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Mueller's Moves: Just the Beginning?; White House Minimizes Manafort Charges; Astros Can Win World Series in Tonight's Game 6. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired October 31, 2017 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. A guilty plea. Two indictments and a lot of attention in the White House, the first big move by the Russian special counsel suggests a widening net. Could more dominos be ready to fall?

A lot to get to this morning. Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Alex Marquardt. It is Tuesday, October 31st. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

The White House is in full damage control after the surest sign yet that special counsel Robert Mueller is focused on collusion in his investigation of Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election. A Republican close to the White House says that President Trump is, quote, seething. His aides are urgently warning the president not to lash out at Mueller after the indictments Monday of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his lieutenant, Rick Gates.

ROMANS: Now, those charges weren't necessary a surprise, but what was a shock was the revelation that campaign foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty earlier this month to making false statements to the FBI.

[05:00:01] Papadopoulos admitted to lying to agents about the timing of his contacts with Russians.

The compliant against Papadopoulos outlines a meeting he had with a Russia-linked professor promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

MARQUARDT: It also lays out Papadopoulos' attempts to set up meetings between the campaign and top Russian officials. Despite White House attempts to down play Papadopoulos, that's what they called an overeager volunteer, he was e-mailing with campaign chairman Paul Manafort. And according to "The Washington Post", he was also emailing with another senior campaign official, the national campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, among others.

ROMANS: Now, the revelation that Papadopoulos is cooperating with the FBI is heightening the unease among Trump's allies.

Our coverage this morning begins with CNN's Pamela Brown in Washington. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)


Monday's charges show the Mueller investigation is zeroing in on collusion with Russia and the 2016 campaign, as well as crimes committed even before the campaign.

George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign pleaded guilty on October 5th to making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with Russia, and according to records unsealed Monday, the FBI alleges Papadopoulos falsely described his interactions with a certain foreign contact who discussed dirt related e-mails concerning Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton.

One of the court documents describes an email sent by Papadopoulos to a high-ranking campaign official who a source says is former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. And the email had a subject line: request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump. It went on to allegedly say Russia was eager to meet with the candidate and had been reaching out. The documents alleged that campaign official, Manafort, forwarded the e- mail to another official, Rick Gates.

That email said, we need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.

In another e-mail, a campaign supervisor allegedly tells Papadopoulos: I would encourage you and another policy adviser to the campaign to make the trip if it is feasible.

That trip to Russia never happened according to the officials -- Christine and Alex.


MARQUARDT: Our thanks to Pamela Brown in Washington.

Now, joining us to discuss all of this, CNN political analyst, Julian Zelizer, historian and professor at Princeton University, and "Washington Examiner" White House correspondent Sarah Westwood.

Good morning to both of you.

ROMANS: Good morning.


MARQUARDT: Now, Julian, let me start with you. Which will be more damaging, do you think to President Trump, the confession of George Papadopoulos and the fact that he is working with the authorities, or these indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates?

ZELIZER: In the short term, the confession is very damaging, because here, after all the discussion of no collusion, no contact, here you have a point of contact in vivid detail. So I think even politically, that matters in terms of how people see it.

I think Manafort and the financial ties are significant, though. This is pretty vast and the question is what motivated Manafort during this period, what were some of the financial, not just political connections between Russian official and the Trump campaign. And I think this is all part of the bigger story that Mueller is trying to understand.

So, in the end, I think both are pieces of a puzzle rather than one, rather than the other being more important.

ROMANS: Interesting. Sarah, you know, we're talking about this piece of the puzzle. You know, the Paul Manafort angle was something that was expected. You know, we knew that the FBI had talked to him. We knew there was an investigation going on there.

But the Papadopoulos, the George Papadopoulos was surprising. It shows a couple of things I think that Bob Mueller has a tight control of this investigation. I mean, this is somebody arrested back in July, originally interviewed back in January. And just now, we're learning about this.

Here's what Sarah Huckabee Sanders from the White House press podium yesterday said about the Papadopoulos role.


REPORTER: Sarah, can you just explain what George Papadopoulos' role with the campaign was?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was extremely limited. It was a volunteer position, and again, no activity was ever done in an official capacity on behalf of the campaign in that regard.

REPORTER: What about the outreach to the campaign officials to try to put together this --

SANDERS: You mean the outreach that was repeatedly denied?


ROMANS: Yet, we've also learned this from the -- this we've learned in the documents yesterday. Campaign official in August, 2016, a supervisor told him, I would encourage you to make the trip if feasible. "The Washington Post" reporting that is Sam Clovis. The Papadopoulos angle here is the big surprise. What does it tell you?

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Clearly, White House was unprepared for this news to come out. I think supporters of the president in Washington were preparing their defenses to talk about the Paul Manafort indictments to prepare to insulate the president from these allegations of collusion.

