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Trump Attacks Major U.S. Allies at Fundraiser; Nikki Haley Blasts Russia Over Spy Poisoning; Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 15, 2018 - 04:30   ET


[04:30:40] CHRISTINE ROMANS, 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.

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

ROMANS: 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 and it's just coming to light now.

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

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is 31 minutes past the hour. Fascinating walkout across the country.

ROMANS: It really was.

BRIGGS: You saw it in your community as well?

Republicans Yes. Sure did. Sure did. And the kids -- it was student-led. The teachers just sort of sat back and let the students make the call. 17 minutes in the freezing cold for those victims at Parkland.

BRIGGS: Few districts punishing students for walkouts across the country. We'll get to that in a moment. We start with some eye- popping comments from President Trump on trade suggesting how far he's 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 he made up facts during a discussion with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The president insisted the U.S. has a trade deficit with Canada, even though he admitted he didn't know if that's the case.

ROMANS: Retelling a story he has told before, Trump added a new anecdote referring to Trudeau. President Trump said, "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."

BRIGGS: For the record, the United States does have a trade surplus with Canada. The president also launched a scathing attack on close American

allies, including South Korea, accusing that South Korea 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 that he wants.

ROMANS: Trump said this, "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 being in CNN's David McKenzie live in Seoul.

I mean, it's just a complete break with American philosophy and values for the last half century.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Christine. In terms of the troops, they are the frontline between North Korea and South Korea. The war never ended. The Korean War just ended in a stalemate, an Armistice agreement. So for President Trump to make these perhaps offhand comments will certainly in privately irritate the South Koreans.

In public, we asked them for comments. They said they can't comment any time that President Trump says anything or makes remarks. And it comes of course at a critical juncture. The Foreign minister of South Korea on her way right now to Washington, D.C. where she'll be meeting with the acting secretary of State as well as Ivanka Trump to hash out the details of that critical meeting between the president of South Korea and Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, and then of course the meeting between Trump and North Korea's leader.

So bigger fish to fry they might say here in South Korea right now. Not the question of troops on that critical border -- Christine, Dave.

ROMANS: David McKenzie in Seoul, thank you so much for that.

Thirty-four minutes past the hour. It's official. CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow will replace Gary Cohn as head of the White House Economic Council. President Trump offered him the job Tuesday. Kudlow informally advised Trump during the 2016 campaign. He's also a free trader and has spoken out against Trump's tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum. Those were the main reasons for Gary Cohn's resignation. And Kudlow agrees with Cohn on that but Trump said Kudlow has come around to believing in tariffs as a, quote, "negotiating point."

Kudlow also champions Trump's other economic a achievements, deregulation and tax cuts. But interestingly, a new study finds a trade war would erase all economic benefits from those tax cuts. That's according to the University of Pennsylvania, Trump's alma mater. It says a trade war would hit major U.S. exporters the hardest. Companies like Boeing. In fact, the president visited Boeing, the Boeing facility in St. Louis yesterday. There he is the very same day Boeing stock tanked falling into correction territory, shaving 100 points from the Dow.

[04:35:08] Trump on site at Boeing, and Boeing is particularly vulnerable to the president's trade policies. Not only does it import lots of steel, but also sells 80 percent of its planes abroad. Most U.S. manufacturers face higher costs due to Trump's metal tariffs. And oh by the way, Trump getting really tough, we're told, he wants to get very tough on China with extra tariffs on China. But Boeing's second largest of market is China. So really interesting optics I thought yesterday at Boeing.

BRIGGS: Yes. This falls into the category of you can't make this stuff up.

Elsewhere, 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 getting a bit complicated for Pompeo and the woman named to replace him at the CIA, Gina Haspel.

ROMANS: Two Democratic senators who supported Pompeo for CIA director, Tim Kaine and Jeanne Shaheen, both say they have concerns about him being elevated to head of the department, 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.


ROMANS: 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.

BRIGGS: Breaking news now. The Pentagon forced to acknowledge U.S. troops came under attack a second time last year in Niger. It happened in December. Two months after an ambush by ISIS militants killed four American personnel. The Pentagon says 11 militants from a different ISIS affiliated group died in the December firefight. No Americans were killed but the attack raises questions about why American personnel were still vulnerable after one deadly ambush. The U.S. has about 800 troops in Niger training and advising local forces.

