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President Trump Stands Behind EPA Administrator; Trump Threatens China With $100 Billion In New Tariffs; Trump's Off-Script Trip To West Virginia; U.S. Prepares To Sanction Russian Oligarchs. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired April 6, 2018 - 05:30   ET


[05:30:00] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Will that prove to be the 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 -- oh, the hell with it.


RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump tosses the script and ignores key facts on voter fraud, immigration, and more.

BRIGGS: And, the president ups the ante in his trade standoff with China. How will Beijing respond this time to his new tariff talk?

I think that tossing of the script the president did, symbolic of all of these issues. He's thrown out the playbook, he's campaigning, he's going full Sinatra, having it my way.

Welcome back to EARLY START.

MARSH: Very true.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

MARSH: And I'm Rene Marsh. It is 30 minutes past the hour.

And, President Trump is standing firmly behind Scott Pruitt this morning even as controversies mount around the embattled EPA administrator. Now, Pruitt has arguably been the cabinet appointment most effective at carrying out the president's deregulation agenda.

Returning from an 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's a fantastic person. I believe -- you know, 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.


MARSH: Well, 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, a target of the president ever since he recused himself from the Russia investigation.

Now, the president has endorsed Pruitt despite negative headlines and new allegations he sidelined top aides who pushed back on his 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 but 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: Thank you, Sara.

President Trump threatening $100 billion in new tariffs on Chinese exports. That's stoking fears of a trade war and rattling markets once again.

The president put this statement out last yesterday saying quote, "In light of China's unfair retaliation, I have instructed the United States Trade Representative to consider whether $100 billion of additional tariffs would be appropriate."

Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced $50 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese exports. China immediately retaliated, threatening tariffs on 106 American products. That's what the president is calling unfair.

And he telegraphed his latest move at an event yesterday in West Virginia, calling China out for its unfair trade practices.


TRUMP: We're at a -- at a point where we had to do this. Our economy's strong, our jobs are great. We're going to come out of 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: The potential for more tariffs sent stock futures sinking. The Dow set to fall about 200 points at the open, but Asian markets mostly shrugged off this move.

The National Retail Federation slamming President Trump's threat, and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse calls these tariffs quote "nuts."

MARSH: Well, during a tax reform roundtable 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 -- oh, the hell with it. That would have been a little boring -- a little boring, right?

Now I'm reading off the first paragraph. I said this is boring. Come on, we have -- we have to say -- tell it like it is.


[05:35:02] MARSH: Well, after going off-script as he talked about tax reform, the president then ad-libbed on a host of other topics, including border security, anchor babies, and voter fraud.

Now, "CNN POLITICS" digital director Zach Wolf joins us live now from Washington this morning. Good morning, Zach.


MARSH: Let's talk about throwing out the script. I mean, the Republicans want him to talk about their wins which includes tax reform. But instead, he talked about that for a little bit and then switched the subject. Take a listen.


TRUMP: And remember my opening remarks at Trump Tower when I opened. Everybody say 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's ever seen before. They don't want to mention that. So we have to change our laws.

Many places, like California, the same person votes many times. You probably heard about that.

They always like to say oh, that's a conspiracy theory. Not a conspiracy theory, folks. Millions and millions of people.


MARSH: So, Zach, if you will for us, please, a quick fact-check and then bigger picture. I mean, many Republicans are -- I think now are fearing that he could be doing some political damage because he is not focusing on their win, which is tax reform.

WOLF: Yes. Well, let's go to a quick fact-check. There's no evidence that people in California voted repeatedly. There's no evidence of that.

He had a whole commission that he created even though there was no evidence of it. They didn't find any evidence of it. There's no evidence of that. So, you know, he keeps bringing it up and feeding this conspiracy theory, and it is a conspiracy theory.

And then, on the other sound-bite that you played there when he used the word rape in his kick-off announcement he was calling Mexicans rapists. Let's not forget that. I mean -- or whitewash it.

Does he now believe that again? Did he ever stop believing it? It's kind of a remarkable thing for him to say -- you know, suddenly bring up and say well, I was right without any evidence. It's stunning, you know.

