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EARLY START

Russia Special Counsel Leans On Rick Gates; Trump Contradicts The Pentagon On Syria; Russia To Expel 60 U.S. Diplomats; Fox News Ingraham Apologizes To Parkland Survivor. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 30, 2018 - 05:30   ET

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


[05:30:48] 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 was in touch with a Russian Intel agent before the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA WHITE, ASSISTANT TO THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS, PENTAGON: 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: Well, that's a clear disconnect between the president and the Pentagon. The significance is big. Overnight, the death toll rising in the U.S.-led coalition in Syria.

BRIGGS: And a Fox News host -- national radio host facing major backlash from advertisers after a comment about a Parkland survivor, an advocate for gun control. Laura Ingraham is apologizing but the student not entirely satisfied and we're certain this back-and-forth is not quite yet over.

Welcome back to EARLY START on Good Friday, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

KOSINSKI: And I'm Michelle Kosinski. It's 31 minutes past the hour.

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 pushed for Gate's 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 Russian intelligence agency. So despite recent signs, the Mueller investigation has been focused on the 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.

(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)

KOSINSKI: Evan, thank you.

And now joining us is CNN political commentator Errol Louis, political anchor for "SPECTRUM NEWS." Good morning, Errol.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, POLITICAL ANCHOR, "SPECTRUM NEWS": Good morning.

KOSINSKI: As always, there's so much to talk about. But this collusion issue -- I mean, it was alleged before. Over the summer, we heard these allegations in reporting that there was talk between campaign people and possible spies.

Are the allegations now that this was a known Russian Intel agent or do you think there's this possibility that, you know, everybody's a spy --

LOUIS: Well --

KOSINSKI: -- when you're dealing with Russians?

LOUIS: Partisans who favor or who support the Trump administration will likely say you still haven't shown us any proof, right? I mean, because there's nothing you can show them. You can show them videotape of people meeting with Kislyak, you can show them people under house arrest, you can show them people pleading guilty -- the lying to the FBI, and they say no, there's still no proof, OK.

So where -- there's a certain amount of evidence that's never going to convince a lot of people.

On the other hand, to the extent that you just objectively look at the investigation there's more and more information coming out that shows that there were a lot of different ties. I mean, collusion is a hot- button word. It doesn't really have a precise legal meaning. We don't really know what people were doing or why.

[05:35:00] But what we do know is that this investigation is doing what it was set up to do, which is to figure out what the heck happened between the sort of electronic interventions, the undisclosed meetings, the intentions of the Russian intelligence service to sort of corrupt and distort our election system.

We're finding out more and more that yes, there really was something there. This is not a witch hunt.

BRIGGS: OK, let's talk about the gentleman who in the president's eyes may have opened the doors to the Russian investigation, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, who reminded the president and America in "TIME" magazine yesterday that he should have had to recuse himself from the investigation. It was a simple decision.

We're not going to delve too deeply into that terrifying shot on the cover of "TIME" magazine. I'm not sure why they wanted to make him look so terrifying.

KOSINSKI: Is it terrifying or is it beautiful, Dave?

BRIGGS: I don't know. It was an interesting photo to use.

LOUIS: Startling, yes.

BRIGGS: But we also hear that Sessions says we will not appoint a second special counsel to investigate FBI misdeeds if you will, despite the urging of the right and the president.

Should he feel nervous this weekend as the president goes to Mar-a- Lago?

LOUIS: He absolutely should. I mean, look, the whole idea that the real scandal here is somehow the Clinton administration -- that there should be somebody to investigate the FBI. That looking into Carter Page which investigate -- which intelligence agencies have said for years was sort of a dodge, sketchy character who needed to be looked at because he had so many ties to Russia. The notion that you should now sort of go after the FBI -- that the intelligence services should turn on one another and start attacking the FBI, it's kind of crazy. And this is the attorney general who ultimately is in charge of a lot of this apparatus saying I'm not going down that road.

KOSINSKI: Right.

LOUIS: It's great for political talk if you want to sort of try and balance out a lot of the negative information on the administration by attacking Hillary Clinton, which always gets a rise out of the Republican base, but that's political. That's not the law.

And while the attorney general straddles both roles he's choosing, in this case, to come down on the side of the law.

BRIGGS: And you could argue he might be the most effective advocate for the Trump administration policies in this first 14-15 months and yet still could feel uneasy about his job.

Where are we headed, Syria?

KOSINSKI: Yes. I mean, just yesterday we had two coalition members killed there. We had the Pentagon saying there's still a lot of work to do. I mean, the U.S. does not want to see Syria end up in more chaos than it's already in.

But listen to the president yesterday talk about his plan for Syria.

(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're taking it all back quickly, quickly. But we are going to be coming out of there real soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSINSKI: I can almost hear voices in the Pentagon saying what?

