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EARLY START

Democrat Declares Win in Tight Pennsylvania Race; Tillerson Out, Who's Next?; Stephen Hawking Dies at 76. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 14, 2018 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:15] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONOR LAMB (D), PA 18TH DISTRICT CANDIDATE: It took a little longer than we thought, but we did it.

REP. RICK SACCONE (R), PA 18TH DISTRICT CANDIDATE: You know, we're still fighting the fight. It's not over yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: No official results in Pennsylvania's special election, but the Democrat is claiming victory this morning in a district Trump won by 20 points. Do Republicans now have a steep hill to climb ahead of the midterms?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: More upheaval in the Trump administration. Rex Tillerson is out. More names are rumored to follow as the president looks for advisers aligned with his agenda and style.

ROMANS: And world-renowned scientist Stephen Hawking has died. He persevered against a debilitating disease and brought mysteries of the universe into the mainstream.

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

BRIGGS: Good morning. I'm Dave Briggs.

He did that in part through "Simpsons" and "Star Trek," not just novels and theories.

ROMANS: That's right, that's right.

BRIGGS: It is Wednesday, hard to believe it is only Wednesday, March 14th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

This morning, just a few hundred votes separated the candidates in a closely watched Pennsylvania special election. The congressional race between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone viewed as a strong indicator how things are shaping up for the midterm elections.

Now, at this moment, Lamb holds a slight lead over Saccone to represent Pennsylvania's 18th district south of Pittsburgh.

ROMANS: Absentee and provisional ballots still being counted, but it would be a steep climb for Saccone to overtake Lamb at this point. Today, Saccone's campaign team will meet with lawyers to assess their options. He told supporters late last night he is still in the game.

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SACCONE: You know, we're still fighting the fight. It's not over yet. We're going to fight all the way to the end.

You know I never give up. You know my first race went into the night, we won that. My second race was the same way. We're kind of used to this now, right? That's it. We're not -- we're not giving up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Overnight, Lamb claimed victory in a speech to his supporters, even with no projected winner yet. The razor-thin major is a bad sign for Republicans. President Trump won this district by 20 points, and GOP groups pumped nearly $11 million into a marathon effort to avoid an embarrassing loss.

CNN's Jason Carroll filed this report from Lamb's headquarters.

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JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, David, after a very long night and early morning, Conor Lamb has come out and declared victory, even though there are still votes outstanding and Republican challenger Rick Saccone says this race is not over, not by a long shot.

Having said that, Lamb came out and addressed his supporters, he's crediting the grassroots nature of his campaign. He also credited the labor community who he says helped come out and put his campaign over the top.

During his speech he also talked about the political climate that exists right now. He believes a climate that needs to change.

LAMB: People are so tired of the shouting on TV and in our politics. It's amazing what happens when you're in a room with real people who have real aspirations and real troubles. There's lots of ideas. There's no angry shouting. Our job in Congress is to attack the problems, not each other.

CARROLL: Again, Saccone says the race is not over, not yet. Lamb says for his part, it's time for Democrats to regain their voice -- Christine, Dave.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

President Trump's firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may be a sign of things to come. The president signaling he is prepared to fire top aides he has clashed with and to surround himself with advisers more attuned to his populist agenda and free-wheeling style. A senior official says a shakeup could come as soon as this week.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've gotten to know a lot of people very well over the last year. And I'm really at a point where we're getting very close to having the cabinet and other things that I want.

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BRIGGS: Hovering near the top of President Trump's shakeup list, if you will, embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Two sources tell CNN the president making plans to remove him with Energy Secretary Rick Perry as a possible replacement.

ROMANS: Not far behind, national security adviser H.R. McMaster appears poised to leave after months of speculation. We're also told that outside advisers to the president have gauged the interest of possible replacement for Chief of Staff John Kelly. Kelly's departure said to be less imminent than McMaster's.

BRIGGS: President Trump nominating CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be the next secretary of state after announcing Rex Tillerson's firing via Twitter.

[04:05:05] Tillerson officially leaves office at the end of the month. An aide says everyone at State is, quote, totally shocked, and believed the secretary had survived the worst of it and would keep his job.

Tillerson lists his efforts to bring North Korea to the negotiating table among his biggest accomplishments.

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REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: All of us, we know, want to leave this place as a better place for the next generation. I'll now return to private life, as a private citizen, as a proud American, proud of the opportunity I've had to serve my country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Really an emotional good-bye press conference.

Tillerson thanked the American people. He thanked his State Department staff and the nation's diplomats. He did not mention or thank President Trump. Several other top staffers are resigning or were fired after Tillerson was ousted.

Confirmation hearings for Pompeo expected to take place in April. He's sure to be grilled on his policy positions for Russia and Iran by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. BRIGGS: Tillerson's ouster catching many off guard. A senior

official says the president thought it was the right time for a transition ahead of talks with North Korea.

