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EARLY START

Robert Mueller Leans On Rick Gates; On Syria, Trump Contradicts The Pentagon; Advertisers Bolt Laura Ingraham; Giancarlo Stanton Homers Twice in Yankees Debut. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2018 - 05:00   ET

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


[05:00:05] MICHELLE KOSINSKI, 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 was in touch with a Russian intel agent before the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA WHITE, CHIEF PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: On the situation in the 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 Pentagon. Challenges remaining in Syria. Officials are at a loss for what 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.

BRIGGS: Good morning, everybody, and thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Dave Briggs.

KOSINSKI: And I'm Michelle Kosinski. It's Friday, March 30th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. Very much so.

BRIGGS: Good to see you, my friend. He may have been a lower level aide in the Trump campaign, but Rick Gates is looking at potential conclusion with the Russians. Details are emerging how the special counsel's team pushed 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 the Russian intelligence agency. So, despite recent signs, the Mueller investigation has been focused on events since the president took office. Like obstruction, it appears collusion does remain a focal point of the Russia probe.

More now from justice correspondent Evan Perez in Washington. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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 campaign 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 a Russian 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 it 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: All right, Evan Perez.

Joining us now, CNN political commentator Errol Louis, political anchor for Spectrum News.

Good to see you, sir, on Good Friday.

How significant is the latest development? What does it tell you about where Mr. Mueller is headed?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It tells us a lot. Up until now, when we see the president sort of dominating the story by saying there's no collusion, no collusion, he's actually talking about himself. He is not talking about the mid to lower level members of the campaign where apparently the Mueller team has been focusing their efforts.

And so, you get somebody like Rick Gates not there just for the convention, but thereafter and through the transition and was working personally for one of the closest associates of the president, and it turns out that he's, you know, in contact with and apparently has knowledge of, of all kinds of different connections that the president doesn't seem to know anything about.

KOSINSKI: This is confusing, because remember, last summer, there was a "New York Times" story that during the campaign, Trump advisers possibly having contact with Russian intel agents, pretty much exactly what we're talking about now. That story was slammed as false.

And even James Comey, do you remember in testimony, he said that story was something like largely false. But now, it is coming out there was some kind of contact, allegedly. What is going on here?

LOUIS: That's right. Well, look, I mean, this is why we have an investigation, right? I mean, one of the things we really don't know is if we depoliticize the investigation for just a minute, who actually talk to whom and what did they know when they did it?

And this is why you need professional investigators to sort of pick through this, get into the state of mind, OK? OK, you met somebody who may have been a Russian intelligence source, did you know that? What kind of questions did they ask? What did you tell the other people in the campaign about this person?

Those are the questions you have to go through with somebody like Rick Gates to try and figure things out. And we should -- you know, look, we again are so politicized. But you have to be clear. All we have to do right now is get the actual facts. To the extent the Mueller team can do that, there could be a split decision if you call it that, where it's like it's not as bad as some Democrats allege and it's not as clean as some Republicans wanted to believe.

[05:05:09] The truth is going to be pretty murky, probably somewhere in between.

BRIGGS: And ultimately, probably not changed the fracture in this country over this very subject.

So, let's talk about the man that in the eyes of President Trump opened the door to this. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, who had to recuse himself and reiterated that in "TIME" magazine, a very disturbing cover mind you, but we won't delve too deeply into the picture the "TIME" used. But also on the day Sessions said, I will not appoint a second special counsel to investigate FBI misconduct. Some push back once again from the attorney general.

Should he feel nervous? Because "TIME" magazine is not generally good for someone working for the president.

LOUIS: Well, this is true. On the other hand, we've had credible reporting that the attorney general tendered his resignation in the past, that when he's been berated in public and in private, sort of, you know, screamed at privately in ways that somebody of his stature has never been talked to before, as well as public tweets and other comments from the president, suggesting he doesn't have confidence in his own attorney general. He's at the point where I think he's going to have to play it straight because of the whims or the preferences of the president can't be predicted. And so, you can't keep the guy happy, you might as well just follow the law and do the job as best you can.

BRIGGS: Especially when the president is down in Mar-a-Lago and talking to all of his friends and golfing buddies, you don't know what conversations come up.

KOSINSKI: Yes, and speaking of what he just said on Syria yesterday. I mean, you hear that sentence and you think, wait a second, what? You hear the people around him saying, we are not sure exactly what the president was talking about.

But this is not the first time we heard Trump's aides say, initially at least, we're not sure what the president means by this statement. What do you make of this?

LOUIS: Look, it is a very dangerous part of the world. You know, I mean, I stood in the Golan Heights and you hear the pounding in neighboring Syria. You realized what an unstable situation it is. I mean, we have something like 6 million refugees outside of that country, destabilizing parts of Europe, parts of the region.

