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Mueller's Move Prompts Twitter Tirade; FBI's Florida Fail; Parkland Shooter Warning Signs; White House Downplays News Of Plead Deal; Drugged Dog Food; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired February 19, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:12] ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN EARLY START SHOW HOST: Frustration boiling over for President Trump after the latest indictments in the Russia probe. He is claiming vindication, but could trouble be brewing with the former adviser now set to plead guilty.

RENE MARSH, CNN EARLY START SHOW HOST: Anger and mounting questions after the FBI admits it failed to act on the tip about the Florida gunman. Now survivors are lashing out at the President for suggesting the bureau was too distracted by the Russia probe. Good morning and welcome to "Early start." I'm Rene Marsh.

MARQUARDT: I'm Alex Marquardt. It is Monday February 19, happy presidents day Rene.

MARSH: Same to you.

MARQUARDT: It is 4:00 a.m. in the east here. A gale force tweet storm this weekend even by the President's normally high standards. To define president's responding partially after the latest indictments standing from the Russian investigation. Special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday indicted 13 Russians nationals and three Russian companies for meddling in the 2016 U.S. Election. The indictments focused on social influence from Moscow, not collusion or obstruction. The President tweeted the indictment proved no collusion.

MARSH: The President avoided the golf course this weekend at Mar-a- Lago as a sign of respect after the Florida school shooting. Instead a source said that he watched TV and got riled up by his son Eric and Donald Jr. who urged him to take a harder line on the FBI. And he did. As you can see here, the President quoted the deputy Attorney General a New York Post columnist and a Facebook executive and all in an effort to downplay claims of collusion. And he also tried to clarify what he means by his repeated dismissal of the Russian investigation as a hoax.

MARQUARDT: The President finished up with this, quote, if it was the goal of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the U.S., then with the committee hearings and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America. He also took exemptions on the remark about Russians meddling on Saturday from his own national security adviser General H.R. McMaster.


H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: As you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain.


MARSH: The President tweeted General McMaster forgot to say the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians. He then slammed Hillary Clinton and other Democrats. So how are the new indictments and developments in the special counsel investigation going over in Russia? We have CNN's Matthew Chance is there for us this morning in St. Petersburg where the Russian troll farm accused of wreaking havoc on U.S. politics is based. What are they saying, Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Rene, that is right. This is the city where the troll factory is based and actually this is the building right behind me where that internet research agency is said to carry out the work after the latest indictment of the Justice Department to sow discord in the U.S. political system. It is from there, from those four floors where paid hackers and inserted themselves into internet chat rooms and posed as American citizens and organized contentious anti-Islam and pro black rights rallies on the actual streets of the United States as well. You can see, they are saying the big red sign saying the building is now for rent.

We have been watching people going in all day. At least two of the floors are stull occupied and expected to be occupied for at least the next 30 days according to the estate agents dealing with the rental of the building. From the Russian perspective, this is all deniable, of course. And whenever they are confronted with this allegations of election meddling the Russians categorically denied that they are doing exactly that over the weekend as the latest indictment which indicted 13 Russian individuals has been digested over here in Russia. The Russian foreign minister basically leading the denials saying he hasn't seen anything factual and just in his words blather. The Russians are again are taking this traditional denial response.

MARSH: All right. Matthew Chance, interesting you are right in front of the building where they are operating and you are seeing people going in and out. They are still working clearly. Thank you so much.

MARQUARDT: A growing number of questions for the FBI after it acknowledged it failed to act on the tip about the Florida gunman. The bureau now saying the person close to Nikolas Cruz contacted the FBI on January 5th.

[04:05:05] The caller provided information about Cruz's gun ownership and his desire to kill, erratic behavior and even potential for him to actually conduct a school shooting, but the FBI admit it is did not stick to protocols for following up. MARSH: That revelation led to the President's most outrageous tweet

of the weekend. Here is the tweet. He said very sad the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign. We should note the Florida tip and Russia investigation would be handled by totally different divisions within the FBI.

MARQUARDT: That tweet from the President has sparked outrage online. Including among survivors of the shooting, one tweeting, oh, my god. 17 of my friends and classmates are gone and you have the audacity to make this about Russia? Have a damn heart. You can keep all of your fake and meaningless thoughts and prayers. President Trump will have a listening session with high school students and teachers.

MARSH: It is not known if he will meet with Parkland students. Some of them tells CNN they have no interest in meeting him and that they are focusing their anger at the President and congress. Take a listen.


