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EARLY START

Special Counsel Robert Mueller Pushed for Rick Gates' Help on Collusion; Federal Prosecutor Selected to Probe FBI Misconduct; Russia to Expel 60 U.S. Diplomats; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2018 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:14] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The Russia special counsel trying to connect the dots on collusion. To make it happen, a renewed focus on a campaign aide who's in touch with a Russian intel agent before the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA WHITE, PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: On the situation in northern Syria, important work remains to guarantee the lasting defeat of these violent extremists.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll be coming out of Syria like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN ANCHOR: A bit of a disconnect between the president and the Pentagon. With challenges remaining in Syria, officials are at a loss for what the president meant.

BRIGGS: And a FOX News host facing major backlash from advertisers after a comment about a Parkland survivor. Laura Ingraham apologizing but the student not entirely satisfied. And boy, this is some interesting story as we welcome you all to EARLY START on Good Friday.

Is David Hogg fair game? Perhaps we'll get into that later on. I'm Dave Briggs.

KOSINSKI: I'm Michelle Kosinski. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Well, he may have been a lower level aide in the Trump campaign, but Rick Gates could play a pivotal role helping Robert Mueller's investigators look into potential collusion with the Russians. Details are emerging about how the special counsel's team push for Gates' help to make the collusion case.

BRIGGS: In a court filing this week Mueller's team claims Gates was in contact during the campaign with someone who worked for a Russia intelligence agency so despite recent signs the Mueller investigation has been focused on events since the president took office, like obstruction, it appears collusion remains a focal point of the Russia probe.

We get more now from justice correspondent Evan Perez in Washington. EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Michelle, Special

Counsel Robert Mueller's prosecutors told former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates that they didn't need his help against Paul Manafort, his former business partner and former Trump campaign chairman. Instead, we're told by sources that they wanted him to provide information on Trump contacts with Russians.

Now that's the core mission of the Mueller investigation. The discussions with Gates happened last year long before he pleaded guilty to two criminal charges last month. Now this is important because it suggests that Mueller is still very much pursuing the question of possible illegal coordination between the Trump campaign associates and Russians, what the president and his allies call collusion.

And we're beginning to see how the Mueller prosecutors plan to use Gates to connect both Manafort and the Trump campaign to Russian spies. In a court filing this week, prosecutors said that Gates was in frequent contact with a person that the U.S. government says was working as Russia intelligence agent. They also said that Gates knew that the alleged spy worked for the Russians. All in the middle of the 2016 presidential campaign.

The spy connection that prosecutors cited in court documents this week show that they are making efforts to increase pressure on Manafort perhaps to flip and cooperate with the Mueller investigation. But also shows that despite what you hear from the president that there's no collusion, Robert Mueller isn't done yet investigating that very big question -- Dave and Michelle.

KOSINSKI: Thanks, Evan.

According to Reuters, the special counsel is also investigating events that took place during the 2016 Republican National Convention. Specifically how language critical of Russia came to be removed from the GOP platform on Ukraine. Robert Mueller's team also looking into an event attended by then Senator Jeff Sessions and Russia's ambassador to the U.S.

BRIGGS: The attorney general has been under fire for his failure to disclose such meeting. His turbulent year chronicled in the latest "TIME" magazine. It should come with a viewer warning, though. Got some interesting reaction with that somewhat frightening disturbing picture there. Meantime, Sessions is not naming a special counsel to investigate Republican-fueled accusations against the FBI. At least not for now. But he did give the GOP a little win.

We get more now from Laura Jarrett in Washington.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, top Republicans on Capitol Hill didn't get their wish for a special counsel to investigate the FBI, but they've now got this formidable federal prosecutor with the selection of John Huber, the U.S. attorney in Utah who for months has been quietly examining Republican-driven claims that the FBI engaged in misconduct when it came to investigating Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server and wrongfully obtained a surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

Sessions confirmed that Huber will not only tell him if an investigation needs to be opened or needs more resources but also if there is a need to appoint a special counsel down the line. And while he's now at the center of this partisan war, Huber received bipartisan support back in the day under both President Trump and Obama. He's been something of a mystery man for months as Sessions had previously said that he had someone outside of Washington looking into all of the allegations mounted by Republicans -- Michelle, Dave.

[04:05:04] KOSINSKI: Thank you, Laura.

Well, the Pentagon and the commander-in-chief not seeing eye-to-eye on Syria. Just hours after the Defense Department announced U.S. troops needs to stay in Syria for the immediate future, President Trump declared exactly the opposite.

Pentagon spokesman Dana White telling reporters important works still needs to be done to ensure a lasting defeat of violent extremists in Syria. Later, the president said this at an infrastructure event in Ohio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're knocking the hell out of ISIS. We'll be coming out of Syria like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon. Very soon. We're coming out. We're going to have 100 percent of the caliphate as they call it. Sometimes referred to as land. We'll take it all back quickly. Quickly. But we're going to be coming out of there real soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSINSKI: It's not just land, but also ideology that matters in Syria. One Pentagon official telling CNN it is not clear what the president meant and that the U.S. still needs to decide on a policy regarding the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russia's military presence in that country.

