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EARLY START

Memo: Mueller Given OK to Investigate Manafort on Allegations of Collusion, Ukraine Payments; Trump Slams "Weak" U.S. Immigration Laws; Villanova Celebrates NCAA Title. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 3, 2018 - 05:00   ET

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


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight. Special counsel Robert Mueller cleared by the Justice Department to investigate whether former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort colluded with Russia.

RENE MARSH, 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.

BRIGGS: And Villanova rolls to its second college basketball title in three years. The hero of the game, he came off the bench. Still celebrating in Philadelphia this morning. Congrats to all those fans.

[05:00:01] You know, Rene, they had to grease the light poles with some sort of material that they can identify. It might have been Crisco, it might have been something else. Philadelphia Eagles fans showed them that they need to do that.

Good morning, everybody. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

MARSH: And I'm Rene Marsh. It's Tuesday, April 3rd. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East, 6:00 p.m. in Seoul and noon in Damascus. Reports from both cities straight ahead.

But breaking overnight, a classified memo reveals for the first time special counsel Robert Mueller is authorized to pursue collusion charges against the president's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The new documents highlights payments to Manafort from the Ukrainian government which have links to Russian politicians and operatives. The memo says that link compels investigators to examine Russian efforts of interfere in the 2016 election.

BRIGGS: 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.

Let's discuss all this with CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, historian and professor at Princeton University.

Good to see you, sir.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning.

BRIGGS: So, given the president's constant attacks against that word collusion, no collusion, probably the wording said the most in the first 14 or 15 months. How significant is this development?

ZELIZER: Well, it doesn't seem there are any new findings here, but what it does show is there is legitimacy to looking at the financial ties between officials in the Trump orbit and Russia. And this is something Trump has denied as relevant and I think this just provides credibility to Mueller looking into this area.

BRIGGS: Speaking of this topic of Russia, I mean, there are reports that the White House is considering potentially meeting with Putin at the White House with the president. What are your thoughts of that and just how significant would that be?

ZELIZER: Well, this is an initiative with any other president that would maybe be seen in a positive light, at least attempting to create some kind of diplomatic connection, regardless of what Putin has done. But President Trump doesn't have much credibility and this is the area he has undercut himself in an area of diplomacy, because there is very little trust. He takes the bad side of what Russia has done very seriously.

BRIGGS: Given all that has going on, the president's focus on Twitter is DACA and Dreamers and blaming Democrats for its failure. He tweeted repeatedly on Easter and then went right back to it yesterday. DACA is dead because the Democrats didn't care or act. Now, everyone wants to get on to the DACA bandwagon. What that bandwagon is we're not sure. No longer works. Must build wall and secure borders with proper legislation. Democrats want no borders, hence drugs and crime.

Jim Sciutto asked him about this at the White House Easter egg roll yesterday.

(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: That's the other Jim. Acosta there.

So, let's talk about the president's sole focus. Why is he returning to this issue that's largely in the courts right now? A deal fell apart because neither side could come to agreement and you can't jump on the bandwagon. You have had to have lived here prior to 2007.

Why the president so focused on this issue?

ZELIZER: Look, when the going gets tough, he gets tough on immigrants. This has been a story of his presidency. It was the story of his campaign. This is the red meat for his supporters that he knows he can throw out there and he knows he can illicit a lot of excitement.

So, it isn't shocking this is what he is talking about right now. And to be clear, again, he was the one who ended DACA. He created the crisis and then a deal fell apart.

So, he owns this. I think the Democrats in some ways are secondary to what happens to the program at this point.

MARSH: All right. So we want to switch gears to the president and focus on Amazon. You know, he has been bashing them, second day in a row here. We are seeing the stock market tumble. We are seeing Amazon tumble.

You know, his claim to fame has been the stock market is good. You know, Republicans want to run on the economy. If we continue with this trend, won't this work against him? What is his strategy here?

ZELIZER: Yes, I'm not sure there is a strategy. This is what you call a political red zone. And you can see the effects on the stocks both with this and with the tariffs. And he can't afford to lose the strong economy, he can't afford tumbles in the stock market, he can't afford bad job numbers that might unfold as a result of a politicized antitrust position, which is exactly what this is.

So, I think a lot of Republicans are going to be uneasy. This was the foundation in many ways of his success. If the economy is doing well, many people are willing to sit tight with whatever he tweets, whatever he says. But this kind of tweet is very different.

