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Serial Bomber In Austin, Texas; GOP Leaders Defend Special Counsel Probe; McCabe Firing Ignites Political Battle; Putin Claims Victory In Russian Election; Sweden Negotiating With North Korea To Win Release Of Americans Held Captive. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 19, 2018 - 05:30   ET

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


[05:30:07] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN MANLEY, POLICE CHIEF, AUSTIN, TEXAS: We now need the community to have an extra level of vigilance and pay attention to any suspicious device.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, another explosion in Austin, Texas, the fourth in recent weeks. Police say it may have been detonated by trip wire. They're looking for a serial bomber.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If the allegation is collusion with the Russians and you're innocent of that, act like it.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: But if he tried to do that, that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A chorus of Republicans warning the president not to fire the Russia special counsel. The president attacked Robert Mueller by name for the first time.

BRIGGS: Fierce criticism for Facebook over not protecting user data. A firm with ties to the Trump campaign gained access to valuable information of about 50 million users. A hugely impactful story this morning.

Thanks for getting an early start with us. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is about 31 minutes past the hour this Monday morning.

And breaking overnight, police in Austin, Texas looking for a serial bomber. Officials now working under the belief a new blast is connected to earlier explosions that killed two people. The Sunday incident was reported on Dawn Song Drive near Republic of Texas Boulevard.

BRIGGS: Two people injured. Austin police now asking Travis County residents to stay home until 10:00 a.m. local time.

Joining us now live from Austin with the latest is CNN's Ed Lavandera. Ed, good morning to you. What do we know?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave.

Well, you can see behind me. We are at one of the entrances into the neighborhood where those -- the latest explosion was triggered Sunday night and authorities have cordoned off about a half-mile radius from around this area.

And this is the area where they're urging these residents to stay indoors. They have not been able to process the scene here where this latest explosion took place. They say they are waiting until daylight so that they can do that safely, so that's why they're urging residents here in this area to stay indoors until they've been notified that it's OK to come outside.

The police chief here in Austin says this explosion a little bit different from the previous three that we have seen here and that is why he continues to urge people all across the city to be very vigilant of what they see in their neighborhoods.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANLEY: It's 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 -- anything that looks out of place -- and do not approach it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAVANDERA: Authorities here also went on to say that the two victims from Sunday's night's explosion -- two college-aged men that they believed were either riding bicycles or pushing their bikes past this package that was left on the side of this residential street. And that's why they believe at this point that a possible trip wire was used in this explosion.

Those two victims taken to a local hospital where they are being treated and the injuries appear not to be life-threatening at this point.

But it's also very interesting that just a few hours before this latest explosion the authorities here in Austin had come out raising the reward for information leading to the arrest of the culprit or culprits to $115,000.

And the police chief also made a direct plea to the person or persons behind these attacks urging whoever are the culprits to get in touch with him. That they believe that there is some sort of message that they're trying to send with these explosions and they want whoever is behind this to reach out to them so that they can speak out to them to understand what it is they're trying to convey with these attacks.

So that is the latest here this morning as authorities here in Austin are waiting for sunlight so they can begin processing the scene of this latest attack -- Christine and Dave.

BRIGGS: Urging people again to stay home in that area until 10:00 a.m. It's just 4:30 local time.

Ed Lavandera live for us, thanks.

ROMANS: All right, to politics now.

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.

"Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big crooked Hillary supporters, and zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added, does anything think this is fair? And yet, there is no collusion!"

BRIGGS: A quick fact-check there, though. "Washington Post" analysis does find 13 of the 17 members of Mueller's team have previously registered as Democrats, but Mueller himself is a registered Republican. Many of the 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TREY GOWDY (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: When you are innocent, if the allegation is collusion with the Russians and there is no evidence of that and you're innocent of that, act like it.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: 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.

[05:35:08] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Are you worried that the president is preparing to order the firing of 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 his presidency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Senator John McCain weighed in from Arizona where he is receiving cancer treatments.

"Special Counsel Mueller has served our country with honesty and integrity. It's critical he 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's unclear if lawmakers will make any moves this week before they leave town Friday night for a 2-week break.

