans after three explosives targeted Dortmund's team bus.

SANCHEZ: Yes, it's a frightening incident.

Coy Wire has more on this morning's bleacher report.

A lot of questions about this incident, right, Coy?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: There are, Boris. Good morning to you and Christine as well.

Dortmund had to reschedule their champions league quarterfinals match against Monaco. And they'll play today for certainly no fatalities. One player, though, 26-year-old Spanish defender Marc Bartra was injured. He's rushed to the hospital. Had to have surgery to treat a broken forearm and debris that was lodged in his hand. He is expected to be OK.

Now, while attacks like this are brought about by the worst in those responsible, they can bring out the best in others. Listen to this, fans and members of the Dortmund community reached out to Monaco fans who traveled to the match by tweeting #bedsforawayfans, opening their homes in spare beds for out of towns fans. They are now expected to stay in those homes and catch that match today. More on that to come as we get more details in the morning.

Dallas Mavericks honoring former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo last night. Romo suiting up for warm-ups as an honorary member of the team. He showed some skill. Some people were making fun on him on the Internet how he looked in the uniform. He did have a stroke there.

He did get a chance to thank the Dallas fans.


TONY ROMO, FORMER DALLAS COWYBOYS QUARTERBACK: We're going to make the nuggets wait another ten minutes. Sorry, guys.

Thank you, guys. This is an honor that I could never dream of. It's a little embarrassing, but I'll tell you what, I'm a very lucky guy. Thank you, Dallas. I love you.


WIRE: Dallas fans getting a chance to cheer for Romo one more time after 14 years as a Cowboy, he'll be joining CBS in the broadcast booth this season as their number one color commentator.

A frisky feline in Florida last night. Only Tuesday, but it felt more like "Caturday" for the Marlins home opener. The game was put on paws, if you will, as what appears to be a Russian blue out there on the warning track. Of all days yesterday was national pet day. Players and security guards playing cat and mouse trying to get the kitty cat.

But, yes, this thing, Christine, look at this. I mean, that's a tough kitty to catch. You heard of fast balls. How about hair balls? You heard of outfielders, how about Garfielders?

This one offered quite some time as they're down there in Marlins Park trying to grab this cat. But no, he's nice and cozy out there.

SANCHEZ: Yes, she wound up on that sculpture, probably the best looking part of that thing. Knowing the marlins, they're going to sign the cat and trade it away for another one once it's playing really well.

Coy Wire, thank you very much for the "Bleacher Report" this morning.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Coy.

Happening now, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is meeting with Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. The Kremlin's deputy foreign minister saying this morning the U.S. position remains a mystery to the Russian diplomats. We'll go to Moscow, next.