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EARLY START

High Stakes in House Special Election in Pennsylvania's 18th District; United Kingdom Blames Russia for Nerve Poisoning; Aired 4- 4:30a ET

Aired March 13, 2018 - 04:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:00:13] REP. MIKE CONAWAY (R) TX.: No evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

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DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: No evidence of collusion finds the House Intel Committee. But they also defy the entire Intelligence Community claiming the Russians were not trying to help Donald Trump win in 2016.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A special election with big implications in Pennsylvania. Today we get the strongest sign yet if Republicans may be in trouble for the midterms.

BRIGGS: And police in Austin, Texas, are urging vigilance. Three package bombs in just over a week. Two of them deadly. New information overnight adding to the theory these could be hate crimes.

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

ROMANS: And good morning.

BRIGGS: Good morning.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, March 13th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East exactly.

In a move stunning even by current standards Republicans on the House Intelligence Community has broken from the Intel Community over the question of Russian interference in the election. Intel Committee Republicans concluding that the Kremlin was not trying to help Donald Trump win, announcing they are shutting down their year-long investigation despite not interviewing some key witnesses.

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CONAWAY: We've interviewed 73 witnesses, we've looked at 300,000 plus documents to try to find what there might be. We've seen some perhaps meetings that were inappropriate or ill advised to have taken. We've seen some chance coincidences where people bumped into each other in various places but no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians or the Clinton campaign and the Russians. But the Putin purported preference for Trump we think is not supported by the evidence.

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BRIGGS: The president tweeting his approval in all caps screaming at you, praising the Intel Committee for finding no evidence of collusion with this 2016 campaign. But one Republican member of the committee, Tom Rooney of Florida, offered some harsh words for this panel.

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REP. TOM ROONEY (R), FL.: We've gone completely off the rails and now we're just basically a political forum for people to leak information to drive the day's news. So we -- as you alluded to, we've lost all credibility.

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ROMANS: The Republicans' move accelerating the disintegration of the House Intelligence Committee into a forum for partisan warfare. Ranking member Adam Schiff says committee Democrats were force to battle with Republicans.

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REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CA.: I think it really is all too easy and a bit of a cop-out to say fox on both our houses. The reality is the mission of the chairman from the beginning was to protect the president. Not follow the facts wherever they would lead. And that was a fundamental problem that we had to deal with and it left us in the position of either going along with essentially a whitewash or calling out the majority every step of the way. And that's the course I think we were forced to take.

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BRIGGS: The GOP staff this morning plan to give Democrats a 150-page draft report. And Democrats are expected to produce their own report arguing collusion did occur.

ROMANS: All right. With the House Intelligence Committee and its Russia probe imploding, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is forging ahead. His boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein offering his full support. In an interview with "USA Today," Rosenstein says, "The special counsel is not an unguided missile. I don't believe there is a justification at this point for terminating the special counsel."

Rosenstein overseas Mueller's investigation because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself. Rosenstein's endorsement of Mueller follows reports earlier this year that President Trump tried to fire the special counsel last summer.

BRIGGS: Well, if there is a blue wave building ahead of this midterm elections, we could get a strong indication tonight in Pennsylvania. Republicans now in the final hours of their frantic bid to keep the 18th Congressional District from falling into Democratic hands. If Democrat Conor Lamb defeats state brat Rick Saccone in today's special election or even comes close in this reliably red district near Pittsburgh, Republicans could be in real danger in November.

ROMANS: Yesterday Donald Trump Jr. came through to stump for Saccone.

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DONALD TRUMP JUNIOR, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: The other side, all they have is hate. That's all they got. OK. They're the party of dependents. They need you to be dependent on them. They need -- the government, they need all of these things.

All your guys just can't take winning for granted. They have to get out there, they have to continue this fight.

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ROMANS: President Trump carried Pennsylvania's 18th District by 20 points in 2016. Polls open at 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

More now from CNN's Alex Marquardt.

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave. It is a big morning in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District. And in just a few hours time, the voters as well as the two candidates., Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone, will be heading to the polls to cast their votes. But this is so much more than a special election in one congressional district.

[04:05:03] This is telling us a lot about the power of the Trump presidency, about the power of the Democratic base, and about the political divisions in America today.

Now this is not just a deeply red congressional district that we're talking about where the president won by almost 20 points in 2016. This is a congressional district that is so red that in the past two races, 2014 and 2016, Democrats didn't even bother fielding a candidate.

Saccone has wildly outspent Lamb. Listen to this. Republican groups from the outside have spent over $12.5 -- $12.5 million on Rick Saccone. Meanwhile, Conor Lamb, with the energy behind him, has outraised Saccone by some 5-1 in the early part of this year.

So there is a lot on the line for Republicans, a lot on the line for President Trump. Even a loss by Lamb in a narrow race could be considered a victory for Democrats. And a canary in the coal mine for Republicans as we look ahead to the midterms in November -- Christine, Dave.

BRIGGS: Alex Marquardt, thank you, sir.

