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EARLY START

CNN Sources: Trump Considering Firing Rosenstein to Check Mueller; CNN Sources: Cohen Raid Could Mark Trump's Tipping Point; Zuckerberg Faces More Questioning; Cosby Lawyers Attack "So-Called" Victim. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired April 11, 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] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Sources tell CNN that President Trump is considering the firing of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to limit the Mueller investigation.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A source also tells CNN the FBI raid on Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, could mark a tipping point for the president to take action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK ZUCKERBERG, FACEBOOK CEO: I started Facebook. I run it, and I'm responsible for what happens here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: And Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg gears up for more questioning on Capitol Hill just hours from now.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alex Marquardt.

ROMANS: Nice to see you again this morning.

MARQUARDT: Great to be back with you.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, April 11. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East, 11:00 a.m. in Beirut and Moscow. Stories from those cities shortly.

But, first, we begin here -- sources familiar with discussions in the White House tell CNN it looks like President Trump is considering firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in the wake of the FBI raid on Trump fixer and personal attorney Michael Cohen. Rosenstein has been supervising special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself.

The president has talked about firing all three men -- Sessions, Rosenstein, and Mueller, at various points. The widespread assumption was that federal regulations barred President Trump from firing Mueller directly, but yesterday we learned the president does not share that assumption.

Listen --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Does the president believe he has the power to fire special counsel Robert Mueller? Does he believe that's within his power?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly believes he has the power to do so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Now, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not suggest that the president -- that President Trump is, in fact, planning to fire Mueller. But CNN has learned that the president has been talking about it for months. We know that he made moves to fire Mueller last June but was talked out of it.

And just yesterday, "The New York Times" reported there was a second aborted effort to fire the special counsel in December. That move fueled by reports that Mueller had issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank, the president's financial records, reports which proved to be inaccurate.

For more on the latest developments, let's go to the White House and CNN's Pamela Brown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Christine and Alex.

Our team has learned the president's consideration of firing Rod Rosenstein has gained urgency following the raid of the office of the president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Sources familiar with the matter say this is one of several options including going so far as to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well, that Trump has been weighing. Officials say if Trump acts, Rosenstein is his most likely target because installing a new deputy attorney general could provide the check on Mueller that Trump has been seeking.

We should note not all of Trump's legal advisers are on board with this, but others are telling him that they now believe they have a stronger case against Rosenstein. They believe he has crossed line in what he can and cannot pursue, and they consider him conflicted since he is a potential witness in the special counsel's investigation because he wrote the memo that justified firing former FBI Director James Comey.

So, even though Trump has considered firing Rosenstein in the past, the possibility has taken on a more serious tone in recent days, according to sources we've spoken with -- Christine and Alex.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: All right. Thanks, Pamela Brown.

Now, a top Republicans in the Senate are urging President Trump not to fire Mueller. They want the special counsel to finish what he started, and they are warning Mr. Trump that his presidency could be on the line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I think it would be suicide for the president to fire him. I think the less the president says about this whole thing, the better off he will be.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: My advice to anybody would let director Mueller do his job. It would be a mistake to fire him. So, I don't think his job is in jeopardy.

SEN. JONI ERNST (R), IOWA: I do think it's important to continue with the investigation.

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: I think it's in his best interest if he does not.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: The best thing that could happen for the president and the country is for Mueller to be able to finish his work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: All right. Following the raid on Michael Cohen, the president's legal team is re-evaluating whether Mr. Trump should agree to an interview with the special counsel. One White House official telling CNN the president's cooperation should be proportional to the courtesy he receives from Robert Mueller, and the administration believes the Cohen raid showed a lack of courtesy.

CNN has also learned Mueller's investigators were meeting with Trump's lawyers on the same day the FBI raided Cohen.

MARQUARDT: And Cohen tells CNN that the FBI was extremely courteous, professional while raiding his home, his office, and his hotel room. That contradicts what the president described as a break-in. Cohen says he is upset about being targeted but actually thanked the agents when they were done.

When asked if he says worried, Cohen told CNN, quote, I'd be lying if I told you that I'm not. Do I need this in my life? No. Do I want to be involved in this? No.

ROMANS: Right. A source familiar with the raid on the New York City's hotel room where Cohen and his wife were staying says Cohen answered the door himself early Monday morning.

[04:05:01] An FBI agent immediately stuck his foot in the door so Cohen could not close it and took Cohen's cell phone right out of his hand.

Sources say that among things agents were looking for in the raids on Cohen's hotel room, his home and his office were records of payments to women who allegedly had affairs with Mr. Trump, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. The search warrants are also said to cover Cohen's business investments and material related to election laws. MARQUARDT: Before the search warrants were issued for the Michael

Cohen raid, Manhattan's top federal prosecutor recused himself from the case. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had appointed Geoffrey Berman in January on just an interim basis. But it's not clear why Berman chose to step aside now. But we do know that his decision was approved by senior Justice Department officials.

