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Russia Poised to Retaliate Over U.S. Expulsion of 60 Russian Diplomats; Who is on Beijing's Mystery Train?; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:14] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: All eyes on Moscow this morning. How will Vladimir Putin respond after a coordinated global effort to oust Russian diplomats including 60 from the United States.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Democrats suddenly have a new concern about 2020. The U.S. Census will ask about citizenship status. The change could have a big effect on federal funding and congressional lines.

BRIGGS: International intrigue building in Beijing. A train shrouded in secrecy under heavy security. Overnight a possible answer. Is Kim Jong-un in China?

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: I think the first time he's left the country since his father died in 2011. A big development there if in fact it's true. We will go to Beijing and find out.

And I'm Christine Romans. It's Tuesday, March 27th, it is 4:00 a.m. in the East, early birds. 11:00 a.m. in Moscow. 4:00 p.m. in Beijing.

Let's begin with the Russia story. 60 Russian diplomats have one week to pack up and leave the United States. President Trump ordering the expulsions as part of a coordinated effort with the European and other allies.

The move a response to the poisoning in the UK of a Russian double agent and his daughter. More than 100 Russian diplomats expelled worldwide. Senior officials say all those the U.S. is expelling has been identified as intelligence agents.

BRIGGS: The president also ordering the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle which happens to be near a U.S. submarine base and the Boeing factory. This is the president's most forceful action against Russia thus far, although not related to election meddling. The announcement came from the press secretary, not the president himself. Whether sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin could be next, the White House would only say this.


RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: The United States has issued sanctions on key Russian oligarchs in response to the -- to the meddling in the 2016 election. So I wouldn't close any doors or I wouldn't preclude any potential action, but the president doesn't telegraph his moves.


ROMANS: We should note only one person even arguably an oligarch has been actually sanctioned by the U.S. Still this is the biggest group expulsion of alleged Russian intelligence officers ever. Also note, the incoming National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State nominee, Mike Pompeo, have both called -- both of them have called for tougher sanctions against Russia.

BRIGGS: Russia is responding to the expulsions, sort of, by trolling the White House. The Russian embassy in Washington sending out a tweet asking followers which U.S. consulate they would like to see shuttered? It was a multiple choice test, three options were included.

For more on what the Russians might have in store, we go live to Moscow and bring in CNN's Phil Black.

Good morning, Phil.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Dave. Yes, so Russia will respond, they will retaliate, they say, and then ultimately it will be President Putin's decision on just what that retaliation will look like. But in the words of his spokesman it will be reciprocal, which means tit-for-tat. One for one usually. For every Russian diplomatic expelled by a given country, Russia will kick out one of their diplomats from here.

But Russia hasn't always played it that way in these sorts of the disputes. At the end of 2016 in the final days of the Obama administration when 35 Russian diplomats were kicked out of the U.S., part of the response for alleged meddling in the U.S. election, Russia eventually responded not by expelling specific diplomats, but by saying that the U.S. must cut down its total diplomatic staff in this country by 755 people. So that's a long way from one for one.

Whatever Russia's response will be, there is no reason at this stage to expect that it will be anything less than robust. They are sticking to their line which says they have been accused unfairly of foul deeds by Britain. Britain has not provided any evidence and now on top of that it's convinced its friends and allies to jump on board and kick Russia as well.

What we'll be looking for is whether or not Russia retaliates in such a way that could escalate this further or if it simply draws a line under this establishing what we already know to be true really. And that is that relations between Russia and the West are very poor.

Dave, back to you.

BRIGGS: We eagerly await a response.

Phil Black, we'll check back with you. Thank you. ROMANS: All right. In a controversial move with potentially wide-

ranging consequences, the Commerce Department says the U.S. Census will now begin asking about citizenship status in the year 2020. That question is being asked for the very first time in decades at the request of the Justice Department. Census data determines how congressional districts are drawn and where federal funds are spent among other things. Now critics warn the citizenship question will result in a huge drop in response rates from immigrants fearing deportation. It will skew the numbers overall. It will basically poison the data.

BRIGGS: That could be a big blow to heavily Democratic areas.

[04:05:02] Lawsuits are already being drafted by California attorney general and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee led by the man on your screen there, former attorney general, Eric Holder. Holder tweeting this overnight. "This is purely political. Trump administration trying to rig the 2020 Census to protect gerrymandering by intimidating people. Don't be fooled. Some states will unfairly lose funds and representation."

ROMANS: I've covered the Census for years. And you know, it's intended to count all residents. The point of a census is to count everyone in the country, in these districts, and really know -- you know, who is where. I see the need to know who in the country is illegal.


ROMANS: How many people.

BRIGGS: There's absolutely a reason we need to know.

ROMANS: But the -- until now, asking that question has just been driving people underground. Not necessarily --

BRIGGS: Will they answer it honestly?

ROMANS: All right. The Dow Jones jumped 669 points as trade war fears cool. That's the Dow's third biggest point gain ever. The best day since August 2015. It's also a big rebound from its recent correction mode. 10 percent fall from an all-time high. Big rally yesterday.

