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EARLY START

Did Trump Know of Payment to Porn Star?; Florida Lawmakers Pass Gun Control Bill; Ex-Russian Spy and Daughter Poisoned by Nerve Agent. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 8, 2018 - 04:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:30:06] MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: The idea that somehow President Trump didn't know anything about this, it is patently absurd.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: That's the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, he says the president must have known about a hush payment to her. The White House now trying to keep this side show from becoming the main event.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Major confusion surrounding the president's plan for tariffs. Today's rollout called off. And staffers working through the night. And the situation one aide calls absurd.

ROMANS: And in defiance of the NRA, Florida lawmakers passed new legislation to curb gun violence. Will the governor sign off on the full plan?

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. 4:30 Eastern Time. Another snow day out East. We start, though, with president. He'll have his first chance to publicly answer questions about this Stormy Daniels story. Later this morning he'll face cameras at least for the moment before his 11:30 Cabinet meeting. Whether he does or does not speak is another matter.

With controversy growing over a hush money payment to the porn star days before the 2016 election, Stormy Daniels' attorney says the president's personal lawyer Michael Cohen secured a an arbitrator's restraining order against her. He says Cohen is keeping up the pressure on Daniels to stay silent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AVENATTI: These threats continued until in fact only a few hours ago when Mr. Rosen -- Lawrence Rosen, the attorney who now purports to represent Mr. Cohen and the entity EC LLC, sent e-mail correspondence to me threatening if Miss Daniels continues to talk, she may be subjected to significant additional damages.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The White House trying to downplay the story. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders saying, quote, "The arbitration was won in the president's favor," to which Daniels' lawyer responds, "Yes, and he also won the popular vote."

Daniels' lawyer may be on to something. A copy of the restraining order obtained by CNN clearly states it is an interim order that can be modified.

For more on the controversy we have senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the White House is dealing with a series of questions about Stormy Daniels, the adult actress and porn star, and her potential relationship with President Trump before the presidential campaign in 2016. and was there hush money that was paid to her?

Now that has been unfolding for the last several days. But at the White House press briefing on Wednesday, I asked Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, if President Trump knew exactly about that payment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: Did he know about that payment at the time, though?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I addressed this as far as I can go.

ZELENY: Did he know about the payment at the time?

SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of. There was no knowledge of any payments from the president. And he's denied all of these allegations. I believe I've addressed this question pretty extensively.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So while Sarah Sanders tried to say she's answered all the questions and referred the other questions to the president's outside lawyer. The fact is that questions still remain. The White House says it's been asked and answered before the election. But the reality is these are new questions because of new legal information.

Certainly a busy week for the White House and it's only Thursday -- Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: And it's only Thursday, Jeff Zeleny.

Confusion over night over the timing and the details of President Trump's imminent trade announcement. He was set to sign tariffs on steel and aluminum imports today. But as of last night the event was not on the White House schedule. With aides still working overnight on the plan, the policy simply has not been finalized. And we don't really know the fate of two of our biggest trading partners yet, Canada and Mexico.

Here is trade adviser Peter Navarro last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: The proclamation will have a clause that does not impose these tariffs immediately on Canada and Mexico.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: That is the opposite of what Peter Navarro said last weekend. He said no countries would be excluded. But he added that it gives the U.S. time to negotiate NAFTA.

The president also tied exemptions to NAFTA earlier this week. Navarro also reinforces what Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: There are potential carve-outs for Mexico and Canada based on national security and possibly other countries as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Also Sanders' statements helped U.S. stocks rebound. The S&P 500 closing flat. Earlier in the day have been 1 percent because Wall Street fears a trade war. But it's not just investors. Trump's tariff plans faces opposition from allies, from aides, from fellow Republicans. 100 Republicans in the House sent a letter to the White House yesterday saying don't do this.

It's all part of the reason that Gary Cohn resigned as economic adviser. Many are concerned these tariffs could hurt other U.S. industries like manufacturing and agriculture and that other countries would retaliate. China warns it will make a necessary response it says in the event of a trade war.

[04:35:05] BRIGGS: "The New York Times" reporting President Trump took a personal interest in conversations two of his aides had with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators. The president reportedly asked former chief of staff Reince Priebus if prosecutors had been nice to him. And he told White House counsel Don McGahn to publicly deny reports the president told him to fire Mueller. Something McGahn later had to remind the president he had in fact done.