BRIGGS: The president's Sunday morning tweet came after his personal lawyer John Dowd said he prays for the Justice Department to end Mueller's investigation.

Last night, White House counsel Ty Cobb clarified the West Wing position saying the president is not considering or discussing the firing of the special counsel.

ROMANS: 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 and his full pension.

BRIGGS: McCabe said he was singled out because of the 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: The president responding to that news, naturally via 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. "We will not be responding to each childish, defamatory, disgusting 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 President Trump.

"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. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America. America will triumph over you."

ROMANS: And that is quite a statement.

BRIGGS: Unusual to say the least.

ROMANS: Yes.

Let's bring back "Weekly Standard" Congressional reporter Haley Byrd live from Washington. Nice to see you again.

And, you know, we heard from Sen. Marco Rubio who did not like how this whole McCabe firing went down. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I don't like the way it happened. He should have been allowed to finish through the weekend.

That said, there is an inspector general report that's due and work that's being done, and after he had retired that report would have indicated wrongdoing or something that was actionable. There are things that could have been done after the fact but 48 hours to go before retirement, I would have certainly done it differently.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: What's your sense on how -- whether this was a political firing? And then, even if it wasn't, the atmosphere is so charged in Washington and the president feeds into the -- in it.

BRIGGS: Created that atmosphere.

ROMANS: Right, right, created that atmosphere. It's hard to see what's political and what isn't.

HALEY BYRD, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes, it is -- it is a difficult determination to make considering the president's tweets that make this a lot more personal.

This inquiry and this investigation originated with an inspector general investigation and that inspector general was an Obama appointee. The process was conducted with lifelong career officials who have worked in the Department of Justice and the FBI.

But other than that, the president -- and, you know, Jeff Sessions made the final call on whether to fire him. And the president's tweets, again, do call into question the timing of this considering McCabe's retirement.

BRIGGS: You know, the office of inspector general might be the last remaining bastion of respected voice on both sides as nonpartisan. Most I've spoken to said this was a firing they probably had to do but you can't separate it from the president's attacks.

Let's move now to the president's attacks on Bob Mueller because some are worried that he is moving to fire the special counsel. It sounded that way from his attorneys over the weekend but Marc Short, legislative affairs, said on CBS pump the breaks on all this talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARC SHORT, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS, ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Everyone in the White House has cooperated on this and what I said is that we have cooperated in every single way, every single paper they've asked for, every single interview.

And I think the reality Margaret is that yes, there's a growing frustration that 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's expressing his frustration, which I think is well-warranted and merited.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: OK, so let's take Marc Short at his word. If the president's not moving to fire Mueller he's at the very least trying to poison the well -- soften the target so nothing is believed, at least by that 35 to 40 percent.

[05:40:01] What will Republicans do, though? What will leadership do if the president makes a move on Mueller, in your estimation?

BYRD: That's a good question. We don't really know if they're going to do anything at all. The Republicans in Congress oftentimes split with the president on questions like this. They want Mueller to stay unimpeded to do his job.

You saw Rubio and Graham coming out and saying leave him alone. Paul Ryan's team says that they think Mueller should be able to do his job.

But when it comes to these things there is a sort of lack of willpower in -- especially in the House Republican Conference to pass legislation to exercise their constitutional authority to check the White House. And even in the House, you see Republicans have actually been calling on Mueller to be fired.

So there has been a sort of shift in recent months. The Republicans in Congress who were initially expected to act as this sort of protection for Mueller and his team are sort of siding with the president on this.

ROMANS: All right, Haley Byrd. So much to talk about. Starting another very busy week. I mean, I can't believe everything that's happened since Friday.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: Haley Byrd from "The Weekly Standard." Nice to see you. Thank you.

BYRD: Thanks.

ROMANS: All right, 41 minutes past the hour.

A new crisis this morning for Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg amid mounting pressure. It did not do enough to protect user data. This centers on reports a firm with ties to 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 provide details, interests, and behavior characteristics of big chunks of the population and let the campaign target specific voters.

