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President Trump Considering Firing Rosenstein to Check Mueller; CNN Sources: Cohen Raid Could Mark Trump's Tipping Point; Zuckerberg Faces More Questioning; Russia Blocks U.N. Chemical Weapons Investigation. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 11, 2018 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:03] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: You know, I still have those images of $4 gas after the financial crisis. So $2.74 still sounds OK to me.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: With the temperatures, summer feels a long way off now.

ROMANS: It does.

MARQUARDT: But it's coming, I'm sure.

ROMANS: It is.

MARQUARDT: All right. EARLY START continues right now.


ROMANS: Sources tell CNN President Trump is considering the firing of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to limit the Mueller investigation.

MARQUARDT: And a sources is 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 has more questioning on Capitol Hill hours from now. How did he do yesterday? Well, you know, the consensus yesterday was that he did OK. But I'm looking at the papers this morning, "The New York Post" calls him the social nitwit and "The Daily News" says anti-trust --

MARQUARDT: He's getting blasted but --

ROMANS: He's getting blasted in the New York tabloids but I think he held in OK yesterday.

MARQUARDT: The consensus is that he ran circles around the senators.

ROMANS: All right. Some of whom didn't seem to know.


ROMANS: Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

MARQUARDT: And I'm Alex Marquardt. Great to be back with you.

ROMANS: Nice to have you.

MARQUARDT: It is Wednesday, April 11th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East, noon in Beirut and Moscow. Stories from those cities shortly, but we start in the states with sources familiar with discussions with the White House, telling CNN that 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 ever 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.

Listen --


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. But 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 had issued subpoenas of 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 bring in 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.


MARQUARDT: All right. Thanks, Pamela.

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 that the president's cooperation should be proportional to the courtesy that he receives from special counsel Robert Mueller. And the administration believes that the Cohen raid showed a lack of courtesy.

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

ROMANS: Cohen tells CNN the FBI was courteous, extremely professional, and respectful while raiding his home, office, and hotel room. That directly contradicts the president's description of the raid. The president called it a break-in.

Cohen says he's upset about being targeted but he says he actually thanked the agents when he was done. When asked if he was worried, Cohen told CNN, quote, I'd be lying to you 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.

MARQUARDT: Now, a source familiar with the raid on the New York hotel room where Cohen and his wife were staying says that Cohen answered the door himself early Monday. Then, an FBI agent immediately stuck his foot in the door so that Cohen couldn't close it and took Cohen's cell phone right out of his hand. Sources say among the items that 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. [05:05:09] They are Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. The search

warrants are set to cover Cohen's business investments and material related to election laws.

ROMANS: All right. Let's bring in CNN politics digital director Zach Wolf live in Washington.

Good morning here.

MARQUARDT: Hello, Zach.

ROMANS: And you know, a White House official on this idea of a Trump/Mueller interview saying, you know, there's no decision yet regarding the interview, but anyone with common sense will see the attack on his lawyer as a cause to re-evaluate. The president taking this very personally.

ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL DIRECTOR: Yes, and you know, we had heard before that he was vacillating back and forth, that in his gut he did want to talk to Mueller's team, but his lawyers were telling him not to. I can't imagine the aggression that he feels at this raid on Michael Cohen's office is going to make him feel better about doing an interview. But it's also something that you would think is eventually going to have to happen in some ways to get any kind of closure from this.

MARQUARDT: Zach, we have to note -- we've been talking about this -- that this is not directly tied to the Russia probe. The assumption is that Robert Mueller ran into some evidence and handed it off to the U.S. attorney here in the southern district of New York.

So, can you explain that? Obviously, the president is taking this as a personal affront. The administration believes that the raid showed what they called a lack of courtesy. But this isn't Mueller, this isn't the Justice Department.

WOLF: Sure. But you know, Mueller essentially handed off the information. So I think in Trump's mind at least, they're certainly linked. And his attorney, Michael Cohen, let's not forget, is deeply tied to the Mueller probe.


WOLF: Has talked to them, you know, had some business dealings, or, you know, at least some -- we've heard word of some business dealings that may be tied to the Mueller probe. So, it's hard to exactly completely draw a line between them.

ROMANS: I saw a really funny tweet this morning about, you know, something to the effect of someone tell the writers of 2018 that this is starting to feel a little like Rachel and Ross. Let's get over the Mueller will he or won't he fire Mueller storyline here.