The president's conversations with witnesses is significant because it demonstrates Mr. Trump ignored legal advice to avoid the appearance of interfering with the special counsel's investigation. The "Times" reports the president's follow-up was not illegal but would typically be handled by attorneys.

ROMANS: The "Washington Post" reporting this morning the special counsel has new evidence of efforts to set up a backchannel between the Trump administration and the Kremlin. The information comes from businessman George Nader. He is cooperating with Mueller and the probe. The "Washington Post" says Nader has testified he helped set up a secret meeting off the American Coast days before the inauguration to discuss future relations between Russia and the U.S.

BRIGGS: This apparently contradicts statements to the House Intelligence Committee by someone at the meeting, Trump associate Erik Prince. Now congressional Democrats now believe Prince may have deliberately misled them by not mentioning George Nader's attendance.

ROMANS: President Trump will hold a video game summit at the White House today. Meeting with industry representatives and critics who think -- who believe that these games have made kids more violent. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, the president has suggested violence in video games is at least partly to blame for real-life violence.

BRIGGS: The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hearing next week with the focus on Parkland and preventing more school shootings, and just ahead of the close of their legislative sessions Florida lawmakers have passed new gun violence measures defying a big push from the NRA.

More now from Athena Jones in Florida.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave.

The Florida House passed the school safety bill so now it is headed to Governor Rick Scott's desk. The bill would do a number of things. It would raise the age to purchase a firearm to 21 years old from 18 years old, and it would establish a three-day waiting period to buy a firearm with some exceptions.

The bill would also ban the sale of bump-fire stocks. That's the accessory that allows a semiautomatic weapon to fire more like an automatic weapon. It would give law enforcement more power to seize weapons and ammunition from those deemed mentally unfit or otherwise a threat. And it would provide additional funding for armed school resource officers and for mental health services in districts across the state.

The most controversial provision in the bill would allow some teachers and other school staff to be armed as long as they go through 144 hours of training and meet other criteria. That is a provision that has gotten a lot of criticism from students and teachers from across the state, as well as from Governor Scott.

He has said he is opposed to arming teachers. His office says he's also opposed to the three-day waiting period this bill establishes. One thing that isn't clear is whether the governor would veto the bill because it includes those two provisions. Governor Scott said on Wednesday that once he receives the bill he's going to review it line- by-line and talk about it with the families of Parkland victims.

I should -- I should note that the governor, once he receives the bill, has 15 days to decide whether to sign it or to veto it, otherwise it automatically goes into effect -- Christine, Dave.

ROMANS: All right, thank you for that, Athena.

An Alabama high school will be open this morning after an on-campus shooting left one student dead and another hospitalized in critical condition. Birmingham Police say the shooting at Huffman High was accidental. No word yet on the exact circumstances, though we do know the school was placed briefly on lockdown after the gunfire.

Huffman has metal detectors and school resource police officers were on site at the time. The girl who was killed was about to turn 18. The wounded male student is 17 years old.

BRIGGS: Parts of the northeast are waking up to two feet of snow on the ground. Could you shovel or will it melt away? We'll have the forecast for you next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:43:21] ROMANS: Millions of people in the northeast preparing to dig themselves out from the second nor'easter to hit the region in less than a week. Still seeing near blizzard conditions in Massachusetts, in Maine and New Hampshire. Really wet, heavy snow in Bridgewater, New Jersey, took down power lines and started a fire near several homes. Expect more power outages as this scene repeats across the northeast.

BRIGGS: And good luck digging your car out today in Morristown, New Jersey. Yikes. Up to two feet of snow feel in some areas. The storm paralyzed the I-95 Corridor. Amtrak service suspended between Boston and New York until 10:00 a.m. Snow showers, gusty winds could also affect air travel today.

Let's get the latest from meteorologist Derek Van Dam.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The heavy, wet snow has come to an end in New York City but we continue to see the flakes fly near Boston as well as Portland, Maine, as our departing nor'easter starts to pull away from the New England coast.

But look at these impressive snowfall totals. Some locations, west of I-95 receiving over two feet of snow. Now compare that the snowfall reports for Newark, for instance, 4.6 inches. Central Park only 3.2 inches of snowfall.

