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Trump Replaces VA Secretary Shulkin; Trump Lawyer Floats Pardons for Top Campaign Aides; Date Set for Leaders of North and South Korea to Meet; Trump's Replacement for Shulkin Gets Slammed by Veterans Groups; White House Says Shulkin Privatizing VA was Going to Hurt Veterans; Trump 2020 Touts Census Citizenship Question; Judge Okays Suit Alleging Illegal Gifts to Trump; Amazon Shares Fall After Trump Tax Threat; Former VP Biden Regrets Saying He'd Fight Trump; Stephon Clark Funeral to be Held Today in Sacramento; A Washington Family Killed After Car Plunges Off Cliff; Oklahoma Senate Agree to Teachers Pay Raise; Trevor Bauer Launches 69 Days of Giving; Shinzo Abe Says He Wants In On North and South Korea Summit; Nerve Agent Found at Skripal's Home; Kremlin Vows to Retaliate for Expelled Diplomats. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 29, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:00] MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN ANCHOR: The doctor is in. The latest shakeup piece with President Trump's personal physician to lose the V.A. But Ronny Jackson's lack of management experience is raising concerns. Now outgoing Secretary David Shulkin is firing back.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Early reports of the president's lawyer floated pardons for top campaign aides. Was the Trump legal team trying to keep Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort from cooperating in the Russia probe?

KOSINSKI: The date is set for leaders of North and South Korea to meet. The agenda included denuclearization and other stuff as Pyongyang rolled into a player on the world stage.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, I'm Michelle Kosinski.

BRIGGS: It's great to have you here, my friend --

KOSINSKI: I'm borough(ph) from foggy bottom, I'm Dave Briggs, it's Thursday, March 29th, it's 4:00 a.m. in the east. You know Dr. Ronny from saying he has incredibly good genes and it's just the way God made him.

We get to another change at the top of the Trump administration. David Shulkin out as Veterans Affairs Secretary. President Trump making the announcement where else? On Twitter.

But in this case, we're told Chief of Staff John Kelly did give Shulkin a head's up on the phone. A White House official says the controversy surrounding Shulkin and questions about his travel spending had been distractions that were getting in the way. The president of course campaigned hard on helping veterans.

KOSINSKI: The big surprise was not Shulkin's ouster which had been rumored for weeks, it was who is being nominated to replace him? His personal physician, Rear Admiral Dr. Ronny Jackson.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the nominees performance on TV had something to do with his selection. A White House official says Dr. Jackson's White House briefing where he praised the president's health played a part in Mr. Trump's decision.

Here is a look back.



The president -- you know, he's very sharp, he's very articulate, a lot of energy and a lot of stamina. You know, look at his vision, I mean, he's -- you know, he's 71 years old, I mean, he can drive if he wants to without glasses.

I mean, he washes his hands frequently, he uses, you know, Purell. The president's health is excellent because his overall health is excellent. And he has incredible genes, I just assume and I think he will remain fit for duty for the remainder of this and even for the remainder of another term if he's elected.


BRIGGS: Quite a performance. The president known to say he stayed out of central casting. Dr. Jackson still faces confirmation though which could be boppy.

He's an active duty Navy physician who has served on the White House medical team for the last 12 years. In 2013, he was nominated by President Obama to become physician to the president.

Cnn has learned President Trump voted Dr. Jackson as a potential replacement at the VA recently, but people he was speaking with did not take him seriously.

KOSINSKI: Dr. Jackson's nomination is not going over well with veterans groups. The executive director of the American Veterans or AMVET says, tonight, the momentum at the VA has come to a screeching halt.

We are very disappointed and even more so, we are concerned. We're concerned at who the nominee is. We don't see anything in his bio that makes him fit to lead.

BRIGGS: And in a stinging op-ed published in the "New York Times" overnight, David Shulkin takes aim at people who want to privatize the VA. He says until the past few months, veterans issues were dealt with in a largely bipartisan way.

