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Trump Criticizes Major U.S. Allies at Fundraiser; Confirmation Questions; Pentagon Acknowledges Second Niger Attack; March Madness First Four Wraps Up. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 15, 2018 - 05:00   ET


05:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: 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 toy sales would be lost forever.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And that's bad news for Mattel and Hasbro, but also those smaller companies that only got exposure from stores like Toys "R" Us. That was their chance.

ROMANS: I wonder -- you know, but you wonder if small toy stores are going to make a comeback? That's what I wonder.

BRIGGS: Brands is what I'm referring to.

ROMANS: Neighborhood toy stores, maybe they can see through.

BRIGGS: We are Toys "R" Us kids or were at one point.

EARLY START continues right now.


ROMANS: 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.

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

ROMANS: The Pentagon acknowledging a second attack on America's soldiers in Niger last year. It came just months after a deadly ambush by ISIS fighters and only just now coming to light.

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

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. It's Thursday, March 15. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

We will discuss the national walkout across in just a minute.


BRIGGS: What a strong showing of kids across the country, inspiring to see these kids taking action. But we start with some eye-popping comments.

President Trump on trade suggesting how far he is willing to go in talks with American allies. Two major admissions and at a private fund-raiser, mind you, in St. Louis, according to audio obtained by "The Washington Post".

ROMANS: The president said he made up facts with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, retelling a story he has told before, with a new anecdote. The president insisted the U.S. has a trade deficit with Canada, even though he admitted he didn't know if that's really the case.

BRIGGS: For the record, the United States has a trade surplus with Canada, when you include services. The president launched an attack on close American allies, including South Korea, reporting that country ripping off the U.S. for decades. The president appeared to threaten pulling American troops stationed in South Korea if Seoul does not make concessions on trade that he wants.

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

For more on that story, let's bring in CNN's David McKenzie live in Seoul.

And this is -- this is a president who, you know, was elected to rock the boat, and, boy, in terms of the Korean peninsula, he is.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Christine. And he said from the moment he was brought into office that he wanted to get hard on South Korea when it comes to trade. Get tough on the issues. Now, to include the many U.S. troops that are at the DMZ, the demilitarized zone, just, you know, 38 miles to the north of me is a controversial move even in private, because President Trump is now looking toward the high stakes meeting with Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea that he said he would accede to and to throw trade and troops in the mix might complicate the relationship with South Korea.

The foreign minister on her way to D.C. She's having meetings later today with the acting secretary of state, of course, because Rex Tillerson was fired and meetings with Ivanka Trump. Meanwhile, no word from the North Koreans at all publicly on whether they will have that meeting with Donald Trump. The longer there is wait on word, the more nervous perhaps the Americans and the South Koreans will get. But we do know that the foreign minister of North Korea is in Sweden today and tomorrow in meetings, and Sweden does hold the U.S.'s interests at heart in North Korea.

So, a lot of behind the scenes momentum potentially, but Trump's comments potentially won't be seen as being useful right now in the Korean peninsula.

Back to you.

ROMANS: All right. David, thank you so much.

BRIGGS: All right. Joining us here, Erin Delmore, senior political correspondent for

Good morning to you, Erin.

ROMANS: Welcome back.


BRIGGS: This is the fear that so many had when the president talked about a direct meeting with Kim Jong-un. That he's going to go in there, shot from the hip as he does in these meetings and say, pull troops out of the Korean peninsula, which -- needless to say -- brings fear to all of those in the region.

How important it is that he dangles troops as a negotiating standpoint?

DEMOMRE: It is very important to the South Koreans, also to the U.S., but also to our military and their families who are stationed in South Korea. This is a primary point. And your correspondent noted, it comes at an intense time between the U.S., South Korea and North Korea. While these meetings are being planned, while these negotiations as to what pre-conditions each country will agree to, while all of that is being hashed out, this is a powerful remark.

[05:05:00] On the heels of a few of the remarks the president put out within that 30-minute speech.

ROMANS: So interesting. Kim Jong-un -- he wants a drawdown. So, the president is actually dangling something that would be beneficial to the tyrant of North Korea, you know? Which is --

BRIGGS: Everything they want.

ROMANS: It's so fascinating to me.

You know, watching this president on the diplomatic front is interesting because even as Justin Trudeau story where the president has frequently told a story about he just walks in and says, you know, we have a trade deficit with Canada. We don't have a trade deficit with Canada. We don't.

It makes it difficult to figure out how the president is negotiating, how the deals he is making when the very basic facts are not right.

DELMORE: Christine, it makes it difficult for reporters, it makes difficult for his staff, it makes it difficult for our allies who are meeting with the president one on one. He has said that exemptions can be offered on steel and aluminum tariffs through direct negotiations with him.

