Return to Transcripts main page


Pennsylvania Election is Too Close to Call; Tillerson Out, Who's Next?; Stephen Hawking Dies at 76. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 14, 2018 - 04:30   ET


[04:30:25] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


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.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: No official result in Pennsylvania's special election, but the Democrat is claiming victory in a district Trump won by 20 points, suggesting Republicans have a steep hill to climb ahead of the midterms.

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

BRIGGS: And world-renowned scientist Stephen Hawking has died. He persevered against a debilitating disease and brought mystery to the universe into the mainstream.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs on a Wednesday.

ROMANS: Yes, it's Wednesday, halfway through, folks. I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour.

Just this morning, a few hundred votes separate 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. At this moment, Lamb holds a very slight lead over Saccone to represent Pennsylvania's 18th district south of Pittsburgh.

BRIGGS: Absentee and provisional ballots still being counted, but it would be a steep climb for Saccone to overtake Lamb. Today, Saccone's campaign team will meet with lawyers to assess their options.

He told supporters late last night he's still in the game. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.


ROMANS: But overnight, Lamb claimed victory in a speech to supporters, even with no projected winner yet. The razor-thin margin is a bad sign for Republicans. President Trump won the district by 20 points.

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.


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.


BRIGGS: All right. Jason Carroll, thank you.

President Trump's firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may be a sign of things to come. The president signaling he's 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.


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.


ROMANS: Hovering near the top of the president's shakeup list, 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.

BRIGGS: Not far behind, national security adviser H.R. McMaster appears poised to leave after months of speculation there. 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.

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

[04:35:04] 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 effort to bring North Korea to the negotiating table among his biggest accomplishments.


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.


BRIGGS: Tillerson thanked the American people, his State Department staff, the nation's diplomats. He did not thank President Trump. Several other top State Department 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. But hard to imagine he won't get confirmed.

ROMANS: Tillerson's sudden ouster catching many off-guard. A senior administration official said the president thought it was the right time for transition ahead of talks with North Korea. The president himself addressing the Korea issue during his visit to California. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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


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.


ROMANS: How will Tillerson's firing affect the sensitive talks?

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

Good morning, Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESONDENT: Hello, Christine. Well, it's a very good question.

At this point, we're still waiting for North Korea to react to the fact that the U.S. President Donald Trump has agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Now clearly North Korea has something else to mull over, the fact that the top diplomat in the Trump administration has changed.

So, clearly, Rex Tillerson was pro-engagement with North Korea. When you look at the CIA Director Mike Pompeo, he has in the past mentioned publicly that he would support regime change in North Korea. He has also been supportive of the more hard-line policy the Trump administration has pursued, the pressure and sanctions to try and get North Korea to cooperate.

So, we will hear more, clearly, at the confirmation hearing for Mike Pompeo himself. Also here in South Korea, the South Korean foreign minister was supposed to head to Washington tomorrow, Thursday, to meet with Mr. Tillerson. She's still going to go, but she'll meet with a deputy secretary of state, John Sullivan. The foreign ministry saying it's too important that this dialogue continues despite personnel changes -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Paula Hancocks for us in Seoul, thank you.

BRIGGS: CIA deputy director Gina Haspel stands to take over the agency. She is a 30-year agency vet and will be the first woman ever to lead the CIA.

But key Republican senators want answers about her role in a 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.

ROMANS: 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'll wait until Haspel's confirmation hearings to determine how she will vote. Haspel's nomination would be in jeopardy only if she loses Republican support.

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

McEntee was escorted out of the White House Monday. He was one of the few staffers who kept access to the president 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.

ROMANS: 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 physicist overcame a battle with ALS to make science popular and even cool.


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.

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.


[04:40:02] ROMANS: Let's go live to London and bring in CNN's Samuel Burke.

Samuel, what will his legacy be?

SAMUEL BURKE, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Without a doubt in the scientific world, the merging of Einstein's Theory of Relativity with Quantum Theory which basically said that time and space begins with the Big Bang but ends with black holes.

