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EARLY START

Trump Replaces V.A. Secretary Shulkin; Report: Trump Lawyer Floated Pardons; North Korea-South Korea Summit Date Set. Aired 5:30- 6a ET

Aired March 29, 2018 - 05:30   ET

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


[05:30:42] MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN ANCHOR: The latest shake-up sees the president tap his personal physician to lead the V.A. But, Ronny Jackson's lack of management experience, it is raising concerns. Now, outgoing secretary David Shulkin is firing back.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And new reports that 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 the leaders of North and South Korea to meet. The agenda includes denuclearization. Another step as Pyongyang evolves into a player on the world stage.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Michelle Kosinski.

BRIGGS: Good to have you here from Foggy Bottom. I'm Dave Briggs.

KOSINSKI: Thank you very much.

BRIGGS: It's 5:31 eastern time.

If curbing the president's habit of Big Macs and Diet Cokes was not challenging enough, how about the second-biggest federal agency, huh -- $186 billion budget.

KOSINSKI: That's an easy task.

BRIGGS: That's no problem compared to the prior.

Another change folks in the top of the Trump administration. David Shulkin out as Veteran Affairs secretary. President Trump making the announcement where else, on Twitter. We're told chief of staff John Kelly did give Shulkin a heads-up.

A White House official 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.

KOSINSKI: So 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 T.V. 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 at length played a role. Let's take a little look back at that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. RONNY JACKSON, NOMINATED AS SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: There's no indication whatsoever that he has any cognitive issues. The president -- you know, he's very sharp and he's very articulate; a lot of energy and a lot of stamina.

Look at his vision. I mean, he's 71 years old. I mean, he can drive if he wants to without glasses.

And 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. 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Outstanding performance, right, yes.

KOSINSKI: Yes.

BRIGGS: The president told colleagues and friends he was straight out of Central Casting.

Dr. Ronny Jackson still faces confirmation which could be a bit bumpy. 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, confirmed 100 to nothing.

CNN has learned President Trump floated Dr. Jackson as a potential replacement at the V.A. recently but people he was speaking with didn't actually take him seriously.

KOSINSKI: Dr. Jackson's nomination is not going over well with veterans' groups.

The executive director of American Veterans, or AMVET, says "Tonight, the momentum at the V.A. 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."

BRIGGS: In a stinging op-ed published in "The New York Times" overnight, David Shulkin takes aim at people who want to privatize the V.A. 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.

KOSINSKI: He says, quote, "Solutions should be determined based on the merits of the arguments. The advocates within the administration for privatizing V.A. 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."

Expanding private health care for veterans is a White House priority.

So let's bring in "CNN POLITICS" reporter Tal Kopan live in our Washington bureau. Good morning, Tal.

TAL KOPAN, REPORTER, "CNN POLITICS": Good morning.

KOSINSKI: You know, reading this op-ed from Shulkin, which was lengthy, it started out being very diplomatic and even keel but the ending -- the ending --

BRIGGS: Yes.

KOSINSKI: -- saying I tried to have integrity but in the end none of that mattered.

And listen to this final line.

BRIGGS: A super one (ph).

KOSINSKI: "As I prepare to leave government I'm struck by a recurring thought. It should not be this hard to serve your country."

[05:35:05] The acrimony there, Tal.

KOPAN: Yes, absolutely, and this saga has taken so many twists and turns where there was rumors of an unfavorable sort of I.G. report or investigation into some of his behavior. And then, there were allegations of people out to get him within the agency and he was sort of very much his own spokesman for a while there.

And at first, you know, the president seemed to have confidence in him and then it seemed like there was a bit of a turn. And now, here we are. So it's almost hard to remember where this all began.

And, you know, keep in mind Shulkin was an Obama holdover that was widely respected in Congress. It did not seem like this was going to be the place that there was going to be this much controversy. And now you have him leaving town, sort make more -- or perhaps not leaving town but leaving the Administration, making more of these accusations about folks being out to get him.

