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EARLY START

Austin Serial Bomber: First Big Break in Bomber Manhunt?; Trump Ignores Warning on Putin; 3 Women Involved in Legal Action Over Trump; Historic Spring Nor'easter. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 21, 2018 - 04:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:00:13] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had a call with President Putin and congratulated him on the victory.

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: That message came against the warnings of top national security aides. A piece of paper even said, do not congratulate, to remind the president -- the president being accused once again of propping up dictators.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: A triple threat of sorts facing President Trump. Three women taking legal steps, trying to expose alleged secrets in the president's past.

ROMANS: And spring has sprung but not quite. It has been decades since the Northeast got this much snow after the first day of spring, and getting ready for a whole load of the white stuff.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is Wednesday, March 21st. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. A lot to get to today.

Breaking news, though, straight off the top out of Austin, Texas. Police may have caught their first big break in the hunt for a serial bomber in Austin, Texas. Two new packages were discovered Tuesday, one exploded at a FedEx sorting center near San Antonio injuring one. Another was found intact in Austin that could be a critical break because police now have a blueprint and possible DNA on the inside of an exploded device.

ROMANS: A federal law enforcement source tells CNN police believe the Austin bomber's motivated by mayhem and death and does not appear to be targeting any one specific group. According to authorities, the level of bomb-making skill is something commonly found in the anarchist's cookbook.

Concerns about anther blast last night were unfounded. It turned out a Goodwill worker was injured by a flare in a donation box. And we can tell you there's a large police presence right now in Austin. We're watching for any kind of developments here from the Austin Police Department and the FBI about developments in this case. BRIGGS: There is a development just 15 minutes ago. The Austin

Police Department tweeted this: ADP, Austin Police Department, working on an officer-involved shooting in the 1700 block of North IH-35. Media staging area will be the Sherwin-Williams paint store. The Austin Police Department will be en route.

So, an officer involved shooting in Austin could be involving the suspect.

ROMANS: Clearly, there are some developments here. And we will continue -- again, a large police presence, a lot of activity happening now. So, we'll bring you any developments as soon as we get them confirmed.

BRIGGS: All right. Meanwhile, President Trump taking heat for congratulating Vladimir Putin on his re-election. Now, it gets worse. The "Washington Post" reporting the president ignored warnings from national security aides not to congratulate Putin on his election victory, briefing materials even said, do not congratulate, in all caps, a language the president understands based on his Twitter habit.

A White House official not disputing the language but saying the president did not read or see the note card.

ROMANS: The congratulatory message drawing harsh criticism, including this from Arizona Republican Senator John McCain: An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. In just days after waffling on whether Russia is a friend or foe, the White House press secretary gave a similar hedge on the Russian election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Does the president believe the election in Russia was free and fair?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, in terms of the election, there were -- we're focused on our elections. We don't dictate how other countries operate. What we do know is that Putin has been elected in their country, and that's not something that we can dictate to them how they operate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: "The Post" also reporting Trump ignored aides' talking points condemning the poisoning of a spy in Britain, an act the U.S. has blamed on Russia.

ROMANS: Right. It took him a few days, but Mitch McConnell is publicly backing Robert Mueller. McConnell says he has a lot of confidence in Mueller despite the president calling out Mueller on Twitter by name for the first time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Bob Mueller should be allowed to finish his job. I think it was an excellent appointment. I think he will lead -- he will go wherever the facts lead him. And I think he will have great credibility with the American people when he reaches a conclusion of this investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer praised McConnell's defense of Mueller and said he hopes the president was listening. McConnell says legislation to protect the special counsel from being fired by the president is not necessary. Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a frequent Trump critic, saying in a tweet, if Mueller is fired, impeachment is the only recourse.

[04:05:05] ROMANS: All right. The FTC and investors pressuring Facebook over its failure to protect user data, yet CEO Mark Zuckerberg is still MIA. Sources say the Federal Trade Commission is investigating Facebook, specifically how Trump campaign consultants accessed the data of 50 million users without their consent.

Facebook is facing millions of dollars in fines. Even worse, another hit to its reputation. Facebook uses your data to make billions in ad dollars, that's a business model. So, sources at the company think it will take tremendous effort to restore public trust.

So, where is Mark Zuckerberg? He's been totally absent, even from a staff-wide meeting yesterday. Facebook's top executives are frustrated he is not taking a leadership role here. He's not speaking publicly about the issues plaguing Facebook, including allowing Russia to meddle in the 2016 election.