Now, we see through this meeting with Trudeau how those direct negotiations go. The president's worldview is America first. That's plain as day. But what that means is he has a view that he sometimes says that allies are here to serve the United States.

And you see him pulling away from allies and saying these yields are not in the best American interest. Look at the Paris climate accord. Look at the Iran nuclear deal. Look at NAFTA. Look at TPP. This is something he has been doing consistently for the last 14 months.

BRIGGS: Of course, if the president is getting a better deal on NAFTA, he's going to look awfully good in the end. If there is no trade war, right?


DELMORE: Exactly.

ROMANS: If there is no trade war, that's quite an "if".

DELMORE: That's the carrot. But he's got a lot of people around him. This is something I'm looking at with the appointment on Larry Kudlow. There's daylight between them on trade policy.


DELMORE: The president says he's been able to bring Kudlow around, that he agrees these can be a tool for making better deals -- negotiating better deals in the interest of the United States. But they have different opinions there. Now, as we see shakeups in the White House, you have to wonder how many dissenting opinions are left in that inner circle?

BRIGGS: Not many, and the voices being brought in are like-minded opinions or yes men, some feel.

ROMANS: You know, I keep saying, the president was elected to rock the boat. He is rocking the boat. I think -- and I'm surprised on the trade war front and people for really the last year believe that he wouldn't do some of the things he promised, you know?

You look at Boeing shares yesterday. Boeing fell. Boeing is like the proxy now for trade war.

And the president was at Boeing when the shares were falling because of his trade policies.

DELMORE: The president sees this, just like you said, Christine, as exactly what he was intended to do and what he was voted into office to do. We saw his confidence when he took the stump on the campaign trail. We saw the way he spoke to voters and spoke for voters.

And you can also say the way that empowered him. He has confidence here. And when he shoots from the hip, he is saying that his gut -- his impulses are the best way forward. We are seeing more people around him in high level positions who echo that thought.

BRIGGS: All right. We want to talk about a piece you wrote on about this national walkout we saw across the country, one month after the tragic shooting in Parkland, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. It was incredible to see the students take action from coast to coast, and even around the world really as we reported. The question being, how do they turn this into action? They have the march for our lives on 24th in D.C. How do they turn this into actual policy? Because congressmen care about dollars and cents and votes.

DELMORE: Right. And, Dave, you're right. Yesterday when I was speaking to these students, so many wanted to tell me about walking through the streets. The signs they were holding, the shirts they were wearing, how pedestrians stopped and took photos and cheered them on. I saw this all.

But the question I was asking them is, what happens next? When you ask that, they point to the march on the 24th in Washington, D.C. I talked to students who are trying to hire buses to bring them all the way from Ohio down. I've talked to students in Washington state, which couldn't be further away. You see this enthusiasm.

You also see enthusiasm around the efforts that are closer to home. Like another school walkout on April 20th, the 19th anniversary of the shooting of Columbine. But politically, I'm hearing more activism in their voices. They are talking about pairing voter registration drives with these school walkouts.

That is an interesting point to me because these students are young, but a number of them are old enough to be making important political decisions. They are well-versed on policy. Not just the students who I speak on the airways, but the ones I stopped on street corners in New York and in Washington and phoned around the country. It's impressive.

BRIGGS: Of course, as they know, the White House school safety plan throws more guns into the equation, and calls for arming some teachers. So, more needs to be done if they're going to see some action, and we'll talk to you more about that in the next half hour.

ROMANS: I think the momentum is real and I think this time is different. I think the momentum is real and this time it's different.

BRIGGS: It could be right.

ROMANS: I think it's those young voters, those millennial voters who are going to make all the difference in the world. Call me a Pollyanna.

All right. Come back.

BRIGGS: We'll talk more about that in the next half hour.

ROMANS: All right. This week marks 10 years since the collapse of Bear Stearns, sparking the financial crisis. But yesterday, the Senate voted to roll back rules adopted in its wake. It's reform of the banking reform. The Senate bill repeals parts of Dodd-Frank passing 67-31, sharply dividing Democrats here. Progressives oppose easing these regulations. They point to a CBO report that says the bill could trigger another financial crisis. But many moderate Democrats argue Dodd-Frank, it hurt community banks

and strict regulations were stifling lending.

[05:10:07] So, the bill raises the threshold for federal oversight of these institutions from $50 billion to $250 billion, shielding more than two dozen midsized banks, leaving only the very biggest, J.P. 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. There are some other things in here that I think are important for consumers to know about. It expands free credit freezes. It changes some student loan rules. Lenders can no longer default when a co-signer dies or declares bankruptcy, and it loosens regulations on small mortgage lenders, banks that originate 500 mortgages or less each year, no longer have to report racial data. Critics say that could free up lending, but it will make it tougher to police mortgage discrimination and mortgage discrimination has been a real problem in the past.

