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Trump Considering Firing Rod Rosenstein; CNN Sources: Cohen Raid Could Mark Trump's Tipping Point; Zuckerberg Faces More Questioning; Russia Warns U.S. Against Military Action in Syria; Cosby Lawyers Attack "So-Called" Victim. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired April 11, 2018 - 04:30   ET



[04:30:26] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Sources tell CNN President Trump is considering the firing of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to limit the Mueller investigation.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Sources also telling CNN that the FBI raid on Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, could mark a tipping point for the president to take action.


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


ROMANS: Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg gears up for more questioning on Capitol Hill just hours from now. And most saying he did a pretty good job yesterday, you know?

MARQUARDT: It was remarkable testimony.

ROMANS: Five hours, long time there.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Christine Romans.

MARQUARDT: And I'm Alex Marquardt. It is 30 minutes past the hour.

Sources familiar with discussions in the White House tell CNN that it looks like President Trump is considering firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in the wake of the raid of Trump fixer were and personal attorney Michael Cohen.

Rosenstein has been supervising special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation since Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself last year. 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 that the president does not share that assumption.


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.


ROMANS: Press Secretary Sarah Sanders did not suggest President Trump is, in fact, planning to fire Mueller. CNN has learned the president has been talking about it for months. We know he made moves to fire Mueller last June but was talked out of it. 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 issued subpoenas for Deutsche Bank for the president's financial records, those reports proved to be inaccurate.

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



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.


ROMANS: Thank you.

Top Republicans urging President Trump ton fire Mueller. They want the special counsel to finish what they started and are warning the president his presidency could be on the line here.


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.


MARQUARDT: It's quite a compilation reel

Now, following the raid on Michael Cohen, the president's legal team is reevaluating whether Mr. Trump should agree to sit down for 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. And that's how we know that the president knew about the raid beforehand.

ROMANS: And we know what Cohen's thinking and saying about the raid. He tells CNN -- Cohen himself tells CNN that the FBI was courteous, extremely professional, and respectful while raiding his home, his office, and his hotel room. That contradicts the president's description of the raid. The president called it a break-in.

Cohen says he is upset about being targeted but actually thanked the agents when they were done. When asked if he was worried, Cohen told CNN, quote, I would be lying to you if I told you that I'm not.

[04:35:04] Do I need this in my life? No. Do I want to be involved in this? No.

MARQUARDT: And a source who is familiar with the raid on the New York City hotel room where Cohen and his wife were staying said that Cohen answered the door himself Monday. Then, an FBI agent immediately stuck his foot in the door so that Cohen couldn't close it and immediately took Cohen's cell phone right out of his hand.

Sources say among the items 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 also set to cover Cohen's business investments and material related to election laws.

ROMANS: Before the search warrants were issued for the Michael Cohen raid, a Manhattan's top federal prosecutor recused himself from the case. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had appointed Geoffrey Berman in January on an interim basis. It's not clear why Berman chose to step aside now. But we do know his decision was approved by senior Justice Department officials.

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

A source tells CNN that the federal probe is extensive and aggressive. A large team is working on the 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.

ROMANS: Fifteen minutes keeps ticking on.

President Trump canceling a trip to South America this weekend. The White House says he wants to remain in Washington to deal with the chemical attack on Syria. 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.S. resolution at the U.N. that called for an independent investigation into the attack.


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.


ROMANS: Let's bring in CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman. He is tracking the latest developments live from Beirut.

How is this all playing there, Ben?

EN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, Christine, it's not a question of if there will be at American attack -- most people in this region have concluded there will be, it's only a question of when and how intense it will be. Will it be, for instance, like the strike ordered by President Trump last year after a chemical weapons attack in northern Syria, which involved just one missile strike with cruise missiles on a Syrian air base, or will it be something larger? Certainly in this case what we are seeing is much clearer coordination between the United States, Britain, and France, and an indication from those countries that they want immediate action in response to the alleged chemical attacks outside Damascus.

It may take time if there's going to be coordination to get all these so-called assets in place. The United States already has a significant amount of military material in the Middle East, clearly coordinating with other countries will take more time. But, certainly, the feeling here is that it's a question of when.

And today, we did hear the Russian ambassador to Lebanon speaking on Hezbollah TV saying that if missiles are fired at Syria, Russia will not only shoot them down, but will also target the sources of those missiles -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. So, now we wait. Ben Wedeman, thank you so much.