And Zuckerberg's former mentor says his silence is a problem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER MCNAMEE, VENTURE CAPITALIST: They have known this for at least a year now, and there's no excuse. And the fact that they're not coming forward and dealing with it, that is a crisis that is going to destroy the company and it's already destroying democracy all over the western world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Meanwhile, investors are suing Facebook saying its misleading statements about policy cost them money. Facebook shares fell another 3 percent yesterday, wiping out $49 billion in market value -- $49 billion in market value this week alone.

BRIGGS: All right. Stop me if you've heard this one -- a nor'easter barreling up the East Coast. This is the fourth in three weeks and is set to dump more snow on Washington, Philadelphia, New York City, than the previous three combined. More than 70 million people under some type of winter weather advisory.

ROMANS: The schools in Washington, Philly, and New York are all closed. They're open in Boston, but after-school programs are canceled. This hour, nearly 3,300 U.S. flights have been canceled. There will be more.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins us live from the CNN weather center.

Happy spring.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. What a way to start it, right? We're talking about 16 states, parts of 16 states dealing with winter weather advisories, as you said, tallies up to over 70 million people. The concentration of this really centered over portions of really the major metro cities. That's the concern.

At this hour, it really doesn't look that impressive. Plenty of snowfall across the Ohio Valley. Some on the coastline. But again, you work toward the region, the moisture content is there.

And really the atmospheric conditions are ripe here because we know the profile of temperatures in the atmosphere is right at the freezing mark. That's -- in fact, a lot of people surprised to learn that's the ideal set up to getting a tremendous amount of snowfall.

You don't want it too cold, you don't want it too warm, of course. But around 32, 33 is where you want it to be for large, wet flakes, the most disruptive type. Take a look. How about 65 percent of LaGuardia's flights, as far as volume, have been disrupted. Newark, 64 percent. JFK, half of all flights across the region have been disrupted, as well. And the models really pinpoint the dark purples, the heaviest snowfall coming down between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. from Washington towards Philly, towards New York City.

As you said, this would be the wettest and most impactful potentially winter storm of the season. Of course, in a new season, the spring season. It comes down on the order of, say, 12, 14, some areas 16 inches of snowfall. The breakdown here with snowfall amounts, these are in centimeters. It should be inches, of course. Upwards of 12 or so in New York City. Upwards of 15 for Philly and Washington as much as 20 inches possible as well.

ROMANS: Wow. That's a legit forecast.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: All right. Pedram Javaheri, thank you very much for that. We will check in with you again very soon.

All right. Eight minutes past the hour.

New legal threats facing President Trump from a porn star, a reality TV contestant, and a former Playboy playmate.

A judge in New York ruling Summer Zervos' anti-defamation suit can proceed. The one-time "Apprentice" contestant says Trump sexually assaulted her in 2007. He has denied those claims. Attorneys for Zervos say they will seek a deposition from the president, forcing him to testify under oath. BRIGGS: Also, a 2011 polygraph shows Stormy Daniels was truthful

about having unprotected sex with Donald Trump. Polygraphs are generally inadmissible in court, but the court of public opinion can certainly judge for itself.

Daniels tweeted this: Technically, I didn't sleep with the POTUS 12 years ago. There was no sleeping. People do care that he lied about it, had me bullied, broke laws to cover it up, et cetera, and P.S., I am not going anywhere.

ROMANS: And then there's former Playboy model Karen McDougal suing to be released from a nondisclosure agreement covering her alleged affair with President Trump. She claims the "National Enquirer's" parent company, American Media, paid her $150,000. She thought it was to tell her story, but it did not run her story.

[04:10:01] And American Media says McDougal has been free to respond since inquiries since 2016 and claimed the company had not silenced her.

BRIGGS: OK. Melania Trump pushing back against critics of her campaign to stop cyberbullying. At a roundtable with technology execs, the first lady addressed those who criticized her for taking on the issue given her president's Twitter habits.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: The people are skeptical of me discussing this topic. I have been criticized for my commitment to tackling this issue, and I know that will continue. But it will not stop me from doing what I know is right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Mrs. Trump has been accused of hypocrisy since her husband's Twitter tirades are often viewed as cyberbullying. And that's why she's criticized. I'm not sure she truly addressed the reason it's a bit hypocritical to address this problem without addressing the bully- in-chief's Twitter habits.

But anyway, we're following some breaking news this morning out of Austin, Texas. A huge police presence. Police confirm a shooting, officer involved. More details as we get them.

ROMANS: Yes. Obviously, the story's developing. We're looking for news from the FBI or the Austin Police Department any moment now.

And what did Betsy DeVos say that prompted this response from a Democratic lawmaker?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Madam Secretary, you just don't care much about civil rights of children. This is horrible.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Full back and forth, next.

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[04:15:39] BRIGGS: Four-fifteen Eastern Time.