LOUIS: One wonders what the estimated 2,000-odd U.S. servicemen and women over there are thinking, right? Is that -- is this real, is this not real? Does he understand what's going on on the ground?

This is the commander in chief of the armed forces and when he says things like this is he ahead of where things are going, is he basically announcing a policy in the middle of a political speech, or is he reflecting something that -- a decision that has indeed has been made? Those are the real sort of questions.

Getting out of there real fast or leaving it to the other people -- I don't know who he's referring to by the other people but this may have come as a surprise to them as well. KOSINSKI: Yes. I can see Russia and Iran being very happy with those words.

LOUIS: Yes, we'll be the other people, sure.

BRIGGS: Probably. This is part of an infrastructure focus though. Clearly, a freewheeling speech in Ohio yesterday in which the president also raised a few eyebrows when failing to draw the distinction between vocational schools and community college -- 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 2-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: But he did go to the best schools. Among your many titles and talents, you are a teacher. Could you teach the president the difference between the two?

KOSINSKI: Yes, it's something --

LOUIS: Yes, there's a big difference.

KOSINSKI: Why --

LOUIS: There is a big difference and, in fact, it's very sad and unfortunate that the president doesn't -- if taking him at his word, that he doesn't understand the difference, right?

Vocational schools which are, you know, sort of limited ways to apply -- to acquire a discreet set of skills to help you in the marketplace today, right now.

BRIGGS: It's very important today, yes.

LOUIS: Always important.

BRIGGS: Sure.

LOUIS: But, community colleges are an entirely different animal and they are the pathway into 4-year colleges, to a bachelor's degree, to the middle-class. They have been for a long, long time.

And close to half, depending on the group you're talking about -- especially the lower end of the income scale, meaning Trump supporters -- the Trump base -- this is the main source of college. I mean, that's what college means.

We have this general cultural notion that everybody's in a place that has ivy-covered walls and a quadrangle and sleepovers and all of this kind of stuff. For most people, that's not what college is.

[05:40:05] For most people, or for half at least, college is community college. You go, you start on a 2-year degree, you acquire some skills. You're probably working at the same time and if you're fortunate you can go on and you get something like a 39 percent completion rate over a 6-year period.

I mean, that's really what -- my dad went to community college while he was a New York City police officer, you know.

KOSINSKI: Yes.

LOUIS: It was very sort of common then.

BRIGGS: John Hatch (ph) went to a community college.

KOSINSKI: And such a resource.

BRIGGS: Steve Jobs went to community college.

KOSINSKI: It just sounds like he's saying well, in my day I was so wealthy I don't even know what that means.

LOUIS: Well, you know, I think that community colleges are certainly hoping for at least something parallel to the level of interest that the prior administration showed --

BRIGGS: Yes.

LOUIS: -- because it really is a path into the middle-class.

BRIGGS: And not to underscore the importance of vocational schools today.

Errol Louis, great to have you, sir. We appreciate it.

LOUIS: Thank you.

KOSINSKI: Thanks a lot for being here.

BRIGGS: All right.

A judge on the highly influential 9th Circuit Court of Appeals died suddenly on Thursday. Eighty-seven-year-old Stephen 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 mark a turning point on the federal bench. He leaves a progressive vacancy that President Trump could fill with a conservative vote.

KOSINSKI: And I bet he will.

Democrat Elizabeth Esty of Connecticut apologizing for failing to protect a female staffer who says she was 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 and gave him a recommendation for a job with the Sandy Hook Promise.

The congresswoman did repay that money to the U.S. Treasury and says she accepts blame for what she calls her delayed reaction.

BRIGGS: President Trump once again criticizing Amazon on Twitter, accusing it of not paying taxes and hurting both the post office and retailers. Trump has repeatedly tweeted that his dislikes Amazon, going back to 2015 and more than a dozen times 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 isn't true.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY, DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT: 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 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, in fact, true. Although the post office continually reports losses, its package delivery service actually jumped 11 percent last year because they make money off of the post office 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.

KOSINSKI: 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)

[05:48:00] 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, already at a low, 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, sometimes the Russians retaliate for these things. In the past, they haven't. How concerned are Russian officials now that the U.S. is just going to retaliate for this retaliation?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Russia is saying Michelle that the ball is in your court to the United States because they have chosen to match those expulsions as you detailed there, match the closure of the consulate -- in this case, Saint Petersburg.

They believe that's the reasonable response but they say that they will take more action against the United States if the U.S. acts against Russia's interests any further. And the U.S., of course, has said well, we reserve the right to take further actions as well.

So it remains to be seen if this draws a line under this current round of tit for tat diplomatic expulsions of whether there is still more action to be seen. But it reinforces what we've come to realize is that this is a historic low in relations between Russia and the United States.