BRIGGS: Defense Secretary James Mattis trying a little comedy to break the ice with new National Security adviser John Bolton. At least we think it was comedy. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Thank you for -- thanks for coming and it's good to finally meet you. Absolutely. I've heard that you're actually the devil incarnate and I wanted to meet you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The devil incarnate. Mattis has been trying to tamp down reports that he is concerned about working with the hawkish former ambassador to the U.N. He and Bolton said very different things about some hot spots like North Korea and Iran, for example. KOSINSKI: The president is now in Florida starting a long holiday

weekend at Mar-a-Lago. Before he left, though, he defended his decision to fire yet another Cabinet member, VA secretary David Shulkin. Mr. Trump says he's eager to see the day when veterans have the ability to run to a private doctor if necessary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They're going to have real choice. That's why I made some changes because I wasn't happy with the speed with which our veterans were taken care of. I wasn't happy with it and we made a lot of progress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSINSKI: Also developing this morning, several of President Trump's outside advisers telling him he does not need a chief of staff or a communications director. Hope Hicks became the former communications director yesterday. And the president's relationship with John Kelly has been strained. But there are no signs Mr. Trump is ready to dismiss Kelly. At least not yet.

BRIGGS: One would hope.

President Trump threatening a trade deal with South Korea using it as leverage in upcoming talks with North Korea. This week the White House confirmed the revised trade agreement between the United States and South Korea. But here's what the president said about the deal just yesterday in Ohio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I may hold it up until after the deal is made with North Korea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Next month the two Koreas plan to meet for the first time in years paving the way for a possible meeting between Donald Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong-un. The U.S. and South Korea need a united front when pressing the North to denuclearize. A trade agreement removes the divisive issue with America's ally in the Korean peninsula.

The administration released details of the revised deal Wednesday and they include a limit on how much steel South Korea can export to the United States. Key changes to help U.S. car companies like new rules on emission standards and doubling the number of cars they can export to South Korea. Though the United States did not even hit the limit that they were allowed to import to South Korea in prior years.

President Trump knows all the best words and went to the best schools. We know that because he tells us. So let's assume these comments from yesterday were not part of his prepared remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: A word you that don't hear much, but when I was growing up, we had what was called vocational schools. They weren't called community colleges because I don't know what that means. A community college. To me it means a two-year college. I don't know what it means. But I know what vocational -- and I tell people, call it vocational from now on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: OK. For those in the Oval Office or elsewhere who may not know there is indeed a difference, vocational schools provide hands-on education, prepares students for careers like being electrician, a mechanic or an engineer. Community colleges offer typical college courses at a lower cost.

KOSINSKI: The Trump administration moving to loosen regulation on greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy rules for cars. The "New York Times" reports the details are still influx but sources tell the "Times" the plan could substantially roll back Obama-era standards. Weakening environmental standards would be a big win for carmakers and a blow to environmentalists. President Trump campaigned on promises to cut back on environmental regulations. Changing the rules would set the stage for huge court battles.

[04:10:06] BRIGGS: A judge on the highly influential Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals died suddenly Thursday. 87-year-old Steven Reinhardt suffered a heart attack during a visit to his dermatologist. Reinhardt was on the panel that overturned California's same-sex marriage ban. He was a staunch critic of the Trump administration's deportation policies and travel ban. Reinhardt's death might be a turning point in the federal bench. He leaves a progressive vacancy that President Trump could fill with a conservative vote.

KOSINSKI: Democrat Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut apologizing for failing to protect a female staffer who claimed she was mentally and physically abused by the congresswoman's male chief of staff. The "Connecticut Post" first to report the staffer's allegation that she was punched and threatened with death by Tony Baker. Baker was fired three months later. Esty admitting she paid Baker's $5,000 severance, while also giving him a job recommendation for a position with the Sandy Hook Promise organization. The congresswoman says she accepts the blame for what she calls her delayed action.

BRIGGS: I think we have not heard the last of that story.

KOSINSKI: That's the story.

BRIGGS: Republicans may make some hay with that one.

KOSINSKI: Yes. Pretty extreme allegations there.

Moscow should not be acting like a victim. That's the response from the State Department after Russia expelled 60 American diplomats. We're live in Moscow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [04:15:30] BRIGGS: The White House slamming Russia's decision to expel 60 American diplomats. The announcement from the Kremlin coming just days after the U.S. booted 60 Russian diplomats to protest the poisoning of a former double agent and his daughter in the U.K. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders calls the expulsion a further deterioration in the United States-Russia relationship. And the Trump administration will, quote, "deal with it."

Let's go live to Moscow and bring in CNN's Phil Black.

Phil, good morning to you. Where is this story headed?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave, for the moment, perhaps this draws a line under the current round of tit-for- tat expulsions. But what it does is lock in something we already know, that very poor relations between Russia, the West, and notably the United States.

After the previous round of expulsions instigated by President Obama in the final days of his administration, Russia initially held fire. Didn't retaliate. Because it hoped that things would be different under President Trump. That hope has proved unfounded especially after U.S. Congress locked in sanctions against Russia over its behavior in Ukraine.

