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Trump Attacks Major U.S. Allies at Fundraiser; Nikki Haley Blasts Russia Over Spy Poisoning; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 15, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:14] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Making up facts and threatening to pull troops. Leaked audio suggests the president is willing to go to great lengths if he feels slighted in trade disputes.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Are confirmations for Mike Pompeo and Gina Haspel in jeopardy? One key Republican says he won't get behind them.

BRIGGS: And the Pentagon now acknowledges a second attack on American soldiers in Niger last year. It came just months after a deadly ambush by ISIS fighters.

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, March 15th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. Some eye-popping comments from President Trump on trade suggesting how far he is willing to go in talks with American allies.

Two major admissions at a private fundraiser in St. Louis according to audio obtained by "The Washington Post." First the president said he made up facts during discussions with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The president insisted the U.S. has a trade deficit with Canada, even though he admitted he did not know if that is the case.

BRIGGS: Retelling a story he's told before, Trump added a new anecdote, referring to Trudeau, President Trump said, quote, "Nice guy, good looking guy comes in. Donald, we have no trade deficits. So he's proud. I said, wrong, Justin, you do. I didn't even know. I had no idea. I just said, you're wrong. You know why? Because we're so stupid and I thought they were smart."

ROMANS: For the record, the United States has a trade surplus with Canada. The president also launched a scathing attack on close American allies, including South Korea, accusing that country of ripping off the U.S. for decades and poaching America's work force. The president also appeared to threaten pulling American troops stationed in South Korea if Seoul does not make the concessions on trade he wants.

BRIGGS: Trump said, quote, "We lose money on trade and we lose money on the military. We have right now 32,000 soldiers on the border between North and South Korea. Let's see what happens."

For more on that part of the story, let's bring in CNN's David McKenzie. He's live for us in Seoul.

David, good morning to you. The insinuation there is that our troops on the Korean Peninsula are subject to negotiation. How might that be welcomed or not so much in Seoul?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Christine and Dave. Yes, so it wouldn't be welcomed because ultimately it throws a spanner in the works on the big thing that they're dealing with now which is the possible meeting between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. But President Trump has repeatedly brought trade into the equation over the last few months. In fact since coming into office.

We asked the Trade Ministry here in South Korea what they had to say and they really kind of tried to brush it off, saying they can't comment every time that President Trump makes remarks. But of course, the issue of troops on the border is a critical national security issue to the South Koreans. They are in ongoing negotiations with the U.S. about who pays for what and that is a separate issue but it is being conflated by President Trump.

The South Korean Foreign minister is en route to D.C. right now. She'll be meeting later today with key officials. Of course not meeting with Rex Tillerson, he is no longer secretary of State, but she will be meeting with the acting secretary of State and Ivanka Trump.

Back to you, guys.

BRIGGS: You can sure bet North Korea and Kim Jong-un will get word of these remarks.

David McKenzie, live for us in Seoul. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Usually problems and disagreements like this are worked out by diplomats. But there is no ambassador to Seoul and a big transition is under way at the State Department. Outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson set to sit down next week with the man nominated to be his successor, CIA director Mike Pompeo.

Senior State Department officials tell CNN there's no bad blood between the men. They say Tillerson assured Pompeo in a call Wednesday he will work to make sure the transition is a success. But the path to confirmation is becoming complicated for Pompeo and the woman named to replace him at the CIA Gina Haspel.

BRIGGS: Two Democratic senators who supported Pompeo for CIA director, Tim Kaine and Jeanne Shaheen, both say they have concerns about him being elevated to the head of the State Department. Republican Senator Rand Paul opposes both Pompeo and Haspel.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I'm perplexed by the nomination of people who love the Iraq war so much that they would advocate for a war with Iran next. My opposition to her is over her direct participation in interrogation and her gleeful enjoyment at the suffering of someone being tortured.


BRIGGS: Senator Paul's announcement does not necessarily block their paths to confirmation. If Paul votes no on Pompeo, Republican leaders could move the nominations directly to the Senate floor without committee approval.

[04:05:03] ROMANS: All right. New documents obtained by CNN suggest a deeper link that we knew between the Trump Organization and the company established to pay off adult performer Stormy Daniels. A legal document dated February 22nd names a top lawyer for the Trump Organization Jill Martin as the attorney representing Essential Consultants. Essential Consultants, that's the LLC company that President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen set up weeks before the presidential election with set a payment of $130,000 to Daniels.

BRIGGS: Martin's title at the Trump Organization is vice president and general -- assistant general counsel. CNN asked Martin about the documents and she replied in a statement from the Trump Organization that she had been working in a private capacity and that the company, quote, "had no involvement in the matter."

ROMANS: All right. This week marks 10 years since the collapse -- 10 tens since the collapse of Bear Sterns sparking the financial crisis. But yesterday the Senate voted to roll back rules adopted in its wake. The Senate bill repeals parts of Dodd-Frank passing 67-31, sharply dividing Democrats here. Progressives oppose easing regulations pointing to a CBO report that says this bill could trigger another financial crisis.

