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President Trump Praises Pruitt; President Trump Unscripted; Trump Threatens China With $100B in New Tariffs; Spieth Overshadows Tiger at the Masters. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 6, 2018 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:05] RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump with big praise for scandal plagued EPA chief Scott Pruitt. Will that prove to be a political kiss of death?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, this was going to be my remarks. It would have taken about two minutes, but to hell with it.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump tosses the script, literally and figuratively, ignoring key facts on voter fraud, immigration and more.

MARSH: The president ups the ante with the trade standoff with China. How will Beijing respond this time to the new tariffs talks?

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Rene Marsh.

BRIGGS: Good to have you here, Rene. Christine Romans will be back with us next week. I'm Dave Briggs.

It's Friday, April 6th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East, 5:00 p.m. in Beijing, 4:00 a.m. in Puebla, Mexico, reports from both cities shortly.

But, first, the president standing firmly behind Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, this morning, even as controversy amounts around the embattled EPA administrator. Pruitt has arguably been the cabinet appointment most effective of car carrying out the president's agenda. Returning from the event in west Virginia yesterday, the president was asked if he still has confidence in Pruitt.


TRUMP: I think that Scott has done a fantastic job. I think he is a fantastic person. I just left -- I just left coal and energy country. They love Scott Pruitt. They feel very strongly about Scott Pruitt. And they love Scott Pruitt.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: The president's backing is so strong sources tell CNN he floated replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Scott Pruitt as recently as this week. Sessions is a target of the president ever since he recused himself from the Russia investigation. The president has endorsed Pruitt despite the headlines and allegations he sidelined top aides who pushed back on his excessive spending.

More now from CNN's Sara Ganim in Washington.


SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Rene and Dave.

The bad headlines continuing for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, this time reports that he sidelined or demoted multiple senior officials after they pushed back or raised concerns about his pricey travel, his office furniture spending, and his overall management of the agency.

Two sources with direct knowledge of the matter told CNN that both career and political appointees who disagreed with Pruitt were iced out, a story that was first reported by "The New York Times." In one case, an official was reassigned when he refused to drive Pruitt through town with lights and sirens to help him avoid heavy Washington traffic. Others were simply raising concerns about his spending, his frequent trips home to Oklahoma, and his international trips that cost thousands of dollars to the taxpayers that included a lot of leisure time.

This, of course, all adds to a list of ethics issues that are piling up on Pruitt in the last few days, including a sweetheart deal that he received a $50 per night apartment in the city, leading some top White House officials to grow frustrated with him. But the most important White House official, President Trump, has so far indicated that he is still backing Pruitt at least for now -- Rene and Dave.


BRIGGS: Sara, thanks.

President Trump including $100 billion on tariffs for Chinese exports, that stoking fears of a trade war and rattling markets once again. The president put this statement out late yesterday, saying, in light of the China's unfair retaliation, I've instructed the United States trade representative to consider $100 billion of additional tariffs would be appropriate.

Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced $50 billion of Chinese exports in tariffs. China immediately retaliated, threatening tariffs on 106 American products. That's what the president is calling unfair. And he telegraphed his latest move at this event yesterday, calling China out for its unfair trade practices.


TRUMP: We're at a point where we had to do this. Our economy is strong. Our jobs are great. We're going to come out with numbers on Friday that hopefully are going to be fantastic numbers. Companies are doing really well. And you have to go after the people that aren't treating you right.


BRIGGS: Potential for more tariffs sent stock futures sinking, but they are off the lows. And Asian markets mostly shrugged off the move. The National Retail Federation slamming President Trump's threat and Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse calls the tariffs, quote, nuts.

MARSH: Well, during the tax reform round table in West Virginia on Thursday, the president tossed out his prepared remarks. Literally. Take a look.


TRUMP: You know, this was going to be my remarks. It would have taken about two minutes but to hell with it.


TRUMP: That would have been a little boring, a little boring.

[05:05:04] No, I'm reading off the first paragraph. I said, this is boring. Come on. We have --


TRUMP: We have to say -- tell it like it is.


MARSH: He says to hell with it.

Well, after going off script after talking about tax reform, the president then ad libbed on a host of other topics, including border security and anchor babies and voter fraud.

BRIGGS: All right. CNN politics digital director Zach Wolf joining us to discuss all this life from Washington this morning.

Good to see you, sir.


BRIGGS: You know, the president doing it my way. He is going full Sinatra now. I think that is so symbolic tossing out the script for what everything he is doing right now. And let's talk about the two issues he veered into, instead of tax reform, rape and voter fraud. Listen.


