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Referendum on Trump's Presidency in Pennsylvania's 18th District?; United Kingdom Blames Russia for Nerve Poisoning; Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 13, 2018 - 04:30   ET



[04:30:38] REP. MIKE CONAWAY (R), TEXAS: No evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: That's the finding. The Republicans on the House Intel Committee, no collusion. They claim the Russians were not trying to help Donald Trump win in 2016, defying the entire Intelligence Community.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A special election with huge implications in Pennsylvania. Today the strongest sign yet if Republicans are in real trouble for the midterms.

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

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

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. 31 minutes past the hour. We got snow out East but it's sunny and 70 where the president is headed.


BRIGGS: He is leaving for San Diego in just a couple of hours. And we start with what is a big win in the president's eyes. But in a move stunning even by current standards, Republicans on the House Intel Committee have 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.


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.


ROMANS: The president tweeting his approval in all capital letters, praising the Intel Committee for finding no evidence of collusion with his 2016 campaign. But one Republican member of the committee, Tom Rooney of Florida, he had harsh words for the panel.


REP. TOM ROONEY (R), FLORIDA: 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.


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

A 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.

With the House Intelligence Committee and its Russia probe imploding, Special Counsel Robert Mueller forging ahead. His boss, Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein, offering his full support. In an interview with "USA Today," Rosenstein says, quote, "The special counsel is not an unguided missile. I don't believe there is any 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.

ROMANS: If there is a blue wave building ahead of the 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. Democrat Conor Lamb facing State Representative Rick Saccone in today's special election.

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


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 these things. All your guys just can't take winning for granted. They have to get

out there, they have to continue this fight.


BRIGGS: 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. 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.

[04:35:04] 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.

ROMANS: All right. Alex Marquardt for us this morning in Pennsylvania.

The Department of Justice announcing it will take action on guns and school violence by enforcing existing laws while asking state and federal agencies to help strengthen the nation's background check system.

It's the latest marginal step taken on gun violence in the wake of the Parkland shooting. President Trump's own proposals fell short at his earlier commitment. The White House trying hard to convince the public he has not given up on reforms including stronger background checks and raising the age requirement to buy firearms.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is pushing forward on things that we know have very broad-base support and that we can immediately get done. While at the same time we're looking at the best way forward to push these other things through whether it's on a state level, whether it's on a federal level.


BRIGGS: The "Washington Post" reports the president was surprised by how many Republican lawmakers told of his gun proposals were unlikely to pass. Vice President Pence also spoke to a number of Senate Republicans who privately raised concerns about what the president said at his gun safety summit.

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

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

Meteorologist Ivan Cabrera joining us live from the Weather Center with the latest. It's been a winter for folks in Massachusetts, hasn't it, Ivan?

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, and it got very long in the last couple of weeks here. Three nor'easters. Incredible stuff. Yes, the cities you mentioned pretty much closed for today. If you're going to be out on the roads, places like Boston or Hartford, you have to be out now and get to where you're getting to in a couple of hours because by then I think things will turn dangerous.

Take a look at the bands here when you see those purples there on the radar. That is indicative of some very heavy snowfall. And those are the bands that are going to contain the wind gusts between 40, 65 miles an hour which is why the blizzard warnings are in effect.

Just in the last hour Boston Logan at 47 miles an hour. This will continue through the next several hours. In fact right through the evening, I think. There you see the pink. This is where we have the winter storm warnings. That's where you're going to get clobbered with snowfall. And wind gusts around 40 miles an hour. You get a little bit closer to the coast and then you can get to the coast.

Look at all the warnings. Basically from Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod, all the way through North Shore in Boston and then along down east Maine, you'll be seeing the blizzard warnings there. And what are we talking about? The difference is well, blinding snow, complete whiteout conditions 45, 60-mile-an-hour wind gusts. And that will be happening later this afternoon.

As far as the timing, there is the storm at noon. And by the way its lowest pressure expected then. And that means the winds will be at their highest as the storm then begins to pull out. This thins is kind of the quick mover but a punishing quick mover in that it will leave us very, very quickly with a good 12 to 18 inches. Now I wouldn't be surprised if some areas picked up two feet out of this big storm by tomorrow morning -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Poor parents up there who need those kids to get back to school. Ivan, thank you. Appreciate it.


ROMANS: And new information over night about the deadly package bombings in Austin, Texas, feeding the theory that the attacks could be hate crimes. Authorities have already said the three incidents in 10 days appear to be related. Two of the explosions taking place Monday killing a 17-year-old African-American male and severely injuring a 75-year-old Hispanic woman. The first blast on March 2nd killed a 39-year-old African-American man.

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


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.


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

[04:40:07] ROMANS: 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 America's Resolute Support Mission.

En route, Mattis told reporters victory in Afghanistan would be, quote, "political reconciliation between the government and the Taliban."

BRIGGS: All right. The British prime minister wants answers from the Russians today about a nerve agent attack in the UK.


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.


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



[04:45:43] 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.


ROMANS: 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.

BRIGGS: In a statement Tillerson said, quote, "From Ukraine to Syria, 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.


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.


BRIGGS: What you didn't hear there, of course, Russia. Also 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.

