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Russia Friend or Foe. Russian Blacklist; Bridge Collapse Press Conference; McMaster Headed Out; New Russian Sanctions; March Madness Update. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 16, 2018 - 05:00   ET

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


[05:00:00] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Talks begin between the United States and North Korea. One source says any delay stems from McMaster trying to finalize his next steps. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that President Trump wants a softer landing for McMaster than he afford former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson whom he fired via Twitter.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Trump has privately expressed irritation with McMaster's personality and style. Late last night the White House pushed back against reports of the change. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeting this, contrary to reports, the president and McMaster have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the National Security Council. For his part, Trump yesterday called reports of impending staff changes exaggerated and very false. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've gotten to know a lot of people over the last year. You know, I've been in Washington for a little bit more than a year where some people have been here for 30, 40 years. I've gotten to know great people. So there will always be change, but very little.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The president signaled he is prepared to get rid of aides he's clashed with. Sources say, after a year in office, Mr. Trump has become more self-assured and is starting to trust his gut more.

KOSIK: OK, in the latest sign the Russia investigation is picking up steam, a source tells us Special Counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization for business documents. "The New York Times" reporting the subpoena includes records related to Russia. This marks the first known instance of Mueller demanding documents connected to President Trump's businesses.

BRIGGS: We should note that the Trump organization has already turned over a wide range of documents voluntarily. Our source says the subpoena is meant to, quote, clean up and insure all related records are handed over. The president has said any investigation of his or his family's personal finances would cross a red line. Our Jeff Zeleny asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders about that. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Does the president still believe -- does he draw a distinction, do you know, between a red line on family finances separately from family finances or business finances relating to Russia as it pertains to this case?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president believes very strongly there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. We're going to continue to cooperate with the special counsel. And for questions specific to the Trump Organization, I would refer you to them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: An attorney for the Trump Organization said in a statement that the latest reports are, quote, old news.

KOSIK: Reports of Mueller's subpoena came after the Trump administration announced it's finally imposing new sanctions on Russia, including against people the special counsel indicted last month. The administration, six weeks late, meeting a congressional mandate to impose punishments on Moscow for its meddling in the 2016 elections. The White House also lodging a new accusation against the Kremlin, that Russian intelligence tried to hack the U.S. energy grid. In total, the new sanctions apply to 19 individuals, along with five companies and government agencies.

BRIGGS: Among them, the Internet Research Agency. That's the Russian troll farm that cranked out divisive, political posts on FaceBook, Twitter and other social media sites. Two Russian intelligence agencies and some of their employees also on the list. After the administration announced the sanctions, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders still would not say whether the Kremlin is an ally or an adversary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: But in simple terms, is Putin a friend or a foe of the United States?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that's something that Russia is going to have to make that determination. They're going to have to decide whether or not they want to be a good actor or a bad actor. I think you can see from the actions that we've taken up until this point we're going to be tough on Russia until they decide to change their behavior.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen joining us live from Moscow this morning.

Good morning, Fred.

So let's just play this out. If the Kremlin's press secretary were asked that question, friend or foe as to the United States -- FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

BRIGGS: What do you think they would answer there?

PLEITGEN: Well, I -- quite frankly, I think they would probably answer pretty much the same thing. They would probably say that it's up to the U.S. to try and mend relations with Russia. Certainly what we've been hearing from the Kremlin over the past -- I mean really since the U.S. election in 2016, has been that they blame everything on the Americans. The Americans are the reason why the relations have gone as low as they have.

And I think at this point in time, they would probably say that the U.S. is an adversary, but that President Trump is not. That's something that you keep hearing again and again from the Kremlin, from other Russian agencies as well is they'll criticize the U.S., but they'll try to take President Trump out of that criticism. And even today they had a statement saying that they would like to keep the window for dialogue open as they say. And, again, in the past, we've seen very little criticism of the president himself.

Now, as far as these new sanctions are concerned, Dave, the Russians are saying, yes, they will hit back at the U.S. They say they're going to expand what they call their black list of Americans. They haven't said how exactly they plan to do that. How many individuals they might sanction or how many entities they might sanction. And they certainly say that these new sanctions by the Treasury are hurting them very much. In fact, one of the main guys on that list, his name is Yevgeny Prigozhin, an oligarch very close to Vladimir Putin. He runs that Internet Research Agency that did so much damage in the run-up to the U.S. election. He said he could not care less about the sanctions and the only thing he's going to do is he's going to stop eating at McDonald's.

