Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump Replaces VA Secretary Shulkin, Trump's Replacement for Shulkin Gets Slammed by Veterans Groups; Trump Lawyer Floats Pardons for Manafort and Flynn; Judge Okays Suit Alleging Illegal Gifts to Trump; Facebook Limits User Info it Shares; Stephon Clark Funeral to be Held Today in Sacramento; Date Set for Leaders of North and South Korea to Meet; Japan Reaches Sixty Eight People Killed in Jail Fire in Venezuela; Pentagon Confirms a Special Forces Operation has Killed an ISIS Commander. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 29, 2018 - 04:30   ET


[04:30:00] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The doctor is in. The latest shakeup sees the president tap his personal physician to lead the VA, Ronny Jackson's lack of management experience is raising some concerns.

Now outgoing Secretary David Shulkin firing back.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN ANCHOR: A new report says the president's lawyer floating pardons for top campaign aides. Was the Trump legal team trying to keep Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort from cooperating in the Russia probe?

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

Boy, this story rapidly evolving on the Korean Peninsula. Welcome back to the EARLY START, I'm Dave Briggs.

KOSINSKI: I'm Michelle Kosinski, it's 31 minutes past the hour. Another change at the top of the Trump administration. David Shulkin is 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.

White House officials says the controversy surrounding Shulkin and questions about his travel spending had become distractions that were getting in the way.

The president of course campaigned hard on helping veterans.

BRIGGS: 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 nominee's performance on television had something to do with this selection. A White House official says Dr. Jackson's White House briefing where he praised the president's health played a role -- in case you missed it, 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 term and even for the remainder of another term if he's elected.


KOSINSKI: I'd like my doctor to watch -- pull me out to walk --

BRIGGS: Me too.

KOSINSKI: Dr. Jackson still faces confirmation though which of course could be bumpy. He is an active duty Navy physician who has served on the White House medical team for the last 12 years.

Twenty-thirteen, he was nominated by President Obama to become physician to the president. CNN has learned President Trump floated Dr. Jackson as a potential replacement at the VA recently, but people he was speaking with did not take him seriously.

BRIGGS: Yes, Dr. Jackson's nomination not going over well with Veterans groups. The executive director of American Veterans or AMVETs 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 are concerned at who the nominee is. We don't see anything in his bio that makes him fit to lead.

KOSINSKI: 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 doesn't -- until the past three months veterans issues were dealt within a largely bipartisan way.

But Shulkin says the department has become entangled in what he calls a brutal power struggle.

BRIGGS: He says, quote, "solutions should be determined based on the merits of the arguments. 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 is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans."

Stinging indeed, expanding private healthcare for veterans is a White House priority.

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

The "Times" says Dowd raised the issue last year with the lawyers for the former national security adviser and Trump campaign chairman. Both are now facing charges in the special counsel's Russia investigation.

BRIGGS: Dowd's reported action raises questions about whether he tried to influence their decision to cooperate with the Mueller probe. CNN's senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin providing some context here.


[04:35:00] 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.


BRIGGS: In a statement to the "Times", John Dowd denies the report, Dowd resigned from the president's legal team last week. The White House trying to dodge a pivotal question, the Stormy Daniels scandal.

What did President Trump know about his lawyer's $130,000 payoff to silence the adult film star? Secretary Sarah Sanders claims that as been asked and answered, but every time a reporter repeats the question, we hear something like this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You haven't answered the substantive question about whether the president was aware of the $130,000 payment that was made. Can you answer that question?

You were asked three weeks ago today and said you weren't aware. Are you aware now?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE: Look, the president has denied the allegations. We've spoken about this issue extensively and I don't have anything else to add beyond that, anything beyond that, I would refer you to the outside counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KOSINSKI: Sanders claims the president has already addressed the

controversy surrounding Stormy Daniels, but he never has. Daniels' Attorney Michael Avenatti filed a motion in federal court Wednesday, seeking to depose the president and Attorney Michael Cohen in order to question them about the $130,000 pay off.

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

A Maryland and D.C. attorneys general who brought the case argued the Trump International Hotel 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.

KOSINSKI: Former Vice President Joe Biden now says he regrets his comments about fighting President Trump. Biding telling the pod Save America Podcast he was referring to how he would have acted if he were in high school, not how he would act 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. MAGA Saga -- wait, I've got to -- I guess if you --

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sixteen hundred Punchsylvania 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: Earlier this month, Biden said he would beat the hell out of 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: The website Bovada has an article on who might win this theoretical fight, and they installed Trump as the favorite based on the weight advantage. You want to weigh in there?