MARQUARDT: Russia, for its part, is warning the U.S. against taking any military action against the Syrian regime in response to the alleged chemical attack over the weekend. The Kremlin's ambassador to the United Nations telling the Security Council that the Russian military will, quote, ensure the security of its mission in Syria.

For the latest on the reaction in Moscow, let's bring in CNN's Nic Robertson.

Nic, we just heard from Ben Wedeman there that the likelihood or question of a strike is not if but when. But, of course, the fear is if there is a U.S. strike or a U.S.-led strike is that it could quickly escalate if it were to happen too close to Russian interests. So, what's Moscow saying today?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Sure. I mean, I think what we're hearing at the moment from the Russian ambassador in Lebanon is an amplification and ratcheting up, if you will, of what we've been hearing from officials here in Moscow over the past few days, the foreign ministry warning of serious consequences.

[04:40:04] The defense officials here warning that they will strike missiles, that they will strike the carriers that those missiles come from, meaning U.S. aircraft carriers it seems, if there is an attack on Syria. They are saying it's a very dangerous situation.

We heard from a Russian -- senior Russian lawmaker today on a defense committee warning that Russia's response would be immediate if their troops were put in danger. The ambassador, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations is framing it somewhat more simply by just saying, "Don't do it." This is what he said --


VASSILY NEBENZIA, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. (through translator): The threats that you're stating, vis-a-vis Syria, should make us seriously worried, all of us, because we could find ourselves on the threshold of some very sad and serious events. I would once again ask you to refrain from the plans that you're currently developing for Syria.


ROBERTSON: So, essentially, Russia is issuing a threat, there will be a severe response if you do it. A warning, if you will, don't go ahead. But the difficulty, of course, on the ground is how do you untangle Syrian military assets from Russian military assets?

We heard yesterday from sources on the ground inside Syria saying that a lot of aircraft were heard flying toward Russian air bases, the implications being that these were Syrian aircraft being flown to Russian air bases so it would make it harder for the United States and allies to target Assad's air force -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right. Nic Robertson in Moscow, thanks 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.

The sources say, you know, 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 any new hires, though, on the National Security Council.

MARQUARDT: And recently as Sunday, Tim Bossert was on the political talk shows.


MARQUARDT: Now, the president's nominee for secretary of state is working behind the scenes to try 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 tomorrow. He's already lost the backing of one Republican Senator Rand Paul. 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, but he's now calling the former secretary of state for her advice. We're told that Secretary Clinton has been willing to help him.

ROMANS: He's reached out to all of the living former secretaries of state for their advice on that very important job.

All right. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg facing tough questions on Capitol Hill for failing to protect user data. Nearly half the Senate grilled Zuckerberg five hours yesterday. And the verdict here is he emerged relatively unscathed, in part because there were so many questioners, there was little time left for follow-up. Zuckerberg began the hearing by formally apologizing for host of issues plaguing Facebook.


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.


ROMANS: Last month, it was revealed that a firm with ties to President Trump's campaign accessed the data of 87 million users about their consent. That angered users, advertisers, and lawmakers already struggling with Facebook's role in spreading misinformation and allowing election meddling. Have you heard of Fakebook? That's what people call it now.

Well, Zuckerberg said he was open to regulation. He deflected questions about specifics telling lawmakers this --


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.


ROMANS: Open to regulation, don't know what it will look like.

Wall Street liked that answer, and they liked Zuckerberg's testimony. Facebook shares popped 4.5 percent, its highest level in almost three weeks. Facebook has lost tens of millions of dollars in market value since the current crisis began. Zuckerberg testifies again before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

MARQUARDT: Zuckerberg also confirmed that Facebook is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Listen to this exchange with Senator Patrick Leahy, the 33-year-old CEO choosing his words very carefully.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Have you or anyone at Facebook been interviewed by the special counsel's office?


LEAHY: Have you been interviewed?

ZUCKERBERG: I have not. I have not --

LEAHY: Others have?

ZUCKERBERG: I believe so. And I want to be careful here because that -- our work with the special counsel is confidential, and I want to make sure that in an open session, I'm not revealing something that's confidential.

LEAHY: I understand. I want to make clear that you have been contacted and have had subpoenas?