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 the president tweeted, "Please join me with your thoughts and prayers for both aviators and their families and our incredible U.S. Navy."

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

President Trump offering his view of the 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 a pretty smart race in a deep red district because he sounded a lot like a Republican. GOP leaders echoing the president's remarks.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: 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.


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

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee says his panel has found nothing to contradict the Intel Community's findings that Vladimir Putin favored Donald Trump in the 2016 election. That sharply contradicts the conclusion reached by House Intel Committee Republicans earlier this week. They announced their view there was no collusion and had no attempt by Putin to tilt the scales.

Here is Senator Mark Warner, Democrat, disagreeing with that position.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA, VICE CHAIR, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We have been on this for now about 14 months. We have seen nothing that takes away from the unanimous Intelligence Community's assessment.


ROMANS: The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, is laying out a roadmap for moving the Russia probe forward. His status report is an attempt by House Democrats to prove Republicans ended the investigation prematurely. [04:40:06] Schiff claims the committee still have leads that need to

be vetted.

BRIGGS: Ahead, an emotional and powerful day. Students nationwide take to the streets demanding to change gun laws across the country. We'll have the sights and the sounds next.


BRIGGS: 4:44 Eastern Time. A powerful statement from students across the country. Huge walkouts from coast to coast demanding action on guns. One month to the day after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, students at Stoneman Douglas High School had not planned anything more than to walk out of class for 17 minutes to honor the 17 killed.

[04:45:09] But as crowd swelled nationwide, some students spontaneously decided to continue rallying.

ROMANS: 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 the names of the 17 Parkland victims. Protesters also, they 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 in Vermont.

BRIGGS: All the way 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.

ROMANS: In Littleton, Colorado, students walked out of Columbine High School. These kids 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 in, that's the first thing going through my mind. Just in case. What if.


BRIGGS: 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."

What's next in this? Columbine, the anniversary of that, and they will have another walkout. And of course the March for Our Lives is March 24th in D.C. That is when they'll have to make the loudest statements. ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: Some estimate 500,000 people expected there.

ROMANS: You know, there's a lot of talk about momentum, especially the kids in Parkland. What kind of momentum will they have going forward?

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: And I yesterday was proof that a month and a day later, they still do have the momentum on this issue.

BRIGGS: But how do you turn that into action?

ROMANS: Exactly.

The federal terrorism trial is under way for Noor Salman, the widow of Pulse Nightclub shooter Omar Mateen. Prosecutors alleging she knew what her husband had planned before he killed 49 people and they say she admitted it to the feds. The 31-year-old is charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization and obstruction of justice for allegedly misleading investigators.

Salman has pleaded not guilty. It is unclear if she will testify. In opening statement, her defense cast her as a victim, not an accomplice.

BRIGGS: 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 and is not allowed to return to the school.

ROMANS: Two people are dead including the suspected gunman after a shooting at UAB hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. A second hospital employee who was shot is in stable condition. Birmingham Police found the suspect with a fatal self-inflicted wound. Authorities are still trying to determine what led to that incident.

BRIGGS: A Veterans care facility in California suspending operations after a gunman shot and killed three mental health workers last week. Board members of the Pathway Home say they can no longer provide services because the PTSD treatment facility is still a crime scene and the building is off limits. Remaining clients are now under the care of the Veterans Administration. Last week, Albert Wong, an Army veteran and former Pathway Home client killed those facility employees before killing himself.

ROMANS: United Airlines apologizing again for another blunder involving a pet on one of its flights. Kansas resident Kara Swindle telling CNN United mistakenly flew her 10-year-old German Shepherd Irgo to Japan -- 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.

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

ROMANS: As we reported yesterday, fiasco number two for United involved 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 either didn't hear or didn't understand her. The airline now plans to issue brightly colored tags to customers traveling with in-cabin pets. That begins in April.

BRIGGS: John Kennedy of Louisiana said he wants to hear an explanation from Louisiana. He is on "NEW DAY" today in the 8:00 hour.

[04:50:05] ROMANS: All right. After 70 years, Toys 'R' Us shutting its doors. The iconic toy stores are closing all U.S. stores. More on "CNN Money" next.



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.

