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EARLY START

Another Bomb Goes Off In Austin, Texas; Republican Warns Trump to Not Fire Mueller; Facebook Under Fire; Putin Wins Six Year Term. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 19, 2018 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:00]

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, I mean, the community, to have an extra level of vigilance and pay attention to any suspicious device.

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight. Another explosion in Austin, Texas, the fourth in recent weeks. Police say it may have been detonated by trip wire. And they are working on the theory the same person is behind it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the allegation is collusions with the Russians and you are innocent of that, act like it.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If you try to do that that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency.

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DAVE BRIGGS, EARLY START SHOW CO-HOST: A chorus of Republicans warning the President not to fire the Russia's Special Counsel comes after the President directly, attacked Robert Mueller by name for the first time.

ROMANS: Fierce criticism for Facebook over protecting user data. It comes after a firm with ties to the Trump campaign gained access to valuable information of about 50 million users. Good morning and welcome to Early Start. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is Monday, March 19, 4:00 a.m. in the East. Hope you had a great weekend, some wild NCAA tournament --

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

BRIGGS: -- just coming up, just a bonkers tournament. We will show you that.

ROMANS: Oh, well you'll (inaudible). BRIGGS: Breaking news overnight, Police in Austin, Texas

investigating another explosion in the city that has been rattled by a series of recent blasts. They are now working under the belief this latest attack is connected to earlier explosions that killed two people. The Sunday incident was reported on Dawn Song Drive, near the Republic of Texas Boulevard, two people were injured.

ROMANS: Austin police are now asking Travis County residents to stay home until 10:00 a.m. Local time. The chief says the way the device may have been detonated is serious cause for concern.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is very possible that this device was a device that was activated by someone either handling, kicking or coming in contact with a trip wire that activated the device. So that changes things. We now need the community to have an extra level of vigilance and pay attention to any suspicious device, whether it be a package, a bag, a backpack or anything that looks out of place and do not approach it.

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ROMANS: The two men injured in the blast Sunday are both in good condition at a local hospital. Local schools are excusing absences today, since school buses can't get near the scene. This attack came hours after the reward for information leading to an arrest was raised to $115,000.

BRIGGS: The tension in Austin also affecting the South by, Southwest festival. A bomb threat Saturday, cause the cancellation of a concert featuring The Roots. In that case, a suspect was arrested and no word on any link to the explosions.

ROMANS: All right. There are bipartisan calls this morning for President Trump to keep his hands off the Special Counsel after his most direct attack yet on Robert Mueller, quote, "Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big crooked Hillary supporters and zero Republicans?" Another Dem recently added, "Does anyone think this is fair, and yet there is no collusion?"

BRIGGS: Quick fact check there. Washington Post analysis does fine, 13 of the 17 members of Mueller's team have previously registered as Democrats, but Mueller himself is a registered Republican, and perhaps more importantly, he is a marine, folks.

And many attorneys on Mueller's team have prosecuted members of both parties. The President's tweet got the attention of many on Capitol Hill, including prominent Republicans.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you are innocent, if the allegations collusions with the Russians and there is no evidence of that and you're innocent of that, act like it. GRAHAM: The only reason Mr. Mueller could ever be dismissed is for -- cause. I see no cause when it comes to Mr. Mueller. He needs to be able to do his job independent of any political influence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you worried that the President is preparing to order the firing of Mr. Mueller? It sure looks that way from his tweets.

GRAHAM: Well, as I said before, if he tried to do that that would be the beginning of the end of the presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Senator McCain weighed in from Arizona, where he is receiving cancer treatment. Special Counsel Mueller has served our country with honesty and integrity. It is critical he'd be allowed to complete a thorough investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election unimpeded.

So far, efforts in Congress to protect the Special Counsel have stalled. It is unclear if the lawmakers will make any moves, this week, before they leave town Friday night for a two week recess.

BRIGGS: The president's Sunday morning tweet came after his personal lawyer, John Dowd, said quote, "He praised for the Justice Department to end the Mueller investigation."

Last night White House Counsel, Ty Cobb, clarify the West wing position saying, quote, "The President is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel." For more, let's check in with White House correspondent, Boris Sanchez.

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[04:05:00] BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Dave and Christine, the President is taking this stand against not only the Special Counsel, but this weekend, he tweeted about the FBI, the Department of Justice, the State Department as well.

At least one White House official, the Director of Legislative Affairs, Marc Short, defended the President saying that he is frustrated because the Russia investigation has gone on for so long and yet yielded, in his eyes, few results.

MARC SHORT, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE LEGISTALTIVE AFFAIRS: Everyone in the White House has cooperated on this and what I said, is -- that we have cooperated every single way, every single paper that it was ask for, every single interview, and I think the reality, Margaret, is that, yes, there is a growing frustration and after more than a year and millions and millions of dollars spent on this, there remains no evidence of collusion with Russia. I think the President is expressing his frustration which I think as well warranted and narrative.