[05:05:09] Then the Papadopoulos news broke, and some of those allies were scrambling to insulate the president from that, because this is the potentially the most explicit evidence why et that Trump campaign aides were not forthcoming about their connections to Russian.

But again the problem was not so much that very low level person was trying to set up the meetings with Russia officials but that he lied about it to investigators. Otherwise, it doesn't appear that he would be facing any kind of liability, and we don't know how many other campaign aides were interviewed by Mueller's team who also tried to misrepresent those kinds of contacts with Russia.

Keep in mind that this interview like Alex mentioned took place in January between Mueller's team and George Papadopoulos. And the Trump campaign was not instructed to preserve all of their e-mails until June. So, in that six-month period, how many other campaign aides misrepresented contacts with Russia to the Mueller team, not knowing that the e-mails would eventually be read by investigators. There are a lot of unanswered questions that we still have with this investigation.

MARQUARDT: A lot. And we did see that flurry of tweets by the president before the Papadopoulos news came out. And then, also interestingly, over the course of the summer, there is that three- month gap you mentioned. He was arrested in July, and confessed and pled guilty in October. And during that time, we understand, Julian, that he became what they call a proactive cooperator. What do you take that to mean?

ZELIZER: Right. I think now the speculation is was he wearing a wiretap? Were they collecting information through him? How proactive was he with other members of the administration and so -- or the campaign? And so this gets people unnerved, which is part of what's going on.

Part of the indictment, part of this confession isn't simply about them. It's about trying to open up more information with other members. Either literally through his role in the investigation, or by causing concern about what more does Mueller know. So that's why yesterday was very big news in terms of the nerves of administration officials in addition to the politics of the situation.

ROMANS: Sarah, what about the reaction the president? I mean, you saw that e-mail earlier in the day where he said no collusion in all caps and why aren't you looking alt Hillary Clinton and the Dems, with five question marks, and then silence after that when the Papadopoulos stuff broke.

What is the risk here for the president in how he responds?

WESTWOOD: Well, I think that the president's legal team from what we understand, was advising Trump not to weigh in on these charges, that Paul Manafort situation is pretty far removed from the allegations of Russian collusion, pretty far removed from the president himself, but George Papadopoulos could reasonably be written off as someone low level enough in the campaign who wouldn't have brought those Russian connections into Trump's personal orbit.

And so, the most risk-free strategy would be to stay silent on all of this. I think that's the kind of advice you saw the president getting. And we didn't hear a lot out of the White House yesterday except for what Sarah Sanders said from the podium. There was no other statement from any other White House official.

ROMANS: Gosh, such a big week this week. You've got, you know, a Fed chief likely to be named. The president going on what could be a very important trip. Will be a very important trip.

You know, when you talk about, Julian Zelizer, the job of being president of the United States, this is a big week.

ZELIZER: Oh, absolutely. We've seen this before. Where big things are about to happen for the administration, for the Republicans, and boom, something takes place with a scandal, with a tweet, and this was the week we were supposed to hear more from Republicans about tax reform, but now we're hearing about Paul Manafort's taxes. That's not what the GOP was hoping to do.

Here's this big trip but the news will be consumed by Mueller's investigation. So, politically, this is incredibly damaging for Republicans. And we have to keep watching the Republicans on the Hill. How long will they be OK standing by as all this chaos hurts their party and prevents them from making progress on legislation?

ROMANS: "Daily News" trash smashing Trumpkins. So, we'll be talking about this story all week.

All right. Come back in a few minutes and we'll talk about it some more.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly says that a lack of compromise was the root cause of the civil war. In a Fox News interview, he was asked about the removal of historic but controversial plaques honoring George Washington and General Robert E. Lee.


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which in 150 years ago was more important than country.

[05:10:04] It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now, it's different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the civil war. And men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand.


ROMANS: Both sides, Kelly said, strikingly similar to President Trump's Charlottesville comments.

Kelly, who's from Boston made no mention of slavery, which was, of course, the central conflict in the civil war.

All right. Russian meddling reached more than half the U.S. voting population and that was through Facebook alone. How widespread was the influence of Russian trolls? Details next.


ROMANS: All right. Facebook has news for lawmakers. Russian linked accounts reached 126 million Americans. Lawyers for Facebook, Twitter and Google head to Capitol Hill tomorrow.

[05:15:00] They face a tough question about Russian meddling during the 2016 election. And the scope of that meddling is wider than originally thought.

On Facebook, more than half the U.S. voting population saw posts from the Kremlin-linked troll farm. That's according to the company's written testimony obtained by CNN. Twenty-nine million Americans saw the posts directly, 126 million through sharing. Meanwhile, Twitter identified about 2,700 accounts linked to the same troll farm.