Interestingly here, for all the anger directed at the United States over these expulsions there is very little criticism of President Trump himself. There is still a belief here that President Trump would improve relations with Russia if he were allowed to, but Russian officials believe that he is held back -- restricted by an anti- Russian political class in the United States -- Michelle.

KOSINSKI: Yes, this has been a difficult back-and-forth. Thanks, Phil.

BRIGGS: Now let's get a check on "CNN Money" at 5:49 eastern time.

Wall Street closed today for Good Friday. The Dow jumped one percent yesterday thanks to a rebound in tech stocks but still lost two percent for the first three months of the year. That ended a 9- quarter winning streak, the longest in 20 years.

[05:50:08] Right now, global stocks are higher.

AT&T's antitrust trial continues and one of the Justice Department's own witnesses may have done damage to its case. The DOJ 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 insurer Humana. That's according to "The Wall Street Journal." Now, it's the latest in a recent series of huge health care mergers.

Last year, the Justice Department blocked two major tie-ups between insurance companies. It cited antitrust concerns. So now, insurers are seeking different dance partners if you will. For example, CVS pharmacy will buy Aetna.

Walmart is already made forays into health care with its pharmacy business but acquiring Humana will give it far greater clout.

iPhone users can now turn off a controversial feature that slows down older phones. Apple just updated its mobile operating system and it includes a laundry list of new features and fixes, like the ability to disable a feature that slowed down older phones. Apple previously admitted to slowing older models to save the battery, outraging their 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, my friend.

KOSINSKI: Great.

BRIGGS: I am an iPhone user but you stick to your thumb-typing Blackberry.

KOSINSKI: Yes, yes.

BRIGGS: I like it.

KOSINSKI: I've had no problems with such things.

Laura Ingraham went after a Parkland survivor. Now his social media campaign has advertisers fleeing Ingraham's show on Fox. We'll tell you what Ingraham is saying now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:56:19] KOSINSKI: The Trump administration moving to loosen regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy rules for cars. "The New York Times" reports the details are still in flux 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 low, of course, to environmentalists. President Trump campaigned on promises to cut back on environmental regulation.

BRIGGS: A lawyer for the family of Stephon Clark set to announce results of an independent autopsy on the unarmed black man shot dead by police in Sacramento, California. Officials said they thought Clark had a gun. Only his cell phone, though, was found at the scene. Mourners had to sit outside the overflowing sanctuary yesterday at Clark's emotional funeral. Reverend Al Sharpton vowing to press for justice.

Protesters were out again in Sacramento yesterday but after forcing the Golden 1 Center to close its gates twice in the last week they stayed away from the arena last night.

BRIGGS: A California judge ruling coffee stores across the state must carry a cancer warning label because of a carcinogen in brewed coffee. How's that going down for all of you drinking your coffee this morning?

The superior court judge sided with a non-profits case against dozens of coffee companies arguing larger coffee businesses were in violation of the state law. California law requires disclosing the presence of carcinogens and toxic chemicals. The judge decided the defendants failed to show carcinogens posed no risk or add any health benefits.

And to you, my tea-drinking colleague.

KOSINSKI: So if cigarettes can kill you and coffee can kill you, maybe the two cancel each other out.

BRIGGS: There's a -- there's a strategy.

KOSINSKI: It could save your life.

BRIGGS: Thank you.

KOSINSKI: Well, thanks to the growing advertiser exodus, Fox News host Laura Ingraham is now apologizing after a tweet mocking Parkland survivor David Hogg backfired.

The staunchly pro-Trump commentator tweeted out a story from the 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 have pulled their ads from Ingraham's show and Ingraham is backing off.

BRIGGS: Yes. She now says quote, "On reflection and 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's welcome to return to the show anytime 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."

Is this yet over? Probably not. David Hogg joins "NEW DAY" in just a short bit.

Thank you for joining us, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

KOSINSKI: And I'm Michelle Kosinski. "NEW DAY" starts right now. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PEREZ: Robert Mueller is connecting the Trump campaign and Paul Manafort directly to Russian spies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My bet is that Gates revealed Russian connections.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He could have seen and heard a lot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a lot of partisan smoke but we haven't seen a direct connection.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The president ought to be cautious. Don't ever mess with Director Mueller. He'll crush you.

TRUMP: That's why I made some changes because I wasn't happy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm concerned about putting somebody in charge of the V.A. who doesn't really have management experience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't exclude the possibility that he would be a fine secretary.

DAVID SHULKIN, FORMER SECRETARY, VETERANS AFFAIRS: And really wanted us to take a stance for privatization. I wasn't willing to do that.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump saying goodbye to Hope Hicks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No one can replace Hope Hicks for the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)