But Shulkin says the Department has become entangled in what he calls a brutal power struggle. KOSINKI: He says, quote, "solutions should be determined based on a

merit of the argument. The advocates within the administration for privatizing VA health services however reject this approach.

"They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed. That's because I'm convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits even if it undermines care for veterans."

Expanding private healthcare for veterans is a White House priority.

BRIGGS: The "New York Times" reports President Trump's now former top lawyer John Dowd floated the possibility of pardons for Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort.

"Time" says Dow raised the issue last year with lawyers for the former national security adviser and Trump campaign chairman, both are now facing charges in the special counsel's Russia investigation.

KOSINSKI: Dowd's reported action raises questions about whether he tried to influence their decisions to cooperate with the Mueller probe. Cnn's senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin provides some context.


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There is nothing unlawful about a lawyer discussing pardons. That is a power of the presidency. Where there could be trouble is if there was some sort of promise implied or given to witnesses in the Mueller investigation that if you don't cooperate, you will get a pardon.


[04:05:00] KOSINSKI: In a statement to the "Times", John Dowd denies the report. Dowd resigned from the president's legal team last week.

BRIGGS: That "New York Times" report on pardon is drawing an interesting reaction from Kellyanne Conway's husband George Conway.

Apparently, again trolling the president by retweeting the story along with the words "this is flabbergasting." Conway is Washington D.C. lawyer who was considered for several Justice Department posts early in Donald Trump's presidency.

He has since become a low-key but frequent critic of the president. Cnn asked for a comment from George and Kellyanne Conway and they have not yet responded.

KOSINSKI: The Trump 2020 campaign trying to rally support by touting the president's controversial decision to add a question about citizenship to the U.S. census.

An e-mail applauds the move by the Commerce Department as good news. Critics argue many immigrants will fear identifying themselves which could lead to under counting in minority communities. That means a potential loss of funding and representation for those places.

BRIGGS: California has already sued to block the move in about a dozen states and civil rights groups are also planning lawsuits. That will be the first time a question about citizenship has been included in the once a decade survey since the 1950s. The question has appeared in longer, more narrowly distributed census surveys distributed to one-sixth of the population.

KOSINSKI: A federal judge given the go ahead to a lawsuit alleging the president is profiting illegally from governments doing business with the Trump Organization in Washington D.C.

Maryland and D.C.'s attorneys general brought the case -- argued the Trump International hotels operations put other nearby hotels and entertainment properties at a competitive disadvantage.

The judge did not make any rulings on the allegations in the case, but he did note foreign governments have moved business from other hotels in D.C. to the president's hotel.

BRIGGS: OK, now could be a great time to buy Amazon. Shares fell 4 percent yesterday on news President Trump wants to crack down on the online giant.

"Axios" reports Trump wants to quote, "go after Amazon with anti-trust enforcement or by changing tax rules. A source calls him obsessed with the company."

Trump past repeatedly tweeted how much he dislikes Amazon, accusing it of avoiding sales tax and hurting retailers, workers, even the post office.

He also incorrectly links Amazon to "The Washington Post" which he calls fake news. But the post is owned by Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos, not Amazon itself.

Amazon declined to comment, but Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the administration is not going after Amazon at this time, and Amazon's stock decline is part of a broader drop in tech.

Tech is the stock's market most valuable sector until now. Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Google all have pushed the market from one record to another.

But investors now are getting a bit worried tech companies face greater regulatory scrutiny especially in the wake of Facebook's recent user data crisis -- don't hold your breath for regulation from the Trump administration.

But who knows? Unpredictable as he may be.

KOSINSKI: That is true.

BRIGGS: We'll see. KOSINSKI: Former Vice President Joe Biden now says he regrets his comments about fighting President Trump. Biden tells the pod Save America Podcast, he was referring to how he would have acted if he were in high school, not how he would have acted today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't want to run a few of the names that we were considering for the fights by you, and you just -- you stopped me when you feel like we have hit a winner. Nagasaka, I guess if you --

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All right, I want to hear it, that's serious --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sixteen hundred 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The big -- duel or spar-a-Lago.

