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EARLY START

Trump Considering Firing Rod Rosenstein To Check Mueller; Russia Blocks U.N. Chemical Weapons Investigation; Russia Warns U.S. Against Military Action In Syria; Zuckerberg Faces Five-Hour Senate Hearing But Offers No Promises About Specific Regulations. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired April 11, 2018 - 05:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:31:18] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Sources telling 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 personal attorney Michael Cohen could mark a tipping point for the president to take action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK ZUCKERBERG, CEO, FACEBOOK: 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.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alex Marquardt.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour this Wednesday morning. Nice to see you all.

Let's begin with this. 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 -- talked about it at various points but 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) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the president believe he has the power to fire special counsel Robert Mueller? Does he believe that's within his power?

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Press secretary Sarah Sanders did not suggest 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 do 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 just December. That moved fueled by reports that Mueller had issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank for the president's final records -- reports which then proved to be inaccurate.

For more on the latest developments let's go to the White House and our 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 a 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.

And 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 the 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)

ROMANS: All right, Pamela, at the White House. Thank you. Following the raid on Michael Cohen, the president's legal team is reevaluating 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 the president's lawyers on the same day the FBI raided Cohen.

MARQUARDT: Cohen also tells CNN that the FBI was courteous. He called them extremely professional and respectful while they were raiding his home, his office, and his hotel room. That directly contradicts the president's description of the raid, which he called a break-in.

Cohen says he is upset about being targeted but actually thanked the agents when they were done.

[05:35:00] 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.

ROMANS: A source familiar with the raid on that New York hotel room where Cohen and his wife were staying -- he says Cohen answered the door himself early Monday morning. 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 the items agents were looking for in the raid on Cohen's hotel room, his home, and his office -- they were looking for 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: All right.

For more on this, let's bring in "CNN POLITICS" digital director Zach Wolf live in Washington. Zach, good to have you back with us.

ROMANS: Hi, Zach.

ZACHARY WOLF, DIGITAL DIRECTOR, "CNN POLITICS": Good morning.

MARQUARDT: So, Zach, the president has mused openly about the possibility of firing Rosenstein, Sessions, and Mueller but several senior GOP officials are warning against that. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: 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 we continue with the investigation.

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

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: So, Zach, almost a man and woman, Republicans saying that Mueller should not be fired.

Do you think the president takes any of that into consideration or he just does whatever he wants? How does he make this decision?

WOLF: Yes, I don't think he's listening very much to Marco Rubio or any of the other folks --

ROMANS: Yes.

WOLF: -- that were there on the screen. There's no -- there's no evidence that he's listened to the Republican leadership, much less rank and file Republicans on really anything heretofore, much less -- much less this.

And it's clear that he wants to fire somebody maybe to exert some control over this situation or show that he's in charge of it even though it's pretty clear that it's going to continue. Even if he did that I'm not sure it would have the desired effect essentially if he decided to fire one of these guys.

ROMANS: Would any of those people even do anything about it? So, I mean, I don't see anybody moving to protect Mueller.

MARQUARDT: Right.

ROMANS: I mean, you've got the establishment Republicans there saying don't do it, it would be suicide. But is it -- maybe it's just trouble for them, not necessarily trouble for the president.

WOLF: Well, the line recently about Mueller -- not about Rosenstein and Sessions but about Mueller --

ROMANS: Right.

WOLF: -- a week or so ago was that House and Senate leaders had assurances that that wouldn't happen. I -- you know, I'm not sure you could take those to the bank because a couple of days later Trump was openly musing about it in front of reporters. ROMANS: Right.

WOLF: So we just don't know what he's going to do.

MARQUARDT: Zach, turning to the other big story in Washington today, more testimony from Facebook CEO --

ROMANS: "The Social Nitwit" as the "New York Post" says.

MARQUARDT: Right -- Mark Zuckerberg.

ROMANS: The New York tabloids did not like his testimony yesterday. Wall Street did. It was up 4.5 percent -- the stock rose.

MARQUARDT: These papers are actually kind of outliers because the general perception was that Zuckerberg actually did quite well. He was quite prepared.

And at the risk of sounding slightly ageist, there was a very apparent generational gap on display. Let's listen to a quick bite with Sen. Orrin Hatch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: But how do you sustain a business model in which users don't pay for your service?

ZUCKERBERG: Senator, we run ads.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Just a little smile there. I think it's pretty telling.

MARQUARDT: Right. A smile because that just goes to the very core of how Facebook makes its money and keeps it free.

ROMANS: And the -- and the debate and the discussion -- the concern is so far beyond that part of the business model, you know.

MARQUARDT: So the criticism of these senators was that they don't really understand how Facebook actually works and they didn't have the knowledge to then follow-up and actually get to the core of these very important issues.