[04:55:03] We take no pleasure in having to constantly criticize Russia but we need Russia to stop giving us so many reasons to do so.


BRIGGS: Some strong comments there from U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley about the poisoning of a spy in the United Kingdom. Far stronger comments than we'd heard from the president of the United States, though the White House issued a statement calling this an abhorrent attack.

Russia and the UK now locked in a bitter dispute after the prime minister retaliated, expelling diplomats.

Let's get now to Nic Robertson, checking the latest for us live from London.

Good morning to you, Nic. Diplomats expelled. Is there more option on the table for the United Kingdom?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: They are. They are talking about the possibility of seizing Russian assets and property in the UK. They are talking about freezing the assets of Russian individuals. There are a number of options, at least still open. They're talking about hardening Britain's defenses against hostile states. There's a number of other options but everyone is looking at the moment to Russia. And we've just heard from the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman saying what Nikki Haley -- calling into question what Nikki Haley said at the United Nations.

She says how can one other nation at the U.N. support what Britain is saying? Because no evidence has been presented. She's essentially saying that the -- you know, that this argument, that this support from the United States isn't worth anything because there's no evidence on the table.

This is Russia's position. What we are seeing emerge and this is what Britain wants, the narrative that it's heard from the White House, from the statement there, saying that this is another example of where Russia disrupts the international rules based order of the world. This is another example of that.

We've heard from British Foreign secretary this morning, Boris Johnson, saying precisely that, that Russia is disrupting the global order.

Also today, expecting a statement from the British secretary of Defense announcing that thousands of British troops will be inoculated against anthrax, another deadly agent. Not because they believe this is a specific threat, but as a precaution.

Also announcing millions of dollars, tens of millions of dollars, to be spent on Britain's chemical weapons defense facility.

BRIGGS: Nic, is the UK satisfied with the U.S.' response or would they like to hear something directly from the president of the United States, echoing Nikki Haley's comments?

ROBERTSON: You know, I think the statement that they got from the White House yesterday is something that they really feel that they can take to the bank. Obviously they would rather, you know, see Donald Trump tweeting it in capital letters because that's the way everyone understands he expresses his true feelings.

But what they want is unanimity across the spectrum from the United States. They feel they're getting that from the White House at the moment and from Nikki Haley of course. A change at the State Department going through at the moment right now. But what Britain needs to do here is build this support over time.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROBERTSON: It will have to present this evidence in North Atlantic Councilors' meeting at NATO today. The U.S. representative will be there. Britain's National Security chief will be there as well. So we'll hear more of Britain pushing its narrative and explanations forward.

BRIGGS: All right. Some great reporting there from Nic Robertson live in London. Thank you. ROMANS: All right. Let's get a check on "CNN Money" this morning.

Global stocks higher right now after U.S. stocks fell yesterday on trade fears. The Dow lost almost 250 points, thanks to Boeing. It fell more than 2 percent. Boeing is vulnerable to a trade war. Not only is it a major U.S. exporter, but it imports an awful lot of steel.

Kids love iPhones. And that's created some problems for Apple. Major investors have criticized Apple for not doing more about kids using smartphones. But Apple has offered parental controls since 2008 so it is debuting landing page to list all of them so parents like Dave and I know what in the world to do to help protect our kids who are addicted to these smartphones.

BRIGGS: We don't.

ROMANS: No. The new Families page rounds up all of the ways parents control how kids use Apple devices like tracking their location and monitoring purchases and filtering what they see. That's not rolling out any new features or controls at this time but trying to consolidate it all in one place so busy parents can help their kids control their iPhone use.

Speaking of kids, do you remember this?

BRIGGS: Oh, yes.

ROMANS: Oh, boy. Sadly there will never be another generation of Toys 'R' Us kids. After 70 years, the iconic toy store will close or sell all U.S. stores. Toys 'R' Us hasn't made a profit since 2012. Losing sales to big box retailers, Wal-Mart, Target and of course Amazon. It declared bankruptcy in September. It tried to shed debt and reinvest in its stores, but the turnaround simply didn't work, putting 33,000 jobs at risk. It's also bad news for toy companies. Toys 'R' Us is the last mega store dedicated to toys. In fact analysts say without Toys 'R' Us 10 percent to 15 percent of all toy sales will be lost forever.