KOSINSKI: Biden is extremely fit.

BRIGGS: I would -- I would not mess with Biden --


BRIGGS: I would not.

KOSINSKI: He's still a good guy.

BRIGGS: All right, amid criticisms it failed to protect user data, Facebook is now cutting ties with data brokers. Data brokers help advertisers to target people on social media.

Now Facebook says it will limit the info it shares with those brokers. The goal is to improve user privacy. Facebook also adjusted its privacy settings, giving users greater control over their personal info and what data is shared with third party apps.

Third party app was behind Facebook's recent data crisis. It allowed Trump campaign consultants to access 50 million users without their consent.

Setting a backlash from users and investors. Facebook's stock has lost $80 in market value since then. Facebook also faces scrutiny from lawmakers on Tuesday, CNN first reported, CEO Mark Zuckerberg does plan to testify before Congress.

KOSINSKI: 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.


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: Meantime, 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 Kings' Golden 1 Center twice in the past week. And authorities say there will be a significant police presence around the arena tonight.

[04:45:00] KOSINSKI: A Washington state family killed when their SUV plunged 100 feet off a coastal highway in California. The crash happened in a 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. Among the three children still missing, 15-year-old Devonte, he made national headlines when he appeared in a picture taken during a Ferguson-related protests in Portland, Oregon in 2014.

The photo showing a tearful Devonte hugging a police officer went viral.

BRIGGS: We are on verdict watch in the trial of Noor Salman; the wife of Pulse nightclub gunman Omar Mateen. Jurors began deliberating in the case Wednesday afternoon, Salman pleaded not guilty to providing material support to terrorists and obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors say she knew her husband bought weapons and was interested in the ISIS ideology before the attack that killed 49 people. Defense claim she was a victim of a deceitful husband, Salman did not testify at trial, if convicted on a terror charge, she faces up to life in prison.

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 Teachers Union says the increase though 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. Remember their 13-day strike led to a 5 percent pay raise earlier this month.

BRIGGS: This story, you've got to hear to believe, and maybe you have to hear it twice. Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer believes baseball's arbitration system is flawed and outdated.

And he found his own unique way to mark it. Bauer wanted request to salary of$6,420,969.69 and those arbitration gave those funny numbers are full of references to sex and marijuana.

If you don't get it, 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. He plans to donate $420.69 a day to different charities. On the 69th and final day, Bauer will give $69,420.69 to a charity he is keeping secret.

It all begins today baseball's opening day with the donations to the Lone Survivor Foundation which supports wounded veterans. Well played, Mr. Bauer, we look forward to opening day --

KOSINSKI: Funny his part is getting paid $6 million to play baseball.

BRIGGS: Right --


BRIGGS: Very good for him. Kid's game, but he is good at it. Breaking overnight. The summit between North and South Korea all set, denuclearization is on the agenda.

Now another key player in the region wants to talk in Pyongyang. We're live in Seoul with the latest.


KOSINSKI: Breaking overnight. The date now set for the historic summit between leaders of North and South Korea. Two sides deciding on a date during high level talks at Panmunjom, the border village in a demilitarized zone.

CNN's Ivan Watson is live in Seoul with details. So lot of people want a piece of these negotiations. Tell us the latest from your perspective.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, it's a remarkable change where we went from North Korea just a few months ago being such a (INAUDIBLE) facing a round after round of international sanctions because of its ballistic missile launches, its nuclear weapons tests.

And now we have a North and South Korean delegation who just met high level officials at the cabinet level who have agreed now that this summit will take place on April 27th.

Also in the same kind of demilitarized zone peace village compound. This will be only the third time in history that the leaders of North and South Korea will sit down face-to-face.

It hasn't happened in more than a decade. And of course, this announcement comes on the back of the surprise secret summit that the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un just held with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping where they released the news of the meeting after the North Korean leader had gotten back into North Korea, after he left Beijing on Wednesday.

And we do know that President Trump is scheduled, but they're still trying to work out the details, it seems, to meet at some point with Kim Jong-un after the inter-Korean summit takes place on April 27th.

And now get this, the Japanese are saying that they would like to meet with the North Korean leader and they are trying to find different diplomatic avenues to reach out to Pyongyang. What a difference a few months make.

KOSINSKI: Absolutely --

WATSON: Michelle?