Dave.

[05:05:17] BRIGGS: You know who likes McDonald's, the president of the United States.

Fred Pleitgen, thank you, my friend. Great reporting.

PLEITGEN: (INAUDIBLE) -- yes. Yes.

BRIGGS: Joining us this morning, "Washington Examiner" commentary writer Siraj Hashmi live in Washington.

Good morning to you, sir.

Want to let you know, we could jump out and go to Miami for this press conference on the FIU bridge collapse.

But let's talk about all this -- all right, he doesn't like chaos, so let's call it turmoil in the White House. You and I wake up and -- and we're stunned to see Arizona bounced out of the NCAA tournament. But -- all right, we're going to get back to Siraj in a moment, talking White House chaos. Let's go to Miami and the press conference on the bridge collapse.

OFFICER ALVARO ZABALETA, MIAMI-DADE POLICE DEPARTMENT: Last night where it was decided that we were going to continue working throughout the night. We have engineers that have been on scene. NTSB, their team arrived last night to join the efforts. We have a representative from the FBI, a representative from OSHA also here, among others.

As of last night's operational brief, it was determined by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue that they were going to relinquish their lead on the -- on the whole operation to the police department. So now this has turned into -- from a rescue to a recovery operation.

What we are able to confirm to you at this point, you have to understand, that this is a very slow process. They're still working away at that concrete. Engineers have told us last night that it's got to be done very carefully. Not only because of the fact that we have to preserve evidence, not only because of the fact that there may be possible victims under there and we have to treat it very delicately, but because for the safety of the rescuers as well, because of the unstableness of the bridge that's -- that's going on right now.

So this is a very slow process. They're still working on it, as I mentioned, all night long.

What we can confirm is at this point at least, we can confirm, six fatalities. We are -- we have been -- our victim advocates have been working throughout the night with the family members. NTSB has also a victim advisory personnel that's going to be working closely with the families. But what we're able to say is, is that we're going to continue working

at this throughout the day.

We're going to provide media briefs to you as the day goes by. Our next one is going to be approximately 9:00 a.m., give or take, between 9 and 10, where we're going to have members of each entity to be able to provide additional information.

As far as the names, we haven't been able to confirm the -- they haven't been able to confirm to us yet or to be able to divulge the information regarding the names or the race and sex of the victims of the fatalities. We do know that fire rescue transported nine out of here. They were transported to a local hospital. One perhaps may have transported themselves because the reports we're getting from Kendall (ph) Regional is that they had ten individuals at the hospital. And, of course, those numbers are going to fluctuate.

Any questions? In English?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

ZABALETA: None have been removed as of yet. Again, we've only -- only the six that we've been able to confirm are the only ones that we've been able to reach out to. However, we -- they're saying at least because there is the possibility, the sad possibility, that under the concrete there may be additional vehicles. And they're trying to work at it -- the engineers are working at it in a very tactical way because, again, as I mentioned before, the structure is very fragile and it could be very dangerous to rescue personnel that are still there, people that are working it.

QUESTION: Are those six fatalities that you confirm, are they already recovered?

ZABALETA: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have age ranges of the victims? (INAUDIBLE)?

ZABALETA: Now, we don't have ages, sex -- we don't have ages, race or sex as of yet.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

ZABALETA: Well, no -- well, I'll take that back. They do -- they confirmed that they've had -- that they had six. And we know that one of them passed away at the hospital. So that was -- that was the -- we had five and that was the additional sixth.

To say specifically they were removed, they may -- that may -- that may not be -- we may not have gotten to that point as of yet on those. We cannot tell you which have been and which have not been removed, to be completely factual.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

ZABALETA: Correct.

QUESTION: Is there any part of the bridge (INAUDIBLE)?

ZABALETA: The entire bridge is in jeopardy because of the fact of the structure, the way it's laying. And that's what the engineers were so concerned about last night during the operational brief, it's that, how are they going to approach this bridge in a tactical way where it doesn't harm the rescuers and at the same time if, in fact, that there's victims, deceased that are still trapped under there, trying to maintain that integrity of that scene.

QUESTION: Can you give information in Spanish (INAUDIBLE).?

[05:10:00] ZABALETA: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

ZABALETA: I got you.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

ZABALETA: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH).