BIDEN: I think they're all good guys, but what I did say was, the way this came up, and I shouldn't have said what I said. I shouldn't have brought it up again.

Because I don't want to get down to mosh pit with this guy. The idea and that I would actually physically get in a contest with the president of the United States or anybody else now is not what I said and is not what this was about.


KOSINSKI: All right, so he didn't mean it literally. Earlier this month, Biden said he would quote, "beat the hell out of", end quote, Trump, if the two were in high school because of the way Trump talks about women.

The president shot back with a tweet saying Biden would go down fast and hard crying all the way if they did fight.

BRIGGS: Only in 2018. Imagine if these two were to debate one another in 2020.

KOSINSKI: And just the other day, I was saying I could fight you and take you down easily.

BRIGGS: You could --

KOSINSKI: I didn't mean it though.

BRIGGS: You could --


BRIGGS: No question about that.

KOSINSKI: I was joking --

BRIGGS: I would go down easy. Tall, skinny, drink of water. All right, ahead, it's opening day for Major League Baseball and a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians is making more than he asked for.

[04:10:00] You don't want to miss what he is doing with the extra money and why?


KOSINSKI: A funeral and memorial today in Sacramento, California for Stephon Clark; the unarmed black man fatally shot by police in his grandmother's backyard earlier this month.

Authorities say officers mistakenly thought his cellphone was a gun and opened fire. The police union defending the officers involved saying in a statement, they reacted to the threat as they perceived it and their actions were legally justified.

BRIGGS: The time the city remains on edge. Protests have intensified since the shooting. Police and the Sacramento Kings bracing for more ahead of the team's NBA home game tonight.

Protesters have blocked entrances to the King's Golden 1 Center twice in the past week. Authorities say, there will be a significant police presence around the arena tonight.

KOSINSKI: A Washington State family killed when their SUV plunged 100 feet off of a coastal highway in California.

[04:15:00] Crash happened in the remote area about 180 miles north of San Francisco. Police say they were not wearing seatbelts. The bodies of the two moms Jennifer and Sarah Hart and three of their six children were found Monday.

BRIGGS: Among the three children still missing, 15-year-old Devonte, Devonte made national headlines when he appeared in a picture taken during the Ferguson-related protests in Portland, Oregon in 2014.

The photo showing a cheerful Devonte hugging a police officer, of course, went viral.

KOSINSKI: The Oklahoma Senate approving a pay raise for state teachers currently among the lowest paid in the country. The average $6,100 increase to be paid for with tax increases on gas and cigarettes. A starting teacher in Oklahoma now makes less than $32,000 a year.

The Teacher's Union says the increase is not enough and a walk-out planned for the state capital on Monday is still on. Meantime, teachers in Arizona protested at their state capital, also demanding higher pay.

Much of this inspired by West Virginia teachers whose 13-day strike led to a 5 percent pay raise earlier this month.

BRIGGS: All right, Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer believes baseball's arbitration system is flawed and an outdated. And boy, did he find his own unique way to mark it. Bauer wanted request to salary of $6,420,6969 in his arbitration case. Those funny numbers are full of references to sex and marijuana. Google it, ultimately, Bauer settled on filing for a higher number with no weed or sex references and won his case.

So with the excess money, Bauer is launching the 69 days of giving. And he plans to donate $420.69 a day for the next 68 days to different charities.

On the 69th and final day, Bauer will give -- here we go again, $69,420.69 to a charity he is keeping secret. It all begins today, baseball's opening day with the donation to the Lone Survivor Foundation which supports wounded veterans.

The check of the Twitter feed says that website, if you enjoyed this story,, if you did not, apologies for the record --

KOSINSKI: I don't get it --

BRIGGS: Don't get it --


BRIGGS: We'll talk at the break.