And a fast-acting school resource officer in Maryland being credited with stopping a school shooter and saving lives. Police say 17-year- old Austin Wyatt Rollins shot a female student. He had a prior relationship with her, along with another male student just before classes begun Tuesday morning. The sheriff's office says SWAT-trained Brent Gaskill engaged Rollins in less than a minute.

ROMANS: Wow. It is not clear whether the gunman shot himself or was shot by Officer Gaskill. Officials say the rapid response likely saved lives. A stark contrast to the armed deputy in Parkland, Florida, who waited outside the building during the massacre last month.

There have been 17 shootings in schools in the U.S. this year.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos grilled by Democrats at a contentious House hearing yesterday. She was pressed on issues including her position that states should decide if teachers should carry guns. Things turned especially tense when DeVos was asked for more details about her department's moves to delay or roll back Obama-era rules on racial bias.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: Another example of the fact that I think that more and more every day that your head is in the sand about racial bias and racial discrimination. I wrote you a letter June, 2017, concerned about school segregation.

BETSY DEVOS, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: I'm sorry if we have not yet responded to it. We are still waiting to actually have Senate- confirmed nominees become a part of the department, and would urge that this body encourage your fellow members of Congress --

LEE: Madam Secretary, you just don't care much about civil rights of black and brown children. This is horrible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Contentious back and forth. DeVos was also asked about an awkward "60 Minutes" interview where she said she had not visited underperforming schools. She told lawmakers it would be important to visit some poor-performing schools but added the question is, will they let me in?

ROMANS: A Minnesota police officer due in court charged with third- degree murder in the death of Justine Ruszczyk. The 40-year-old Australian American woman was shot last year after calling 911 to report a possible sexual assault near her home. Officer Mohamed Noor turned himself in to authorities on Tuesday. A Hennepin County prosecutor says there was no evidence Officer Noor encountered a threat that justified using deadly force. Noor's attorney said the officer's actions were consistent with established departmental policy.

All right. Eighteen minutes past the hour.

We are following breaking news in Austin. A big police presence, officials confirm a police-involved shooting. More details as we get them.

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[04:22:45] ROMANS: All right. Welcome back.

North Korea taking credit for a sign of changing relations with the U.S. in a commentary published in English on state media. They are the first positive words from the media since President Trump accepted an invitation to meet with Kim Jong-un.

CNN's Alexandra Field is live for us in Seoul.

Good morning, Alex.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Christine. Good morning.

Look, North Korea through its state news KCNA is not explicitly talking about the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un or the meeting that's set to happen next month between the South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un. But they are talking about a sign of a change in the relationship, and like Pyongyang will do, they are taking credit for that, saying that they have created these proactive measures, this peace-loving approach that has created this change in the relationship with the U.S., and that has dramatically created an atmosphere for the possibility of reconciliation with South Korea. Some very different kind of words than we usually hear from the North.

At the same time, they do also take the opportunity to attack critics in the U.S., South Korea, and Japan who they say believe that Pyongyang is caving to the pressure of international sanctions. Instead, they say that it is their peaceful offensive that has helped them to get everything that they desire.

Now, while North Korea has not explicitly addressed the idea of a summit with President Trump, there are plans right here in South Korea that are moving forward for the inter-Korean summit that will take place next month. President Moon Jae-in was in a preparatory meeting today. He went on to say that depending on how things develop, it's possible that in the future, we could be looking at a three-way summit between North Korea, South Korea, and the United States.

Talk about historic, but, Christine, he says it is critical that North Korea and South Korea in order to achieve peace have the support of the United States and involvement in that process. We'll watch this -- Christine. ROMANS: All right. We certainly will. We know you will for us.

Alexandra Field, thank you very much for that.

BRIGGS: All right. Back here, you want to live in the best city in the world? Then you might want to book a flight to Austria.

Just-released study by the human resources firm Mercer found Vienna the best place to reside in the world. The city known for its vibrant cultural scene as well as a low-crime rate, low pollution, excellent public transportation and comprehensive health care.

The other top cities the survey are Zurich, Auckland, Munich and Vancouver.

[04:25:02] As for the United States, well, didn't fare so well, but San Francisco was the first American city on the list, coming in at number 30.

There's a couple of American cities in the top five. Boston was on there, I'm sure they're saying -- no, we're not, we just got hammered with a foot of snow week after week.

ROMANS: What about the cost of living in San Francisco? Silicon Valley is so --

BRIGGS: New York and San Francisco, the worst cost of living.

ROMANS: All right. We're following breaking news right now in Austin, Texas. A big police presence here. Officials confirm a police-involved shooting, more details as we get them.

BRIGGS: And do not congratulate. Not hard to understand, but the president ignored his national security aides and congratulated Vladimir Putin on what appears to be a somewhat fraudulent election victory.

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