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EARLY START

Memo: Mueller OK'd to Investigate Manafort on Allegations of Collusion, Ukraine Payments; Trump on the Attack; Villanova Celebrates NCAA Title. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired April 3, 2018 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:13] RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight: special counsel Robert Mueller cleared by the Justice Department to investigate whether former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort colluded with Russia.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump on the attack, ripping Democrats for not protecting Dreamers while slamming the Justice Department and FBI as, quote, an embarrassment to our country.

MARSH: And Villanova rolls to its second college basketball title in three years. The hero of the game came off the bench.

BRIGGS: He sure did. The Big Ragu they call him.

MARSH: That's right. A good game.

Well, good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Rene Marsh.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It's Tuesday, April 3rd. Congrats to Nova fans. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East, 5:00 p.m. in Seoul, 11:00 a.m. in Damascus.

Breaking news overnight, a classified memo revealing special counsel Robert Mueller is authorized to pursue collusion charges against the president's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The document highlights payments to Manafort from the Ukrainian government which have links to Russian politicians and operatives. The memo says the link compels investigators to examine Russian efforts to interfere in 2016.

MARSH: And the payments from Ukraine to Manafort are already the basis for financial crimes charges he faces. Manafort wants the charges dismissed, claiming they're beyond Mueller's scope because Ukraine is unrelated to the campaign. The newly declassified memo was written in August by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. It shows Rosenstein's strong backing for the special counsel despite constant attacks from the president.

"The Wall Street Journal" reporting overnight special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone's possible ties to WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange. According to "The Journal", Stone wrote in an August 2016 e-mail that he had, quote, dined with Julian Assange last night. WikiLeaks released a trove of information on Hillary Clinton that U.S. officials say was hacked by Russian operatives.

BRIGGS: Stone told "The Journal" in text exchange last week he, quote, never met or spoke with Assange ever and the reference to dining was Assange was said in jest. Stone says his passport will prove he never left the U.S. during 2016.

President Trump on the attack as the White House makes another push for an immigration bill and the call with reporters, West Wing officials called immigration laws, quote, loopholes that allow immigrants to cross the U.S.-Mexican border illegally, loopholes they said must be closed. Pressed on specifics, the officials admitted these were largely the same proposals they have been pushing since last fall.

The White House Easter egg roll, the president blamed the failure of DACA protections for Dreamers on Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats have really left them down. They've really let them down. They had this great opportunity. The Democrats have really let them down. It's a shame. And now, people are taking advantage of DACA. That's a shame. It should have never happened.

REPORTER: Didn't you kill DACA, sir? Didn't you kill DACA?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: After signing autographs on the South Lawn, the president returned to his immigration drum beat on Twitter.

More on that from CNN's Boris Sanchez at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Rene and Dave, President Trump picking up where he left off this weekend on this tweet storm about immigration, Amazon and host of other issues. The president on Monday night taking to Twitter yet again to bash Democrats over immigration policies.

Here are those tweets now, one of them, the president writes, quote: As ridiculous as it sounds, the laws of our country do not allow us to send those crossing our southern border back where they came from. A whole big wasted procedure must take place. Mexico and Canada have tough immigration laws, whereas as ours are an Obama joke. Act, Congress.

The president then went on: Must pass tough laws and build the wall. Democrats allow open borders, drugs and crime. We should point out this tweet storm began shortly after a news segment aired on a cable news station about immigration. We should also note that the president spent the weekend socializing with some immigration hardliners at his estate in Mar-a-Lago in West Palm Beach. The president apparently spending time with Fox News hosts Jeanine

Pirro and Sean Hannity, as well as a former Fox News executive Bill Shine.

[04:05:01] Now, sources familiar with their conversation tells CNN that they told the president that his base believes he's being soft on immigration. They went further, even telling the president that the Republican success on the midterm elections in November depend on his ability to tout success and progress when it comes to the border wall. So, the president's frustrations boiling over, winding up on Twitter following conversations with those who often, as sources tell us, try to rile him up -- Dave and Rene.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: All right. Thank you, Boris.

Wall Street has a message for President Trump: Don't start a trade war and leave Amazon alone. Last year, Trump's tax cuts sparked a stock market boom. Now, his trade actions and Amazon attacks are rocking Wall Street. The Dow fell 459 points yesterday after China slapped tariffs on $3 billion with U.S. goods, retaliation for Trump's duties on foreign steel and aluminum.