But many moderate Democrats argued Dodd-Frank hurts community banks. Strict regulations stifle lending so the bill raises its threshold for federal oversight from $50 billion -- the size of the company, $50 billion to $250 billion, shielding more than two dozen midsized banks, leaving only the biggest, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, to face the toughest scrutiny like annual stress tests and providing plans on how to safely dismantle if they fail.

But the bill is not just bank oversight. It also expands free credit freezes. It changes some student loan rules. Lenders can no longer default on loans when a co-signer dies or declares bankruptcy. That is a big change. And it loosens regulations on small mortgage lenders. Banks that originate 500 mortgages or less each year no longer have to report racial data. However critics say that will make it tougher to police mortgage discrimination.

BRIGGS: Some breaking news now. The Pentagon revealing for the first time that U.S. troops were involved in another firefight in Niger in December. Just months after an ambush by ISIS militants left four members of a Green Beret team left dead. The military says U.S. troops were not seeking combat, but were attacked by members of ISIS West Africa. It's a different group than those behind the earlier ambush in October. The Pentagon believes 11 militants died in the later firefight. ROMANS: Two Navy pilots died Wednesday afternoon when their FA-18

fighter jet crashed off Key West during a training flight. The Navy says the aviators attempted to land. They ejected and crews recovered them from the water. The cause of the crash is under investigation. Overnight t president tweeted, "Please join me with your thoughts and prayers for both aviators and their families and our incredible U.S. Navy."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker says a vote on a authorization for use of military force could come as soon as next month. Corker says he is hopeful his committee is close to an agreement. Lawmakers have been struggling for years to redefine the country's legal authority to wage war on terrorism. Many Democrats calling for restrictions on those war efforts while majority of Republicans prefer not to make changes.

BRIGGS: All right, now to a CNN exclusive. Our analysis finding Defense Department employees charged more than $138,000 at Trump branded properties in the first eight months of the Trump presidency. The charges are the most recent evidence that taxpayer money flows directly to Trump businesses which critics say violate ethical norms and possibility the U.S. Constitution.

ROMANS: Military personnel spending close to one-third of it on lodging and food at what appears to be Mar-a-Lago. Most of the expenses aligned with the 25 days the president spent at his Palm Beach Club from February to April 2017. The White House and the Trump Organization have not responded to requests for comments.

BRIGGS: HUD is struggling to explain newly released e-mails that contradict claims Secretary Ben Carson and his wife Candy had no involvement in the purchase of a $31,000 furniture set. HUD spokesman initially blamed the purchase on an unnamed career staffer but new e- mails obtained through a Freedom of Information Request show Carson and his wife Candy selected the furniture themselves.

ROMANS: And August e-mail from a career staffer to Carson's assistant mentions, quote, "printouts of the furniture of the secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out." Confronted Tuesday with this discrepancy, the HUD spokesman says simply when presented with options by professional staff, Mrs. Carson participated in the selection of specific style.

BRIGGS: President Trump offering his view of the a Democrat's apparent victory in the Pennsylvania special election. According to the "Atlantic," the president said at a fundraiser in St. Louis that Democrat Conor Lamb ran, quote, "a pretty smart race in a deep red district because he sounded a lot like a Republican."

[04:10:02] GOP leaders echoing the president's remarks.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: The candidate that's going to win this race is the candidate that ran as a pro-life, pro-gun, anti-Nancy Pelosi conservative. That's the candidate that's going to win this race. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Republican Rick Saccone's campaign instructing the four counties in Pennsylvania's 18th District to preserve ballots and voting machines. That's the first step in potential recount following an apparent razor thin win for Lamb.

All right. Three days to go until his retirement, former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe faces the prospect of getting fired and losing his pension. We've learned FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility has recommended termination. The decision stems from an internal Justice Department watchdog report. The watchdog says McCabe misled investigators about his decision to authorize bureau officials to speak to the media about a Clinton Foundation probe.

ROMANS: A representative for McCabe declining to comment. The final decision belongs to Jeff Sessions, a politically perilous choice for the attorney general since President Trump repeatedly bashed McCabe on Twitter before McCabe went on leave in January.

BRIGGS: You'd imagine the president will insist on his firing with only two days to go before that happens.

ROMANS: All right. An emotional and powerful day. Students nationwide walk out of school, take to the streets demanding changes to gun laws. The sights and sounds next.


[04:15:31] ROMANS: All right. A scene that played out across the country. A powerful statement from students nationwide. Walkouts from coast to coast. Students demanding action on guns one month to the day of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. Students at Stoneman Douglas High School had not planned anything more than to walk out across for 17 minutes to honor the 17 killed. But as crowds swelled nationwide, some students spontaneously decided to continue rallying.