It makes it very difficult to sort of separate out all the sort of back and forth and try to figure out exactly how this all went down.

But, you know, I thought it was interesting. Rex Tillerson, also on his way out, noted that this was mean-spirited town, so it seems that there are certainly some hard feelings left at the end of some of these cabinet officials' tenures.

BRIGGS: Yes, indeed.

KOSINSKI: Right. So do -- I mean, do you think was about privatization which Shulkin really focuses on in that op-ed or is this about the travel and the bad press, or all of the above?

KOPAN: It's really hard to say, Michelle, at this point. I mean, all of the above seems like a safe answer in a certain capacity.

I mean, the privatization issue is a little bit complicated because it's something that's sort of always been there in the sense that there are always some conservatives who have talked up privatizing the V.A. and there is quite a bit of pushback to that from the opposing side. But I haven't heard a ton of that conversation actually happening in terms of the Trump administration.

And so, I think in terms of that particular question and the privatization issue we're going to have to wait and see what the Trump administration actually does moving forward and how Ronny Jackson answers those questions as he moves through the confirmation process.

So if that exists it's mostly whispered at this point but certainly, it's understandable that from someone who opposes privatizing the V.A. that is top of mind as a concern and also something we see of concern from some of those veterans' groups. Just because of the fact of not having someone opposed to it in office, they are concerned that it could bubble up again.

BRIGGS: Yes, you know, but all the criticism of Ronny's -- Dr. Jackson's bio -- look, there's nothing in his bio that says he can, but there's nothing in his bio that says he can't lead.

KOSINSKI: Right.

BRIGGS: Many bureaucrats -- experienced bureaucrats have failed to lead the V.A. out of the abyss so who knows. Let's just give him a shot. Let's see how the confirmation goes.

But spinning even further forward to 2020 in this ongoing battle of the census and the Trump administration deciding to include a question on citizenship in 2020 for the first time since the 1950s. They say it's about free and fair elections and getting an accurate count.

On the other side, California and New York among the states that are suing, and Eric Holder taking them on.

What's the real truth? You've studied this issue for years. What do you think will be the impact of including that question on the census?

KOPAN: Well Dave, the problem is that we don't know. That's sort of what the main concern from critics of this move say is typically when you have the census there is a process for testing questions so you can be certain you have every sense of how this is going to impact actual returns. And so that's what the concern is here.

There's a -- there's a worry that especially amid the rhetoric about immigrants and immigration right now that folks who get a government survey asking them to identify whether they are a citizen or non- citizen are going to be scared and they're not going to return it. And then you're going to have an undercount in primarily blue regions, so that looks bad.

And the census experts who have done this time and time again aren't necessarily saying that's definitely going to happen, but they're saying there has been no testing to determine whether it will happen and it's simply too risky a chance to take without any of the procedures that are normally followed for adding a new question to add that to a census that is going to determine representation in Congress and federal funding for the next 10 years.

BRIGGS: Right.

KOPAN: So that's the main concern is that uncertainty is a big gamble to take if you don't actually know how it's going to turn out.

BRIGGS: Probably to a less accurate count overall.

KOSINSKI: Right.

BRIGGS: We shall see.

KOSINSKI: Unintended political consequences.

BRIGGS: Consequences, yes.

KOSINSKI: Tal, thanks so much.

KOPAN: Thank you.

BRIGGS: All right.

"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. The "Times" says Dowd 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.

[05:40:00] KOSINSKI: Dowd's reported action raises questions about whether he tried to influence whether they would cooperate with the Mueller probe.

Here's some context from CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: There is nothing unlawful about lawyers 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSINSKI: In a statement to the "Times," John Dowd denies the report.

Dowd resigned from the president's legal team last week.

BRIGGS: All right.