SANCHEZ: Despite those comments from Marc Short and others who had been calling for the Special Counsel to wrap up its investigation. It has yielded some results, not only with those 13 indictments of Russian nationals for election meddling, but also with four indictments of figures within the Trump campaign with George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn and others, Dave and Christine.

(END VIDEO)

ROMANS: All right, Boris, thank you for that. Andrew McCabe is gone, but certainly not forgotten. The former Deputy Director of the FBI, fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Friday night, just a day short of retirement in his full pension. The move not well received even by most Republicans.

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SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R,) FLORIDA: I don't like the way it happened. He should have been allowed to finish through the weekend. That's -- there is an inspector general report that's due and work that is being done. And after he had retired, if that report would have indicated wrongdoing or something that was actionable, there are things that could have been done after the fact, that 48 hours to go before retirement. I would have certainly done it differently.

GRAHAM: We owe it to the average American to have a hearing and the Judiciary Committee. -- giveness to McCabe the chance to defend himself, I believe when it comes to this issue, we need as much transparency as possible to make sure it wasn't politically motivated.

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BRIGGS: McCabe says his firing was part of a wider effort to discredit the FBI and Mueller investigation. He said he was singled out because of events he witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

CNN has learned, Mueller's team interviewed McCabe and asked about the Comey firing. Mueller also has memos, McCabe, wrote documenting his conversations with the President.

ROMANS: Mr. Trump responding to that news nationally on Twitter, "spent very little time with Andrew McCabe, but he never took notes when he was with me. I don't believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at a later date. Same with lying James Comey. Can we call them fake memos?"

McCabe's lawyer fired back with this, "We will not be responding to each childish, defamatory, discussing and false tweet by the President. The tweets confirm that he has corrupted the entire process that led to Mr. Mccabe's termination and has rendered it illegitimate.

BRIGGS: And former CIA Chief, John Brennan, fired off this blistering tweet aimed directly at the President, "When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. In an escape goat, Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America. America will triumph over you." ROMANS: All right, there is a new crisis this morning for Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, on the mounting pressure, it is not doing enough to protect user data. It centers on reports of firm with ties to the President Trump's campaign called Cambridge Analytica, gained access to information on 50 million Facebook users.

The data would be extremely useful to a Presidential campaign, because it can -- it can provide detailed interests and behavior characteristics of large swaths of the population and with the campaign target specific voters.

The data was collected by a professor for academic purposes and in line with Facebook rules, but then information was transferred to third parties, including Cambridge Analytica. That transfer violated Facebook policies. It ordered the firm to delete the data in 2015, but recently discovered, that did not happen.

So, Facebook booted Cambridge Analytica from using its platform. That news came from Facebook Deputy General Counsel, who seem to be the only executive commenting, no words from CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

A Minnesota Senator, Amy Klobuchar, is one of many lawmakers demanding answers. She tweeted. "It's clear these platforms can't police themselves. I called for more transparency and accountability for online political ads. They say trust us. Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee."

Facebook said it has conducting an internal and external review to see if the data still exists, but its doesn't say how will it prevent this from happening in the future. And Facebook does not take responsibility for how it happened. Just adding to the -- adding to the criticism that Facebook and others -- basically the wild west were manipulated and used during the election.

BRIGGS: Still much more to learn about this one though --

ROMANS: Sure.

BRIGGS: -- regarding Cambridge Analytica.

[04:10:00] All right. There is not much suspense. Vladimir Putin tightening his grip on Russia for six more years. After a sweeping victory in Sunday's Presidential election, the state run exit poll showing the Russian leader winning his fourth term easily as you might imagine. Let's go live to Moscow and bring in CNN's Matthew Chance. Good morning, sir.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. It wasn't exactly a cliffhanger. I mean, before we went into this Election Day, which was yesterday, Sunday, here in Russia, there were eight candidates, but any one of them was a contender. It was Vladimir Putin. He has been running Russia for the past 18 years either as President or Prime Minister and he's just got for himself another six year term in the Kremlin.

And the vote he got is pretty astonishing. He got 76.6 percent of the popular vote, that's according to the Russian Election Commission. They are not quite finished counting the votes yet, but it's going to be a resounding win for Vladimir Putin.

And -- you know, it -- that in the face of, you know, voter apathy in this country, because there wasn't much of a Democratic contest. The Kremlin was very concern. The people were not going to bother coming out and voting. But in fact, the turnout was pretty good it seems, 67 percent or so just over, a conjugates commissions turn back to cast their ballots.

And so, kind of underlines despite what Vladimir Putin's reputation images in the West, in the United States, he is still extremely popular here in Russia. And that's something that is again been -- been obviously made clear by the election result. Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. Matthew Chance live for us in Moscow this morning. Thank you, sir.

ROMANS: Scare in the air for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. A helicopter carrying the couple had to return to Reagan National Airport shortly after takeoff when one of its two engines failed. They were flying from Washington to New York.