But every day that continues to be the storyline. Yesterday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said this -- the president believes he has the authority to fire Mueller. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Sarah, there's something you said earlier. You said the president believes he has the power to fire Robert Mueller because usually most legal experts believe that he would have to order Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller and Rosenstein could, of course, refuse.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I know a number of individuals in the legal community and including at the Department of Justice that he has the power to do so. But I don't have any further announcements --

REPORTER: It is -- they said that Rod Rosenstein oversees the special counsel and only he has the power to fire the special counsel.

SANDERS: Again, we've been advised that the president certainly has the power to make that decision. I can't go anything beyond that.


ROMANS: So, the will he or won't he storyline lives another day?

WOLF: It certainly seems like the president wants to fire somebody, be it Mueller or Rosenstein, or even Jeff Sessions. I'm not sure firing any of those people is going to have the expected con -- the expected effect of tamping any of this down.

ROMANS: Yes, certainly a bunch of GOP stalwart, you know, in the GOP saying don't do it, don't do it, don't do it.

WOLF: Almost every man and woman, it's incredible. They're all warning him against it, saying it could be a catastrophic mistake.

ROMANS: All right. Come back in the next hour, Zach.

MARQUARDT: Thanks, Zach. See you soon.

ROMANS: We're going to talk to you about this next story.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg facing tough questions on Capitol Hill for failing to protect user data. Nearly half the Senate grilled Zuckerberg five long hours yesterday. And he emerged relatively unscathed, in part because of the large number of questioners left little time for follow-up. He 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.

(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 about their consent. That angered users, advertisers, and lawmakers already struggling with Facebook's role in spreading misinformation and allowing election meddling.

Mark Zuckerberg said he was open to regulation. He deflected questions about specifics. Would he accept regulation? This is what he said.


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: Wall Street liked that answer. Wall Street liked Zuckerberg's testimony. Facebook shares rose 4.5 percent to the highest level in three weeks, because it's been a terrible three weeks.

[05:10:02] Facebook has lost tens of millions in market value since the current crisis began. Zuckerberg testifies again today before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

MARQUARDT: There was a remarkable moment when he was asked whether he would take any more questions. He said he was absolutely willing to. He was asked whether he wanted a break or not. He said he wanted more questions. That showed how confident he was --

ROMANS: He's been working all week.

MARQUARDT: He's been preparing, and it showed.

ROMANS: In a mock room -- mocked up just like that with his team helping him prepare.

MARQUARDT: Yes. And he appeared confident. All right. More today.

President Trump is promising that Syria will pay a big price for suspected chemical attack. The question is how and when? A live report next.

ROMANS: And a ceremony getting underway now to honor the late Winnie Mandela.


[05:15:03] MARQUARDT: Welcome back.

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 recent chemical attack in Syria over the weekend. 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 resolution at the Security Council 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.


MARQUARDT: All right. Let's bring in senior national correspondent Ben Wedeman who's tracking the latest developments from Beirut.

Ben, President Trump is taking time to deliberate, trying to get allies on board. So, at this point it feels here, and I imagine where you are, as well, that there is little chance of them backing down and not carrying out a strike.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Definitely, Alex. It appears that the Trump administration and, most importantly, its French and British allies have made it clear that it's just a question of when and not if when it comes to a strike on Syria and the aftermath of the alleged chemical attack outside Damascus on Saturday. It takes time to coordinate with allies and that sort of thing, but it really seems inevitable.

Now what appears to be different this time from what happened a year ago when the United States struck a Syrian air base after a similar attack in northern Syria is that it is in coordination with key U.S. allies. The question is will this be a limited strike or something longer and more severe in which case it definitely risks the possibility of the conflict broadening out and certainly there are Russians and Iranians on the ground, and if they are hit, all bets are off -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: Yes. Russia very openly warning against a U.S. strike. Thank you to Ben Wedeman in Beirut.

ROMANS: All right. People in South Africa and around the world remembering right now Winnie Mandela. You're watching this memorial service that's happening. It's being held for her in Soweto as part ten days of mourning for the anti-apartheid activist and the former wife of the country's first black president, Nelson Mandela. She will be laid to rest on Saturday.

MARQUARDT: The National Weather Service says that two twisters struck Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, yesterday afternoon. One hit the downtown area. A second hit the city's airport.

There's video of trees downed but no reports of major damage. Otherwise, it's beginning to feel like spring in most of the east. Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has the forecast.


PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Alex and Christine, good morning, guys.

Yes, the story today is all about the milder temperatures, and frankly, we deserve it. It's about time. And how about we take you up from the 40s of yesterday to the 60s of today in Chicago from the 50s of yesterday in St. Louis up to the 70s of this afternoon in Kansas City. A 75, we will take, we will enjoy. Notice how expansive the warmth really sets up shop over the next couple of days.

Look at the date stamp, Saturday, look at that cold air trying to drop south Sunday into Monday, here we go again. Middle of April, Tax Day arrives, and we're talking about not only very cold air but also snow showers and more on that momentarily. Look at this -- Cleveland, how about we stay into the 70s for a couple of days, New York City, as well, a good ten above average. Boston even into the middle 60s.

Chicago shows you what we have in store as the bottom drops out. Snow showers again going to be light in nature. I don't see much in the way of significant weather out of this. Still the cold air does come back for at least a brief period where it's extremely hot, it is across the southwest. Temperatures into the 90s in west Texas, almost 100 parts of Arizona with dry weather, as well -- guys.


ROMANS: All right. I'm looking forward to that East Coast weather at least.

MARQUARDT: Long overdue. We deserve it.

ROMANS: All right. A 32-year-old rookie making a debut after a decade in the G league. And he had L.A. Lakers fans on their feet. Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." That's next.


[05:23:48] ROMANS: All right. A 13-year-old rookie wows the crowd in his debut with Los Angeles Lakers.

MARQUARDT: Coy Wire has more this morning in the "Bleacher Report." Coy, how are you doing?

ROMANS: Who wows the crowd every day, Coy Wire does.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Christine, Alex, I hope this one -- this story just, it wows just telling it. It's Incredible. Andre Ingram, 10 years in the NBA's developmental league, becoming the G League's all time three-point leader, always hoping for that one big shot in the bigs. This week, he was called into the Lakers' office for a special meeting. Listen --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The L.A. Lakers want to call you up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations.

INGRAM: Thank you. I appreciate that. I appreciate that, thank you, boss.

MAGIC JOHNSON, L.A. LAKERS: Come on tomorrow, and get ready.



WIRE: After that meeting with magic, future hall of famer Chris Paul of the rockets, who played 13 years in the NBA, giving advice to the gray haired 32-year-old playing in his first NBA game. These guys were born six months apart, think about. That the crowd giving Ingram a standing ovation when he checked in.

And then the part-time math tutor lightened it up, making the most of the opportunity, 19 points in the debut. It was a surreal moment.


[05:25:01] INGRAM: The feeling once we went out as a team for warm- ups, I just felt some electricity out there. It was amazing. The crowd, just being here, the lights, it was just it -- it was once in a lifetime. It was awesome.


WIRE: Roll Tide. The Alabama football team celebrating their thrilling national championship victory over University of Georgia. Visiting the White House yesterday, Coach Nick Saban and the players presented President Trump with a customized jersey. It was Coach Nick Saban's fifth national title with the Tide.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Five of your national championships were under coach Saban? Five or six -- it's going to be six. You have six altogether, huh? Wow.


They shouldn't have let you go, coach.


WIRE: Oh, my goodness. The Packers are going to win the Super Bowl. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers converted the Dalai Lama into a cheese head. Rodgers was on a humanitarian mission giving hearing aids to people around the world. And while he was in India, he gave the spiritual leader a Green Bay hat and football. Look at that smile.

Speaking of smiles, the Chicago cubs hoping a special helper could put the arm in good luck charm. Chicago's 98-year-old team chatting with Sister Jean throwing the first pitch at the home opener. The team honored not just Sister Jean but the entire team in their Cinderella run. They were decked out in cubs gear in near-freezing temperatures.

Sister Jean had that custom-made Cubs jersey, as well. Sadly for Cubs fans, didn't have the same magic for the Cubs. They fell to the Pirates 8-5.

Good stuff for Sister Jean.

What a story, Andre Ingram. Incredible to see his dreams come true.

MARQUARDT: He would have been happy with a few minutes of playing time. But he scored 19 points.

ROMANS: That's fantastic.

WIRE: Absolutely.

ROMANS: All right. Nice to see you, Coy. Thank you.

WIRE: All right. Thanks very much, Coy.

All right. Well, Rod Rosenstein, Jeff Sessions, Robert Mueller, will President Trump take action against any of them after an FBI raid on his personal attorney? That's next.