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Questions Grow Over Payoff To Porn Star; White House May Spare Canada And Mexico From Tariffs; Florida Passes Gun Measures; U.K. Police: Ex-Russian Spy Poisoned By Nerve Agent. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 8, 2018 - 05:30   ET


[05:30:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Will the governor sign off on the full plan?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's exactly 30 minutes past the hour this Thursday morning.

President Trump will have his first chance to publicly answer questions about Stormy Daniels this morning. He faces cameras, at least for a moment, before his 11:30 a.m. cabinet meeting. Whether he does or does not speak is another matter.

Controversy growing over a hush money payment to that woman, an adult film actress, 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.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: 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 that if Ms. Daniels continues to talk she may be subjected to significant additional damages.


BRIGGS: The White House doing its level best to downplay this 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 onto something here. A copy of the restraining order obtained by CNN clearly states it is an interim order that can be modified.

For more, we turn to White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 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.

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

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

ZELENY: The payment -- 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.

ZELENY: So while Sarah Sanders tried to say she's answered all the questions and referred 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: All right, Jeff, thank you.

Confusion overnight over the timing and 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.

Aides still working overnight on a plan because the policy is not finalized, including the fate of two of America's biggest trading partners, Canada and Mexico.

Here's trade adviser Peter Navarro last night.


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.


ROMANS: That's a reversal from what Navarro said last weekend that no countries -- no countries would be excluded, but he added that it gives the U.S. time to negotiate NAFTA -- renegotiate NAFTA. The president also tied exemptions to NAFTA earlier this week.

Navarro also reinforces what the press secretary Sarah Sanders said yesterday.


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


ROMANS: Now that helped send U.S. stocks back in -- higher. They rebounded from losses earlier in the day. The S&P 500 closed flat. It had fallen one percent earlier in the day.

Wall Street fears a trade war and it's not just investors. Trump's tariff plan faces opposition from allies, aides, federal, Republicans. A hundred House Republicans sent a letter to the White House yesterday saying don't do this.

It's also part of the reason Gary Cohn resigned as economic adviser.

Many are concerned these tariffs would hurt other U.S. industries like manufacturing or maybe agriculture if other countries retaliate. In fact, China warns it will make a necessary response in the event of a trade war.

Let's talk about this, this morning. Joining us from Washington, "CNN POLITICS" reporter Tal Kopan. Good morning, Tal.

I want to ask you about the process here. Dave and I have been talking about just how clunky this process has been.

We know this is not a traditional presidency but usually, you don't say something off the cuff on a Thursday and then a week later you roll out the policy with no interagency review, with no legal review, with no real even consensus inside the White House how to do it.

TAL KOPAN, REPORTER, "CNN POLITICS": Yes, that's absolutely right, Christine.

And, you know, flashback to last week. We were in a very similar situation. There were all these media reports coming out that the president was going to announce tariffs the next day; no, he wasn't. It was actually pulled back.

And then there was going to be an event and then the event was closed. And then at the last minute, the press was brought into the event and it was then that the president himself said that he had made this decision and there would be more information to come, the White House said.

[05:35:02] Well, here we are a week later in the exact same position where there's this telegraphing oh, it's done. No, it's not done. We're going to have an event tomorrow. No, we're not. It's -- you know, it's not the way a typical White House works and it seems to be related directly to the President of the United States who seems to decide if he wants to announce a policy. We've seen him do this on Twitter at times. If he wants to announce a policy, even if his advisers say they're not ready yet, he goes ahead and announces it.

So to a certain extent, it's always true in Washington, right? The boss is the boss and it's up to the aides to make it work, but we're seeing it play out in an unusually public way in this instance.

BRIGGS: Speaking of unusual, here we are talking about porn stars and the president, and this back-and-forth continues between the adult entertainment star, the President of the United States, and his personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

And here is the press secretary Sarah Sanders weighing in on this scandal yesterday.


SANDERS: The president has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true. This case has already been won in arbitration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said that there was arbitration that's already been won? By whom and when?

SANDERS: By the president's personal attorneys and for details on that I would refer you to them.


ROMANS: If it's not true, and there's arbitration, and that it was won. You wouldn't need arbitration for something that's not true.

BRIGGS: There's a few issues, as Christine points out.

Let's start with the fact that if it's not true then how has the president won arbitration to keep her quiet, as well as the fact that she says the president addressed this directly. I don't know what to make of any of that, you?

KOPAN: Dave, no. Do I know what to make of any of it? The answer is no.

I mean, look, the White House has not been forthcoming on this issue as so many other issues it's not forthcoming on.