MARSH: Not only are Republicans unhappy with giving away the gains, but this is not who conservatives are. They do not go after individual companies. They do not pick winners like the coal industry and now try to pick losers like Amazon -- just uncomfortable turf generally speaking for Republicans and conservative.

But we'll check in with you again in about 30 minutes, sir. Thank you.

ZELIZER: Perfect.

MARSH: All right. Coming up, 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 tweeted, quote: so sad that the Department of Justice, end quotes, and the FBI are slow walking or even not giving the unredacted documents requested by Congress. An embarrassment to our country.

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

BRIGGS: The wife of Andrew McCabe, the man fired as deputy director of the FBI, speaking out about President Trump's attacks on her family. Jill McCabe says the president's relentless taunts aimed at her husband, fired just days shy of his retirement, have been a nightmare. Many of those attacks centered on Jill McCabe's 2015 run for the state Senate in Virginia.

Now, in a "Washington Post" op-ed, she writes this: To have my personal reputation and integrity and those of my family attacked this way is beyond horrible. It feels awful every day. It keeps me up nights. I made the decision to run for office because I was trying to help people. Instead it turned into something that was used to attack our family, my husband's career and the entire FBI.

The president claimed donations to Jill McCabe from Virginia's then- governor Democrat Terry McAuliffe an example of Hillary Clinton trying to sway the FBI investigation into her email server. But those donations came before Andrew McCabe had any oversight of the investigation. His work on Clinton also came after she lost that election.

BRIGGS: EPA administrator Scott Pruitt's job is in jeopardy. That according to a senior White House official who tells CNN the president is angry over Pruitt's ethical questions. Another administration official tells CNN there is nothing the president despises more than his own officials getting bad publicity.

Pruitt is under growing scrutiny after his decision to rent a condo and a condo for below market value from the wife of a prominent Washington energy lobbyist. He has also faced criticism for travel expenses and bringing his security detail on personal trips. No official comment from the White House.

BRIGGS: All right. Talking of a dynasty is well deserved for head coach Jay Wright. His Villanova wildcats are national champion for the second time in three years. They just routed Michigan 79-62 in the national title game in San Antonio. Nova led by Donte DiVincenzo who scored 31 points off of the bench, remarkably. He was named the outstanding player in the Final Four. Villanova may have saved its best for last, but they were dominant winning all six of the games by double figures.

The best dressed man in college basketball is Jay Wright may be the best coach as well. Congrats to all the folks outside Philadelphia.

MARSH: And coming up, thousands of teachers in two states walking off the job in protest. More on their demands up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:13:23] BRIGGS: 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 now 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.

[05:15:02] VALENCIA: And teacher organizations I've spoken to say there is another rally planned outside the capitol later this morning -- Dave, Rene.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: Well, Connecticut Democratic Congresswoman 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. BRIGGS: Federal authorities charged a pastor of the Texas mega-church

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.

MARSH: Coming up, a 13-year-old boy saved hours after falling into a city sewer system. More on his amazing rescue just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARSH: 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.

BRIGGS: Sacramento County sheriff blaming professional protesters and instigators for the trouble at a protest vigil in which a deputy struck a woman with his patrol car and drove off. Sheriff Scott Jones says the dash cam video of the incident shows people repeatedly kicking and banging the deputy's SUV. He says the officer likely did not know his car hit one of the protesters.

Emotions boiled over after police shot and killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man. The woman struck by the police vehicle is 61-year- old Wanda Cleveland, was treated at the hospital for bruises. The California Highway Patrol is investigating the incident.

MARSH: 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 in Griffith Park when boards covering a pipe opened and 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.

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: Nick Watt, thank you.

BRIGGS: Who is next to get the boot from the White House? CNN reporting points to EPA boss Scott Pruitt. Why a source says the president is angry at him coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:27:56] MARSH: Breaking overnight. Special counsel Robert Mueller cleared by the Justice Department to investigate whether former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort colluded with Russia.

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

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Rene Marsh.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Christine Romans on spring break. She will be back next week.

We start with breaking news overnight. A classified memo reveals for the first time, special counsel Robert Mueller is authorized to pursue collusion charges against the president's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The new document highlights payments to Manafort from the Ukrainian government which have links to Russian politicians and operatives. The memo says that link compels them to examine Russian efforts of interference in 2016.

MARSH: 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 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.

BRIGGS: President Trump on the attack as the White House pushing for an immigration bill. In a call with reporters, White House officials called immigration laws, quote, loopholes to 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 had been pushing since last fall.

In the White House Easter egg roll, the president blamed the failure of DACA protections and 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.