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EARLY START

The President Praises Intel Committee for Finding No Evidence of Russia Collusion; Deadly Package Bombings in Austin, Texas; British Prime Minister Wants Answers From the Russians Today About Nerve Agent Attack in the U.K.; Special Election Today In Pennsylvania. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired March 13, 2018 - 05:00   ET

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


[05:00:00] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: They're shutting down their year- long investigation despite not interviewing some key witnesses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MIKE CONAWAY (R), TEXAS: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The president tweeting his approval in all caps, 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, offered some harsh words for the panel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think it really is all too easy and a bit of a cop-out to say well, a fox on both their 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

BRIGGS: With the House Intelligence Committee and its Russia probe imploding, Special Counsel Robert Mueller forging ahead. His boss, Deputy Attorney Rod -- Attorney General Rod Rosenstein offering his full support. In an interview with the "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."

ROMANS: All right. Joining us this morning CNN contributor Salena Zito, staff reporter for the "Washington Examiner," columnist for the "New York Post," live via Skype from Pittsburgh. She lives in PA18.

Nice to see you this morning. And you've been somewhat of a Trump whisperer for us over the past year and a half or so. You are the one who very rightly said that a lot of people took him literally and not seriously. That the people who love and support Trump take him seriously, but not literally. You coined that phrase. That's why we love to have you on here.

Let's talk first about Russia and these developments in the Russia investigation. The House Intel panel saying no collusion. Ending its investigation. And at the same time, we have this issue with Russia and the UK and Theresa May saying the Russians were behind this targeted assassination in -- or attempted assassination. And the White House not really mentioning the word Russia.

Where do we stand here on the Trump administration and the Russia issue?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: A mess.

(LAUGHTER)

ZITO: You know, I mean, it's so hard to see through all the noise. Through -- it's sort of like walking through a fog. Right? You keep bumping into these obstacles and all of them have -- are political. So it's very hard, I think, for just your, you know, regular consumer of news to take a look at this and not feel overwhelmed and also not feel as though they understand the scope of what is happening. Because there are so many investigations. Everything is so partisanly divided and everyone sort of has an opinion about it. And people stand back and say just tell me when it's all over and we know what happened because we're overwhelmed right now.

(CROSSTALK)

ZITO: And I think the White House understands that. I think they have an instinct for that. And they play off of that.

BRIGGS: Sometimes it feels like they're trolling the media. But let's turn to Pennsylvania, your backyard. And this huge special election today. Polls open in two hours. This is a fascinating race because Tim Murphy who, before a scandal ended his career, ran unopposed in 2014 and 2016.

ZITO: Yes.

BRIGGS: Nate Silver's 538 Operations says when they weighed this district it's 21 percent more Republican leaning than the nation as a whole. So what does it mean if Conor Lamb can win in this very red district?

ZITO: I think the biggest thing to understand about this race, and because I'm here, and because it's local, and because I understand the people.

[05:05:08] I think Lamb -- for the Democrats, the biggest thing for them is that they should run candidates that fit their district. So this is a very -- even though there's 25,000 more Democrats, registered Democrats in the district, it leans more moderate to conservative. So it's important for the party to pick candidates that fits that mold.

Lamb had -- Democrat is not anywhere on his signs. It's not anywhere in any of his ads. He is almost exactly parallel with Rick Saccone on almost all of the issues. And I think the most -- you know, the sort of deciding swing voter in this is the union voter.

ROMANS: Yes.

ZITO: Tim Murphy was very, very good with the union voter. So was Donald Trump. The problem for Saccone is he is a right-to-work candidate. So that makes the union vote swing more towards Lamb because they believe he has their backs.

I don't -- I don't think as many voters that I talked to who are union voters, they still love Trump. They still will vote for him again. But because of Saccone's right-to-work stance, they are leaning towards Lamb because they see him as someone that is independent.

ROMANS: I think it's really clear here that the Trump victory in 2016 has told both parties that they can no longer take the working American for granted.

ZITO: Yes.

