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FBI Director Upends Rob Porter Timeline; Shaun White Wins Historic Gold Medal; Kim Jong-un Thanks South Korea; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired February 14, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:12] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Day eight of the Rob Porter disaster, and the White House still can't get its timeline straight. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly under increasing scrutiny as sources tell CNN he tried to cover up for Porter.


DAN COATS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Frankly, the United States is under attack.


ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: A stern warning from top U.S. intelligence officials. Russia is already meddling in the midterm elections. What they said about President Trump's willingness to fight back.

BRIGGS: Redemption for Shaun White in South Korea, winning gold in the men's halfpipe. A live report with all the Olympic headlines you missed overnight.

The flying tomato, the godfather of snowboarding, he was incredible, clutch performance. 100th gold medal in the Winter Olympics for the U.S.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

KOSIK: Good morning. I'm Alison Kosik. It's Wednesday, February 14th, Happy Valentine's Day.

BRIGGS: That's right.

KOSIK: It's 4:00 a.m. in the East.

BRIGGS: Happy Valentine's Day.

KOSIK: Happy Valentine's Day to you.

BRIGGS: Or Galentine's Day as some preferred to call it.


BRIGGS: That's right. Check it out. Twitter told me.

KOSIK: I think he's going to give me a rose later. Maybe.

BRIGGS: I will. I will.

KOSIK: All right. Conversations over who could replace embattled White House Chief of Staff John Kelly heating up this morning. CNN is reporting that President Trump called associates in recent days discussing possible replacements for Kelly in the wake of the Rob Porter spousal abuse scandal. Multiple sources tell us the president has made no decision to push Kelly out, but they say names being floated if he does include chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, House majority leader Kevin McCarthy, and Budget director Mick Mulvaney.

Mulvaney has already denied he's under consideration and Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said yesterday the president has confidence in Kelly.

BRIGGS: This all comes as the White House struggles to control fallout over allegations Porter, the former White House staff secretary, physically abused his two ex-wives. Porter denies the accusations. Chief of Staff Kelly defending his handling of the situation, though, telling the "Wall Street Journal," quote, "It was all done right."

The scrutiny only intensified on Tuesday after the director of the FBI upended the entire White House timeline of events here.

KOSIK: OK. Let me go through a quick recap for you. So on Monday the White House said top officials learned the, quote, "extent of the allegations" last Tuesday and that Porter's background check was still ongoing. But then yesterday, FBI chief Chris Wray told the Senate Intel Committee the bureau notified the White House of the allegations months ago.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March and then a completed background investigation in late July. That soon thereafter, we received request for follow-up inquiry and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November. And then we administratively closed the file in January.


BRIGGS: This all comes as we learned Porter was actually in line for a promotion at the same time the abuse allegations were emerging.

Jim Acosta has more from the White House.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Alison, the White House is once again at odds with the FBI, this time over the timeline and the scandal involving former staff secretary Rob Porter. The director of the FBI testified that his agents had completed their investigation into Porter's background last July, contradicting what White House officials have said for days that they only became aware of what happened last week.

The White House offered a new explanation saying that the FBI background check went to the White House Office of Personnel Security. Asked about the shifting explanations, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said she's doing the best that she can. Here's what she had to say.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously the press team is not going to be as read-in maybe as some other elements at a given moment on a variety of topics. But we relay the best and most accurate information that we have and we get those from those individuals.


ACOSTA: Aides to the president are becoming frustrated with the information they're receiving from top officials inside the West Wing. One White House official complained White House counsel Don McGahn received much of this information over last summer and did not share enough of it with top staffers -- Dave and Alison.

KOSIK: OK. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

President Trump's longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen said he paid $130,000 out of his own pocket to porn star Stormy Daniels who once claimed she had an affair with Mr. Trump. It is the first time Cohen has acknowledged making the payment since it was first reported last month by the "Wall Street Journal." Sources say Cohen paid Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, out of concern the accusations could damage the president.