DAVID HOGG, STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: We have seen a government shutdown. We have seen tax reform, but nothing to save our children's lives. Are you kidding me? You think now is the time to focus on the past and not the future to prevent the deaths of thousands of other children? You sicken me.

EMMA GONZALES, STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Politicians put this in your guilty house and senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing can be done to prevent this. We call B.S.!


MARSH: Strong words there. The Parkland students say they plan to organize a March in Washington for gun control. There are signs the shooting may be a tipping point for some with influence. A top Republican donor Al Hoffman vowed to stop funding candidates and political groups that do not support an assault weapons ban.

MARQUARDT: Meanwhile the conservative Oklahoma Senator James Langford says he is open to deeper background checks. Axios is reporting that top administration officials expects the congress will take another look on a background check bill that Senator John Cornyn pushed last year after the Texas church massacre in Sutherland Springs. The funeral for 15-year-old Parkland shooting victim Luke Hoyer is today. Yesterday 14-year-old Alex Schachter, 14 year old Jaime Guttenberg and teacher Scott Beigel who save students from gunfire were all laid to rest. Four shooting victims remain in the hospital this morning.

MARSH: The red flags missed by the FBI are not the only warning signs now getting another look in the aftermath of the shooting. "The Washington Post" spoke to Teachers says problems with Cruz started at least as early as middle school and quickly intensifies. They cite outbursts and drawings of stick figure with guns, disciplinary issue and threatening statements written on his homework. Including references to killing President Obama.

MARQUARDT: They are also hearing from the family who took in Nikolas Cruz after the death of his mother last year, they say they did not know they had a monster living under their roof. CNN's Martin Savidge joins us with more in Parkland Florida.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is information that CNN has been able to obtain in the investigation from the department of children and families. This is state welfare group. They became aware of problems with Nikolas Cruz by putting something on snapchat in September of 2016. Showing him cutting his arms and talking about getting a gun. Investigators were so disturbed, they went to his home and talked to his mother who was alive at the time. Talked to Nikolas at the time and even talked to mental health experts who are helping to care for him at the time. After all of that, they came out and essentially made the assessment that he was a low risk of doing any harm to either himself or anyone else. That was 18 months before he carried out the attack at the high school here. And then lastly, there is Kimberly and James Sneed. The family Cruz was living with up until the very day he allegedly carried out the attack. They said there was no indication. Yes, he was quirky. He was odd. Nothing to insinuate that he was about to carry out a tragic attack. They knew he had guns and one of their restriction is he locked them up in the gun safe giving them the only key. It now appears there was more than one key. Rene and Alex.

MARQUARDT: Thank you, Martin Savidge in Parkland.

[04:10:00] A new report this morning that former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates has agreed to testify against the one time chairman of the Trump campaign Paul Manafort. The Los Angeles Time is reporting Special counsel Robert Mueller will present a revised plea deal in federal court within the next few days. CNN first reported last week that Gates was finalizing a plea deal. CNN Sara Murray has more from Washington.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Good morning Rene and Alex, former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates has apparently struck a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller according to the L.A. Times, Gates will plead guilty and agreed to testify against Paul Manafort who is a codefendant in the criminal case they were both charged in. This had to do with financial crimes that were unrelated to the Presidential campaign. They had both pleaded not guilty. Apparently as part of the deal, according to the L.A. Times, Rick Gates could serve 18 months in prison. That is a lot shorter than what he would potentially serve if he had gone to trial and found guilty. He was looking at up to ten years in prison. Now, if you are Paul Manafort or the co-defendant in the case, this is certainly worrisome news that your former business partner is willing to testifying against you. It could put additional more pressure on Paul Manafort to cooperate in the special counsel probe. It is not clear exactly what Robert Mueller is building up to, if it is just the case of have to do with Paul Manafort or if the cooperation could be a building block to something larger. If this could be an effort to build a potential case against President Donald Trump or some other Trump associates. After the White House has downplayed any potential news of a plea deal essentially saying they believe this all has to do with gates and Manafort activities prior to the campaign and transition. They don't believe it has anything to do with the west wing and won't come near the President. Back to you.

MARSH: Disgraced White House aide Rob Porter's two ex-wives says his former boss Utah senator Oren Hatch sent letters of apology. Initially has defended Porter then eventually he released a second statement saying he was heartbroken by the physical and mental abuse allegations first published in the Daily Mail. The letter described to CNN as a sincere apology for the pain he may have caused us. Hatch saying he was unaware of the nature of the article and thought Porter's political enemies were mounting an attack. Porter's first wife, Colbie Holderness says she appreciates his apology. Porter has denied the allegations.