BRIGGS: Some 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 the different ISIS affiliated group died in the December fight. No Americans were killed. But the attack raises some 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 were attempting to land. They ejected. The 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, their families and our incredible U.S. Navy.

BRIGGS: OK, just when it could not get worse for United Airlines, it does. Another incident involving a dog. Supposed to go to Kansas, but instead sent a few miles away, to Japan. What happened? Next.


[05:16:15] ROMANS: 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. BRIGGS: United Airlines apologizing for another blunder involving a pet on one of its flight. Kansas resident Kara Swindle telling CNN United mistakenly flew her 10-year-old German shepherd Ergo to Japan instead of Kansas City. Swindle was traveling with her two young children when she tried to pick up Ergo from the 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 Ergo, by the way, that little boy in that shirt is just adorable. Kids and dogs.

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

BRIGGS: As we reported yesterday, fiasco number two for United involves a family dog dying in the overhead bin. The airline says the flight attendant involved did not knowingly order the French bulldog into the bin where it died during a flight from Houston to New York. United says the pet owner said 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.

United States Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana wants to hear from United. He is on NEW DAY later today.

ROMANS: Have you flown with your pets?

BRIGGS: Never have, never will.

ROMANS: Me either. Covering this story, I'm surprised how many people fly with animals.

BRIGGS: I think fewer will be in the future.

Today, folks, hope your brackets are done. March Madness kicking into high gear. The field of 64 is set. Coy Wire has this morning's "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:22:54] BRIGGS: Today, folks, kicks off the two of the best days of the sports, well, two best days of the year. We don't even say sports. The NCAA tournament's first round. But before today's 16 games underway, there was action last night.

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

Hey, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave. The play-in games wrapping up last night. Syracuse taking on Arizona State. It was a long night for my sports producer Jeff York, an ASU grad. He was up past 11:00 p.m., hoping, watching.

Taking on Syracuse is 77-year-old coach Jim Boeheim, who's coached Syracuse since 1976. And last night marked the first time ever he coached the Orange as an 11 seed.

Late in the second half, Syracuse guard Tyus Battle knocked down the big three to put the Cuse up 55-52. Back and forth with seconds remaining. ASU has a chance. Down by just two -- Evans? No. Cuse puts the Sun Devils to sleep. They play TCU on Friday.

Producer Jeff and ASU grads everywhere thinking they just lost some sleep they will never get back.

Texas Southern started the season 0-13. They did not get their first win until January 1st. The season starts in November. The first time in school history, the Tigers get a win in the NCAA tournament. Five- foot-seven Damontrae Jefferson led his team in scoring. No fluke. He led the conference in scoring this season. Texas Southern steam rolls North Carolina Central, advancing to try to take down number one seed Xavier tomorrow.

Another small guy that plays big, Oklahoma freshman Trae Young led the nation in scoring this season. He's averaging over 27 points a game, often compared to Warrior star guard Steph Curry. But the Sooners barely made the tournament, losing eight of their last 10 games. A lot of talk after selection Sunday about why they did not deserve to be in the tournament. Yesterday, Young wasn't having any of it.


TRAE YOUNG, OKLAHOMA SOONERS: The regular season and last season, we are not worried about it. Everybody is 0-0 now. Everybody in the field is capable of winning games. So, we have to come in with the mind set of compete hard on both ends for 40 minutes and hopefully get back to the way we were to start the season.


[05:25:09] WIRE: All right. Have you picked your March Madness brackets yet? Former President Obama did and he released his bracket via Twitter, saying, just because I have more time to watch games doesn't mean my pick will be better.

He thinks that 3-seed is going to win it all in the men's side, the Michigan State Spartans. And he has undefeated UConn winning the women's tournament. Since his Baracketology begun in 2009, Obama correctly the champ twice on the men's side.

Let's see if you can pick them right. You want to take down Briggs, Romans, myself or other CNN crew members? Go to and see if you can go toe-to-toe with us and put us to sleep.

ROMANS: I finished mine yesterday. BRIGGS: And surprise, we had the same national champion. We won't

reveal just yet but --

ROMANS: We do. I know --

WIRE: I like it.

BRIGGS: Coy Wire, thank you, my friend.

WIRE: You're welcome.

ROMANS: All right. Twenty-six minutes past the hour. Leaked audio shows the president boasting about making stuff up and threatening to pull thousands of troops from South Korea. All over trade disputes. More next.