In a statement, Cohen says this.

[04:05:02] "The payment to Miss Clifford was lawful and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone. Just because something isn't true doesn't mean that it can't cause you harm or damage. I will always protect Mr. Trump."

BRIGGS: Cohen says he was not reimbursed by the Trump organization or the Trump -- the Trump campaign, rather, or the Trump Organization. He has previously said the president denies any affairs with Daniels. She has dodged questions about an affair in recent weeks but has not publicly denied it.

KOSIK: The nation's top intelligence official sending a unanimous full-throated warning to the White House. Russia is already meddling in the 2018 midterm elections.

Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, telling the Senate Intel Committee Russia is convinced its previous meddling efforts were successful, and he says the Kremlin will continue using propaganda and social media to widen the political divide in the U.S.

I want you to listen to senators questioning the intel chiefs about President Trump's role in combating the Russian threat. Listen.


WRAY: Making a lot of specific efforts to blunt the Russian --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was it directed by the president?

WRAY: Not as specifically directed by the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Director Pompeo, have you received a specific presidential direction to take steps to disrupt these activities?

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: I'm not sure -- wait, I'm sorry. I'm not sure how specific.


KOSIK: Despite the testimony from his top intel agencies, three sources familiar with the president's thinking say he remains unconvinced Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

BRIGGS: Staggering.

President Trump calls the immigration debate now underway in the Senate the last chance for Dreamers. But negotiations are off to a rocky start with Democrats and Republicans in a standoff over how debate should even proceed. Majority leader Mitch McConnell trying to open the session with a vote on legislation to punish sanctuary cities. Minority leader Chuck Schumer objecting to the measure because it has nothing to do with the Dreamer Act.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: There's no reason -- no reason not to come together and get a solution this week. This has been going on endlessly. They shut down the government over this. I want to see what they want to do.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Finding 60 votes for something that meets the needs of both sides and can deal with the Dreamers and border security is not easy. We all know that immigration is fraught with peril but this is the closest we've come and everybody has to make a really final effort.


BRIGGS: Floor debate faltering, a bipartisan group of senators claims to be making progress behind the scenes on immigration plan that could get the 60 votes needed to pass.

KOSIK: OK. Time for an EARLY START on your Monday. President Trump discussed the state of the steel industry with a bipartisan group of lawmakers Tuesday saying he's considering a range of options to address imports that he believes are hurting U.S. steelworkers.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We cannot be without a steel industry. We cannot be without an aluminum industry. And so what we're talking about is tariffs and-or quotas. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: And the president said these restrictions would help save struggling steel companies from foreign competitors like China that dump low-priced metal on the United States. It's an issue he was very vocal about on the campaign trail. And he framed it as a national security issue, saying he doesn't want the U.S. to rely on steel from a country it could be fighting with in the future.

Republican lawmakers urge caution on this saying they don't want to start a trade war over steel and aluminum dumping issues.

Now this is the administration's latest jab on trade. According to the Commerce Department, trade investigations rose 81 percent in the first 12 months of Trump's presidency with tariffs imposed on solar panels, washing machines, lumber, and paper. The fate of NAFTA, that's the trade among the U.S., Canada and Mexico, that of course still hangs in the balance.

BRIGGS: All right. Let's turn the story -- everyone was going to be talking about at the water coolers this morning. Snowboard superstar Shaun White soaring to historic gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

KOSIK: Coy Wire has more from Pyeongchang.

So tell me, sweet redemption, huh?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Absolutely. Great call. Longevity of his success is impressive. When he won his first Olympic gold in 2006, think about this, fellow U.S. snowboarding gold medalists Chloe Kim and Red Gerard were just 5 years old. At 31 now Shaun White captured his third Olympic gold medal and redemption after failing to medal in Sochi.

Needing to do something outstanding in his final run to take the lead, White did a trick that he'd attempted just four months ago which left him with a gash and over 60 stitches in his face. Well, he nails it. Scoring a nearly perfect 100 to secure the United States' 100th gold medal in the history of the Winter Games.