KOSINSKI: Thanks, Ivan. BRIGGS: All right, to the investigation into the poisoning of a

former Russian double agent and his daughter. It's now refocused on the victim's home.

[04:55:00] Scotland Yard identifying high concentrations of the nerve agent used on Sergei Skripal's front door. Detectives now plan to focus on Skripal's house for weeks and possibly months.

CNN's Phil Black tracking the latest for us live from Moscow. Phil, good morning, what are we learning?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL FREELANCE REPORTER: So Dave, this is how Sergei Skripal was poisoned. It was applied to his front door. That's the theory that police are acting on, that's where they found the highest concentrations of the nerve agent, that's where they believe the former Russian spy and his daughter Yulia were first exposed to the substance.

It points to this being a slow-acting nerve agent because we know that once they left home that day, they went into town, went to a pub and a restaurant, leaving trace contaminations of the nerve agent in both those locations before eventually collapsing hours later in the late afternoon on a nearby bench.

Now the British government says the nerve agent is a rare Russian- developed weapon part of the novichok group of nerve agents.

It says it has convinced allies around the world that Russia is likely responsible for this. And that's why we've seen this wave of coordinated expulsions of diplomats and suspected spies from more than 20 countries including the United States, which is kicking out more than 60 Russians.

Here in Moscow, well, the Russian government says it will retaliate for those expulsions. It insists, still that it had nothing to do with the poisoning that it is unfairly accused, it wants Britain to produce evidence.

And it has even opened its own attempted murder investigation into Yulia Skripal's near death experience, if you like, she's still very well unwell in hospital and they have asked the British police to assist them with their inquiries, Dave.

BRIGGS: And still, no one hitting Russia where it hurts in their wallet. We shall see if that develops. Phil Black live for us in Moscow, thanks. Breaking news overnight.

Sixty eight people killed in a fire at a police command and detention center in Valencia of Venezuela. According to reports, the fire started during an attempted breakout.

Riot police used tear gas to disperse family members of the prisoners outside the jail. Four prosecutors have been assigned to investigate the case. This the third major uprising at a Venezuelan jail since last August. KOSINSKI: Rare look at a night-time raid targeting ISIS fighters in

Afghanistan. Pentagon says its newly released video shows American special forces and Afghan special security troops teaming up to kill an ISIS commander and another terrorist earlier this week.

The ISIS Corazon group is responsible for some of the deadliest attacks on civilians in Afghanistan. U.S. military commanders are trying to keep the ISIS affiliates from bringing in foreign recruits to beef up its ranks.

BRIGGS: Twenty-year-old Malala Yousafzai returning home to Pakistan for the first time since she was shot in the head by the Taliban six years ago.

She is expected to meet with the prime minister while she's in Islamabad; Pakistan's capital city on high alert with few details about her visit being released.

In 2012, the Pakistani Taliban attacked then 14-year-old Malala and her classmates in their school bus. Since then, Malala has become the youngest recipient to win the Nobel Peace Prize and continues to be a fierce advocate for the education of women and girls. So real inspiration.

Let's get a check on CNNMONEY this morning. Global stocks are mixed today after Wall Street closed lower, thanks to a drop in tech stocks. Amazon lost 4 percent on reports President Trump wants to go after the online giant, while Tesla fell another 7 percent and things could get worse.

It's about to release a report on the rollout of its mass market model 3, but he keeps missing production targets, and that's causing a cash crunch. Until now, investors have put money into Tesla despite never turning a profit.

But now Wall Street is starting to lose patience, Tesla stock down 17 percent this year. The judge in the government's anti-trust trial against AT&T has a warning -- speed it up.

The Justice Department suing to block AT&T's $85 billion purchase of "Time Warner"; the parent of CNN, and the companies have until June 21st to complete the merger.

The judge overseeing the case says at the current pace they will miss that deadline, if they do, either company could terminate the deal. That could cost "Time Warner" a $500 million breakup fee.

The trial began last weekend is expected to last six to eight weeks. Worried about federal spending? Good news. Lawmakers found one area to cut back, oil paintings.

Yes, really. Last week, Congress passed a $1.3 trillion spending bill, but President Trump also signed into the law eliminating the government funded Oil Paintings Act.

It bars using taxpayer funds on official portraits, that includes paintings of the president, first lady and members of Congress, such portraits often cost between $20,000 and $40,000.

But the law doesn't mean an end to paintings like the recent Obama portraits. In fact, both of those were funded by private donation.