Now here goes the storm system, still producing snowflakes for Maine, New Hampshire, and to Massachusetts and Vermont through midday today. We have winter storm warnings in effect anywhere you see that shading of pink. Notice New York is not included within that. Additional snowfall maybe six to 12 inches across Maine but really lesser amounts to the further south if you travel towards Boston. Maybe another two to upwards of four inches of additional snow will fall.

Forty-five degrees today in D.C., New York at 41, Boston 40 degrees. So temperatures above freezing, warm enough to melt some of the new snow on the ground. Back to you. [04:45:03] ROMANS: All right, Derek. Thank you so much for that.

The Trump administration and California officials escalating their immigration fight. Governor Jerry Brown firing back at Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the president after the Justice Department sued the state over its immigration laws. Brown slamming Sessions' visit to California as a political stunt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: We know the Trump administration is full of liars. This is basically going to war against the state of California, the engine of the American economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The lawsuit against California challenges its so-called sanctuary policies that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Sessions had particularly harsh words for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf who recently gave residents advanced warning of a federal immigration crackdown.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of our law enforcement officers to promote a radical open- borders agenda?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Next week, President Trump makes his first visit to California since taking office.

ROMANS: Veterans Affairs secretary David Shulkin overhauling the senior leadership of nearly two dozen troubled hospitals nationwide. The announcement follows the release of a scathing inspector general report that uncovered a series of systemic and programmatic failures at the V.A. Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Those failures according to the report heightened the potential for waste, fraud, and abuse of government resources.

Shulkin says one senior regional officer has been reassigned. Two others have retired. He calls the IG's findings urgent and unacceptable.

BRIGGS: The "Washington Post" reports this morning the Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, is working to remove anti- discrimination language from its mission statement. The current version says the department's mission includes building, quote, "inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination." But a memo verified by the "Post" has language that would eliminate the words "free from discrimination" and insert a focus on ensuring opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency.

HUD says it is seeking to make what it calls modest changes to the department's mission statement, but it says no new statement has been decided upon.

ROMANS: The HUD statement, the new statement also uses the word "fair" instead of free from discrimination. And some are saying that fair is the same thing.

Today is International Women's Day and McDonald's is celebrating with a big golden W. For the first time in its history the iconic giant arches have been flipped at one California restaurant. McDonald's will mark the occasion at another 100 U.S. locations with employees wearing special hats and shirts. And upside arches will be featured across McDonald's digital channels.

BRIGGS: New light being shed on the mystery of what happened to Amelia Earhart. Bones were found in 1940 on a Pacific Island near the projected flight path of Earhart's doomed trip around the world. Analysis from that period concluded they belonged to a man. But using new science, a University of Tennessee anthropology professor says they belong to a woman about Earhart's size.

Based on the remains' stature, he is 99 percent sure they are Earhart's. The remains were also found with several possessions that could have belonged to her.

What a fantastic story. This continues to evolve.

ROMANS: I know. It really does. A mystery that endures.

All right. Amazon's Alexa is malfunctioning in a very creepy way. It's laughing, unprompted, at users. Amazon has a fix on "CNN Money" next. This is not funny.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:53:16] BRIGGS: Investigators in the U.K. say a nerve agent was used to poison a former Russian spy and his daughter. They say it was a deliberate act and are treating the incident as an attempted murder. The big question now, where did the poison come from?

Let's ask CNN's Erin McLaughlin live in Salisbury, England.

Good morning to you -- Erin.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. A mystery indeed. And the fact that British authorities have now been able to identify the nerve agent used to ferry out these attack, it's really seen as a critical clue to solving this mystery. Authorities are not divulging too many details at this point but the fact that a nerve agent was involved tells us a lot. It tells us that this was incredibly difficult to carry out. Nerve agents aren't easily made. They're not easily used.

It significantly, according to experts, narrows down the field of suspects. Also significant to this investigation the fact that both, this former double agent and his daughter Yulia were targeted. And what authorities are trying to do now is retrace their footsteps, create a detailed timeline from the ones they had at the pizza restaurant behind me to the pub where they had a pint, to the park bench where they were both found unconscious, trying to figure out just how this attack happened, how they both ended up poisoned on a Sunday afternoon in sleepy Salisbury in broad daylight.

Now we are also hearing from the Home Secretary updating on the police officer also on the hospital first to respond to this incident. She said that he is now talking, although those -- the double agent as well as his daughter remain in critical condition -- Dave.

BRIGGS: The bizarre mystery continues to unfold. Erin, thank you.

