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EARLY START

Special Counsel Robert Mueller Leans on Rick Gates for Collusion; Utah Prosecutor John Huber Examining Clinton E-Mail Case; Russia Gets Even, Expels 60 U.S. Diplomats; Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 30, 2018 - 04:30   ET

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


[04:30:31] MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN ANCHOR: The Russia special counsel is 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)

DAVE BRIGGS, 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 exactly the president meant.

KOSINSKI: And a FOX News host facing major backlash from advertisers after a comment about a Parkland survivor. Laura Ingraham is apologizing but the student still isn't entirely satisfied.

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

BRIGGS: I'm so happy to have you back. Didn't scare away after day one.

KOSINSKI: Thank you. I've been clutching this pen for you.

BRIGGS: I know. You've been terrifying me.

KOSINSKI: I don't think I can --

BRIGGS: Looks like you might stab me with that pen.

KOSINSKI: My security pen.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It's 4:31 Eastern Time on a Good Friday. We start with the Russia investigation.

H he may have been a lower 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.

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

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.

BRIGGS: Evan, thanks.

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.

KOSINSKI: The attorney general has been under fire for his failure to disclose such meeting. His turbulent year chronicled in the latest "TIME" magazine with this cover. Dramatic. Which got some interesting reaction. 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 something. More now from CNN's 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.

[04:35:02] 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.

BRIGGS: Laura Jarrett, thank you.

The Pentagon and the commander-in-chief not seeing eye-to-eye on Syria exactly. Just hours after the Defense Department announced U.S. troops need 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. And 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)

BRIGGS: It's not just land, but also ideology that matter in Syria. One Pentagon official telling CNN it's 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.

KOSINSKI: 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 a little 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)

KOSINSKI: The old open mic. 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 have said very different things about some hot spots like North Korea and Iran, for example.

BRIGGS: President Trump once again criticizing Amazon on Twitter. Accusing it of not paying taxes, averting both the Post Office and retailers. Trump has repeatedly tweeted that he dislikes Amazon going back to 2015 even and his distaste may be due to CEO Jeff Bezos. Bezos also owns "The Washington Post" which Trump frequently criticizes but Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah says this is not true.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: A lot of people have made this with respect to Amazon about personalities and the CEO at Amazon -- or at -- we're talking about Jeff Bezos here, but this is really about policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: But even when it comes to policy, Trump's criticism of Amazon is not entirely based in fact, like taxes. Amazon does pay sales tax in every state that charges one and pays property taxes for its distribution centers.

Trump also claimed it's hurting the Post Office. The opposite is true. While the Post Office continually reports losses, its package delivery service actually jumped 11 percent last year. They make money off of Amazon and a lot of it.

How about those struggling small retailers? True, Amazon has helped their decline but megastores like Walmart share much of the blame as well.

This is not as clear cut as the president likes to make it out.

President Trump knows all the best words and he went to the best schools. We know that because he tells us. So let's assume these comments from yesterday were not in 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: For those in the Oval Office or elsewhere who may not know, vocational schools provide hands-on education, it prepares students for careers like being an electrician, mechanic or an engineer. Community colleges offer typical college courses at a lower cost.

KOSINSKI: The California federal judge putting Stormy Daniels' efforts to depose President Trump on hold. The judge denied the motion for an expedited trial and legal discovery process saying the motion was premature.

Daniels' attorney wants the president and his personal lawyer Michael Cohen to testify under oath about $130,000 Cohen paid Daniels to keep quiet about an alleged affair with the president. The judge said the president and Cohen have not yet followed through on plans to try to force Daniels into arbitration. Daniels' attorney Michael Avenatti tells CNN as soon as the president and Cohen file their arbitration petition, he will immediately re-file his motion if you can keep up with the legal back and forth.

BRIGGS: I cannot. I -- it is dizzying back and forth especially given the performance of these lawyers. And I say performance.

KOSINSKI: Yes.

BRIGGS: On cable news.

KOSINSKI: Did so.

[04:40:02] BRIGGS: Because they are performing to the highest level. OK.

KOSINSKI: That's what they're paid to do.

BRIGGS: They are.

KOSINSKI: Paid a lot.

BRIGGS: Very Trumpian. OK. A judge on the highly influential Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals died suddenly on 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 a $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 called her delayed action.

BRIGGS: Far more than delayed action. I would imagine Republicans will make some hay out of this in the days ahead.

Ahead, we're talking Moscow should not be acting like a victim. That's the response from the State Department after Russia expelled American diplomats. We're live in Moscow when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:46:11] KOSINSKI: The White House slamming Russia's decision to expel 60 American diplomats even though this was fully expected. 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 called the expulsion a further deterioration in the United States-Russia relationship. And the Trump administration will, quote, "deal with it."

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

So, Phil, the Russians didn't retaliate way back when President Obama expelled more than 30 of them in December 2016. But this time around they are ready to keep up with the tit-for-tat.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Michelle. Last time round they held fire. They hoped that the situation would be different under President Trump, that relations would improve. But that hope proved to be unfounded especially when Congress removed from President Trump the right to lift sanctions from Russia. That locked these two countries into a pretty chilly relationship. So with this latest round of expulsions, Russia has responded very quickly.

You are right. It has done so in a way that was expected. This was really the minimalist reaction from Russia. The very least that they were expected to do. They have matched the U.S. expulsions. But they've not escalated the situation further. They have said the ball essentially is now in your court, but we reserve the right to take further action. The U.S. and its allies have also said they reserve the right to take further action.