BRIGGS: In New York City, LaGuardia High students filled up nearly half the city block, building to building during their 17-minute sit- in and lie-in. At the White House teenagers started the day holding up names of the 17 Parkland victims. Protesters also turned their backs on the White House.

Students in Burlington, Vermont, so determined to participate in the walkout that not even heavy snow could stop them.

ROMANS: Across the country in L.A. County, students at Granada Hills Charter High spelled out the word "enough" on the football field.

From Israel to London to Tanzania, students around the world walked out in solidarity with American students.

BRIGGS: In Littleton, Colorado, students walked out of Columbine High School. They weren't even born when two gunmen killed 13 people there. But the impact of that day still felt by students who fear for their safety 19 years later.


ABIGAIL ORTON, STUDENT, COLUMBINE HIGH SCHOOL: The first thing I do at any year is to find the best place to hide in the door in the case of an accident. It's just a subconscious reaction. Any doorway I walk, that's the first thing going through my mind. Just in case. What if.


ROMANS: As students were marching worldwide, the NRA sent out this tweet of an AR-15 style weapon with the message, "I'll control my own guns. Thank you."

The sister of the Charleston church shooter arrested and charged for having drugs and weapons at school. Authorities say Morgan Roof was caught with a knife along with pepper spray and marijuana. They say she also posted a disturbing message on Snapchat alarming students. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster says the swift reaction of students and teachers avoided a potential tragedy. Roof was given $5,000 bond. She is not allowed to return to that school.

BRIGGS: Two people are dead including the suspected gunman after a shooting at UAB hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. The second hospital employee who is shot is in stable condition. When Birmingham police arrived on the scene, they found two victims with gunshot wounds and later found the suspect with a fatal self-inflicted wound. Authorities are still trying to determine what led to the incident.

United Airlines apologizing again for another blunder involving a pet on one of its flights. Kansas resident Kara Swindle says United mistakenly flew her 10-year-old German Shepherd Irgo to Japan instead of Kansas City. Swindle was traveling with her two young children when she tried to pick up Irgo from a United cargo facility, but the dog was nowhere to be found. In its place a Great Dane that should have been on a plane to Japan.

ROMANS: Swindle says Irgo was flying for the first time, had no food or water on the 16 1/2-hour flight. United is flying the dog back to Wichita through Denver with a human escort. The airline concedes an error occurred and says it is following up with the vendor kennel where the two pets were kept overnight to find out what went wrong.

BRIGGS: As we reported yesterday, fiasco number two for United involves a family dog dying in an overhead bin. The airline says the flight attendant involved did not knowingly ordered the French bull dog into the bin where it died during a flight from Houston to New York. United says the pet owner did tell the flight attendant there was an animal in the carrier, but claims the flight attendant did not hear or understand her. The airline now plans to issue brightly colored tags to customers traveling with in-cabin pets beginning in April.

A wise suggestion. There is a United States senator who wants legislation on this, John Kennedy of Louisiana. ROMANS: All right. Russia and the UK locked in a bitter battle here.

Russia vowing to retaliate after the UK booted 23 Russian diplomats. We go live to London.




NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent. We take no pleasure in having to constantly criticize Russia but we need Russia to stop giving us so many reasons to do so.


ROMANS: Strong words there from Ambassador Nikki Haley after the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom. The White House echoing comments from the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. condemning what it calls an abhorrent attack. Russia and the UK locked in a bitter dispute here after Prime Minister Theresa May retaliated.

CNN's Nic Robertson tracking the latest developments live from London.

And those words from Nikki Haley is what you would expect this administration to say after something like this in the UK with the special relationship between the United States and the UK. Finally the United States coming out and walking in lockstep with the United Kingdom.

[04:25:00] NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Absolutely. And certainly that's something that they wanted to hear in Downing Street. They heard it again from the White House spokesman there saying that this is another example of Russia's disdain disregard for the international rules based order. That is something we're going to hear more of from the British.

Boris Johnson, the Foreign secretary, is out speaking this morning to different news organizations who talked about Russia being -- acting with brutality, with disregard and a reckless manner, that it's saying that this is -- you know, this is a global issue. So that's where Britain is positioning itself. That's why what the White House and Nikki Haley has had to say is so important.

We've heard this morning just in the last few minutes from the Russians, they brought forward their Foreign Ministry press conference. A spokeswoman there said that Russia right now is working on retaliatory measures. Accuses Britain of not cooperating and this is at a time today when Britain's Defense secretary will have a keynote speech. He will be announcing additional chemical weapons protection funding and thousands of British troops will be inoculated against anthrax. Not because of a specific threat but it highlights the concern here and money being put towards defending against it.

ROMANS: All right. Nic Robertson in London. Thank you, Nic.

BRIGGS: Will this do anything to stop Vladimir Putin? Expelling diplomats? Doubtful.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: Twenty-three diplomats, nothing to him.

Leaked audio shows the president of the United States boasting about making up facts and threatening to pull thousands of troops from South Korea. All of it over trade disputes. More on that next.