And, you know, Sarah Sanders twisted herself in a little bit of knot yesterday trying to explain this in bringing up that arbitration so it was a bit of a slip there in pointing to that. And then indicating that perhaps that makes the argument that the president is on the hook here and is fighting this personally at the very same time that they are trying to distance themselves from this and say Michael Cohen acted entirely on his own. And keep in mind we're sort of talking about -- we mentioned the word scandal which I feel like at this point has lost a lot of meaning, but the notion that this is some sort of tawdry affair -- you know, there's a concern here that this is actually a major campaign finance violation --

ROMANS: Right.

KOPAN: -- if potentially, the hush money was an in-kind political contribution designed to help his candidacy.

So, you know, as we peel back the layers of this onion we're certainly not to the center yet. But keep in mind it's not just about sort of palace intrigue --

ROMANS: Right.

KOPAN: -- or personal matters. There are serious legal implications depending on how this all went down.

ROMANS: Yes, not just like --

BRIGGS: Like it or not, I mean, this stinks.

ROMANS: Yes, not just like gossip, you know. I mean, it's one thing -- salacious gossip is one thing and the president has a history with -- you know, the "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD" tape.


ROMANS: He survived that with really no trouble there. But it's just -- and, you know, gosh, is this woman just trying to become more famous? What do you think?

BRIGGS: She's extending her 15 minutes, that's for sure.

ROMANS: Well, what did you say? That she earns like 75 grand a night at these live shows?

BRIGGS: Yes, right. Myrtle Beach, last night --

ROMANS: So, anyway --

BRIGGS: -- from what I hear.

ROMANS: All right, nice to see you. Thank you so much.

KOPAN: Thank you.

ROMANS: Bye, Tal.

"The New York Times" reports that President Trump took a personal interest in conversations two of his aides had with 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.

BRIGGS: 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.

Just ahead of the close of their legislative session, 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: Good morning, Christine and Dave.

The Florida House passed the school safety bill so now it is headed to Gov. 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 3-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 Gov. Scott. He has said he is opposed to arming teachers.

[05:40:15] His office says he's also opposed to the 3-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.

Gov. 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, Athena, thank you for that.

President Trump will hold a video game summit at the White House today, meeting with industry reps and critics who believe the 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.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing next week with a focus on Parkland and preventing more school shootings.

BRIGGS: 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. They were on site at the time.

Both victims were 17 years old.

All right, parts of the northeast are waking up to two feet of snow on the ground this morning. Should you shovel or will this melt away anytime soon? The forecast is on the way.


[05:46:10] BRIGGS: Millions in the northeast digging out from the second nor'easter in less than a week and we're still seeing near- blizzard conditions in parts of New England.

Wet, heavy snow in Bridgewater, New Jersey taking down power lines and starting a fire near several homes. Expect more power outages as this scene repeats across the country.

ROMANS: Good luck digging out your car today if you're in Morristown, New Jersey. Up to two feet of snow fell in some areas. The storm paralyzing the I-95 corridor. Amtrak service suspended between Boston and New York for the next four hours or so until 10:00 a.m.

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


DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Impressive snowfall totals just west of I-95, Dave and Christine. Some locations receiving over two feet of fresh snow.

But look at the difference for some of the larger city locations like Central Park. Only 3.2 inches of snow from this latest nor'easter.

Now, the storm is quickly pulling off to the north and east. We still have snowfall through midday for places like Massachusetts, Maine, into New Hampshire and Vermont.

In fact, we have winter storm warnings in effect for these locations. That will expire roughly about 1:00 p.m. with an additional six to 12 inches of snow for Maine but perhaps only another two to four inches of snowfall expected near Boston.

Now in terms of temperatures, really cooling things off for the east coast but warm enough to actually melt some of the fresh-fallen snow. Forty-one degrees in the Big Apple today, 35 for Washington. Boston, you'll top 40 degrees.

Back to you.


BRIGGS: All right. Thanks, Derek.

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.


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.


ROMANS: The lawsuit against California challenges its so-called sanctuary policies that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Sessions had harsh words for Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf who recently gave residents advanced warning of the federal immigration crackdown.


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


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

BRIGGS: Veterans Affairs secretary David Shulkin overhauling 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 official has been reassigned, two others have retired. He calls the I.G.'s findings quote "urgent and unacceptable."

ROMANS: A fascinating story this morning. New analysis of old clues is shedding light 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 included that the bones 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 says he is 99 percent sure they are hers.

Let's get a check on "CNN Money" this morning.

Global stocks higher today after the White House hinted at tariff exemptions. President Trump plans to roll out tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum. Markets fear tariffs could spark a trade war but Wall Street rebounded after the press secretary Sarah Sanders said Canada and Mexico could be exempt.