Now, Facebook and Twitter stress this represents a tiny fraction of overall content, but, you know, both companies face harsh criticism for allowing misinformation from run rampant in 2016. Especially Facebook, it's been called a haven for fake news. The Russian posts promoted divisive campaigns and issues like race, immigration, gun rights. The apparent goal was to amplify political discord during the 2016 presidential election.

MARQUARDT: Massive numbers.


MARQUARDT: Now, breaking overnight in Salt Lake City, one person shot and killed just off the campus of the University of Utah. Police say the suspected gunman Austin Boutain is considered armed and dangerous. Our affiliate KSL says police have been combing the foothills around the school into the early morning hours. The victim was in a vehicle when the fatal shots were fired. We'll bring you more details as they become available.

ROMANS: The second suspect in the Benghazi attacks is custody this morning. U.S. forces captured Mustafa al-Imam in Libya for his alleged role in the 2012 attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The U.S. government has video of Al- Imam present at one of the two sites of those attacks.

MARQUARDT: An official tells us that he has since been flown to a U.S. Navy ship. He's expected to be transferred to the U.S. to face federal prosecution. It's unclear at this time when that will take place. His capture comes as the suspected mastermind of the attack is currently on trial in Washington.

ROMANS: All right. Almost 17 minutes past the hour. We are witnessing a World Series for the ages but are juiced baseballs behind all those home runs. Andy Scholes is polishing his Astros gear. But Coy Wire has more on this morning's bleacher report. That's next.


[05:21:40] MARQUARDT: The Houston Astros will have a chance to win their first ever World Series championship tonight.

Coy Wire --

ROMANS: Coy Wire --

MARQUARDT: Sorry, excuse me.

ROMANS: We're so excited to have you here.

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

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. Good morning, Alex.

Now, when the Dodgers and Astros made it to the World Series, we were promised a classic and after five games, those lofty expectations, don't seem so farfetched. Drama is compelling. The statistics is historic.

We've already had 22 home runs. That's a World Series record. And there's at least one more game to be played. Now, debate is raging whether, though, or not the balls are juiced, meaning that they maybe harder to pitch therefore easier to hit.

Astros starting pitcher for tonight's matchup, Justin Verlander, is convinced that something's up.


JUSTIN VERLANDER, ASTROS PITCHER: As a whole, everybody's saying whoa, these are -- something's a little off here. So, I mean on one hand, you can have somebody say that manufactures the balls, they're not different and then you can say that the people that have held a ball in their hand their entire life are saying it's different. You value one over the other. You take your pick.


WIRE: All right. The Astros can seal the deal with a win tonight. Must-see TV. First pitch is set for 8:20 Eastern.

Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension for alleged domestic violence appears to be back on. A federal judge denied him an injunction last night, but gave Elliott and the NFL players association 24 hours to explore their appeal options. Elliott was originally suspended in August after allegations of physical confrontations with his then-girlfriend.

The Chiefs needed to win badly on Monday night and that's exactly how they won. Boy, this was ugly. They scored 29 points in their win over the broncos but scored just one offensive touchdown, five field goals and one defensive touchdown counted for the other points. Kansas City's defense was on fire forcing five turnovers, intercepting Broncos three times. Chiefs win this one 29-19 snapping a two-game losing streak. After mine months away from competitive golf, Tiger Woods announced

that he will make his return next month at this own charities event, the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. Woods makes his return after battling a string of back injuries and after pleading guilty to reckless driving last Friday which stemmed from his Memorial Day arrest.

No sports team does Halloween parties better than the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron James Penny Wise clown costume from the movie "It" was spot on. Kyle Curver went as Willy Wonka. How about Eazy-E. That's Isaiah Thomas pulling it off.

But Dwyane Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union -- girl, you know it's true. They rocked that Milli Vanilli to a T.

One outfit I hope we see, guys, tomorrow morning our Andy Scholes big Houston Astros fan, is in Houston for the game and if they win, he will be in the locker room afterwards for celebration. So tomorrow morning, if the Astros win, we - L.A., we may see Andy Scholes with those champagne goggles as champagne flying everywhere. So, we're hoping for that here in the sports department.

MARQUARDT: Hoping for that. In the meantime, those are impressive costumes, a lot of effort put into it.

[05:25:02] ROMANS: Love the Milli Vanilli.

MARQUARDT: All right. Thanks, Coy.

ROMANS: Thanks, Coy.

WIRE: You're welcome.

MARQUARDT: The White House trying to explain away the indictment of the president's campaign chairman.


SANDERS: Today's announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activity.


MARQUARDT: Even if that's true, it doesn't address the guilty plea by another campaign adviser who's now cooperating with investigators.


MARQUARDT: The president is seething. His former campaign manager indicted, a former campaign adviser pleading guilty and helping the feds. What's in store for the special counsel and the White House?

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alex Marquardt.