ROMANS: Stormy Daniels is cooperating with federal investigators, a fact confirmed by her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, on the heels of the Michael Cohen raid. Sources tell CNN investigators are looking into the nondisclosure agreement and subsequent payment made to her by Cohen, the president's personal attorney.

A source tells CNN the federal probe is extensive and aggressive, and a large team is working on this case. Stormy Daniels is set to appear on the next cover of "Penthouse" magazine, featuring a profile about her and her alleged affair with Mr. Trump.

MARQUARDT: All right. Turning overseas, President Trump is canceling a trip to South America this weekend. The White House says he wants to remain in Washington to deal with the chemical attack in Syria. On Tuesday, the president spoke by phone with British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron about a strong joint response from the West. All while Russia was vetoing a U.N. resolution at the Security Council that called for an independent investigation into the attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: When the people of Douma along with the rest of the international community looked to this council to act, one country stood in the way. History will record that. History will record that on this day, Russia chose protecting a monster over the lives of the Syrian people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Let's bring in CNN international correspondent Ben Wedeman, who's tracking the latest developments from Beirut.

Ben, we heard just there that Russia at the Security Council vetoed an investigation into this chemical attack. So, at this point, it's really a question of will they/won't they in terms of a U.S. strike or U.S.-led strike, isn't it?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, it's actually more like when rather than will they/won't they at this point. Certainly, all signals coming from the United States, and to a certain extent, Paris and London, as well, is that there will be a strike at some point. Of course, what we heard in Lebanon was the Russian ambassador in an interview with the television station of Hezbollah warned that Russian forces will shoot down any missiles fired at Syria, and then he went on to say and also the source of those missiles.

So, certainly, it appears that the Russians as well are bracing for a possible U.S.-led air strike or missile strikes on Syria. Now, what's interesting is that last year when the United States launched cruise missiles on Syria after an alleged missile -- rather a chemical strike on the town named Khan Shaykhun, south of Aleppo, the Americans informed the Russians in advance of the strike.

In this case, we don't know if the warning, the messages, are going back and forth. And certainly, the Russian ambassador's comments would indicate that that is not the case, that Russian-American relations in the last year seem to have plummeted to a point where we are at a very dangerous situation.

MARQUARDT: So then the question, of course, would be what kind of strike would it be, would it be a pinprick strike on a military base or would it be on something like command and control structures in downtown Damascus, lots of big questions this morning.

Ben Wedeman in Beirut, thank you very much.

ROMANS: All right. Brand-new national security adviser John Bolton is wasting no time reshaping his White House team. The West Wing announcing Homeland Security Adviser John Bossert's departure on Bolton's second day in office. Two sources say Bolton was behind the departure.

Sources say Bolton didn't have a personal problem with Bossert but he wants to put his own team in place, his own people in place. So far, Bolton has not announced new hires on the National Security Council.

MARQUARDT: Now, this is interesting -- the president's nominee for secretary of state is working behind the scenes to win support from moderate Democrats. Republican Mike Pompeo, who's currently the director of the CIA, is scheduled to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday. He's already lost the backing of one Republican and Senator Rand Paul.

[04:10:04] That means he needs at least one Democratic vote to get the committee's approval.

Pompeo, who once called Hillary Clinton morally reprehensible for her response to the 2012 Benghazi attack, is now calling the secretary of state for her advice. We're told that Secretary Clinton has been willing to help him.

ROMANS: Yes, we're told he reached out to all of the living former secretaries of state for their advice, for their guidance on the job that he hopes to take, of course, and that she is being helpful.

MARQUARDT: A small and exclusive fraternity. So, we're not --

ROMANS: Yes, it is.

All right. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg facing tough questions on Capitol Hill for failing to protect user data. Nearly half the Senate grilled Zuckerberg for five hours yesterday. You know, the verdict is that he emerged relatively unscathed, in part because the large number of questioners gave little time for follow-up. Zuckerberg began the hearing by formally apologizing for the host of

issues plaguing Facebook.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZUCKERBERG: But it's clear now that we didn't do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm, as well. And that goes for fake news, for foreign interference in elections, and hate speech, as well as developers and data privacy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Last month, it was revealed that a firm with ties to President Trump's campaign accessed the data of 87 million users without their consent. That angered users, advertisers, lawmakers already struggling with Facebook's role in spreading all this misinformation and allowing election meddling. While Zuckerberg said he was open to regulation, he deflected questions about specifics, telling lawmakers this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZUCKERBERG: Yes, and I'll have my team follow up with you so that way we can have this discussion across the different categories where I think that this discussion needs to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look forward to it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Wall Street liked that answer. And Wall Street liked Zuckerberg's testimony. Facebook shares rose 4-1/2 percent yesterday, its highest level in almost three weeks. Facebook has lost, of course, tens of millions in market value since the current crisis began. Zuckerberg testifies again today before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

MARQUARDT: And rising tides lift all boats. It was not just Facebook stock but tech stocks across the board.