Stormy Daniels, she wants to talk and she's willing to return the $130,000 in hush money she received from President Trump's personal attorney if it allows her to speak freely. Her attorney sending a letter to Trump lawyer Michael Cohen offering to wire the money back by Friday in exchange Daniels would be free to use and publish any text messages, photos, and-or videos related to the president.

Cohen and the White House denied any sexual relationship between the president and the adult film star, though they acknowledged winning an arbitration hearing.

ROMANS: A source close to the president tells CNN he has been asking friends how he should handle the Stormy Daniels scandal. We're told the president is being advised not to fight her attempts to break the confidentiality agreement because it would make him look guilty.

Here's Stormy Daniels' lawyer on CNN.

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MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' LAWYER: They can run. They can hide. We are not going home. I've run out of superlatives to describe this explanation that we heard from Mr. Cohen who now expects the American people to believe that he took a home equity loan out on one of his homes in order to pay $130,000 on behalf of the billionaire running for president.

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ROMANS: CBS says it is moving forward with the interview Anderson Cooper conducted last week with Stormy Daniels, despite the prospect of a potential legal challenge from Cohen.

BRIGGS: Later this morning President Trump boards Air Force One down for San Diego, where he is expected to visit the U.S.-Mexico border and view prototypes for a wall. He'll be joined by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and is scheduled to deliver remarks this evening at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

California Democrats are calling the visit a political stunt. Just last week, the Trump administration sued the state in an attempt to block its sanctuary laws.

ROMANS: All right. Right now another nor'easter churning from New York up the New England. It could affect at least 44 million people with hurricane force gusts, blizzard conditions along the Massachusetts coast, and a winter storm warnings across the region.

Schools are closed in cities including Boston, Hartford, Providence and Portland, Maine. Expect a very rough or impossible commute this morning. Look at that map. Amtrak suspending service between New York and Boston until at least 11:00 a.m. Air travel will also be affected especially at Logan.

Meteorologist Ivan Cabrera joins us live from the Weather Center with the latest. As I've been saying calling them a no-easter. No more nor'easters.

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No. Right. No, everybody was ready for spring. Unfortunately I think the groundhog was right a few weeks ago, right? This is the third in two weeks, Christine. Incredibly stuff here. And by the way, it's intensifying right now so the bomb cyclone, you'll be hearing that throughout today. I think it will be official for the National Weather Service later on.

Look at this band of snow already beginning to move in through the major metros. But again this is going to be a classic New England storm. And I think Boston will be crushed with the heaviest amount of snow. And also the bigger impacts as well because there the snow will combine with what you're seeing already at this hour, 43-mile-an-hour wind gusts reported at Logan Airport. And that just continues to ramp up as we head through later on today.

And the reason for that is the low is in the perfect position and so now blizzard warnings, this is an update from yesterday, for eastern Massachusetts. We're talking South Shore and North Shore, actually Cape Cod and the Islands all included in that blizzard warning. Along with that, I think throughout the morning today, between 8:00 and 11:00 a.m., we are going to be looking at the potential for milder coastal flooding as a result of, well, the water that's going to be coming in. Three feet above average. And there are the latest totals. Still thinking 12 to 18 plus, Christine, across places like Boston. And that's all happening just today. Clears out by tomorrow.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you for that. We'll take it even though we don't like it. Thanks, Ivan.

CABRERA: Yes.

BRIGGS: OK. Some new information overnight about deadly package bombings in Austin, Texas, are feeding the theory the attacks could be hate crimes. Authorities have already said the three incidents in 10 days appear to be related. Two of the explosives taking place Monday killing a 17-year-old African-American male and severely injuring a 75-year-old Hispanic woman.

[04:10:05] The first blast on March 2nd killed a 39-year-old African- American man.

ROMANS: Now this morning "The Washington Post" is reporting both victims killed are relatives of prominent members of Austin's African- American community.

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CHIEF BRIAN MANLEY, AUSTIN POLICE DEPARTMENT: The United States Postal Service has reviewed their records and that we do not believe that this was at all a delivery that came through the postal service. And we're checking with our other package delivery services as well. But the initial indication from them is that this was not a package that was delivered by any mail service. So it was placed on the front doorstep.

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ROMANS: Authorities are warning all residents to be careful with packages. Austin Police responded to 82 calls of suspicious packages last night alone.

BRIGGS: All right. Some breaking news. Secretary of Defense James Mattis arriving overnight in Afghanistan for an unannounced visit. After landing in Kabul this morning, he choppered out to resolute support headquarters. He was greeted by the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, John Bass, and General John Nicholson, commander of the America's Resolute Support Mission.

Mattis told reporters victory in Afghanistan would be, quote, "political reconciliation between the government and the Taliban." Many wondering, though, when the president will go overseas and visit the troops in the region. Still has not happened.

ROMANS: All right, 11 minutes past the hour. The British prime minister wants answers from the Russians today about a nerve agent attack in the UK.

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THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.

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ROMANS: Theresa May was crystal but once again on Russia the White House refuses to say much at all.