ROMANS: Both parties for years did that. That's why this trade stuff, Salena, I think really resonates for Democrats and Republicans who see a nostalgia for having a living wage and a decent job in a manufacturing base. I mean, both parties have to really zero in on that.

ZITO: Yes. Absolutely. And again, both Lamb and Saccone support the president's trade stance. Support the tariffs. So, you know, Saccone doesn't stand sort of a chance. You've got this young, he's charming, he has this great resume. And Saccone is not young. And even though he has an incredible resume, he served in military for 18 years, he was in the intelligence agency. He was the last diplomat in North Korea. That story has not risen to the top because Lamb is so overwhelmingly different.

ROMANS: And because Trump talked about himself when he went down there.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIGGS: Yes. In part because --

ZITO: You know, I --

BRIGGS: -- about Trump on Saturday night.

ZITO: Look, I talked to a ton of people after they were leaving. And I asked them that. And they're like hey, we came here for a Trump rally. Not for Saccone rally.

ROMANS: Yes.

ZITO: We got our marching orders. We're going to do what we want to do. We're going to go vote for Saccone. But we came here to hear Trump. And, you know, when Trump lists off his accomplishments, it's a reminder to the voter that this is important to vote for the Republican Party so that he can continue making those accomplishments or promises and keep the promises that they voted for him for.

BRIGGS: Yes. This was a Skynyrd concert and they were there to hear "Free Bird."

(LAUGHTER) 2 ZITO: Yes.

BRIGGS: They don't want the news stuff. We'll talk to you again in about 20 minutes about all this. Thanks, Salena.

ROMANS: Come back. Thanks, Salena.

BRIGGS: New information overnight about the deadly package bombings in Austin, Texas. It's 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 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.

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

2(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRIAN MANLEY, CHIEF OF POLICE, 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

Right now another nor'easter churning from New York up through New England. It could affect at least 44 million people with hurricane- force gusts, blizzard conditions along the Massachusetts coast. Winter storm warnings across the region. Schools are closed in cities including Boston, Hartford, Providence and Portland, Maine.

BRIGGS: 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 also will be affected especially at Logan in Boston.

[05:10:03] Meteorologist Ivan Cabrera joining us live from the Weather Center with the latest.

Good morning, Ivan.

IVAN CABRERA, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hey, good morning, Dave. I would say pretty much impossible. It's going to be a dangerous go. The area of low pressure in the nor'easter, the coastal storm, right, is really getting going. It is what we call bombing out at this point. If this were a hurricane, basically it would be the equivalent of this -- going from a tropical storm yesterday to a category 2 hurricane today. That's what we have going here. And the winds are going to be ferocious along with very heavy snowfall that we're forecasting.

Still this is not going to be a New York storm. We've been saying that the last couple of days. I'm thinking of 1 to 3 inches maybe. The ground is pretty warm so it may completely melt. But New England, a whole different story. Look at the banding coming in. By the way, this includes eastern Long Island and points to the north.

We're talking very gusty winds along with the heavy snowfall. 30- mile-an-hour wind gusts reported in Providence. Now we're 45 in Boston. This is just going to continue, right, to be the case right through the end of the day. There are the blizzard warnings that include Cape Cod and the Islands and then coastal Maine as well.

This is where it's going to be really dangerous as far as the winds. Perhaps 65-mile-an-hour winds. I wouldn't be surprised to get upward of hurricane-force winds by later this afternoon. And there are your snow totals. Total 12 to 18 inches. A lot of shovels are flapping over the next few days perhaps in New England, and no question about it -- guys.

ROMANS: A lot of parents searching for their patience.

BRIGGS: I was going to say, yes.

ROMANS: Another school day.

BRIGGS: Another day.

ROMANS: Ivan, thank you so much.

CABRERA: Welcome.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THERESA MAY, PRIME MINISTER, UNITED KINGDOM: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[05:15:55] 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(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)

BRIGGS: Not necessarily. Sanders said that after the prime minister had blamed Russia for the assassination attempt.

Let's check in with international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson this morning in London.