To have the president say, you know, we're going to pull out pretty soon. Well, what does that mean?

KOSINSKI: It makes it sound like a decision is coming.

LOUIS: Well, it makes it sounds like a decision has been made.

KOSINSKI: OK.

LOUIS: He's making projections. Is that based on what he's heard from his national security adviser, is that what the Pentagon is telling him? It raises so many more questions than answers and our allies who are, you know, sort of critical to this entire effort. I mean, what does Turkey think of all this? What does Israel think of all of this stuff? Where is it all coming from?

BRIGGS: For you who missed it, the president said very soon we are coming out yesterday at this infrastructure speech in Ohio.

He also raised a few eyebrows talking about vocational schools and community colleges, failing to draw the distinction. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: A word that you 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 vocational -- and I tell people call it vocational from now on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSINSKI: What? BRIGGS: OK, vocational schools should be emphasized far more than

they are in America today. But can you help the president draw the distinction? Do you teach in New York?

LOUIS: Sure, sure. I mean, yes, I do teach. My dad is a graduate actually of community college.

Look, the thing the president needs to know is that something like half, close to half, of lower income people in this country, the very people that are his base when they say they are going to college, they're going to community college. Those two-year college is not a throwaway -- it's not some throwaway, it's not something where you should say, you know, I don't know what it is.

Well, there are 67 million kids who are enrolled in those schools. It's a pathway to college. It is a reliable path to the middle class. It is unbelievably important.

And had he spoken, this president, with the last president, the Obama administration, went to great lengths to try and make community colleges free. That was the goal. But at least to apply Pell Grants and other kind of assistance to it. It's vitally important. It's desperately needed.

It could not be more different than this notion, some antiquated, outdated notion of, you know, what's a vocational school and a community college, what's the difference? There is a huge difference. For most people, almost half of the country and depending on the group, when you get to the lower end of income scale, you're talking about half, and in some cases, more than half. When they say they are going to college, we are talking about two-year schools.

BRIGGS: I didn't even go to Wharton.

(CROSSTALK)

KOSINSKI: The president saying I flat out don't understand what a community college even is.

BRIGGS: Well, hopefully, he'll listen to Errol Louis.

KOSINSKI: It raises some eyebrows.

BRIGGS: And now, he gets the difference.

Thank you, sir. We will check back in with you about 30 minutes.

KOSINSKI: Thanks a lot, Errol.

BRIGGS: President Trump threatening a trade deal with South Korea, using it as leverage in the upcoming talks with North Korea. This week, the White House confirmed a revised trade agreement between the U.S. and South Korea.

But here is what the president said yesterday about the deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I may hold it up until after a 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 with president Trump and 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 on the Korean peninsula.

The administration released details of the revised deal yesterday. They include a limit on how much steel South Korea can export to the United States and key changes to help U.S. car companies like new rules on emissions standards and doubling the number of cars it can export to South Korea.

We should mention we never hit the previous targets that we can import into South Korea. So, raising them may be immaterial.

KOSINSKI: There are a lot of nuggets in the Ohio speech.

BRIGGS: There is a lot.

KOSINSKI: It's like we keep going back to that.

BRIGGS: There is a lot.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:15:07] KOSINSKI: The White House slamming Russia's decision to expel 60 American diplomats. The announcement coming from the Kremlin 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 expulsions 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 now and bring in CNN's Phil Black.

So, Phil, the tit-for-tat is back and it seems like Russia is not so happy with the Trump administration as they initially would have hoped.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Michelle. Initially, Russia held out a lot of hope that President Trump would change relations with Russia. That proved not to be the case, although if all the criticism of American action in recent days, there is very little anger and hostility directed at President Trump himself, pretty much none, because there is still a belief here that President Trump would improve relations with Russia if he were allowed to do so.

So, Russia has now retaliated. It said that it will match the 60 diplomats. It would close the St. Petersburg consulate. That's matching America's actions they say, not escalating them. So, they're saying to the U.S., the ball is now in your court, but we reserve the right to take further action if we think that you are acting against our interests again.

Russia is still very angry with the United Kingdom as well for all the accusations regarding the use of the nerve agent. They say it is unfair. They also say U.K. authorities are preventing them from getting access to one of the two victims of the nerve agent attack, Yulia Skripal, the former Russian spy's daughter who is also contaminated and hurt. She is now in hospital doing better, out of intensity care, we are told. But it is unlikely the British authorities would follow through with the request for Russian diplomats to be allowed to see her in the near term, you'd think, Michelle.

KOSINSKI: Thank so much, Phil.