Now, if the data was collected by a professor for academic purposes that's in line with Facebook rules, but then the information was transferred to third parties, including Cambridge Analytica. That transfer violated Facebook policies.

Facebook ordered the firm to delete the data in 2015 but recently discovered that didn't happen, so Facebook booted Cambridge Analytica from using its platform. That news came from Facebook's deputy general counsel, seemingly the only executive there commenting. No word from CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar one of many lawmakers demanding answers.

"It's clear these platforms can't police themselves," she writes. "I've called for more transparency and accountability for online political ads. They say 'trust us.' Mark Zuckerberg needs to testify before the Senate Judiciary."

Facebook says it is conducting an internal and external review to see if the data still exists. It doesn't say how it will prevent this from happening in the future. And Facebook doesn't take responsibility for how it happened.

Investors are taking notice. Shares of Facebook down about two percent in premarket trading.

BRIGGS: Mark Zuckerberg's voice sorely missing from this equation.

ROMANS: Yes, and for a long time so many of these social networks have been saying look, we provide the platform --

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: -- but their platform has been used and abused. They need to be a little -- do a little more policing.

BRIGGS: Hopefully, some Republicans join Amy Klobuchar.

ROMANS: All right. Talks between the U.S. and North Korea start today in Finland. It's not the only high-level discussion between the two. We're live in Seoul.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:47:09] BRIGGS: Five forty-seven eastern time.

Classes back in session this morning at Florida International University just days after a deadly pedestrian bridge collapsed 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 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. 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's unharmed and in good health. Amy's mother tells CNN the family had known Esterly from church since Amy was 11.

CNN has been unable to reach Esterly's wife for comment.

ROMANS: Let's get a check on "CNN Money" this morning.

Investors feeling some anxiety. Dow futures are slipping, the S&P 500 said to open lower, stock markets in Europe are down, shares in Asia dropping overnight.

The Federal Reserve kicks off its 2-day policy meeting on Tuesday. Investors are expecting a rate hike. It will be the first under the new Fed chief Jerome Powell.

Wall Street worried that the Fed may have to increase the pace of rate hikes to keep up with the president's economic policies and the potential of rising inflation.

Some are calling it the antitrust trial of the decade. It starts this week. AT&T and Time Warner will head to court fighting the Justice Department over the company's merger plans.

Both stocks popped back in October when this deal was announced but have pulled back since the Department of Justice sued to block the deal.

Opening arguments start Wednesday but the two sides will be in court today and tomorrow for hearings.

The DOJ claims the deal will hurt consumers and will have to prove that in court. AT&T and Time Warner deny the claim. They say the deal is a classic vertical integration.

Time Warner is the parent company of CNN and CNNMoney.

BRIGGS: All right, my friend, you watch any basketball this weekend?

ROMANS: I did. I watched a lot of basketball.

BRIGGS: It was insane. Just when the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament could not get crazier, it did. A top seed, the defending champ, and two other favorites all packing their bags and you tearing your brackets, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:53:58] BRIGGS: It wasn't much suspense. Vladimir Putin tightening his grip on Russia for six more years, sweeping to victory in Sunday's presidential election. A state-run exit poll showing the Russian leader winning his fourth term easily.

Let's go live to Moscow and bring in CNN's Matthew Chance. Matthew, election integrity -- is there confidence in the results there?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean -- look, I mean, there were -- there were lots of election irregularities. There were instances of ballot box stuffing. There were allegations that people had been bussed to various polling stations around the country and forced to vote by the companies that they work for and the government agencies that they work for.

And, of course, the main opposition leader in this country, Alexei Navalny, was not allowed to stand for the vote because he has a criminal record which he says is politically motivated. And also, the Kremlin completely controls the Russian media.

But apart from that -- apart from those things yes, the turnout of 67.47 percent and the vote for Vladimir Putin of 76.6 percent -- the latest figures from the Election Commission -- broadly being accepted.