Numbers that could be a wake-up call for Hollywood. ABC's revival of "ROSEANNE" premiered to a staggering 18.2 million viewers Tuesday. It performed best with viewers away from the coast as you might imagine -- Tulsa, Cincinnati, Kansas City among others. Tuesday's episode actually topped the show's original finale 21 years ago by 10 percent in total viewers.

The episode did not shy away from politics. Roseanne Barr's character revealed she is a Trump supporter, as she is in real life. The president, known to care a little about T.V. ratings, called Roseanne to congratulate her and thank her for her support.

And that is extraordinary. We should not underscore how rare that is to call a sitcom star to congratulate her for the ratings.

KOSINSKI: I mean, and the extraordinary circumstance of people always seeing Hollywood as liberal, liberal, liberal --

BRIGGS: Yes.

KOSINSKI: -- and Trump --

BRIGGS: It's a good move --

KOSINSKI: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- indeed, by Hollywood.

KOSINSKI: Yes, absolutely.

BRIGGS: Not quite the "60 MINUTES" ratings from Sunday night which were 22 million on Sunday night.

KOSINSKI: That is true.

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'll be live in Seoul.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [05:46:33] 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 cell phone 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 as protests have intensified since the shooting.

Police and the Sacramento Kings bracing for more ahead of the team's NBA home game tonight. Protesters had blocked entrances to the Kings' Golden 1 Center twice in the past week. Authorities say there will be a significant police presence around the arena tonight.

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

Amid criticism it failed to protect user data, Facebook now cutting ties with data brokers. Data brokers help advertisers target people on social media. Now, Facebook says it will limit the info it shares with those brokers. The goal, that it would 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.

A third-party app was behind Facebook's recent data crisis. It allowed Trump campaign consultants to access 50 million users without their consent, setting off a backlash from users and investors. Facebook's stock has lost $80 billion in market value since then.

Facebook also faces scrutiny from lawmakers. On Tuesday, CNN first reported that CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to testify before Congress.

Global stocks are mixed today after Wall Street closed lower, thanks to a drop in tech stocks. Amazon lost four percent on reports President Trump wants to quote "go after" the online giant, while Tesla fell another seven percent, and things could get worse. It's about to release a report on the rollout of its mass-market Model 3 but it keeps missing production targets and that is causing a cash crunch.

Until now, investors have put money into Tesla despite never turning a profit. But now, Wall Street's starting to lose patience. Tesla's stock is down 17 percent this year.

The judge in the government's antitrust trial against AT&T has a warning -- speed it up. The Justice Department's suing to block AT&T's purchase of Time Warner, the parent company of CNN, and the companies have until June 21st to complete the merger.

But, the judge overseeing the case says at the current pace they will miss that deadline and if they do, either company could terminate the deal. That could cost AT&T a $500 million breakup fee.

Worried about federal spending? Good news. Lawmakers found one area to cut back -- oil paintings. Yes, really.

KOSINSKI: What?

BRIGGS: Last week, Congress passed a $1.3 trillion spending bill in case you forgot, but President Trump also signed a law barring the use of taxpayer funds for official portraits. It's called the Eliminating Government-Funded Oil-Painting Act or EGO.

Paintings of the president, first lady, and members of Congress 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 a private donation from people like Steven Spielberg.

This was from John Kennedy, the senator from Louisiana who also had WOOFF, which would crack down on --

KOSINSKI: Yes, the holdings bill.

BRIGGS: -- putting any live pets in the overhead compartment there. He doesn't miss a clever spin on words.

[05:50:00] Ahead, it's opening day for Major League Baseball and a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians making more than he asked for, and you don't want to miss what he's doing with the extra cash and why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIGGS: Breaking 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, the border village in the demilitarized zone.

CNN's Ivan Watson live for us in Seoul with the details. What are we finding out, Ivan?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we found out that this meeting -- this third-ever summit between North and South Korean leaders in history will take place on April 27th along the demilitarized zone, so that's a big deal. We've known that's coming down the pipeline.