While the Nasdaq lost nearly 3 percent, mainly thanks to Amazon. Amazon shares fell 5 percent, wiping out $36 billion in market value. Trump frequently attacks Amazon frequently and that worries investors who feared regulation is on the way. The president is accusing Amazon of not paying taxes.

Here's trade adviser Peter Navarro just yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISER: Amazon doesn't pay the sales tax it could. There is over 800,000 independent vendors that account for about half of the $136 billion in annual revenues to Amazon. And Amazon doesn't even try to collect much of those sales taxes at all. And that's a huge disadvantage to the bricks and mortar retailer stores.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Now, it's true. Amazon does not tax third-party vendors, but it does pay sales tax in every state that charges it. Trump also claims Amazon hurts the Post Office. But the opposite here is true. Amazon pays the Post Office, they make money off of the shipping and Post Office package delivery service is booming.

Now, Trump's distaste for Amazon maybe due to CEO Jeff Bezos. Bezos personally owns "The Washington Post" whose coverage Trump frequently criticized.

MARSH: Well, President Trump is also targeting his own Justice Department, claiming it's dragging its feet handing over documents related to Republican-led congressional investigations. He says, quote, so sad that the Department of Justice, end quote, and the FBI are slow-walking or not giving the unredacted documents requested by Congress. An embarrassment to our country.

Well, the timing of the tweet, a little odd, considering FBI Director Chris Wray promised around the clock shifts to speed up document production. The congressional requests seek documents relating to the FBI probe with Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server and possible FBI abuses of surveillance warrants targeting former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

BRIGGS: The EPA administrator Scott Pruitt's job could be in jeopardy, according to a senior White House official who tells CNN the president is angry over Pruitt's ethical questions. Another administration source says there's nothing the president despises more than his own officials getting bad press. Pruitt under growing scrutiny after his decision to rent a room and a condo from below market value from the wife of a prominent Washington energy lobbyist. He's also faced criticism for travel expenses and bringing a security details on personal trips. No official comment from the White House.

MARSH: Well, musical diplomacy rocks the Korean peninsula. Following Sunday's k-pop show by South Korean performers, singers from the North and South gave a joint performance overnight in Pyongyang, the show wrapping up a four-day visit by a group of South Korean artists.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is live this morning in Seoul with a whole lot more.

Good morning, Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Rene.

Well, it really was quite remarkable images, watching the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un applauding at a K-pop concert in Pyongyang. Now, we understand right now, there should be another concert ongoing with North and South Korean performers together.

And the interesting thing about this is as state-run media said that Kim Jong-un was deeply moved when he saw his people's reaction in the audience to this concert. Now, bear in mind that North Korean people are punished severely when they are caught watching South Korean pop culture or South Korean dramas that have been smuggled into the country.

So, this is really quite a remarkable about turn, and also the fact that this played on North Korean television, although, as we understand it, the actual songs from the South Koreans weren't played apart from the last one where they talk about wishing for reunification. Certainly, a fair bit of censorship. But it is remarkable how much has changed and the fact that the North Korean leader has now suggested that there should be an autumn concert in Seoul -- Rene.

[04:10:05] MARSH: All right. Well, we'll have to wait and see if this diplomacy goes beyond music and sports.

Thank you so much for that, Paula.

BRIGGS: Speaking of sports. Two out of three ain't bad. The Villanova Wildcats are national champions for the second time in three years. They routed Michigan, 79-62, in the national title game in San Antonio. Nova was led by guard Donte DiVincenzo who scored 31 off the bench. He was named the outstanding player in the Final Four.

Nova may have saved its best for last. They were dominant throughout this tournament, winning all six of the games by double digits. That's the man they call the Big Ragu. And their best player, Bronson, struggled on the game, the national player of the year. But Villanova so deadly, talk of a dynasty is well deserved.

Congratulations to all those Nova fans this morning.

MARSH: All right. Well, I'll give you a fist bump. You called it. You knew it was going to happen, right?

BRIGGS: This team is so balanced with so many weapons, and I think the best program in college basketball. Not just a one-and-done type of thing. They build long-term programs since 2005. Jay Wright may be the best coach of basketball.

MARSH: Yes, they played a good game. Congrats to them.

And thousands of teachers in two states walk off the job in protest. We'll have more on their demands coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:15:33] MARSH: Oklahoma City schools will be closed again today as more teachers there and around the country push for better pay and school funding. Thousands of teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky walked off the job in protest yesterday taking a cue from the successful strike in West Virginia.