Nic, good morning to you. Theresa May wants a response by the end of the day. Is she likely to get one from Russia?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: She may get one, but it may not be the declarative statement that she's looking for. There were certainly the White House spokesperson's statement that was certainly warmly received in Moscow. The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman there had been saying that what Theresa May was talking about were fairy tales, ideas that were concocted so that it's been, you know, the White House's position certainly finds a little more support than the secretary of State's position of calling out Russia on this, finds more support in Moscow.

Theresa May's options here are quite limited. They're even more limited now because of we've heard from a Russian senator this morning that says, guess what, Russia stops making Novichok back in the 1990s and coincidently destroyed all of its stockpile, the last 2.2 pounds, the last kilogram destroyed in September last year. And they say that was done under the observation of the International Chemical Weapons watchdog that Theresa May in her speech had said, if the Russian government does acknowledge that it does have this agent and it did fall out of government control, then this will be a case for that International Chemical Weapons watchdog to provide some inspection on those nerve agents.

So already we're seeing Theresa May, if you will, being outmaneuvered somewhat by the Kremlin.

BRIGGS: All right. Should be a fascinating day as this spy novel continues. Nic, thanks.

ROMANS: All right. Last week, Gary Cohn resigned as economic adviser. Now the president telling people he will pick Larry Kudlow as his replacement. That's according to a source familiar with the matter. Both the White House and Kudlow declined to comment.

Kudlow of course is a longtime CNBC economic analyst and a veteran of the Reagan administration. He informally advised Trump during the 2016 campaign. He is also an avid free trader. Firmly opposed to President Trump's decision to impose tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum. Slamming both in a CNBC op-ed and on air. Explaining that the higher costs will be passed to consumers calling them a regressive tax on low-income families.

Those tariffs were the main reason for Gary Cohn's resignation. The president suggested last week he would not replace Cohn with someone who is oppose. Now the president is known to change his mind at the last minute of course. Sources say Kudlow is his most recent pick. Other candidates for the job, Chris Liddle, a former Microsoft GM, CFO and trade adviser Peter Navarro whom many say is the architect of those tariffs on steel and aluminum.

BRIGGS: Safe to say Navarro would upset the markets.

ROMANS: Navarro would upset the markets. Larry Kudlow I think would soothe the markets, so would Chris Liddle because they are seen as being more realistic to Peter Navarro's trade hawk.

[04:50:06] BRIGGS: "The Wall Street Journal" wrote, "The only thing good to say about Liddle is that he's better than Navarro." They were not in favor of that choice either.

ROMANS: No. BRIGGS: Ahead, could it be a UFO? Curious new video from the U.S.

Navy raising a lot of questions. That's next.


[04:55:10] ROMANS: 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. They range in age from just 26 to 34 years old.

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 suspend Liberty's operating certificate.

"National Geographic" admitting to a racist past. It's set to release its April issue which takes on race. The revelations surfacing after editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg asked a historian at the University of Virginia to take a look at the magazine's coverage of people of color in the U.S. and abroad. Here is what was found. Until the 1970s, the publication virtually ignored American people of color who were not laborers or domestic workers. The magazine also routinely portrayed Natives and other countries as hunters and savages.

ROMANS: A New Hampshire judge says the Powerball winner can remain anonymous while collecting her $560 million jackpot. The woman sued the New Hampshire Lottery last month under the name Jane Doe, insisting the disclosure of her identity would constitute a significant invasion of privacy.

The New Hampshire Lottery has a rule requiring winners to identify themselves before taking home their winnings. The woman's attorney says ecstatic would be an understatement to describe her reaction to the ruling. The New Hampshire Lottery says it respects the court's decision.

BRIGGS: Newly released video from the 2015 shows an encounter between U.S. Navy pilots and some kind of unidentified flying object.




BRIGGS: 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 an 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 as they have for quite some time now. ROMANS: Interesting.

BRIGGS: Disturbing questions.

ROMANS: All right. Let's get a check on CNN Money this morning. Global stocks mixed today after the Dow and the S&P 500 fell over lingering concerns about a trade war. President Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum will make those imports more expensive. Bad news for companies like Boeing, Caterpillar and United Technologies shares of all three of those fell at least 2 percent. But the Nasdaq rose as Amazon and Apple both hit record highs pushing Apple's market value past $925 billion. Putting it on the path to become the first $1 trillion company.

For the first time ever General Electric executives will not get bonuses. Why? The company's terrible year. That counts for all past and present CEOs, CFOs, vice chairs, general counsels or HR directors. GE did have a dismal year. America's oldest conglomerate faces a cash crisis and struggling power division. It's also being investigated by the SEC.

Apple is buying the "Netflix for Magazines." It's acquiring texture and digital service that lets readers access more than 200 magazines for a monthly fee. A publications like "People," "Vanity Fair," "Esquire" and "GQ." Financial terms were not disclosed. It's unclear how Apple will integrate this service and what it means for Apple News but it comes as Apple looks to beef up its services business including music streaming and mobile payments. A lot of action happening at Apple right now.

BRIGGS: Gee, there is.

All right. EARLY START continues right now. No collusion found by the House Intel Committee and election day in Pennsylvania.