KOSINSKI: All right, thanks, Dave. Breaking overnight, the summit between North and South Korea is set. Denuclearization is on the agenda. Now, another key player in the region wants to talk to Pyongyang, we're live in Seoul.


BRIGGS: Breaking news overnight. The date now set for the historic summit between leaders of North and South Korea. The two sides deciding on a date during high level talks at Panmunjom; that's the border village in the demilitarized zone.

Cnn's Ivan Watson live in Seoul with these breaking details. Good morning Ivan.

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Dave, that's right, the officials met and they've now agreed on a day, the April 27th for the leaders of North and South Korea to sit down face- to-face and talk.

That will be the third time ever in history that the North and South Korean leaders will meet face-to-face. So this is a big deal. Now the South Korean delegates says that the two leaders will likely discuss at that meeting denuclearization.

And that's really the elephant in the room here. North Korea and its arsenal of nuclear weapons. Now according to Chinese state media, when Kim Jong un had his secret meeting in Beijing, his secret summit with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping, he mentioned the possibility of denuclearization provided South Korea and the U.S. cooperate. Though in the past, North Korea has said no way, there is no

negotiating when it comes to its nuclear weapons. It's existential issue for its security.

So that's the big topic on the agenda here. Now there is a lot of shuttle diplomacy going along across east Asia. A top envoy from China here in Seoul meeting with top officials who though, they were caught off guard by the North Korea-China summit, are welcoming it, saying that it is a positive development.

And now get this, Japan wants in on the diplomatic action. We're hearing from a top official in Tokyo that Japan wants its own summit with the North Korean leader and of course we're expecting perhaps some time in May, President Trump to sit down with Kim Jong-un himself.

Though the date has yet to be determined. Dave?

BRIGGS: And I bet Shinzo Abe does not want to be left out of the conversation, rapidly evolving story there on the peninsula. Thank you, Ivan.

KOSINSKI: Investigation into the poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter now refocus on the victims' home. Scotland Yard identifying high concentrations of the nerve agent used on Sergei Skripal's front door.

Detectives now trying to focus on Skripal's house for weeks, possibly months. Cnn's Phil Black tracking the latest developments live from Moscow.

Phil, I mean, to know this was at his house, any other details about how this could have happened? Who could have put it there? What exactly is coming out if anything from Scotland Yard at this point?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL FREELANCE REPORTER: So this is a key development, Michelle, police revealing just how they believe where and how this nerve agent was deployed.

That's what they've been investigating on the ground for weeks now. It was on the front door, applied to the front door.

[04:25:00] They're not saying how specifically, but that's where they believe the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were first exposed to it.

Now, this points to a slow acting nerve agent because we know that after they left the home, they then drove into town, they went into a pub, they went into a restaurant.

They left trace contaminations of the nerve agent in these locations before eventually collapsing on a nearby park bench hours later in the late afternoon.

Now the British government has said that it believes the nerve agent was a Russian developed weapon, a rare -- from a rare group of nerve agents known as novichok.

It has convinced allies around the world that Russia was likely to blame for this, and that is why more than 20 of them, including the United States have announced that they are expelling diplomats and suspected spies.

The United States is kicking out 60 of those diplomats. Russia says it will retaliate for that, but we don't know when precisely still or how and Russia continues to insist it is innocent, that it had nothing to do with this and it's opened its own murder investigation to look at how Yulia Skripal was killed and has even asked the British police to help them with their inquiries. Michelle --

KOSINSKI: So reminiscent of Litvinenko poisoning nearly a decade ago where traces were found virtually everywhere he went. Thanks so much, Phil.

BRIGGS: All right, what is it about Dr. Ronny Jackson the president likes so much?


JACKSON: There's no indication whatsoever that he has any cognitive issue. The president, you know, he's very sharp, he's very articulate, a lot of energy and a lot of stamina.


BRIGGS: We may have figured it out. But as a doctor with no management experience, best to lead the second biggest agency in the federal government, that being the VA, more on the latest shakeup next.