Here is CNN's Nick Valencia in Oklahoma City.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Rene, thousands of teachers and students showed up at the walk-out here outside the capitol and they said they showed up here because the legislators have cut them short on education funding. What teachers were asking for was about a $10,000 raise. What this legislative bill gave was about a $6,100 raise. They'd asked for about $900 million in revenue to be appropriated for education funding, they got less than half that.

It is especially difficult, teachers say, to be an educator here in the state in Oklahoma which ranks 49 out of 50 per average per year salary for the teachers. Pupil spending is also near the bottom and they say 25 percent of the work force left the profession in 2017. Some districts are so bad, they've gone to four-day workweeks just so teachers can get extra jobs on Fridays or because schools can't keep the lights on.

Teachers I spoke to say it's become especially difficult and more and more so by the day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's getting increasingly harder for us to meet the individual needs of each one of our students. That's something that's incredibly important to us and absolutely tied to the funding we're asking for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are asking the Secretary DeVos to come to Oklahoma and see how badly funding needed for our classrooms. We are doing this for the kids today. It's not about us. It's about the kids. Funding our classrooms, getting adequate textbooks, getting qualified, highly qualified teachers in the classroom and resources that enabled us to do our job more effectively.

VALENCIA: And teacher organizations I've spoken to say there is another rally planned outside the capitol later this morning -- Dave, Rene.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: All right. Nick, thank you.

Connecticut Democratic Congressman Elizabeth Esty has announced she will not run for re-election in November. It follows reports it took her three months to dismiss her chief of staff after he allegedly harassed and threatened a former aide.

Last week, Esty told CNN she was not resigning but on Monday, she reversed course, announcing on Facebook she was ending her time in Congress, adding, quote: Too many women harmed by harassment in the workplace and the terrible situation in my office. I could have and should have done better.

Esty also asked the House Ethics Committee to expedite its investigation into the matter.

MARSH: Well, federal authorities charged a pastor of the Texas megachurch with defrauding elderly investors. Prosecutors allege Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell bilked millions from dozens of investors in a Chinese bond scheme. Caldwell and business partner Gregory Smith face multiple counts of wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit both.

The 64-year-old Caldwell is a senior pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston and reportedly a former spiritual adviser to President George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

BRIGGS: Ouch.

All right. A 13-year-old boy saved hours after falling into the city's sewer system. More on his rescue straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:23:12] BRIGGS: Four-twenty-three Eastern Time.

Two firefighters were killed in a plane crash on Indiana airport runway. Authorities say 31-year-olds Kyle Hibst and David Wittkamper were taking off in a single-engine plane at the Marion Municipal Airport one day when they hit the larger tail of the plane that just landed. The firefighter's plane crashed and caught fire. The five people in the larger aircraft escaped unhurt.

The FAA says the airport does not have an air traffic control tower and that pilots are expected o announce their intentions on a common radio frequency. The NTSB is investigating the incident.

MARSH: Well, a 13-year-old boy who was stuck in a sewage pipe for at least 12 hours is recovering this morning. Authorities in Los Angeles say he was playing on an old shack when boards covering a pipe opening gave way and he plunged 25 feet underground.

CNN's Nick Watt has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Rene, a horrific story with thankfully a happy ending. Jessie Hernandez, a 13-year-old was at Griffith Park here in Los Angeles Sunday afternoon. He was playing with some friends when he fell into the sewer system, fell about 25 feet down into a pipe that they say is about (AUDIO GAP) maybe two feet of liquid at 50 miles an hour. Now, rescuers, about 100 in all, we had police officers and fire department, park rangers searched for him for over 12 hours.

Eventually, in the early hours, a sanitation crew found him in the manhole cover in between two highways, two freeways here in Los Angeles. He was apparently 11 feet down, he was losing, he was talking. They dropped a hose down for him, pulled him out. And the first thing that he asked for was a cell phone so he could call his family who were obviously very, very worried.

[04:25:02] Now, rescue workers said that they had hoped that they would get him, but they knew that the window was closing.

Dave and Rene, back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: Amazing he survived that.

BRIGGS: Indeed.

All right. Up ahead, who could next get the boot from the Trump White House? Well, new, CNN reporting points to that gentleman EPA boss Scott Pruitt. Why sources say the president is angry with him, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIGGS: Breaking overnight: Special counsel Robert Mueller cleared by the Justice Department to investigate whether former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort colluded with Russia. MARSH: President Trump on attack, ripping Democrats for not

protecting Dreamers while slamming the Justice Department and FBI as, quote, an embarrassment to our country.