Mr. Trump addressing the Korea issue during his visit to California.

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TRUMP: We're doing a pretty good job with Korea right now.

(CHEERS)

And hopefully, something positive will come out of it. Hopefully something very positive's going to come out of it. We'll see. We're prepared for anything.

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BRIGGS: So, how will Tillerson's firing affect these sensitive talks?

Let's ask CNN's Paula Hancocks. She's live in Seoul with the latest.

Good morning to you, Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESONDENT: Hello, Dave. Well, it's a very good question, and it's probably one that North Korea is asking itself at this point. We still haven't had any kind of public response from Pyongyang since the U.S. president said yes to that meeting with Kim Jong-un.

But, of course, we know that Rex Tillerson was more positive about engagement with North Korea. He had publicly disagreed with his boss, Donald Trump, in the past about Korea. Mike Pompeo, the director of the CIA, as far as we can tell at this point, is more hard-line in his policy. Now, we've heard him publicly say he supports regime change in North Korea. Now, of course, when he -- if he does become confirmed for the secretary of state position, that his personal position could well change to be more in line with the U.S. president.

But there are some concerns as to what this actually means for this meeting that's coming up. We also know the South Korean foreign minister is on her way or will be tomorrow on her way to Washington. She was supposed to meet with Mr. Tillerson. She'll now meet with the Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, saying it is important at this time when you have two massive summits coming up, the North-South Korean summit, U.S.-North Korean summit, to keep meeting despite personnel changes -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Boy, a massive agenda for Mike Pompeo when he takes over.

Paula, thanks.

ROMANS: CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel stands to take over at the agency. She's a 30-year agency vet and would be the first woman ever to lead the CIA. But key Republican senators want answers about her role in the CIA's interrogation and detention program. Haspel ran a CIA black site prison in Thailand in 2002 and later played a role in the CIA's destruction of tapes of the interrogations.

BRIGGS: Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war, says Haspel needs to account for her role in what he calls one of the darkest chapters in American history. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein praises Haspel, calling her a good deputy director, but says she will wait until Haspel's confirmation hearings to determine how she'll vote. Haspel's nomination would be in jeopardy only if she loses Republican support.

ROMANS: Also out at the White House, John McEntee, a longtime personal aide to President Trump. A source tells CNN he is under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for serious financial crimes. The charges are not related to the president.

McEntee was escorted out of the White House Monday. He was one of the few staffers who did not have access to the president, limited when John Kelly became chief of staff. Just minutes after news of his departure broke, the Trump campaign announced McEntee would join the re-election effort as a senior adviser for campaign operations.

BRIGGS: All right. Some breaking news this morning. Stephen Hawking, considered by many to be the world's greatest scientist, dead at the age of 76. The British astronomer and theoretical physicist overcame a debilitating battle with ALS to make science popular and even cool.

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STEPHEN HAWKING, RENOWED SCIENTIST: I see great danger for the human race. There have been a number of times in the past when its survival has been touch and go. The frequency of such occasions is likely to increase in the future.

[04:10:03] We shall need great care and judgment to negotiate successfully, but I'm an optimist. If we can avoid disaster for the next two centuries, our species should be safe as we spread into space.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Let's go live to London and bring in CNN's Samuel Burke.

Samuel, good to see you, my friend.

How will Stephen Hawking be remembered do you think?

SAMUEL BURKE, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave.

Certainly in the scientific world, he'll be remembered for merging the Theory of Relativity from Einstein with Quantum Theory which basically said the beginning of space and time, well, it starts with the Big Bang but ends with black holes.

Even if you didn't understand the science, what inspired so many about this man is he was diagnosed with ALS in 1963 and given only a few years to live. But we saw him go on for decades. And the people around him said he never let this disease get in his way even though he might have to travel with a large group, with nurses.

He was speaking even though it took so long with the voice synthesizer. He was determined to keep going. He said the fact that his disease progressed slowly and gave him more life should serve as hope to others.

I think he was a genius in the way that he used media, us, television, film, social media to get his message out about science.

If we just look at some of the tweets that we're seeing from some of the luminaries of our time about how he influenced them. Let's just take a look at Neil deGrasse Tyson, famous scientist: His passing has left intellectual vacuum in its wake, but it's not empty. Think of it as a vacuum manager permeating the fabric of space/time that defies measure.

And then this tweet from the executive producer of "The Simpsons" saying: Farewell to Stephen Hawking, the most intelligent guest star in the brief history of "The Simpsons." He knew whether it was "Star Trek" or "The Simpsons," this was the way to get to the masses, to get them to talk about science.

The tweet that stands out most to me is a message from our former colleague, CNN icon Larry King saying he once asked Stephen Hawking what puzzled him most about the universe, his answer -- women.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIGGS: Christine Romans, you ought to appreciate that.