Once his score was announced, White burst into tears. He was sobbing as he hugged his mom, dad, and other family members who were there. He talked about that moment at a press conference just moments ago.


[04:10:07] SHAUN WHITE, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: At the bottom, you know, all of those emotions hit me, I won. Everything we've been through, every, you know, dream I've had trying to sleep last night.


WHITE: You know, and I'm like living that dream right now. So it's amazing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WIRE: Despite the pressure on the only two North Korean athletes that qualified to be here outright, the nation's pair figure skaters skated out on to the ice in front of the loudest applause of any competitors thus far in the event, performing to an instrumental version of the Beatles' song "A Day in the Life." They put on a career-best performance. They finished 11th out of 22 to move on to the final. They are currently ahead of the United States in the standings. The final is later tonight on the East Coast.

Now wicked winds in the mountains of Pyeongchang has postponed the women's slalom and Team USA's Michaela's Shiffrin's gold medal defense yet again. An organizing committee spokesperson said that peak wind speeds were over 55 miles per hour. You think that would throw off a run? Women's slalom now set for Thursday night on the East Coast.

Let's get an EARLY START on your medal count. Norway still at the top with 11 followed by Netherlands and Canada who have 10. Germany currently with nine. The USA rounding out the top five with seven.

But to finish up on Shaun White, because of this incredible accomplishment, the 12-year span between his first gold and this year's is the longest by any American Winter Olympian ever. And what's more is that Shaun White said in his press conference within the last hour here that his run may not be his last. He thinks he may go on to ride in the 2022 Beijing Games.

BRIGGS: Well, just a remarkable run he's had. Kind of the Tom Brady of snowboarding, but he's also the godfather of the sport. So it's impossible to measure his impact.

Coy Wire, thanks so much for your reporting.

KOSIK: Thanks, Coy.

BRIGGS: It not all positive news for Shaun White, though. Just moments after clinching that gold, Shaun White was asked about sexual harassment allegations logged by a drummer in his band.


WHITE: You know, honestly, I'm here to talk about the Olympics, not, you know, gossips, but I don't think so. I am who I am and I'm proud of who I am, and my friends, you know, love me and vouch for me, and I think that's -- that stands on its own. So --


BRIGGS: Back in August of 2016, the drummer filed an amended complaint to a civil suit alleging White had sexually harassed her. For his part, White admitted to sending her sexually explicit and graphic images last February. The pair reached an undisclosed settlement.

Christine Brennan, who's also a CNN contributor and a terrific sports columnist at "USA Today," has a cover story on this on if you want to read more about it. KOSIK: Good to know. OK.

All right. Israeli Police saying there is sufficient evidence to indict the Israeli prime minister. We're going to tell you what Benjamin Netanyahu is accused of, coming up.


[04:17:08] BRIGGS: 4:17 Eastern Time. And Kim Jong-un thanking the South Koreans for allowing his country to participate in the Winter Olympics. The North Korean leader wrapping up his charm offensive, calling on the two Koreas to build on the, quote, "warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue" that now exists.

Kim's remarks carried on the front page of North Korean state-run newspaper.

Paula Hancocks tracking the latest for us live from Pyeongchang tonight, 6:17 p.m. there.

Hi there, Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Dave. Well, I'm standing outside the stadium at the moment where the joint North Korean-South Korean team is playing women's ice hockey. It's 2- 1, they're losing to Japan at this point. But the most interesting part of it is the one gold that has been scored by this joint Korean team has been scored by an American. Randi Griffin, who is a Korean American, came from Harvard. She has -- is the one that has scored the only goal that this joint North-South Korean team has actually managed to score during this Olympics.

But many of those spectators are saying it's not about the score, it is about the fact that they are playing together. A massive roar around the stadium when that gold was actually -- in the back of the net. Now when it comes to Kim Jong-un, he has said that he's impressed, he has said that he thought that it was sincere what the South Koreans had done for the North Korean delegation. And certainly that's something you don't often hear from the North Korean leader thanking the South Koreans.