BRIGGS: All right, there's the update from that Miami-Dade Police Department. The fatalities updated from four to six. No names of the victims have yet been released. What's made much more difficult the recovery there is they say the

entire bridge can collapse and they expect it to, so that makes their mission all the more difficult.

KOSIK: And this is something that's transitioned from a rescue to a recovery mission.

BRIGGS: Yes.

KOSIK: And there are a lot of questions because there are reports that at the time of this accident, that the bridge was being tightened. So it begs the question, why was the area not cleared, keeping traffic and pedestrians away from the bridge?

We will continue to monitor this press conference. And any news that comes out of it, we will bring it to you.

BRIGGS: Another update coming at 9:00. John Berman will bring you that.

But, up next, Siraj Hashmi back with us from "The Washington Examiner" to discuss the latest departure from the Trump administration.

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:15:39] BRIGGS: 5:15 Eastern Time.

President Trump ready to replace his national security adviser, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster.

Joining us this morning in Washington, "Washington Examiner" commentary writer Siraj Hashmi.

Good to see you, my friend.

KOSIK: Good morning.

SIRAJ HASHMI, COMMENTARY WRITER, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Good morning.

BRIGGS: All right, so March Madness on the courts, March madness in the White House.

We love it in the brackets, but what is this type of instability? How does it impact the White House in particular and of what you might say is the most pivotal movement of the Trump administration, that meeting with Kim Jong-un?

HASHMI: It all -- I mean really what we're looking at with respect to the White House in the staffing changes and the turnover that we're seeing is that it really impacts where we move on policy, particularly where President Trump is looking at. You know, with respect to the steel and aluminum tariffs, you saw Gary Cohn is the national economic council director. He left as a result of that. And, you know, what we're seeing with H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, there are possible replacements for him, whether it be Keith Kellogg, who is the chief of staff for the National Security Council, or even John Bolton, who was a former U.N. ambassador to -- or U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Both of those choices right there present a shift in which -- where President Trump could either go to a more hawkish stance say, for example, with John Bolton, verses what he's currently dealing with, with Keith Kellogg.

So really we're looking at where the -- you know, President Trump has his beliefs, but it really depends on his advisers and what he's being told that really influences his policy.

BRIGGS: Yes, and you mentioned John Bolton. Prior to the announcement of this meeting with Kim Jong-un, he was one advocating in the pages of "The Wall Street Journal" a military strike on North Korea. So context on that possible selection.

KOSIK: Let's talk a little bit more about McMaster and the whole musical chairs going on in the White House. You know, it's no -- it's no secret that -- that the president has clashed with McMaster on foreign policy issues. With that in mind, I want you to listen to something that the president said. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like conflict. I like having two people with different points of view. And I certainly have that. And then I make a decision. But I like watching it. I like seeing it. And I think it's the best way to go. I like different points of view.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: OK, so that's what the president said last week, he likes different points of view. But here's the problem. He's showing the door to the people who he has those different points of view with. So does he like the different points of views or does he just want yes people in the White House? And how much of a problem is that to just have yes people in the White House?

HASHMI: Right. I mean President Trump does like having a lot of yes men around him. But, you know, reports have shown that a lot of his current advisers have been telling him no a lot. And, of course, that's a lot of reports that we -- you know, President Trump could just dismiss as fake news. But the fact of the matter is that, you know, Gary Cohn pushed President Trump to steer away from steel and aluminum tariffs, yet he went and did it anyway, as leading to Cohn's resignation.

So, you know, there's a breaking point for President Trump. And, you know, it's Friday, we could be looking at a very bloody Friday at that considering that we're looking at, you know, Andrew McCabe possibly getting fired. We could be looking at Jeff Sessions getting fired. We could be looking at Robert Mueller getting fired. Really anyone in the government could get fired and I'd be surprised if President Trump does fire himself.

BRIGGS: Now that's -- that's news.

KOSIK: That would make news.

BRIGGS: There is reports of him wanting to just rip off the Band-Aid and do away with, you know, three, four at a time, but you never know what's going to happen, to your point.

KOSIK: By the way, I think he loves himself too much to fire himself. I'll just (INAUDIBLE) with that.

BRIGGS: Let's talk, though, about Russia.

HASHMI: Sure.