ROMANS: I do.

BRIGGS: Of all his brilliance.

ROMANS: I do.

BRIGGS: All right. Samuel Burke, very good stuff. Thank you. Good to see you.

ROMANS: All right. Twelve minutes past the hour. Students and teachers nationwide plan to walk out of school today demanding tougher gun laws after last month's Parkland shooting. We've got more on that, next.

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[04:16:40] BRIGGS: All right. Breaking news this morning: a police officer in eastern Kentucky shot and killed in the line of duty. The Pikeville police department announcing a murder investigation is underway in the death of Officer Scotty Hamilton who joined the department in 2006. Officials ask anyone with information to call the Kentucky state police.

We'll bring you the latest information on this story as it comes in.

ROMANS: All right. Two of the biggest free trade advocates at the White House gone, and Wall Street doesn't like it. Last week, Gary Cohn resigned as economic adviser. Now, Rex Tillerson is out as secretary of state, and his firing sent all major stock market averages lower.

Wall Street opened higher after consumer price data calmed inflation fears, but then stocks tumbled on concerns over a trade war especially with China. U.S. stocks fell further after "Politico" reported the president wants to hit China with tariffs on $30 billion worth of imports. That set the tone for global stocks.

Asia closed down, Europe just opened lower. Meanwhile, one of Wall Street's most powerful CEOs is warning President Trump -- corporate America's concerned about your trade agenda.

J.P. Morgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon says plans like Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum imports tend to backfire. He concedes there are issues around trade but he said Trump's policy will do more harm than good to the economy. Dimon chairs the powerful Business Roundtable corporate lobby. Many companies from automakers to brewers worry higher prices from tariffs will hurt their business.

BRIGGS: Students and teachers all over the country plan to walk out of school in protest this morning, honoring the 17 people killed at Stoneman Douglas High School one month ago today. The demonstrations start at 10:00 a.m. local time and are scheduled to last 17 minutes. Organizers want Congress to pass stricter gun laws. Many schools are allowing students to participate in the walkout, though some are forbidding it because of safety concerns and disruptions to classes.

ROMANS: Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz, the teenager who carried out the Parkland high school massacre. In court filings, they describe his crime as especially heinous. His attorneys previously expressed a willingness to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty. Cruz is scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon. A judge is expected to enter a not guilty plea on his behalf. Last week, a Broward County grand jury indicted Cruz on 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder.

BRIGGS: United Airlines apologizing for the death of a dog after a flight attendant ordered a passenger to put the pet into an overhead bin for the 3.5-hour flight from Houston to New York Monday. The dog was found dead. United called the animal's death a tragic accident and has offered to pay for a postmortem.

The airline says it takes, quote, full responsibility, and is investigating to prevent this from ever happening again. Can you imagine, Christine?

ROMANS: No, no.

BRIGGS: Obviously not enough air for a pet up there. They would, you know, perform this procedure on a ten-month-old dog. Devastating for that family.

All right. Ahead, after refusing to condemn Russia for a nerve agent attack in the U.K., President Trump now says Moscow needs to answer for it. The Russians are pushing back on requests from the U.K. We're live in England, next.

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[04:24:22] TRUMP: It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia, and I would certainly take that finding as fact. As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.

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BRIGGS: President Trump telling British Prime Minister Theresa May Russia must provide unambiguous answers for the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter. In a phone call Tuesday, the president offered the United Kingdom full backing as it investigates the poisoning. Russia is still not cooperating.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin live for us in Salisbury, England, this morning.

Good morning, Erin.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave.

And other key Western allies are standing by the United Kingdom.

[04:25:04] Both Germany and France expressing their solidarity as British Prime Minister Theresa May is demanding answers from Russia, answers which, of course, at this point are not forthcoming. The deadline she said, that midnight deadline, has come and gone. Russia saying that it wants a sample of the deadly nerve agent used in the attack before it will respond, something which, of course, will not happen.

So, the stage is set now for Prime Minister Theresa May to take action. She's chairing a National Security Council critical meeting later today. Out of that, we expect some sort of announcement. British media reporting she's considering range of option from targeted financial sanctions. "London Times" even reporting the U.K. is considering a cyber counterstrike against Russia.

Russia for its part has denied all involvement in this attack, saying that any punitive measures the U.K. might take, it will respond -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Telegraphing a cyber attack, an interesting method. OK.

Erin McLaughlin live for us in England, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Back here, another red congressional seat on the verge of turning blue.

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LAMB: If you get down there, do the job. Mission accepted.

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ROMANS: Democrat Conor Lamb declares victory in a Pennsylvania special election. Now, no official result, we're not calling this race yet. But the razor-thin margin is giving Republicans new reasons to worry about the midterms.