MARQUARDT: A drug to help euthanize your pet ended up in dog food that was shipped nationwide. Recall information and what to look for coming up next.


[04:16:42] MARSH: Police in Atlanta are searching for an Uber each driver suspected in the shooting death of a customer this weekend. The victim, a 30-year-old man, met the driver and received his order and began walking away from the vehicle. The victim and the delivery driver apparently exchanged words and police say shots were fired from the vehicle. Uber eats is working with police. Adding our hearts go out to the families of those involved.

MARQUARDT: And now there is a voluntary recall of canned dog food this morning that may contain a drug that has been used to euthanize animals. FDA says low levels of the drug pentobarbital were detected in cans gravy train dog food produce by the company MINA: Smucker. Pentobarbital is most commonly used as a sedative anesthetic or for euthanasia. The FDA preliminary evaluation indicated that the low levels were unlikely to post a health risk to pets. The Smucker Company, a statement says, it identified the root cause as a single supplier and single minor ingredient use at one manufacturing facility.

MARSH: A big fight across the pond for the film "Three billboards outside ebbing, Missouri." It won five statues at the British academy film awards, including best picture. The film also won best actress for Frances McDormand and best supporting actor prize for Sam Rockwell. The awards British equivalent for the Oscars can be hit or miss when it comes to predicting the outcome of Hollywood Academy Awards next month. Just like at the Golden Globes, many stars wore black in support of time's up and #metoo movement which aimed to improve treatment of women in the entertainment and other industries.

MARQUARDT: It was a star-studded night in the NBA with the annual all-star game, featuring a new format this year with two handpicked teams. It was Team Lebron as in Lebron James, the captain versus and team Stephen as in Curry. Team Lebron won with 148-145, James himself had 29 pints, 10 rebounds and 8 assist winning his third all-star game MVP. One of the most memorable or unforgettable moments came before the game when the singer Fergie from the Black-Eyed Peas, delivered a slow and you could say sultry rendition of the national anthem.


O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming and the rockets.


MARQUARDT: Very passionate. You can see the players as well as Chance the rapper on the sidelines laughing. Steph Curry during halftime actually liked a tweet that mocks Fergie's performance. Not very nice.

MARSH: No not at all. She sounded good to me.

MARQUARDT: The U.S. Women's hockey team setting its sights on the gold medal. Coy Wire has all the action from Pyeongchang, South Korea, next.


[04:23:51] MARQUARDT: U.S. Women's hockey team is heading back to the gold medal game for the third straight winter Olympics.

MARSH: And Coy Wire has more for us from Pyeongchang. How are you this morning?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Alex and Rene, it is warm this morning. It is 32 degrees. I feel great over here. Good morning to you. The U.S. Women have medaled in hockey in every winter Olympics. They have not won gold since '98 that is the very first year it was played in the games, but facing Finland. They jumped to an early lead. A goal from Gigi Marchand. They scored two goals in 34 seconds at one point. Back to the gold medal round they go for the third straight Olympics. Having lost to Canada the last two games. They will face them again or the Olympic athletes from Russia. Now 13 days after the emergency appendectomy, American bobsledder Justin Olsen did the unimaginable he pushed and piloted an 800 pound bobsled down the track with his teammate.

[04:25:03] They are currently 12th overall. Three days after Justin arrived in South Korea, pain sent him to the ground, sent them to surgery and unquestionable if he would be able to compete. Olsen is back. The two-man final runs are later this morning eastern time. Olsen's best shot at a medal perhaps in four-man competition later this week. That is the U.S.'s best event.

All right. New sport in the Olympics making its debut. Snowboarding big air. Riders speeding down the ramp over half a football field long and rocketing themselves into the sky as high as it can, getting as many twists and turns as they can before trying to land upright. Pyeongchang has the biggest ramp in the world. Two-time Olympic gold medalist (inaudible) leads the way for three American riders who qualifies for the finals which is later this week. Time for an "Early Start" on medal count. Norway still leading the way, pulling away with 26. Germany with 18. Canada has 16. Netherlands with 13. Olympic athletes from Russia has 11. No golds though USA still outside of the top five. The ten medals overall, but half of them gold. We will see if the U.S. Women's hockey can add another gold to the list.

MARQUARDT: I love when they add new sports.

MARSH: Yes. Thanks so much, Coy.

New indictments in the Russia investigation spark a twitter tirade from the President and now he is facing backlash for his tweets that claim the Russia probe is why the FBI missed a big tip about the Florida shooter.