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[04:15:52] MAY: It is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially, catastrophically damaging nerve agent.

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BRIGGS: British Prime Minister Theresa May's statement to the House of Commons likely to plunge already shaky relations between the UK and Russia to a new low. May telling lawmakers the military grade nerve agent used against a former spy has been identified. It's a substance developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson standing firmly by Britain and harshly condemning Moscow.

ROMANS: He did. In a statement he said this, "From Ukraine to Syria and now the UK, Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens. Tillerson went much further than the White House. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The attack was reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible. We offer the fullest condemnation and we extend our sympathy to the victims and their families and our support to the UK government.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You're not saying that Russia was behind this attack?

SANDERS: Right now we are standing with our UK allies. I think they're still working through even some of the details of that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: She never says the word Russia and sticks to the script there. Prepared remarks. Note that Sanders said that after the prime minister had blamed Russia for the assassination attempt.

For more let's go to London and international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson.

Good morning, Nic. Those were some strong words from Rex Tillerson, secretary of State, but the White House not even saying the R word.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, and this is something that obviously Theresa May is looking for. She's looking for support from the United States. It's a big ally to have in her corner. She has a short space of time before Russia has to meet the deadline tonight, to come clean on whether it was involved or whether this was somehow the chemical agent got out of the government's hands.

They -- she's got support from the French president. She talked to him by phone last night. She's had support from the secretary-general of NATO. But the reality is her room for maneuver is limited. Britain does have important business relationships with Russia, recently buying gas from a Russian supplier at a time of great need for gas in the UK. So that -- so she'll have all those considerations.

The pressure on her to have perhaps a large number of diplomatic expulsions. Maybe including the ambassador. She could expect a tit- for-tat expulsion if she went that route. She could put forward and try to press ahead with an equivalent Magnitsky Act in the UK which would freeze the assets and travel of key people that are close to President Putin who transgressed human rights laws. These sorts of things.

She could declare Russia a state sponsor of terror. That would be going to an extreme end. So she's in a very, very tough position today.

ROMANS: Indeed. All right, Nic Robertson, thank you so much for that for us this morning from London.

BRIGGS: All right. Could it be a UFO? Curious new video from the United States Navy plane raising a lot of questions. You might not be able to see it there. You see that little dot right in the center. Could that be someone from another galaxy? We'll discuss.

[04:19:19]

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ROMANS: The White House blocking the biggest ever tech deal citing national security concerns. President Trump is ordering Singapore based Broadcom to end its hostile takeover of Qualcomm. The top U.S. computer chip maker, an industry that touches everything from smartphones to cars. Trump writes, "There is credible evidence that Broadcom might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States."

Trump's order follows the rare intervention of a panel that vets foreign deals. It's the committee on foreign investment in the U.S. The committee's concern, China. Broadcom is known for cost cutting. The panel worries that that will slow Qualcomm's development of 5g wireless tech causing the U.S. to fall behind China in the race to 5g. Broadcom disagreed but Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said the decision is based solely on national security sensitivities and did not make any other about Broadcom.

This isn't the first time the administration has blocked foreign investment especially where tech and China are concerned. Last September, end of the takeover of American chipmaker by a Chinese government backed private equity firm.

BRIGGS: A deadly helicopter crash in New York's East River could have been caused by a passenger's luggage. The only survivor the pilot telling investigators a piece of baggage may have actually hit the emergency fuel shut-off button. All five passengers on board the chopper were killed.

[04:25:03] They range in age from 26 to 34 years old.

ROMANS: The helicopter was lifted from the river Monday afternoon. It's being examined by experts from the National Transportation Safety Board. The crash was the third for Liberty Helicopters in the past 11 years. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York calling on the FAA to suspending Liberty's operating certificate.

BRIGGS: Newly released video from the 2015 shows an encounter between U.S. Navy pilots and some kind of unidentified flying object. The clip was released by the private research and media group to the Stars Academy of Arts and Science. The group says the video is authentic Department of Defense footage showing the high speed flight of the unidentified aircraft at low altitude off the East Coast.

It comes on the heels of two other declassified videos of similar encounters published by "The New York Times" in December. The Department of Defense declined to comment on the latest video. No wings, no tail. Over the weekend, "The Washington Post" wrote an op- ed about all these sightings and why, in their words, the Pentagon doesn't care.

What do you think? ROMANS: I don't know. I -- what do you think?

BRIGGS: I think it's too hard to explain what that is with no wings and no tail, outmaneuvering anything the U.S. Military has.

ROMANS: A drone? Could be a drone. Some sort of high tech spy camera?

BRIGGS: Well, it would be nice to know if --

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: If it is that.

ROMANS: All right. The entire Intel Community says Russia tried to help Donald Trump win the 2016 election. But Republicans on the House Intel Committee say there was no collusion. They're shutting down their investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHIFF: It was apparent really from the very beginning from last March when our chairman went on that midnight run to the White House that their real object was protecting the president. It wasn't doing a credible investigation.

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