BRIGGS: Democrat Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut apologizing for failing to protect a female staffer who said she was abused by the congresswoman's male chief of staff. "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, but Etsy admitted she paid Baker a $5,000 severance and gave him a recommendation for a job with Sandy Hook Promise. The congresswoman did repay that money to the U.S. Treasury and says she accepts blame for what she called her delayed action.

KOSINSKI: A judge on the highly influential Ninth Circuit Court Appeals died suddenly Thursday. Eighty-seven-year-old Stephen Reinhardt suffered a heart attack. Reinhardt was on the panel that overturned California's same sex marriage ban. He was a staunch critic of the Trump administration's travel ban. Reinhardt's death might mark a turning point on the federal bench. He leaves a progressive vacancy that President Trump could fill or will fill with a conservative vote.

BRIGGS: Yes, that is a major story, folks.

All right. Faced with the growing advertiser exodus, Fox News and national radio host Laura Ingraham apologizing after a tweet mocking Parkland survivor David Hogg backfired. The staunchly pro-Trump commentator tweeted a story from right wing Website "The Daily Wire" about Hogg's rejection from four different colleges. Hogg tweeted back, urging followers to contact advertisers. Now, eight big money advertisers pulled their ads from Ingraham's show. Ingraham is backing off.

KOSINSKI: She now says on reflection and in the spirit of holy week, I apologize for any upset or hurt my tweet caused him or any of the aggrieved 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 and an effort just

to save 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: This is interesting. I had a little debate on Twitter about this.

Look, David Hogg has entered the political fray. Isn't he fair game? He is taking personal shots at politicians. I shouldn't use the word shots. But I don't know, this is an interesting discussion, where we are. He is a kid. But you are in the political fray now.

KOSINSKI: I think anybody that enters -- you could say anybody that enters Twitter is fair game, but you also have to consider the circumstance he is coming out of, like you want to dump on somebody who's been --

(CROSSTALK)

BRIGGS: No doubt about that. He has been extremely effective on social media and organizing, as it was yesterday.

Ahead, the newest member of the Yankees striking fear one game in to the hearts of opposing pitchers. Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report", next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:24:18] BRIGGS: It did not take long for Giancarlo Stanton to make an impact with the Yankees. Boy, was he frightening the ALS?

Coy Wire has the "Bleacher Report" this morning.

Good to see you, buddy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you, Dave.

Home runs on opening day, they were everywhere. The first pitch of the season was a home run. That was in the Chicago Cubs game. Matt Davidson of the White Sox hit three home runs, just the fourth player ever to do that on opening day.

And for last year's National League MVP, 6-foot-6 Giancarlo Stanton, expectations to knock baseballs over the wall were high heading into his first game with the Bronx bombers. He is joining 6-foot-7-inch Aaron Judge who was last year's home run derby champ. Well, Stanton said, look at this, young fella. Two home runs against the Blue Jays.

[05:25:01] He is the first Yankees player with multiple homers on opening day since Joe Pepitone in 1963. Yanks win 6-1.

Listen to this story. Imagine being a 36-year-old accountant. You hadn't played hockey since your Western Michigan University days over a decade. You never competed as a pro, but all of a sudden, the story with the Chicago Blackhawks call you in desperation, saying we may need you to play goalie.

Well, that was the case for Scott Foster. This was his life. He was brought in the day before a tryout in the event of an emergency. When the Blackhawks lost the last goalie to injury in the game to Winnipeg, Scott not only stepped in, he stopped in. Seven saves! The Blackhawks won 6--2.

Here was Foster after the game.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT FOSTER, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS EMERGENCY GOALIE: I'm an accountant by day. So, a few hours, I was sitting on a computer, typing on a 10- key. Now I'm standing here in front of you guys and finished 14 minutes of NHL hockey.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIRE: All right. Let's talk some March Madness from the heart of it in San Antonio. Join Turner's Steve Smith and Allie LaForce as they lead CNN's "All Access" coverage of the Final Four. "All Access at the Final Four: A CNN Bleacher Report" special airs tomorrow at 2:30 Eastern, right here on CNN.

BRIGGS: And you know we are getting geared up for the game with Sister Jean socks. I have them on here. We can reveal the socks game Sister Jean --

WIRE: Put the ankles together. Let Sister Jean smile at me.

How are you lovely lady? You have a blessed and highly favored feet.

Dave, word on the street is if you walk -- try to walk on water with those socks on, it works.

BRIGGS: I will try that. Michigan, though, is the favorite by five points. And they are selling more merchandise than any team in the Final Four, according to fanatics. John Berman is also rocking these socks right now, as he goes on "NEW DAY".

WIRE: I love it.

BRIGGS: Thank you, Coy.

He's 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.