So in this case they have matched the U.S. expulsions but not as escalated, essentially saying the ball is in your court. But this does not necessarily in any way draw an end to the tensions over the alleged use of a nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury. Russia continues to insist that it is accused unjustly, that the United States and the United Kingdom are pressuring allies to gang up on it without providing evidence, accusing it unfairly of using this chemical weapon.

In addition to that, it's angry with the UK authorities because it says they are not giving them any information about the status of one of the victims, a Russian citizen, Yulia Skripal, the daughter of Sergei Skripal, the former Russian spy who is believed to have been the primary target of the nerve agent attack. She is now said to be doing better in hospital. She is no longer in critical condition. One small piece of good news in a horrible attack that continues to have international repercussions -- Dave.

BRIGGS: It certainly appears it is not yet over. Phil Black live for us in Moscow this morning, 11:17 a.m.

Thanks, Phil.

KOSINSKI: Laura Ingraham went after a Parkland survivor. Now the social media campaign has advertisers fleeing her show on FOX. We'll tell you what Ingraham is saying now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:22:23] KOSINSKI: A lawyer for the family of Stephon Clark set to announce the results of an independent autopsy on the unarmed African- American man shot dead by police in Sacramento, California. Officers said they thought Clark had a gun, only his cell phone was found at the scene of the shooting in his grandmother's backyard.

BRIGGS: Mourners had to sit outside the overflowing sanctuary yesterday at Clark's emotional funeral. Reverend Al Sharpton vowing to press for justice as he was hugged by Clark's brother Stevante who interrupted the service with an emotional plea never to forget his brother.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVANTE CLARK, STEPHON CLARK'S BROTHER: Stephon is going to live for generations, to generations to generations to generations to generations. The Clark family will never die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The protesters were out again in Sacramento yesterday after forcing the Golden 1 Center to close its gates in the last week, they stayed away from the arena last night.

Model and reality TV personality Janice Dickinson subpoenaed to testify in Bill Cosby's upcoming retrial. In an interview in November 2014 Dickinson revealed she was sexually assaulted by Cosby in 1982. Cosby's attorney at the time called the accusation a, quote, "fabricated lie." Meantime, the judge in the retrial which is due to start next week rejecting demands from Cosby's defense lawyers to step aside. They argue he should recuse himself since his wife is a social worker and advocate for assault victims.

KOSINSKI: A California judge ruling coffee stores across the state must carry a cancer warning label because of a carcinogen in brewed coffee. A superior court judge sided with the non-profit's case against dozens of coffee companies, arguing larger coffee businesses were in violation of state law. A California law requires disclosing the presence of carcinogens and toxic chemical. The judge decided the defendants failed to show carcinogens pose no risk or add any health benefits. As you --

(LAUGHTER)

BRIGGS: As I drink my third cup of the day, folks. I won't stop anyone from drinking coffee.

Faced with a growing advertiser exodus, FOX News host Laura Ingraham is now apologizing after a tweet mocking Parkland survivor David Hogg back fired. The staunchly pro-Trump commentator tweeted out a story from the right-wing Web site "The Daily Wire" about Hogg's rejection from four different colleges. Hogg tweeted back, urging his following to contact advertisers and boy, did they. Now eight big money advertisers have pulled their ads from Ingraham's show and Ingraham is backing off.

KOSINSKI: She now says, "On reflection in the spirit of Holy Week, I apologize for any upset or hurt my tweet caused him or any of the brave victims of Parkland. As always, he is welcome to return to the show any time for a productive discussion."

[04:25:05] Hogg was not impressed, tweeting back, "An apology in an effort just to save your advertisers is not enough. I will only accept your apology if you denounce the way your network has treated my friends and I in this fight."

BRIGGS: Baseball is back and so, too, is the long ball. An emotional opening day in Miami. That's Marjory Stoneman Douglas graduate Anthony Rizzo. He went deeply to an 8-4 victory over the Marlins. Rizzo described the moment as an out of body experience. Elsewhere, Giancarlo Stanton off to an impressive start. The newest member of the Yankees pounding two homeruns sparking the Bronx bombers over the Blue Jays 6-1 terrifying the AL East about what's to come.

And elsewhere Matt Davidson of the Chicago White Sox becomes the fourth player ever to hit three homeruns on opening day. He led Chicago to a bears-like victory, two touchdowns to one over the Royals in Kansas City.

I know you were gripped to all the baseball action throughout all day, Michelle Kosinski.

KOSINSKI: Just say ball and stick.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIGGS: Balls leaving, bat swinging --

KOSINSKI: As much as you can -- like all the words you used to describe it, my brain only sees ball, stick.

BRIGGS: I've got an hour and a half to convince you of the joy of --

KOSINSKI: Yes, that part of my brain is missing, I think.

BRIGGS: Ahead, he is already cooperating with Robert Mueller's investigation. Does Rick Gates hold the key to more than we thought? The road map to collusion could run through this former Trump campaign aide.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)