TRUMP: I remember my opening remarks at Trump Tower. When I opened, everybody said, oh, he was so tough and I used the word rape. And yesterday it came out where this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before. They don't want to mention that. So we have to change our laws.

In many places like California, the same person votes many times. You probably heard about that. They like to say that's a conspiracy theory. Not a conspiracy theory, folks. Millions and millions of people.


BRIGGS: Zach, feel free to fact check the president and tell us overall, what does this tell us about where the president is headed?

WOLF: Well, first, I mean, we should say first of all, there is no evidence of people voting multiple times in California. There never has been. Nobody has shown it.

He had a commission that was supposed to look into it. They have not come up with the report that found it. So, I mean, I'm not even sure.

You know, we play this and we continue to play it and he is saying it and he is the president of the United States. But there is no evidence that it happened. So, it's one of these conundrums where you're just not sure what to do here with this kind of stuff.

And on the rape issue, this is him -- he said, let's remember, he didn't it say it just now, but what he said was that Mexicans are rapists. People coming across the border. He was vilified by people, even Republicans said that, and now he is returning to it saying, oh, I was right. They are doing it now to the caravan of people that he doesn't want coming into the U.S.

So, is he saying again that Mexicans are rapists? That is not clear to me or is he just trying to say, put up this tough face and say, you know what, here I am. I won. I'm not going to change. This is Trump.

I think it's probably the latter. But the delivery mechanism is flawed.

BRIGGS: Yes, back to the campaign, really.

MARSH: Yes. You know, speaking of throwing out the script. He has done that in more ways than one. I mean, think about just policy, I mean, in CNN's reporting, Zach, that his cabinet is struggling to keep up with him as it relates to policy. We have a full screen that we want to throw up on the screen. I mean, everything from pulling out of Syria, to announcing tariffs, to troops going to the border wall, to his diplomats scraping together plans at last minute for that meeting with Kim Jong-un.

You know, what does this say larger picture about just what is happening in the White House and just how effective this president will be in pushing policies forward?

WOLF: I think the stories of how chaotic it is to work in the White House are nothing new. Just go back and look at Reince Priebus said recently about how it's -- you know, every day is just crazy. It feels like that outside the White House, too.

I think what's most amazing in that list that you flashed, two of those things that caught the U.S. government apparatus by surprise involve U.S. troops in Syria and then also moving them down to the border. So, he is operating on this like whim status, but doing it in ways that involve American fire power which is incredible.

MARSH: And I think it also highlights just John Kelly's role and how it changed in the White House.

BRIGGS: Sure, but let's circle back to Scott Pruitt, the embattled EPA administrator. Normally, you would say, let's look at the pros and cons if you're president and the pros for deregulation for this president's agenda are many, arguably the most effective cabinet member he's had. We can show you some of the accomplishments he's had in terms of what the president has wanted.

On the flip side, of course, Zach, there's all these scandal, the rental agreement, the pay raises, resignations, travel and excessive spending on travel.

So, does the president look at pros and cons or does he listen to sound bites like this from his favorite network just last night?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If that's your standard for ethics, then you are the swamp. Then -- if your standards for ethics are, I like the things that he does, therefore, I don't care about the ethics, if that's where you are, then you're the triple swamp. You are all of the swamp.


BRIGGS: The triple swamp.

[05:10:00] Does Scott Pruitt stay or go?

WOLF: I don't know. I'm not in the prediction game. I left that long ago in the Trump era.

I think this idea, however, that you could simply use him to replace Jeff Sessions is bizarre because you would have to send him through a confirmation hearing. And let's just, you know, take a step back and consider that for a moment. It would be incredible to see Democrats and even Republicans take over Scott Pruitt in any sort of confirmation hearing. Getting ahead of ourselves obviously is does he stay or go? I think that's a very open question.

BRIGGS: That would be a bloody confirmation battle, to say the least.

Zach Wolf, thank you, sir. We'll check with you in about 20 minutes.

MARSH: Well, it's the border or bust for hundreds of Central American migrants headed right now for the U.S. CNN is on the ground with the caravan. That is next. BRIGGS: And a narrow escape for some construction workers. The story

behind this stunning video, straight ahead.


[05:15:15] BRIGGS: Five-fifteen Eastern Time.

And the first bus load of Central American migrants traveling north toward the U.S. border is now in Puebla, Mexico.

CNN's Leyla Santiago spoke with migrant families in the annual caravan. Their next stop: Mexico City.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Rene, the organizers of this caravan have admitted that they are overwhelmed. And so, we are actually getting conflicting reports on what exactly is happening with this caravan. Some organizers saying that things are on hold, they're going to delay their next move. And others saying the march is on. We will continue to make our way north.