So --


WOLF: -- that's kind of that fact-checking of that. Let's not forget those two things are wrong.

But then the broader issue, is he sort of returning to or becoming this Trump who won't be tethered by what people want him to say? Yes, I mean, this is a good example of that, yes.

BRIGGS: You know, I said earlier that he's gone full Sinatra doing it my way, but maybe he's going full Sergio Garcia, stepping up to the 15th in good position and just hitting ball after ball after ball in the water, leaving him out of the tournament that early.

But, the president won this way on the campaign. If he gets his wall, if he gets China to renegotiate on trade -- if he gets these wins doesn't it work for him, throwing out the script?

WOLF: Not if people are totally distracted by the words that are coming out of his mouth or, you know, thinking about his scandal-laden EPA secretary. You know, the wins are only good if you can talk about the wins and not the other sort of --


WOLF: -- weather that you've created around yourself. And it's going to be harder for him to get wins if people are talking about those other things.

MARSH: Quickly, Scott Pruitt. He's sticking by Scott Pruitt, you know. He called him a fantastic guy.

But let's listen to what he said just a short time ago yesterday when he was asked about whether he had confidence in Pruitt.


TRUMP: I think that Scott has done a fantastic job. I think he's a fantastic person.


MARSH: Well, you know, traditionally, that thinking he's a fantastic person has been a kiss of death. Here are a few people that the president has called either fantastic or good people. Take a listen, Zach.


TRUMP: Michael Flynn -- Gen. Flynn is a wonderful man.

Reince is a good man.

We'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon but he's a good person.

Secretary Price is a good man.

You've done a great job. I appreciate it.


TRUMP: Rex is a very good man.


MARSH: So we don't know what will happen with Pruitt. But as far Trump's base go, do they care more about draining the swamp or do they care more about the job that Pruitt's been doing as far as deregulation?

WOLF: I'm not sure it's an either-or proposition there. And all those clips you played, that was from right before those people were fired so being a good man is no level of job security in the -- in the -- in the Trump administration.

MARSH: Good point.

WOLF: And so, you know, I don't think -- for Trump, he doesn't want to be the guy who cowers in the -- in the face of bad headlines. He doesn't like to give in to what people say he should do so I think that probably is a good thing for Pruitt.

On the other hand, this is a lot of bad press.

BRIGGS: It is, indeed.

The press this morning -- "The Wall Street Journal" editorial says, "If there's been a more consequential cabinet official than Pruitt we haven't seen him." He's done everything the president has asked.

[05:40:07] On the other hand, the president watches his favorite network to determine what he does with cabinet officials. This was said late last night on Fox.


CHRIS STIREWALT, POLITICAL EDITOR, FOX NEWS: If that's your standard for ethics then you are the swamp -- then congrats -- if your standard 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: If that's your standard for ethics, you are the swamp.

Can he survive all this?

WOLF: It's a very open question. I'm out of the prediction business in the Trump era and have been for a long time. So I think there's arguments on both sides and Trump is not going to want to kowtow.

But on the other hand, it's hard to see how somebody gets through this many mini-scandals that add up over and over again.

BRIGGS: If I'm a betting man, he stays. This guy has gotten it done for the president, but time will tell.

MARSH: Yes, we'll see.

BRIGGS: Zach Wolf, thank you, sir. Appreciate it.

WOLF: Thanks.

BRIGGS: All right.

President Trump finally broke his silence about his alleged affair with adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Aboard Air Force One Thursday, the president said he knew nothing about the $130,000 hush payment his lawyer made to Daniels -- listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why did Michael -- why did Michael Cohen make it if there was no -- if they're allegations?

TRUMP: Well, you'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael's my attorney and you'll have to ask Michael.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: No, I don't know.


BRIGGS: Cohen paid Daniels out of his own pocket, he says, to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Daniels and her lawyer claim the agreement is invalid.