[04:55:03] ROMANS: A delegation of South Korean officials will be in Washington today to discuss their meeting earlier this week with Kim Jong-un. South Korea's head of National Security told reporters the most urgent issue right now is to make sure the U.S. and North Korea actually start talking to each another. The North has agreed to stop nuclear and missile testing during negotiations if certain security concerns are met. And China is encouraging talks sooner rather than later.

BRIGGS: Secretary of Defense James Mattis says he is cautiously optimistic about North Korea's intentions but he does point out there has been optimism before. If talks get serious the Trump administration is thinking about appointing an outside expert to deal with the North Koreans along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. And that's because the lineup of diplomats who have experience dealing with North Korea is seriously depleted if not nonexistent at this point.

ROMANS: Meghan Markle has been baptized into the Church of England. The "Daily Mail" reports was ceremony was conducted by the head of the faith, the Archbishop of Canterbury. It took place in the Royal Chapel at St. James Palace.

You know, it's not mandatory for Markle to convert in order to marry Prince Harry but she announced at the time of her engagement she would do it before their wedding. Their wedding is in May.

Let's get a check on CNN Money this morning. Global stocks higher today after the White House hinted of some exemptions for those tariffs. President Trump plans to roll out tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum. Markets fear broad tariffs, they could spark a trade war. Though Wall Street rebounded after Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Canada and Mexico could be exempt. The Dow ended 82 points lower after falling more than 300. The S&P 500 closed basically flat. The Nasdaq ended higher. Right now, you look at futures, they are mixed.

The hot housing market could be cooling. Realtors predict home sales this spring will be the weakest in years. That's usually the biggest selling season. Right? The spring season. The National Association of Realtors says 40 percent of all sales take place between March and June. But homebuyers face a low supply, rising prices, sidelining many first-time buyers and experts worry two things will slow demand this year. Rising mortgage rates, 30 or 40-year high, and that new tax bill, remember, it caps the mortgage interest deduction. Amazon's Alexa is now functioning in a very creepy way. She's

laughing unprompted at users. Over the past few days many report hearing laughter when nobody is using the device. Amazon says it's is working to fix it. Voice assistants like Alexa become fixtures in many homes but some people are still unsettled by them. And not because of the creepy, random laughter. Many claim Alexa stops responding to requests or one user even said there are echoes, suddenly began listing names of local funeral homes and cemeteries.

BRIGGS: I'm creeped out by every part of that story.

ROMANS: I know. Is that a hack? Is it something that was like programmed in and -- I don't know.

BRIGGS: Amazon is in every aspect of our lives and continuing to expand its tentacles.

EARLY START continues right now with the latest on Stormy Daniels.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: The idea that somehow President Trump didn't know anything about this, it is patently absurd.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: That's the lawyer for Stormy Daniels. He says the president must have known about a hush payment to the porn star. The White House now trying to keep this side show from becoming the main event.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The major confusion surrounding the president's plan for tariffs. Today's rollout of those tariffs called off and staffers working through the night on a situation one aide calls absurd.

ROMANS: And in defiance of the NRA, Florida lawmakers passed new legislation to curb gun violence. Will the governor sign off on the full plan? That's the question now.

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

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It's 4:58. It is Thursday, March 8th, International Women's Day. Happy International Women's Day. So sorry to some of you parents who have to have an awkward conversation about what we are talking about inside the Oval Office. But here we are.

President Trump will have his first chance to publicly answer questions about Stormy Daniels this morning. He'll face the cameras at least for the moment before his Cabinet meeting at 11:30. Whether or not he decides to speak on this matter, well, stay tuned.

With controversy growing over hush money payment to a porn star days before the 2016 election. Stormy Daniels' attorney says the president's personal lawyer Michael Cohen secured an arbitrator's restraining order against her and he says Cohen is keeping up the pressure on Daniels to stay silent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AVENATTI: These threats continued until in fact only a few hours ago when Mr. Rosen -- Lawrence Rosen, the attorney who now purports to represent Mr. Cohen and the entity EC LLC, sent e-mail correspondence to me threatening if Miss Daniels continues to talk, she may be subjected to significant additional damages.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The White House trying to downplay the story. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders saying, quote, "The arbitration was won in the president's favor." Daniels' lawyer responds, "Yes, and he also won the popular vote."

Daniels' lawyer may be on to something there. A copy of the restraining order obtained by CNN --