ROMANS: Yes, it was a good day. And it was because the Chinese President Xi sort of emerged as the protector of global trade. And Wall Street liked that. Yes.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, Bill Cosby's defense team is playing hardball with one of his accusers. You'll hear from her just ahead.

ROMANS: And a vote on whether to arm school teachers in the very community where the Parkland school massacre took place.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:16:30] MARQUARDT: Welcome back.

A Texas border procedural supervisor has been charged in the deaths of a woman and her 1-year-old son. Police say the suspect is 28-year-old Anthony Burgos, and he was in a relationship with the woman. He called 911 on Monday claiming to have discovered the bodies just feet from the Texas-Mexico border. He then posed as a first responder, canvassing the scene with other law enforcement officials.

Authorities say they identified Burgos as a person of interest within an hour of that 911 call.

ROMANS: Miami Beach police say the four men who attacked a gay couple in this surveillance video have turned themselves in and will likely face felony charges. The couple beaten and verbally attacked hours after the city's annual gay pride parade Sunday. Police say a man standing nearby jumped in to help the couple and then he was hit by one of the attackers and knocked unconscious when his head hit the pavement. All three suffered minor injuries but are said to be OK now.

MARQUARDT: And Bill Cosby's defense team is attacking the reputation of the entertainer's accuser, describing Andrea Constand as a so- called victim and con artist who's after Cosby's money. The aggressive defense comes one day after the prosecution called another woman to the stand who testified that Cosby sexually assaulted her 34 years ago.

We now get more from CNN's Jean Casarez.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Alex, cross- examination will continue this morning for the first prior bad act witness, the woman who says Bill Cosby drugged and assaulted "me too."

Her name is Heidi Thomas. She is out of Colorado, and she testified to the jury that when she was in her early 20s, her acting agency out of Denver called her up and said a major celebrity wants to mentor you, didn't say his name. Days later, Bill Cosby called her on the phone. He spoke with her father and then her mother. He said, I want to help you in the business.

She was on a plane to Reno, Nevada, because he was performing at Harrah's. She thought she was going to stay at the hotel, but a driver picked her up, and she testified that she drove 15 or 20 minutes outside of Reno to a ranch-style home where Cosby opened the door. He ensued giving her acting lessons, but then it became a lot more.

Heidi said she never wanted to go public and she didn't. But she finally opened up. I flew to Colorado last year to talk with her.

But you say the assault would have been at this home?

HEIDI THOMAS, COSBY ACCUSER: I know the assault was at the house. At least the one I remember. I don't even know if there was more than one. But I remember one, and it was at the house.

CASAREZ: You woke up in his bedroom, in his bed?

THOMAS: Yes.

CASAREZ: And there he was?

THOMAS: Yes. He was naked. I was clothed.

CASAREZ: The cross-examination will continue this morning with Heidi Thomas. We don't know exactly where the defense is going at this point. But they definitely will not want the jury to believe her story -- Christine, Alex.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Jean will follow that for us today. Thank you, Jean.

Now, the school board in Broward County, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 students and staff members at Stoneman Douglas High School, the school board has voted against arming teachers. Instead, school officials say funding should be allocated to a program to hire more school resource officers.

Last month, Governor Rick Scott signed a controversial bill tightening gun control in several ways while also allowing some teachers to be armed. It was the first gun-control legislation enacted in the state after the Parkland school massacre last February.

You know, some school boards have been looking into this, and there's an insurance problem.

[04:20:02] Getting insurance in your school district if you're going to ensure your teachers and ensure your property if you have armed teachers.

MARQUARDT: I keep coming back to the fact that we know that the percentage of shooting accuracy among people -- police officers who are highly trained -- is extremely low, around 20 percent. And so, you can imagine it would only be lower among less trained, far less trained teachers.

ROMANS: Yes, among other things they're trying to do.

MARQUARDT: Much different priorities, shall we say.

ROMANS: Yes.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, no one is laughing after police say that actor and comedian T.J. Miller made a fake bomb threat. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:25:02] ROMANS: Former Silicon Valley star T.J. Miller arrested after he allegedly called in a fake bomb threat from an Amtrak train. Authorities say he called a 911 dispatcher in New Jersey saying a female passenger on his train bound for New York City had a bomb in her bag. Amtrak officials stopped the train, did not find an explosive device. The 36-year-old actor was arrested Monday night at New York's

LaGuardia Airport. Miller has since been released on $100,000 bond. He faces a maximum of five years in prison.

MARQUARDT: And people in South Africa and around the world are remembering Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the wife of Nelson Mandela. A memorial service is being held in the township of Soweto as part of 10 days of mourning for the anti-apartheid activist, and as I just mentioned, the former wife of the country's first black president, Nelson Mandela. She will be laid to rest on Saturday.

ROMANS: All right. Rod Rosenstein, Jeff Sessions, Robert Mueller, will President Trump take any action against any of them after that FBI raid on his personally attorney? Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)