Last night, Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti told Anderson Cooper the president's new comment greatly improves their legal standing, allowing Daniels and her attorney to actually depose the president.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: It's like Christmas and Hanukah all rolled into one. You can't have an agreement if one party claims they knew nothing about the -- one of the principal terms of the agreement.

So the president has just shot himself in the foot and thrown his attorney, basically -- Michael Cohen -- under the bus in the process.


BRIGGS: Avenatti says he looks forward to quote "testing the truthfulness of the president's claims."

Avenatti always has something to fire back at this president.

MARSH: He certainly does.

Well, coming up, Facebook's apology tour, it's not over yet. As the company's data privacy scandal continues to grow, so does the mea culpa. We'll get all that on "CNN Money," next.

BRIGGS: Plus, we're live in Beijing as we await China's reaction to President Trump's new tariff threat.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [05:47:00] MARSH: President Trump is threatening $100 billion in new tariffs on Chinese exports. That is on top of the $50 billion in tariffs already announced this week. The tariffs and threats of tariffs stoking fears of a trade war and rattling markets, sending stock futures sinking. But how is China responding to the latest tariff threats?

We go to CNN's Ivan Watson. He is live in Beijing this morning.

It sounds like they still are planning on putting up a fight.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They haven't given any countermeasures yet but they have denounced President Trump's threat of tariffs on $100 billion worth of Chinese goods, calling it a provocation and going on to say quote, "We do not want to fight a trade war but we're not afraid of it. If the U.S. disregards the opposition of China and the international community, the Chinese side will follow through to the end and will not hesitate to fight back at any cost."

Now, if President Trump follows through on his threat and applies tariffs on $150 billion worth of Chinese goods, that's almost 40 percent of Chinese exports to the U.S. The U.S. is China's biggest export market.

In previous rounds of this tit for tat conflict, China has singled out big sectors of the U.S. economy for tariffs and that has alarmed some voices defending agriculture in the U.S.

Among them, Sen. Ben Sasse. He's a Republican, he's from Nebraska, and he put out a statement which was pretty critical of President Trump, saying, "If even he's half serious, this is nuts. He's threatening to light American agriculture on fire."

A lot of this may still be posturing. There have been calls in the past for negotiations but as the rhetoric escalates it makes it harder for both Beijing and Washington to back down, putting us more at risk of a real trade war -- Rene, Dave.

MARSH: And that's something that obviously, farmers' businesses don't want. Thanks, Ivan.

BRIGGS: Let's get a check on "CNN Money" this morning.

Fears of a trade war rattling investors yet again. Stock market futures pointing down although they are off the lows. Asian markets mostly shrugging off the move. European markets slightly lower.

Some investors are betting the threats are just a negotiating ploy that won't actually result in a full-blown trade war.

The March jobs report could add even more volatility. It's due in about two and half hours and economists predict 185,000 jobs were created. A bit of a slowdown from February. Still, though, it would mark the 90th straight month of job creation, a historic run of seven and a half years. The jobless rate could also dip to four percent, a fresh 17-year low.

Wall Street watching how fast wages grew. Two point seven percent is the prediction. Anything stronger could raise fears of inflation and higher interest rates.

Facebook's apology tour making more stops. In a PBS interview, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg admitted big mistakes.


SHERYL SANDBERG, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, FACEBOOK: We were very focused for the last 10 years on building social experiences and those were important. Those are why your friends know it's your birthday, why you can share playlists. But we were not focused enough on the possible misuses of data.


[05:50:10] BRIGGS: This week, Facebook revealed its data scandal was even bigger than originally thought. Trump campaign consultants may have accessed info of 87 million users without their consent.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies next week on Capitol Hill. All eyes on Tuesday and Wednesday on Capitol Hill in your neck of the woods in D.C. That'll be fascinating.

MARSH: That's right, that's right.

And coming up, the Trump administration ready to slap Russian oligarchs with sanctions. We are live in Moscow, next.

BRIGGS: And a narrow escape for some construction workers. The story behind this stunning video straight ahead.


[05:55:10] BRIGGS: Five fifty-five eastern.