[05:55:09] And this announcement comes just after the North Korean leader had a bit of a secret summit with the leader of China in Beijing. China and North Korea didn't announce that the meeting had taken place until after the 4-day visit was over. They kind of simultaneously made that grand reveal.

And then, of course, we know that President Trump intends to meet with Kim Jong Un. Presumably, that would be after the South Korean summit on April 27th.

Kim Jong Un has gone from being a pariah who was facing international sanctions and internationally isolated to he may be feeling like the prettiest girl at the high school dance now because now the Japanese want to meet with him, too. They're trying to reach out through different channels, including the North Korean Embassy in Beijing, also trying to meet with him.

A flurry of diplomacy here in East Asia -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Now just try to unsee the image of Kim Jong Un as the prettiest girl at the dance.

Ivan Watson, good stuff. Thank you.

KOSINSKI: And breaking news overnight.

Sixty-eight people killed in a fire at a police command and detention center in Valencia, Venezuela. Riot police used tear gas to disburse family members of the prisoners outside the jail.

Four prosecutors have been assigned to investigate the case. This is the third major uprising at a Venezuelan jail since last August.

BRIGGS: A rare look at a nighttime raid targeting ISIS fighters in Afghanistan. The Pentagon says this newly-released video shows American special forces and Afghan security troops teaming up to kill an ISIS commander and another terrorist this week.

The ISIS Khorasan group responsible for some of the deadliest attacks on civilians in Afghanistan.

KOSINSKI: 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's meeting with the prime minister while she's in Islamabad. Pakistan's capital city is on high-security alert with few details released about her visit.

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 person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Oklahoma Senate approving a pay raise for teachers. The average $6,100 increase to be paid for with tax increases on gas and cigarettes.

The starting teacher in Oklahoma now makes less than $32,000 a year, among the lowest in the country. The teachers union says the increase though is not enough and a walkout is planned for the state capitol on Monday.

Meantime, teachers in Arizona protested at their state capitol, also demanding higher pay. Much of this is inspired by the West Virginia teachers whose 13-day strike led to a five percent pay raise earlier this month.

BRIGGS: Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer believes baseball's arbitration system is flawed and outdated and he found his own unique way to mock it. Bauer wanted to request a salary of $6,420, -- that's 420 -- 969.69 in his arbitration case. Those funny numbers full of references to sex and marijuana.

Ultimately, Bauer settled on filing for a higher number with no weed or sex references and he won his case. So with the excess money, Bauer is launching the "69 Days of Giving." He plans to donate $420.69 paid to different charities. On the final day, Bauer will give $69,420.69 to a charity he's keeping secret.

It all begins today -- baseball's opening day -- with a donation to the Lone Survivor Foundation which supports wounded veterans.

He did his homework, folks, whether you liked the references or not. And if you don't get them, Google them.

Opening day starts in about six-seven hours. You will not be watching though.

KOSINSKI: I won't, no.

BRIGGS: Cubs are first up in case you were curious about tuning it.

KOSINSKI: I'm sure they are.

BRIGGS: Hey, great to have you here today. Thanks for joining us, everybody.

KOSINSKI: Thank you.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

KOSINSKI: And I'm Michelle Kosinski. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Trump fires his V.A. secretary in yet another White House shakeup.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: The president is seeming to manage his cabinet like this is a reality T.V. show.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that the president should have in the agencies who he wants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A White House official said Dr. Jackson is qualified to run the V.A.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: These appointments reflect the president's priority on loyalty regardless of your qualifications.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want to talk about a pardon for Michael Flynn yet. We'll see what happens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mueller's investigators had asked various witnesses about conversations in the White House about pardons. SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has the authority to pardon individuals but it hasn't been discussed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question hinges on whether dangling a pardon could amount to obstruction.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If an offer was made we could be right in the middle of impeachment territory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

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 Thursday, March 29th, 6:00 here in New York.