So what are we seeing? We are in Puebla, where one bus arrived transporting people from Oaxaca, a little further south to Puebla where we are right now. These were women, children, families that started with this caravan. Some now having permission from the Mexican government to be here without fear of deportation, having that special permit that allows them to be here.

But many of them still saying they plan to go to the United States. Others saying they are afraid of the rhetoric coming out of the White House and they will stay in Mexico over going to the United States.

Now the president of the United States, President Trump, has said that the numbers are dwindling, that this is a caravan that is breaking up. And while this group is seeing the numbers diminish and they are breaking up into smaller groups, that is actually something that is quite normal.

Remember, this is a caravan that has been organized for years. They have been doing this for more than five years. And every year, they start with a big number, this year about 1,200. And then the groups get smaller and smaller as they make their way to the north.

And organizers say that a group of about 200, they believe, will make it to the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum.

I asked some of the people here today what will happen if they encounter National Guard troops given that President Trump says that is the new plan to provide more security on the border. And many of the people here said if they have to wait, they'll wait. If they have to find another way, they'll find another way, but they will make it to the United States of America -- Dave, Rene.


Well, we have stunning video to show you. Take a look at this, a towering crane being used to build the new police headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida. It collapses and sending workers literally running for their lives. Security video captured the massive crane about 10-storey high, falling over Thursday morning, just barely missing some of the construction workers on the ground.

Thankfully, no one was injured. Officials say the falling crane created no hazardous conditions and there was minimal damage to the construction site. Thank goodness for that.

BRIGGS: Indeed. Close call there.

Ahead, day one at the Masters, and defending champ Sergio Garcia was a master of disaster. Watch this ball. You know it's going in the drink.

Coy Wire has the details next in the "Bleacher Report."


[05:22:46] BRIGGS: Well, Tiger Woods is the main attraction at the Masters, but the other co-favorite is top of the leader board.

MARSH: Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Good morning, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Rene. Good morning, Dave.

There aren't many sure things in life, but Jordan Spieth holding the lead at the Masters is close. With 17 career rounds at Augusta National, he's held at least a share of the lead after nine of them. He was on fire on the back nine yesterday, taking only ten putts on the back nine. He made five straight birdies. That's a career best for him in Majors.

He was runner up at the Masters in 2014 and 2016. He won it all in 2015. Yesterday, he finished 6 under 66, with a two-shot lead heading into the second round.


JORDAN SPIETH, MASTERS LEADER: I think quick starts are important in any event. It's not unique to the Masters at all. At any tournament, if you get off to the good start, you are in control of your fate versus, you know, needing a little bit of help.


WIRE: Tiger Woods appeared frustrated at times, calling some of his shots terrible during his first round. He could have easily let the round slip away. But I got it back, he said. He is seven strokes behind the lead after shooting 73. That's one stroke better than his opening round the last time he won the Masters in 2005.


TIGER WOODS, 4-TIME MASTERS CHAMPION: I played in a major championship again. Also the fact I got myself back in the tournament. I could have easily let it slip away. I fought hard to get back in there and now I'm back in the championship. I know there are a lot of holes to be played.


WIRE: What in the world happened to the defending champion? Sergio Garcia had to use a half a dozen golf balls on the 15th hole alone, hitting five consecutive shots into the water. He scored a 13 on the par 5. That's the worst score ever on the hole at the Masters.

Just last year, he had an eagle on this hole. It took him three strokes, helping propel him to the playoff before he won the green jacket. The 38-year-old Spaniard finished with a 9 over 81. That's the worst opening round score ever by a defending champ at the Masters.

Tune in to CNN tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 Eastern for "All Access at Augusta", a CNN "Bleacher Report" special.

[05:25:03] I am told Hines Ward does a Tiger Woods impression and Rickie Fowler impression. I hear his golf game though is more like Sergio Garcia out there.


WIRE: He has a beautiful stroke. He needs a lot of practice.

BRIGGS: That is one more than Costner in "Tin Cup" on the 18th, I believe. I think "Tin Cup" was a 12, Sergio at 13. Just a little fact checking.

WIRE: Those movies are made up.

BRIGGS: All right. Thank you, Coy. Appreciate it.

WIRE: You're welcome.

BRIGGS: Ahead, President Trump backing his embattled his EPA boss, doubling down on China tariffs and tossing out the script in a freewheeling West Virginia speech intended to focus on tax reform. This is all in the last 24 hours. Stay tuned and buckle up.


BRIGGS: President Trump with big praise for scandal-plagued, very effective EPA chief Scott Pruitt. Will that prove to be a political kiss of death?


TRUMP: You know, this was going to be my remarks. It would have taken about two minutes, but to hell with it.