[04:45:04] ZUCKERBERG: Actually, let me clarify that. I am not aware of a subpoena. I believe that there may be, but I know we're working with them.


ROMANS: It just gives more contour around what Robert Mueller's team is doing and how far they're reaching.

MARQUARDT: That was unexpected. The focus of the committee's questioning yesterday was not expected to be so much about the Russia probe. That was actually one of the few moments that Zuckerberg appeared a little flustered.


MARQUARDT: Caught off-guard.

ROMANS: Interesting. That got a lot of attention. So, Facebook talking with Mueller and his team.

MARQUARDT: And a lot more today.

ROMANS: All right. Forty-five minutes past the hour.

Bill Cosby's defense team playing hardball with one of his accusers. That's next.

MARQUARDT: And a vote on whether or not to arm school teachers in the very community where the Parkland massacre took place.


MARQUARDT: Welcome back. It's 49 minutes past the hour.

And Bill Cosby's defense team is attacking the reputation of the entertainer's main accuser, describing Andrea Constand as a so-called victim and con artist who's after Cosby's money.

[04:50:09] The aggressive defense comes one day after the prosecution called another woman to testify. She said that Cosby sexually assaulted her 34 years ago. We get more from CNN's Jean Casarez.


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?


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.


ROMANS: All right, Jean. Thank you for that.

Republican Governor Phil Scott of Vermont expected to sign three bills that tighten the state's gun laws. The measures give authorities the power to remove weapons from domestic assault scenes and those at extreme risk of violence and they require background checks for all gun transactions between nonfamily members. Once Governor Scott signs the bills into law, Vermonters will no longer be able to buy rifle magazines that hold more than ten rounds or pistol magazine that's hold more than 15 rounds.

MARQUARDT: And in more gun news, the school board in Broward County, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 students and staff members at Stoneman Douglas high school last month -- sorry, mid-February, was 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 bill tightening gun control in several ways while allowing some teachers to be armed. It was the first gun-control legislation enacted in the state after the Parkland school massacre last February. And, of course, there's been a massive outcry from teachers saying they don't want to be armed. Not their jobs.

ROMANS: And school boards trying to figure out how do you insure your property and your employees if you are allowing teachers or in some cases, requiring teachers to have guns.


ROMANS: All right. Fifty-three minutes past the hour.

Another big American bank also taking action on gun sales in the wake of the Parkland school shooting. More leadership in corporate America on this issue. More on CNNMoney next.


[04:58:05] ROMANS: All right. It's that time of morning. Let's check CNNMoney this morning.

Global stocks and U.S. futures mostly lower today. That's a little bit of a reversal because yesterday, Wall Street closed up. The Dow up more than 400 points. And you can thank this guy, the Chinese President Xi Jinping.

It was him who eased trade worries. He promised to open Chinese markets, he said he would cut tariffs on car imports, fears of a trade war between the U.S. and China have caused wild swings on Wall Street. So, he stepped in as the protector of global trade, sort of, and the market liked it.

Even before the trade spat, Chinese investment in the U.S. fell 36 percent last year. That's after climbing for nearly two decades. That drop is not due to any trade action. China had tightened restrictions on outbound investments. It worries that the biggest conglomerates are overextending themselves.

Bank of America will stop lending to some gun makers. It's the second big U.S. lender to address gun sales in the wake of the parkland school shooting. Last month Citigroup put new restrictions on how its corporate clients can sell guns, including restricting sales to anyone under 21.

Now, Bank of America executives tell Bloomberg they'll no longer finance military-style firearms for civilians, cutting ties with companies that produce those weapons. The executive did not name the gun manufacturers, but Bank of America's clients include well-known publicly held brands. It's another example of sort of corporate activism on this front. Banks, big banks saying, look, we're not going to lend money to companies who are in this business. So, maybe you need to, you know, dial back how you're doing that.

Hitting the road this summer -- I have bad news for you. The prices at the pump will be the highest in years. Experts say this summer, the average price for gas will jump 14 percent from last year to $2.74 a gallon. You can blame higher oil prices. Major oil exporters are cutting production, and that's pushing prices higher just before the summer driving season. Experts expect more Americans to hit the road this year. Highway travel should jump just over 1 percent, $2.74.

You know, I still have images of $4 gas after the financial crisis. So $2.74 still sounds OK to me.