But even if you didn't understand that science, Christine, everybody who saw him knew that he did not let this debilitating disease debilitate him. He was diagnosed with ALS in 1963 and given only a few years to live. He said the fact that his disease progressed slowly, giving him more years to communicate science to the masses, should serve as an inspiration and give hope to everybody.

And I think the fact that he traveled so many places -- he spoke even though he didn't have a voice, he used the synthesizer, really speaks to the fact that he didn't let anything get in his way. If we look at the tweets that are coming in from the scientific world, from the entertainment world, it really summarizes his life. If we start with Neil deGrasse Tyson, another public scientist. His

passing has left an intellectual vacuum in its wake, but it's not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of space/time that defies measure.

Then a tweet from the executive producer of "The Simpsons". The executive producer saying: Farewell to Stephen Hawking, the most intelligent guest star in the brief history of "The Simpsons."

And I think that speaks, Christine, to this public life that he led, knowing that he had to capitalize on all this media attention on him to communicate science to the masses. Though somebody asked him once who would he rather meet, Sir Isaac Newton or Marilyn Monroe. He, of course, said Marilyn Monroe.

ROMANS: His ability to use pop culture to spread science was really important and unique.

All right. Thank you so much. Nice to see you, Samuel.

BRIGGS: All right. Today, one month since the Parkland shooting, and students and teachers nationwide plan to walk out of school, demanding tougher gun laws after last month's shooting. More next.


[04:46:50] ROMANS: Two of the biggest free trade advocates in 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 states. And his firing sent major stock averages lower yesterday, setting the tone for global stocks got Asia down, both closed, Tokyo and Hong Kong closed lower.

And then, look, you got European shares opening lower here. The concern, a trade war especially with China. U.S. stocks fell further after news broke the president wants new tariffs on Chinese imports.

But another free trade advocate may join the White House. President Trump is looking very strongly, he said, CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow to replace Gary Cohn.


TRUMP: We don't agree on everything, but in this case I think that's good. I want to have a divergent opinion. We agree on most.


ROMANS: One big difference, Kudlow is a free trader and against the president's tariffs. Here's what he said about Trump two weeks ago.


LARRY KUDLOW, CNBC SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR: He's so good on taxes. He's so good on tax cuts. He's so good on deregulation, infrastructure. I even like him on immigration. He's never been good on trade. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Never been good on trade. If picked, Kudlow will be at odds with Trump's increasing protectionism on the trade and tariff fronts, tariffs on foreign aluminum and steel. That's the main reason for Gary Cohn's resignation, Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. Breaking news, 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 2016. Officials asked anyone with information to call the Kentucky State Police. We'll bring you the latest on this story as we get it.

ROMANS: Students and teachers around the country plan to walk out of school in protest this morning in honor of the 17 people killed at Stoneman Douglas High School one month ago today. These demonstrations start 10:00 a.m. local times. They're scheduled to last 17 minutes. Organizers want Congress to pass stricter gun laws.

Many schools are allowing students to participate in the walkout. Some are forbidding it, though, because of safety concerns and disruptions to classes. This comes a day after a powerful day at the capitol. Look at that, an advocacy group laid out 7,000 pairs of shoes to symbolize the 7,000 children killed by gun violence since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. Just -- that image speaks volumes, just since Sandy Hook in a 2012.

BRIGGS: Powerful imagery.

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Nikolas Cruz, the teenager who carried out the Parkland High School Shooting. 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 scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon. A judge expected to not enter a guilty plea on his behalf. Last week, a Broward county grand jury indicted Cruz on 17 counts of premeditated murder, the 17 counts of attempted murder.

ROMANS: Parents in Seaside, California, say it's lucky no one was killed when a high school teacher accidentally fired a handgun in class on Tuesday. Police say Dennis Alexander was going over gun safety in a police and fire services class when he accidentally shot into the ceiling.