The White House about to make its next move and it's a bold one in the ongoing diplomatic skirmish with Russia. Sources say the Trump administration could announce sanctions as soon as today against several people with close ties to Vladimir Putin in connection with their alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.

CNN's Matthew Chance live in Moscow with the latest.

This would be one bold step if, in fact, true. Good morning, Matthew.


That's right. It's being characterized as potentially the most aggressive step that the Trump administration will have made against Russian oligarchs -- Russian businessmen -- business leaders, as they like to characterize them here. We don't know exactly how many people will be sanctioned but we

understand it will be several. The idea, of course, is to punish Russia for its alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election and sanctioning those business leader or oligarchs that are close to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is one way of doing that.

We also know that a number of Russian oligarchs have been questioned in the Mueller investigation for allegedly illegally funding the Trump campaign and the Trump inauguration, so that may well qualify them for inclusion on this sanctions list as well.

But, of course, it all comes at a time of growing tension between Russia and the west -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Matthew Chance live in Moscow, thanks.

MARSH: Well, we have some stunning video this morning to show you. A tower crane being used to build the new police headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida -- well, yes, you're seeing it. It collapses, sending workers literally running for their lives.

Security video captured the massive crane about 10 stories high, falling over on Thursday just barely missing some of the construction workers on the ground. Thankfully -- yes, no one was hurt.

BRIGGS: Incredibly, and almost no damage.

OK. Virgin Galactic successfully launched its rocket-powered SpaceShip Two on a supersonic flight. It's the company's first rocket-powered flight since a crash in 2014 destroyed an earlier model and killed all of its pilots.

The SpaceShip Two took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California to an altitude of more than 46,000 feet before separating from its mothership and firing up its own rocket.

The test puts Richard Branson's aerospace company another step closer to its goal of space tourism.

Some really cool video.


And new this morning, USC star Conor McGregor charged overnight with three counts of assault and one count of criminal mischief after he allegedly attacked a bus with rival fighters on board. Yes, you're looking at the video there.

BRIGGS: Allegedly.

MARSH: Yes, good point.

Well, that happened at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn. McGregor and his entourage reportedly crashed the press event and then attacking the minibus using trash cans and metal barricades. UFC president Dana White says that one fighter suffered head and facial cuts from broken glass.

McGregor was apparently upset with the decision to strip him of his lightweight title belt. McGregor is expected in court later on this morning.

BRIGGS: Yikes.

Seattle Mariners leftie James Paxton giving new meaning to the term "big-game pitcher." Paxton minding his business in the outfield when this happened. A bald eagle swoops in and the bird went rogue on a pregame flyover ceremony during the National Anthem in Minnesota Thursday.

Paxton, though, keeping his cool like this was intended. The eagle landed on him, flew off, and landed again on him. The bird's handlers not sure what went wrong or what cologne Paxton was wearing that attracted the eagle but man, he played cool, right?

MARSH: I mean --

BRIGGS: How would you handle that?

MARSH: I would not have been that cool. I mean, the wingspan alone on that thing would have freaked me out.

BRIGGS: Let alone the talons. Well played by the Mariners' pitcher.

All right, that will do it for us, folks.

MARSH: Thanks for joining us. I'm Rene Marsh.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now. Have a great weekend and we'll see you next week.

MARSH: Have a good weekend.


CUI TIANKAI, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: This is another step in the wrong direction. We will certainly fight back.

BRIGGS: President Trump threatening another wave of steep tariffs on Chinese exports.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no trade war here. We don't have any tariffs enacted yet.

TRUMP: I think that Scott has done a fantastic job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the president who promised to drain the swamp. It is not behavior consistent with that pledge.

SCOTT PRUITT, ADMINISTRATOR, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: I did not know that they got the pay raises until yesterday. It should not have happened.

ED HENRY, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, FOX NEWS: But are you embarrassed that you run this agency?

PRUITT: It should not have happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?


AVENATTI: The president has just shot himself in the foot. We knew sooner or later he was going to crack.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We should expect this president will be forced to give testimony under oath.