Sources tells CNN the president's daughter and her husband were able to catch a commercial flight instead. It is not known whose helicopter they were on. A spokesman for the couple had no comments on that incident.

BRIGGS: Talks between the U.S., North Korea and South Korea start today in Finland. It comes after high level talks in Sweden about Americans held captive by Pyongyang. We are live in Seoul, when we come back.

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[04:16:25] ROMANS: Sweden is trying to help negotiate the release of three Americans being held captive in North Korea, as President Trump prepares to meet Kim Jong-un face-to-face by the end of May. One source with knowledge of the talks telling CNN, any movement on the prisoners would be a huge deal for the White House. For the latest on the negotiations, let's go live to Seoul, let's bring in CNN's David McKenzie, David?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. Yes, it's significant that Sweden is making public its efforts to get those three Americans who are detained in North Korea free.

Now that is not surprising, but they are doing this, because Sweden, of course, is the go-between between the U.S. and North Korea, but there is obviously a lot more leverage open to them right now as those proposed talks between President Trump and Kim Jong-un presumably get closer.

Now, the Foreign Minister of South Korea was on U.S. media yesterday. Interestingly, she said that everyone was taken by surprise that President Trump had agreed to those talks, perhaps given the fact that those Americans are still in detention, but this could be a moment that there could be a sliver of hope for their families.

In the meantime, lower level talks, but still very important, are happening in neighboring Finland. That is between U.S. former officials, not directly linked with the government, and with an important North Korea -- Korean official who is linked to U.S. issues within North Korea.

So this all points to me that there is movement behind the scenes, behind closed doors toward that highly significant meeting. Whether they can pull it off between Trump and Kim Jong-un, remains to be seen. Christine?

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that.

BRIGGS: A fatal stabbing attack in the Old City of Jerusalem. Israeli police confirming a 30-year-old man has died from his injuries. The attack taking place between Lions Gate and the Western Wall in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. The suspected attacker shot and killed by a police officer after the incident.

And in Southern Gaza, the Israeli military destroying a Hamas border tunnel, Sunday morning. Hamas was trying to reconnect an old tunnel that was destroyed in 2014. To a new section, this marks the fourth Gaza tunnel Israel has destroyed since late October.

All right. Coming up, just when the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament could not get crazier, it certainly did. Another top seed, the defending champs, and two other favorite packing their bags and all of you tearing your brackets. The latest is next.

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[04:23:25] BRIGGS: Its 4:23 Eastern Time. And classes are back in session this morning at Florida International University days after a deadly pedestrian bridge collapse there. A moment of silence will be observed at 1:47 this afternoon for the six people killed in the disaster.

The roadway is now cleared, but authorities are keeping it closed indefinitely, because of an ongoing investigation and all the heavy equipment moving in and out of the area. After digging through 950 tons of concrete and steel, police say the remains of all the victims have now been recovered.

ROMANS: A Pennsylvania man now waiting to be extradited after he was found in Mexico with a teenage girl nearly two weeks after they vanished. Police say 16 year old Amy Yu, willingly ran away with 45 year old Kevin Esterly. They were escorted to Miami by U.S. law enforcement.

Amy has been safely returned to her family in Pennsylvania. Police say, she is unharmed and in good health. And his mother tells CNN, the family had known Esterly from church since, Amy was 11 years old. CNN has been unable to reach -- to reach Esterly's wife, Stacy, for comment. BRIGGS: A day of stunning upset to the already head spinning NCAA

College Basketball Tournament. Ninth seeded Florida State advancing to the sweet 16 with the shocking upset of top seed Xavier. The Musketeers blew it 12 point lead, midway to the second half, thanks to 18 turnovers and 11 miss free-throws.

How about defending champion North Carolina, they were rushed by Texas and an 18 points from Tyler Davies, leading the Aggies in the sweet 16 with an 86-65 win over the second team Tar Heels. Romans and I are both done in the brackets.

[04:25:07] Another two seed knocked down. Cincinnati, the Bearcats blowing a 22-point, second half lead. They lose to the seventh seed, Nevada 75-73. The celebration is on there.

How about third seed, Michigan State. They, too, headed home after a 55-53 upset loss to Syracuse. The Spartans failing to survive the first weekend, a March madness for the third straight year. President Obama's national champion, Michigan State, they are done. It is the most mind boggling --

ROMANS: It is.

BRIGGS: -- NCAA tournament we have ever seen.

ROMANS: Loyola in the sweet 16.

BRIGGS: And Sister Jean is dancing on.

ROMANS: Yes. Awesome.

BRIGGS: All right. Breaking news overnight. Austin police with a dire warning for residents as they link another explosion to recent bombings.

ROMANS: And a bipartisan message to President Trump, after the twitter attack on Robert Mueller. Let the Special Counsel do his job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once he goes after Mueller, I think that people see that as a massive red line.

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