The South Koreans have also just said how much they have spent or will be spending on the North Korean delegation, $2.6 million will be spent not on the athletes, not on the high-level delegation. That's just for the cheerleaders. That's for the art troop, the orchestra, when it comes to food, accommodation, transportation. So a lot of money has been put into this effort. And certainly from the South Korean officials' point of view, they think it is money well spent -- Dave.

BRIGGS: That is interesting. Paying for that cheer squad, some propaganda some feel.

Paula, live for us. 6:19 there in Pyeongchang. Thank you.

KOSIK: Israeli police say there is sufficient evidence to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in two separate corruption cases. Authorities claiming they have evidence Netanyahu accepted bribes, committed fraud, and breached the public trust.

The prime minister insisting all allegations against him will be dismissed. In one case, Netanyahu allegedly accepted gifts from businessmen overseas totaling about $280,000. In the second case, police say they have recordings showing the prime minister bartering with the owner of a leading Israeli newspaper for more favorable coverage in exchange for suppressing the circulation of a rival newspaper. Israel's attorney general must now decide whether to indict Netanyahu.

BRIGGS: Several Russian paramilitary contractors among more than 100 men killed by U.S. air strike last week in northern Syria.

[04:20:05] Friends and family of the men say they were working for a Russian company called Wagner that has sent hundreds of contractors to Syria to help the Russian military and pro-regime units. U.S. air strikes hit a force of about 500 pro-Assad fighters as it advanced to attack American-backed Syrian rebels. A U.S. detachment was based with the anti-Assad rebels.

Defense Secretary James Mattis says the Russians told the U.S. they had no forces at that location. A Kremlin spokesman says it had no details on Russians working in Syria. A lot more still to come on that story.

KOSIK: All right. This will make your hair stand up. Some terrifying moments in the air over the Pacific Ocean when the cover tore off of a plane's engine.

BRIGGS: Yes. Wow.

KOSIK: How passengers reacted once they were safely on the ground.


[04:25:17] KOSIK: A hiker who fell over 700 feet off the south side of Mount Hood in Oregon has died. Seven other climbers from two groups who were stranded on Hogsback Cliff have been rescued. Police say strong winds and sunny conditions are causing rocks and ice to thaw making the popular climbing spot extremely hazardous.

BRIGGS: All right. This you've got to see. Passengers called it the scariest flight of their lives after part of the cover tore off the engine on a United flight from San Francisco to Honolulu. Now passengers say they heard a big metallic bang. Check that out. Then the plane began to shake for more than 40 minutes.

KOSIK: Wow, 40 minutes?

BRIGGS: A United spokesman says the plane made an emergency landing in Hawaii, but passengers got off at the gate just as they normally would. Clearly shaken, not as they normally would feel after departing a flight.

KOSIK: Something tells me that must have felt like the longest flight ever. BRIGGS: That's terrifying. Yes. No doubt.

KOSIK: All right. Some happy news here. This morning, Flynn, the bichon frise, is America's new top dog, winning Best in Show at the 142nd Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York. Look at that furball.

BRIGGS: The champ turns 6 next month. And according to his handler, plans to retire after his Westminster win. Not before taking the traditional victory lap, though, which includes lunch at Sardi's, a visit to the Freedom Tower, and indeed lots of press.

Going out on top. Good for him. That's a great breed.

KOSIK: Lots of bragging rights.

BRIGGS: That's a great breed.

KOSIK: They're all great breeds. They're all cute --


BRIGGS: Well, there's a dog for everyone.

KOSIK: Yes. Even poodles.

BRIGGS: Yes -- well.

KOSIK: Even though they're not your favorite.

BRIGGS: Not a poodle guy myself.

KOSIK: All right. The White House struggling to get its story straight in the Rob Porter scandal with talk of a cover-up hanging in the air, that's next.