The Nasdaq and the S&P 500 also rallied. And I want to point out, 2.7 percent on the S&P 500 yesterday. That is a big move but, you know, it's not one of the best days ever for the S&P. All of this set the tone for global stocks. Europe just opened higher. The Nikkei in Tokyo gained more than 2.5 percent. The U.S. and China are starting trade talks. And Wall Street is living and dying by every trade headline.

Last week President Trump's proposed tariffs on Chinese exports caused Wall Street's worst week in two years. Investors feared a trade war. And that fear maybe is unreasonable. A clash between -- maybe is unreasonable. A clash between China and the U.S. could slow global growth and could hurt some big U.S. companies. Starbucks, Boeing, Apple and Intel rely on China for huge portion of their sales.

The now Trump tariffs look like a trading tactic maybe, a negotiating tactic? And recent history shows that his bark is worse than his bite. Remember those sweeping tariffs on aluminum and steel imports? The final product was really watered down with lots of exemptions to key allies like Canada, Mexico, the EU and South Korea. So the follow through here will be fascinating.

BRIGGS: Is this the people around the president just pulling the strings out of that rhetoric?

ROMANS: Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. We'll have to -- we'll have to see. So -- but I just think there's a lot of headline risk.


ROMANS: If there is a bad patch in the negotiations with China, you could see stocks fall again.

BRIGGS: All right. Some polling news this morning the president is likely to tout, his approval rating in the new CNN poll has rebounded to its highest level since the 100-day mark of his presidency last April. On this, his 431st day in office, 42 percent of adults approved the way the president is handling the presidency. The includes a 6-point increase both among Republicans and independents.

ROMANS: A bit of a puff there. President Trump's approval rating remains below all his modern-era predecessors at this stage in their first term. But the president only trails Reagan and Barack Obama by a narrow four-point margin. President Trump is under 40 percent approval on several key issues including foreign policy, trade and guns, interestingly, but he is at 48 percent on the economy.

BRIGGS: Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they believe alleging affairs with Mr. Trump over the word of Mr. Trump himself, and on that question with nearly every question asked, there is a steep partisan divide. Most Republicans sided with the president, most Democrats do not. No surprise there.

ROMANS: All right. Stormy Daniels has filed a defamation claim against President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen. The adult film actress says Cohen libeled her by insinuating she is lying about an alleged tryst with Mr. Trump back in 2006. The legal maneuver likely an effort to force Cohen or maybe the president into a deposition under oath. The suit filed a day after Daniels' revealing "60 Minutes" interview. The White House says the president does not believe Daniels' claims including that she was physically threatened to keep quiet.


SHAH: The president doesn't believe that -- any of the claims that Miss Daniels made last night in the interview are accurate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He doesn't believe she was threatened?

SHAH: No, he does not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is the basis for that, Raj?

SHAH: Sorry?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's his basis for that?

SHAH: Well, he just doesn't believe that -- you know, there's nothing to corroborate her claim.


BRIGGS: Cohen says he paid Daniels $130,000 for signing a nondisclosure agreement. The White House denies any affair took place.

The president meantime staying silent post-Stormy interview. The only thing we've heard is a tweet decrying so much fake news. Sources close to the White House say the president knows the stakes for handling the Stormy Daniels issue.

ROMANS: All right. Rumors swirling worldwide amid heavy security in Beijing in what appears to be a train belonging to North Korea's ruling family. Both are fueling speculation that a high level representative from Pyongyang is there for talks. And overnight, some clarity on who that may be.

CNN's Andrew Stevens is in Beijing.

[04:10:05] And correct me if I'm wrong, if it is the leader of that country, it's his first time out of the country since his father died in 2011.

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ASIA-PACIFIC EDITOR: That's right. First time he's been outside North Korea as the leader of North Korea which is pretty astonishing when you think about it, Christine. But this sort of has all the elements of a ripping yarn. An armored train appearing at Central Station. A mystery figure getting off. Heavy, heavy security throughout central Beijing.

Mystery figure met with what we are told senior figures -- a mystery figure then returns by (INAUDIBLE) against -- in heavy, heavy security back to the train. The train as we understand now is heading back out of China. It's going to be a few hours before it actually clears the Chinese borders.

Now if the past is any guide here, Christine, we won't know officially who was on that train until they are back in North Korea. And then we will be told whether it was Kim Jong-un or not. Most people think it is Kim Jong-in given the importance and the timing. Remember there are two key summits coming up. The biggest of course is with President Trump. That will be in May. At least it is expected to be in May.

Kim Jong-un will also be meeting his South Korean counterpart. And he basically needs China on site. China has been sort of sidelined really with all this flurry of diplomacy involving South Korea and the U.S. So Kim Jong-un really wants to make sure his key ally, and you don't get much bigger allies in China given that sort of it controls the trade in and out of North Korea.

Kim Jong-un needs China on site as these negotiations move forward. And obviously China wants to be at the center table, too, to be part of any such deal that comes out of these talks coming up -- Christine.