Nic, she read from a prepared statement that was missing the word "Russia." How much does the UK need the United States support on this situation?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Hugely. It's its strongest ally, and the biggest message to Russia possible that there's no division and no dividing NATO allies. The United States- Britain special relationship.

Look, what we're hearing from Moscow already is the fact that the White House didn't name Russia is going down very well there. We have this spokeswoman at the Foreign Ministry in Russia saying that what Theresa May said was fairy tale. So this is an important win on that if you will for the Kremlin right now.

They also have a Russian senator who's come out today and said look, and by the way, he says Russia stopped producing Novichok, this nerve agent, back in the 1990s. And by the September last year it destroyed the last kilogram, the last 2.2 pounds of Novichok under the supervision of the chemical -- the International Chemical Weapons body that's in charge of supervising and knowing about what happens to all these different nerve agents.

We're checking that out with that group right now. So far they don't have an answer for us. But where this puts Theresa May, we can see the answer from the Kremlin. Her question is, you either did it or you lost control of the nerve agent. Clearly they're not going to say either way. This seems to be their position. Essentially a denial that they were capable possible hadn't lost anything.

This puts Theresa May in a tough position. What sanctions can she levy? And this is right where she needs the White House support. Strong sanctions, you need White House support.

BRIGGS: Should be interesting to hear a response by the end of day or not.

Nic Robertson, live for us in London. Thank you, sir.

All right, folks, March madness. It's here. And the first two games of the first four getting under way in Ohio. Coy Wire back with us. Been a while since we've seen my friend. He's joining us for the "Bleacher Report" next.

[05:19:24]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIGGS: All right. Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr using his high profile to address an issue close to his heart. And that is gun violence once again.

ROMANS: Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Hey, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave.

Steve Kerr has been outspoken about his desire for increase gun control in the past. His father was gunned down in a terrorist attack in 1984 when Kerr was just 18 years old. Last night Steve Kerr joined California Congressman Ro Khanna for a town hall on gun control in Newark, California, and said he plans on attending the March for Our Lives demonstration in San Francisco just 11 days from now.

Kerr called the March for Our Lives movement created by the kids from Stoneman Douglas heroic. He said that their push for solutions to gun violence are heartbreaking and inspiring all at once.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE KERR, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS HEAD COACH: I'm here because I'm a citizen of this country and we're a democracy. And when people say stick to sports, stick to coaching, whatever, that means nothing. We all have a voice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIRE: Kerr told the students that they should register to vote and make gun violence their number one issue. He compared it to the anti- war movement during Vietnam.

Four months after winning their first World Series title, the Houston Astros take their celebration to the White House.

[05:25:01] President Trump called the final game over the Dodgers one of the greatest anyone has ever seen. And he also said the Astros' accomplishment was a show of Houston strong. This fitting tribute to the city that was still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

The Williams sisters' sibling rivalry renewed last night for the first time since Serena became a mom. And this was the 29th time the sisters faced each other and it was Auntie Venus beating little sister for the first time since 2014 and the first straight set victory in a decade. Serena has won their last meeting at the Australian Open in January of last year when she was two months pregnant winning that tournament.

Finally, March Madness begins tonight on our sister channel TruTV. 16 seeds. LIU, Brooklyn and Radford playing the first ones with the winner advancing to face number one seed Villanova Thursday. Then 11th seeds St. Bonaventure UCLA playing in the nightcap for a date with Florida on Thursday as well.

Now if you want to join in the fun, you can go to CNN.com/brackets where Dave Briggs was really, really good last year. Christine and I not so much. But I have a different feeling about this season.

BRIGGS: Me, too.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIGGS: I mean, it's impossible.

ROMANS: Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

BRIGGS: No.

ROMANS: So it's going to be good for me this year.

BRIGGS: I can't wait. Coy, I'm taking you out this year, though, buddy. Thank you. Good to have you back.

ROMANS: All right. The entire Intel Community says Russia tried to help Donald Trump win the 2016 election. The Republicans on the House Intel Committee say there was no collusion and 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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