Where things go from here depends upon what the disagreements continue to flow from what's described here as the Skripal case, the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, the former Russian spy, and his daughter in Salisbury, England. The UK and its allies say that was the result of a Russian nerve agent. Russia continues to insist they are innocent of this, that that is an unjust accusation and that no evidence has proven their involvement.

They're also angry with the UK because they said they want access to Yulia Skripal. She was the other victim in this case. She is in hospital. She has been in critical condition, but she said to be doing better now. Russia says they want to get access to her in order to help her and hear what she has to say -- Michelle. KOSINSKI: Yes. And the Trump administration warned Russia that if

they did exactly this, what they just did, then this administration could well take further action as he pointed out.

Thanks a lot, Phil.

BRIGGS: All right. France's highest court ordering former president Nicolas Sarkozy to stand trial. He's accused of attempting to intervene in an investigation into his 2007 campaign finances. As part of that investigation, investigators monitored cell phones Sarkozy used to communicate with his attorney. That monitoring revealed communications with the judge who is allegedly promising a plum position in Monaco by Nicolas Sarkozy in exchange for information about legal proceedings against him. The 63-year-old former president plans to appeal the trial summons.

IPhone users can now turn off, Kosinski, a controversial feature that slows down older phones. The details on "CNN Money" next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KOSINSKI: Baton Rouge police chief Murphy Paul expected to announce today his decision on the fate of two officers involved in the shooting death of Alton Sterling. The chief also set to release video and audio of the shooting itself. The footage said to be very graphic and disturbing. Law enforcement officials have told CNN they're preparing for protests. A CNN crew in Baton Rouge has noticed an increase in state and local law enforcement presence.

BRIGGS: 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 a state law. A California law requires disclosing the presence of carcinogens and toxic chemicals. The judge decided the defendants failed to show carcinogens pose no risk or add any health benefits. Yikes.

KOSINSKI: Great.

[04:55:02] BRIGGS: Says the coffee drinker.

KOSINSKI: Well, 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.

BRIGGS: 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." 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."

Baseball is back. And so is the long ball. An emotional opening day in Miami. That is Marjory Stoneman Douglas graduate Anthony Rizzo. You see the patch there on the shoulder. Going deep, did Rizzo. The Cubs doing 8-4 win over the Marlins. Rizzo describing that moment as an out-of-body experience.

About the body on Giancarlo Stanton off to an impressive start. The newest member of the Yankees pounding two homeruns that sparked the Bronx bombers over the Jays 6-1. And Matt Davidson of the Chicago White Sox becomes just the fourth player ever to hit three homeruns on opening day. He led Chicago two touchdowns to one over the Royals in Kansas City on a thrilling opening day Major League Baseball.

KOSINSKI: And a soggy start in the northeast as we begin the holiday weekend. So here's meteorologist Derek Van Dam.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good Friday morning, Dave and Michelle. If you've got travel plans along the East Coast today, it could be a little bit on the slick side. We do have rain showers moving through across many of the major cities along the mid-Atlantic and East Coast. This is all thanks to a cold front and an area of low pressure that's allowing for these on again and off again showers to take place.

Boston, New York, Pittsburgh to Washington as well as Raleigh, and a cold air mass settling in behind the system with another secondary round of snowfall expected across North Dakota, North Central Minnesota and into Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan. That's where we have winter storm watches and warnings in place. In fact the heavy snow falling from Fargo just south of Duluth into Marquette, Michigan. We could pick up another six to 10 inches of snowfall on top of what they already have on the ground.

Now we end off the holiday weekend with another blast of cold air. Look at the three-day forecast into Chicago. Dropping to 40 degrees by Sunday. But comfortable for your Friday for Atlanta as well as New York City. Back to you.

BRIGGS: All right. Derek, thanks, buddy.

Let's get a check on "CNN Money" this morning. Wall Street closed today for Good Friday. The Dow jumped 1 percent yesterday thanks to a rebound in tech stocks but still lost 2 percent for the first three months of the year. It ended a nine-quarter winning streak. It's the longest in 20 years. Right now global stocks are higher.

AT&T's anti-trust trial continues and one of the Justice Department's own witnesses may have done damage to its case. The DOJ is suing to block AT&T's purchase of Time Warner, the parent of CNN. It claims the merger could hurt rival companies. How? By withholding networks like CNN and HBO during negotiations. But a Comcast exec undercut that argument saying he has no reason to believe the deal would impact future negotiations with Time Warner.

Walmart may buy health insurers Humana. That's according to "The Wall Street Journal" and it is the latest in a recent series of major health care mergers. Last year, the Justice Department blocked two huge tie-ups between insurance companies and cited anti-trust concerns. So now insurers are seeking different dance partners, if you will. For example pharmacy CVS Pharmacy will buy Aetna. Walmart has already made forays into health care with its pharmacy business, but acquiring Humana will give it certainly some greater clout.

IPhone users can now turn off a controversial feature that slows down older iPhones. Apple just updated its mobile operating systems and it includes a laundry list of new features and fixes like the ability to disable a feature that slows down older iPhones. Apple previously admitted to slowing older models to save the battery outraging customers. Apple also added some very timely privacy features allowing customers to see all the data Apple collects and what the company uses it for. But you are sticking with your Blackberry.

(CROSSTALK)

KOSINSKI: And you makes fun of my Blackberry. Not laughing anymore, are you, Dave Briggs?

BRIGGS: I'm sticking with the Apple.

KOSINSKI: I don't have to deal with that.

BRIGGS: Little typing.

KOSINSKI: EARLY START continues right now.

The Russia special counsel are trying to connect the dots on collusion. To make it happen a renewed focus on a campaign aide who was in touch with a Russian intel agent before the election.