[04:50:01] Alexander is also a reserve police officer. A 17-year-old student injured by what his father believes is a bullet fragment. Guns are illegal in California schools, but there's an exception for police officers or others granted specific permission.

BRIGGS: New developments in the search for a possible serial package bomber in Austin, Texas. Investigators believe the same person made all three devices described as pipe bombs rigged to explode upon opening. Austin police inundate with hundreds of calls about -- inundated with hundreds of calls about suspicious packages. All three victims were black or Hispanic. Police are not ruling out a hate crime.

Three attacks this month have killed two people and severely injured a third.

ROMANS: United Airlines apologizing for the death of a dog after a flight attendant ordered a passenger to put the pet into an overhead bin. When the 3.5-flight from Houston to New York landed Monday night, the dog was found dead. United called the death a tragic accident and has offer today to pay for a postmortem. The airline says it takes full responsibility and is investigating it to prevent this from ever happening again.

BRIGGS: Just imagine that -- they have to have procedures about this type of thing, one would expect.

ROMANS: All right. Dick's Sporting Goods expects to lose customers over its new gun policy, but it is still forging ahead. More on CNNMoney, next.



[04:51:00] 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.


BRIGGS: President Trump telling British Prime Minister Theresa May Russia must provide unambiguous answers to 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, with more.

Erin, good morning to you. What are the options the U.K. has?


Well, at this point given the fact that Theresa May's ultimatum, the deadline she set for Russia to respond to her questions has come and gone. Now, she's going to be taking action, chairing a National Security Council meeting later today. Out of that meeting, British media reports she's exploring a number of different options, including targeted financial sanctions, as well as the possibility of a counter- cyber strike.

Certainly, the political pressure is there for her to do something more substantial than what's been done in the past, generally what's been done in the past is kind of a suspected attack. The British government has expelled Russian diplomats. But we can expect her to do something, as I said, a bit more substantial than that. Russia for its part, of course, is denying any involvement in the

attack, saying that any punitive measures the United Kingdom takes will be met with a response -- Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. It should be an interesting 24 hours.

Erin McLaughlin, live for us in England, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Let's get a check on CNNMoney this morning. Two of the biggest free trade advocates in the White House gone. 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 averages lower.

Wall Street opened higher after consumer price data calmed inflation fears, but then tumbled on concerns over a trade war. U.S. stocks fell further after "Politico" reported the president wants new tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese imports, setting the tone for global stocks.

Asia closed lower. Markets could rebound though. Europe and U.S. futures just turned higher. So, watch this space.

Dick's Sporting Goods expects to lose customers over the new gun policy but is forging ahead. After the Parkland shooting, Dick's stopped selling assault-style rifles and raised the age of sale. That received support from some customers. But CEO Edward Stack warned on an earnings call, it could also hurt foot traffic and sales, adding it's too early to measure the impact. Dicks shares fell 2 percent following the call.

Google is banning cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrency, of course, is digital money with no backing by a government or the central bank. The meteoric rise of bitcoin has inspired scammers to promote fake cryptocurrency schemes like using online ads to mine cryptocurrency. Google removed more than 130 million ads last year. Google's new policy follows Facebook. It also blocked all crypt crypto-occurrence ads in January.

I think it was John Oliver this week who said, you know, cryptocurrency is everything you don't know about technology merged with everything you don't know about money, a terrible combination for most investors.

BRIGGS: John Oliver often moves the needle in stories we didn't understand prior.

EARLY START continues right now with the latest from the Pennsylvania special election, not looking good for Republicans.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[04:55:00](BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAMB: It took a little longer than we thought, but we did it.

SACCONE: You know, we're still fighting the fight. It's not over yet.


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

ROMANS: More upheaval in the Trump administration. Rex Tillerson is out. And more names are rumored to follow as the president looks for advisers aligned with his agenda and style.

BRIGGS: And world-renowned scientist Stephen Hawking has died.