ROMANS: Do we know, Andrew, if it's definitely him? There's been some rumors overnight that maybe it's his sister.

STEVENS: Yes, those rumors have been circulating. No, we don't know if it's definitely him. In fact, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a spokeswoman was asked just a few minutes ago, was the North Korean leader in Beijing? And her reply in English was, I have no idea, Christine. So we will have to wait and see. But everything points to a Kim.

ROMANS: Plausible deniability from there.

All right. Thank you so much. Nice to see you, Andrew Stevens.

BRIGGS: All right. And the father of the Pulse Nightclub shooter was an informant for the FBI. Now he is being investigated for payments overseas just before the attack.


[04:16:33] ROMANS: Good morning. 16 minutes past the hour. The FBI now has possession of several suspicious packages sent to the CIA and military locations in the Washington, D.C. area. A law enforcement official tells CNN more than 10 devices are involved, all of them crudely made with black powder. None of them powerful enough to cause fatalities had they detonated. At least one package sent to the National Defense University at Ft. McNair contained explosive material. Scanning machines at the facilities detected the suspicious materials. All of the packages are now being examined at the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia.

BRIGGS: The White House Counsel's Office has launched an ethics inquiry targeting Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law. The probe stems from meetings Kushner had at the White House with executives whose companies later loaned the Kushner Companies more than $500 million. The head of the Office of Government Ethics disclosed the inquiry in letters to Democratic lawmakers.

The two companies have confirmed they made the loans to Kushner's family business, but deny there is any connection to Kushner's meetings with their executives. CNN has reached out to the White House counsel and Kushner for comment.

ROMANS: President Trump is staying in touch with Rob Porter even though his former aide was fired over domestic abuse allegations. A source tells CNN Porter has spoken to the president multiple times and the calls have increased as more of Trump's advisers depart the White House. "The New York Times" reports the president wishes he could have Porter back at the White House. But we are told Porter would still have the same issue with his security clearance and is not coming back any time soon.

BRIGGS: Fire exits were blocked and an alarm system had been broken for a week at the shopping center in Russia where 64 people died in a devastating fire. Reuters reporting 41 of the victims were children. Russian investigators say they detained four people after serious violations were uncovered at the facility in the Siberian city of Kemerovo. About 10 people are still missing, 10 others hospitalized.

President Putin blamed criminal negligence and carelessness for the tragedy. He laid a bouquet of roses at a makeshift memorial near the scene overnight.

ROMANS: There's still missing. There's still people missing in that. Those numbers will likely rise. It's sad.

BRIGGS: Devastating story there.

All right. Ahead, a groundskeeper for the Chicago White Sox back on the job after 23 years.

ROMANS: I love this story.

BRIGGS: After he left. The incredible story is next.


[04:23:22] ROMANS: Health officials are warning parents about a second wave of the flu. The more dominant strain, the A strain, is winding down but more than half the cases now being diagnosed are being caused by B strain. The CDC warns Influenza B can be just as severe as Influenza A and even more severe in young children.

Really important to note here, folks. 133 children have died nationwide in this flu season.

BRIGGS: The defense expected to rest today in the trial of Noor Salman, widow of Pulse Nightclub shooter Omar Mateen. The judge Monday denied a motion by her lawyers to dismiss the case. They claim the government failed to disclose Mateen's father was an FBI informant who's currently under investigation for money transfers to Turkey and Afghanistan in the weeks before the June 2016 shooting.

The judge ruled the information about Mateen's father was not relevant to the case. Noor Salman was pleaded not guilty to charges including providing material support to terrorists and closing arguments could begin tomorrow.

ROMANS: The woman who lent her name to the civil rights history as the lead plaintiff in "Brown vs. Board of Education" has died. Linda Brown was 9 years old in 1951 when her father tried to enroll her in an all-white elementary school near their home in Topeka, Kansas. When the school blocked her enrollment her father sued. Four similar cases were combined and went all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1954 the high court ruled separate educational facilities are inherently unequal, desegregating American schools. "Brown v. Board of Education." Linda Brown was 75 years old.

[04:25:01] BRIGGS: To an incredible story now. Nevest Coleman back at work as a groundskeeper for the Chicago White Sox after spending 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Coleman was convicted in 1994 of rape and murder. He was freed last year after DNA was linked to a serial rapist. Friends and family contacted the White Sox to help him get his old job back.


NEVEST COLEMAN, REHIRED WHITE SOX GROUNDSKEEPER: The past in the past now. There's no more anger, upset, frustration, nothing. Because when I was in there, I was miserable. But now I got my loved ones behind me and standing on my side. The misery is gone now.


BRIGGS: The team says it's grateful that justice was carried out. Coleman will be working at the ballpark for Chicago's home opener on April 5th against Detroit.

It's amazing to not hear bitterness and anger in his voice.

ROMANS: I mean, that time is just lost but what a -- even small gestures. A job back after 23 years. You go, White Sox. Thank you.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, the Trump administration went beyond what was expected when it expelled 60 Russian diplomats. So how fierce will the Russian response be? We'll soon find out.