BRIGGS: While that chaos continues in the White House, they did take a step yesterday pushing back against the narrative that they're not doing anything against Russia, implementing sanctions passed 98-2 six weeks ago. But some say they're just largely symbolic. In fact, "The Wall Street Journal" in an op-ed says Mr. Putin keeps taunting the west because he has learned that his leaders lack the political nerve to strike back in a way that matters. Until the west threatens his finances, Mr. Putin won't be deterred from future aggression.

Are these likely to have any impact or are they just a symbolic gesture by the administration?

HASHMI: In a way they're symbolic. I mean you can also look at the PR standpoint in which the White House says that they're not doing anything with respect to Russia. Now they say -- finally can say that they're doing something with respect to Russia, you know?

And this -- this sanction package, which was passed by almost unanimously in Congress, you know, this is actually something that, you know, with -- packaged with North Korea sanctions as well as Iran. And they've imposed the North Korean sanctions. But kind of then faltering on the whole Iran deal. Now it looks like Russia, which is coming into place, they were going to use that initially in the back pocket as something to deter Russian bad actors and misbehavior. And it seems like they're doing that.

[05:20:15] So, in a way, it does work. But, you know, our -- economic sanctions only take you so far. President Vladimir Putin doesn't seem to want to really steer away from what he's currently doing. He is a man who definitely wants as much power as he can get. And if it makes the United States look like fools, then so be it.

BRIGG: And his re-election coming right up.

Siraj Hashmi, we'll check back with you in about 10 or 15 minutes. Thank you, my friend.

KOSIK: See you in a bit.

HASHMI: Thank you.

BRIGGS: And though it didn't take long to get the first bracket busting upset of the NCAA tournament, Coy Wire has a big, giant slayer coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIGGS: First day of March Madness in the books. And it took until the late game to get a major bracket buster. It was a good one.

[05:25:02] KOSIK: Coy Wire, you've got more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Good morning.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alison and Dave.

I sure hope none of us here picked Arizona to go very far. Thirteenth seed Buffalo playing four seed Arizona. The PAC 12 champs. And a team that has come under scrutiny lately due to an ESPN report saying their head coach, Sean Miller, allegedly arranged payments for their star freshman, DeAndre Ayton, a potential number one overall NBA draft pick.

The Wildcats have several future NBA players. Buffalo maybe not even one, but the Bulls playing with heart and spirit that stomped Arizona talent 89-68. It's the school's first ever NCAA tournament win. And all three PAC 12 teams now eliminated from the tourney all by teams from upstate New York.

Buffalo players let a certain former president know that they saw he had picked Arizona to win instead of them. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CJ MASSINBURG, ARIZONA WILDCATS: I seen that President Barack -- I mean President Barack Obama, he picked Arizona to beat us. And I just want to say, President Obama, I'm sorry, but I had to. You should have chosen the handsome guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIRE: Ninety-eight-year-old Sister Jean, team chaplain for 11th seed Loyola-Chicago for over two decades, praying with the Ramblers before their matchup with 6th seed Miami, praying for an upset. And with time running out, Donte Ingram, Hail Mary, buzzer beater. Prayers are answered. The sports world (INAUDIBLE), kneeling in reverence to Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean, who's the early favorite for tournament MVP. Afterwards, she was full of love and full of life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SISTER JEAN SCHMIDT: When we were in the locker room ahead of the game, we just knew that we would do this. Our team was so great and they don't care who makes the points as long as we win the game. And I said, we were going to win the big -- get the big "w" up there, and we did.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WIRE: And she was trending on Twitter, hash tag Sister Jean. And the city of Chicago celebrating the victory in a big way. People losing their minds on campus, dancing on tables at bars. Loyola-Chicago, they move on to play the Volunteers of Tennessee on Saturday. That's what it's all about.

I want to give you a live reenactment of the one heartbreaking loss for Arizona. This was Dave Briggs. He's taking his bracket, crumbling it, throwing it.

KOSIK: Chucking it.

WIRE: He had them going to the final four, Alison. Not a good day for Mr. Briggs.

KOSIK: Yes, he's not -- he's not a guy I'm going to get some advice about brackets.

BRIGGS: I thought Virginia would win it all until that injury. The injury -- it's a tough break for me. But I love it. That's what we love about this tournament, man, and characters like that from Loyola.

Thank you, buddy. Day two starts --

WIRE: You're welcome.

KOSIK: Thanks, Coy.

All right, breaking moments ago, the death toll increases from the pedestrian bridge collapse in Miami. We are live, next.

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