[05:55:10] And it underlines the fact that Vladimir Putin, despite his reputation overseas as being something of a spoiler, somebody who's been engaged, nor these problems (ph) such as meddling in the U.S. election, and most recently accused of being involved in the nerve agent in Britain, he's still extremely popular at home. And part of that popularity stems from the fact that he represents, for many Russians, strong leadership. He has given the country back, they would say, its pride -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Matthew Chance live for us there in Moscow -- fascinating. Thank you.

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 that any movement on the prisoners would be a huge deal -- huge deal for this White House.

For the latest on the negotiations let's go live to Seoul now and bring in CNN's David McKenzie. An awful lot of work that has to happen behind the scenes before this actually -- these two men meet face-to-face.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, yes, and many feeling that it's a Herculean task to get President Trump in the same room as Kim Jong Un for that high-stakes meeting which would be, in fact, unprecedented.

But inching towards possibly a resolution on one issue, the Swedes saying that they have brought up this issue of the three detained Americans in North Korea with the North Koreans in recent days. That is to be expected Christine because they are in charge of U.S. diplomatic efforts in North Korea because, of course, the U.S. doesn't have a presence there.

Now, two of the men were taken last year. They were affiliated with an elite university in Pyongyang. The third was convicted in North Korean terms, at least, of being a spy and sentenced to 10 years of hard labor.

It's assumed by many that this issue will have to be sorted out before any sit-down meetings of a high level. At the same time, there are meetings in neighboring Finland ongoing in Europe where unofficial U.S. representatives are, according to officials, as well as North Koreans and South Koreans.

So there are these tentative moves towards getting this meeting on but a lot of work still to do, Christine.

ROMANS: Absolutely -- all right. David McKenzie in Seoul for us, thanks.

A Cirque du Soleil performer died after a fall during a performance this weekend in Tampa, Florida. Aerialist Yann Arnaud was performing in the company's show "VOLTA" Saturday night. Officials say he lost his grip on a strap and plummeted to the stage.

The head of Cirque du Soleil says in a statement that Yann had been with the company for over 15 years and was loved by all who had the chance to know him.

A witness telling CNN before the fall he noticed Arnaud straining to hold onto the rope.

BRIGGS: Wow.

All right, a day of stunning upsets in the NCAA college basketball tournament.

Ninth-seeded Florida State advancing to the Sweet Sixteen with a shocking 75-70 upset of number one seed Xavier. The Musketeers below a 12-point lead midway through the second half thanks to 18 turnovers, 11 missed free throws.

How about the defending champs? North Carolina crushed by Texas A&M -- never a gain. Eighteen points from Tyler Davis leading the Aggies to the Sweet Sixteen with an 86-65 win over the two-seed Tar Heels.

And another 2-seed knocked out, Cincinnati. The Bearcats blowing a 22-point second-half lead losing to 7th-seed Nevada 75-73. As you can see, the celebration on.

Third-seed Michigan State, maybe the biggest surprise of the day, headed home after a 55-53 upset loss to Syracuse. The Spartans failing to survive the first weekend of March Madness for the third straight year. That was President Obama's national title pick and many felt the best team in the tournament.

Syracuse faces Duke --

ROMANS: That was just crazy.

BRIGGS: -- on Friday night. ROMANS: Just crazy.

BRIGGS: It's been outstanding entertainment.

ROMANS: All right, thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now. We'll see you tomorrow.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your NEW DAY. It's Monday, March 19th, 6:00 here in New York.

Alisyn is off. Erica Hill joins me and you bring news with you. It's good to have you this morning.

We begin with this breaking news report. There's been another explosion rocking the Texas capital of Austin. Two people have been hurt.

Police are operating under the belief that this bomb is connected to this string of deadly bombings that have occurred this month. Authorities say the latest explosive was left on the side of a road and it may have been triggered by a trip wire.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Police urging residents in the area to stay inside their homes. This latest explosion comes just hours after police made a rare public appeal to the bomber or bombers responsible to learn more about the message behind the attacks. But the question, of course, is this the work of a serial bomber?

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live in Austin with the breaking details -- Ed.

LAVANDERA: Good morning, Erica.