The Dow ended 82 points lower. It had been down more than 300. The S&P 500 closed flat, the Nasdaq ended higher. Right now, U.S. futures are mixed.

[05:50:08] The hot housing market could be cooling. Realtors predict kind of a weak spring selling season, the weakest in years. This is usually their busiest time.

The National Association of Realtors says 40 percent of all sales take place between March and June but homebuyers face low supply, rising prices sidelining many first-time buyers.

And experts worry two things will slow demand this year. Rising mortgage rates -- they're near a 4-year high right now -- and the new tax bill. It caps the mortgage interest deduction and also caps how much property tax you can claim.

Amazon's Alexa is malfunctioning in a very creepy way. It is laughing, unprompted, at users. Over the past few days many report hearing laughter when nobody is using the device. Amazon is aware of the problem and working to fix it.

Voice assistants like Alexa have become fixtures in many homes but some people are still unsettled by them not just because of random, creepy laughter, but many claim Alexa stops responding to requests. One user even said their Echo listed names of local funeral homes and cemeteries.

BRIGGS: Unprompted?

ROMANS: Yes, that's really weird.

BRIGGS: That is not funny. ROMANS: I know. Do you have one of those at home?

BRIGGS: I do. We have both but I've not yet heard the laughter. It's not a cackle, it's more of like a female chuckle.

ROMANS: I'm really slow to the wired-home trend -- the smart locks and all that stuff.

BRIGGS: Good idea.

ROMANS: I just like -- I have a key that goes in the door.

BRIGGS: Keep big brother out --


BRIGGS: -- of the home. OK.

Officials say it was a nerve agent that sickened a former Russian spy and his daughter in the U.K. Where did it come from? We're live in England with the latest.


[05:56:00] 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 it as attempted murder. The big question now, where did this poison come from?

Let's get to CNN's Erin McLaughlin live in Salisbury, England. Good morning, Erin.


That's right, authorities not only saying that they know it was a nerve agent behind this attack, they're also saying they know the type of nerve agent which at this point is really critical to solving this mystery.

Not going into too much detail on the type of nerve agent but the fact that we know what was used already tells us a lot. It tells us that this was probably an extremely sophisticated attack. Nerve agents are incredibly difficult to create and incredibly difficult to use, normally not seen off of a battlefield, so experts are saying that this narrows down the field of suspects significantly.

Also significant to this investigation, the fact that British authorities now believe that it was both Sergei Skripal, the ex-double agent, and his 32-year-old daughter Yulia who were targeted in the attack.

And what they're doing right now is combing through surveillance footage, speaking to eyewitnesses, trying to piece together a time line from the pizza shop behind me where they had lunch, to the pub, to the bench where they were found unconscious, to try and figure out exactly what happened to them, Dave. BRIGGS: Erin McLaughlin live in England as a spy novel plays out there. Thank you, Erin.

ROMANS: Absolutely. All right.

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 is to make sure the U.S. and North Korea actually start talking. 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 points out there has been optimism before.

If talks get serious the Trump administration is thinking about an outside expert to deal with the North Koreans along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Now that's because the lineup of diplomats who have experience dealing with the North seriously depleted at this point.

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

It was not mandatory for Markle to convert to marry Prince Harry but she said she would do it before their wedding. Their wedding is scheduled for May 19th.

BRIGGS: Did you get your invitation yet or are you still waiting on that one?

ROMANS: Not yet but I've got a little -- a little hat.

BRIGGS: I said B-list. You might have been on the D-list, sorry.

ROMANS: I'm not invited.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now. We'll see you tomorrow.


SANDERS: There was no knowledge of any payments from the president.

AVENATTI: The idea that President Trump didn't know anything about this is patently absurd.

STORMY DANIELS, PORN STAR, TRUMP ACCUSER: Hopefully, I'll be able to tell my side.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We are urging caution that this could send the economy in the wrong direction.

SANDERS: He wants to address the trade imbalances. We're moving fully ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This wasn't thought through at all.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: It was completely improper to interrogate witnesses after they provided testimony, and we saw this before in Watergate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's perfectly normal for anyone to be concerned about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What this does show is a heightened sense of paranoia.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, March eighth, 6:00 here in New York.

Here's our "Starting Line."

The Stormy Daniels scandal heating up the Trump White House. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders having to comment on reports that President Trump is trying to silence the porn star who claims that she had an affair with Trump a decade ago. Mr. Trump's personal attorney obtaining a restraining order to prevent the woman from speaking out. And, on to policy. There's confusion at the White House.