WOLF: Right, and you really saw that. He was -- he was a very able witness. I think exceeded pretty much everybody's expectations in his ability to sort of diffuse tough questions. To take things and say oh, my staff will get back to you.

But there was just -- you got the feeling many of these lawmakers asking him questions were in office. They've held office since he was born. He's much younger than a lot of these people and the sort of generational divide that you see from lawmakers and the rest of the country -- a lot of the rest of the country or at least the part represented by Zuckerberg -- was so apparent in this hearing. It was really interesting to watch. ROMANS: I mean, in a way -- I mean, how is Congress going to be able to stand up to Russia using this kind of technology to meddle in American elections or to change American perceptions when maybe they don't really kind of grasp what the technology is?

MARQUARDT: Right, and the big revelation that Zuckerberg is cooperating with the --

[05:40:02] ROMANS: With the Mueller probe.

MARQUARDT: -- special counsel -- with the Mueller probe.

ROMANS: The Mueller probe.

MARQUARDT: That was unexpected.

ROMANS: All right, Zach, nice to see you. Thank you, sir.

WOLF: You, too. Thanks.

ROMANS: All right, 40 minutes past the hour.

President Trump promising a response to a suspected chemical attack in Syria. Russia warning against it. We go live to Moscow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARQUARDT: All right, welcome back.

President Trump has canceled a trip to South America this weekend. The White House says he wants to stay in Washington to deal with that chemical attack in Syria that happened 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 U.S. resolution at the United Nations Security Council that called for an independent investigation into the attack.

[05:45:11] (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: All right.

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

Ben, the president is clearly still deliberating. He's canceled his trip, he's rallying his allies. All signs are that something is coming.

Even on Syrian state T.V., I saw that they were discussing what kind of strike might happen. So that really seems to be the only question is what would the strike look like.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a question of is it going to be a short, sharp strike like what we saw last year in April when President Trump ordered 59 cruise missiles fired out of a Syrian airbase and then that was it or given that this time they are closely consulting with the French, with the British, is it going to be more sustained covering more targets?

Are they going to, for instance, target the command and control facilities of this -- of the Syrian military? We have to wait and see.

An important question is given the level of rhetoric -- the heated rhetoric that we saw at the United Nations yesterday between the Russians and the Americans, are the Americans going to do as they also did a year ago -- warn the Russians that strikes were coming, tell them where the strikes would take place because the possibilities of a mistake are high in these circumstances -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: Yes, the Trump administration clearly taking their time to figure out what to do. No knee-jerk reaction in the wake of this attack.

Ben Wedeman in Beirut, thank you.

ROMANS: All right.

Russia warning the U.S. against taking any military action against the Syrian regime in response to that alleged chemical attack.

Let's get the latest on the reaction from Moscow where we have CNN's Nic Robertson -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Christine, good morning.

The very latest we're getting from a senior Russian lawmaker on an important defense committee here in Russia -- he has said that if Russians are put in danger -- Russian troops on the ground in Syria are put in danger by U.S. and its ally's strikes on Syria then there would be an immediate response. He didn't say what that response will be.

But it's also been made clear by the defense chiefs here that the response that they're planning would be to target U.S. and its allies missiles flying into Syria. That it would target the carriers from where those missiles are being fired from.

The Ministry -- the defense chiefs here are describing it as a dangerous situation. The Foreign Ministry here have said that there will be serious consequences if the United States were to follow through with military actions in Syria. And the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, speaking last night, essentially said pause, don't do it. This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VASSILY NEBENZIA, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS (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 are currently developing for Syria.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: Now, avoiding Russian targets might be made harder because it appears that Assad has moved a lot of his aircraft to Russian airbases inside Syria. So if you try to target Assad's air force, which is one theory, then you may unfortunately hit Russian troops. And that seems to be why Assad is moving his aircraft there because of the threats coming from Russia.

ROMANS: All right, Nic. Thank you so much for that in Moscow this morning.

We know the president's self-imposed deadline has passed for a decision on what to do so we're watching any moment now. Thank you.

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

You can see global stocks and U.S. futures mostly lower. Wall Street closed up with the Dow up more than 400 points after the Chinese president Xi Jinping -- he eased trade worries. He promised to open up Chinese markets, he promised to cut tariffs on car imports.

Fears of a trade war between the U.S. and China have caused wild swings on Wall Street but even before this recent trade spat Chinese investment in the U.S. fell 36 percent last year. That's after climbing for nearly two decades.

The drop is not due to any trade action. China has actually tightened restrictions on outbound investments. China worries that its biggest conglomerates may be overextending themselves.

Hitting the road this summer? Bad news for you, folks. Experts say you will pay more at the pump.

The average price per gallon 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 is pushing gas prices higher just before the summer driving season.

[05:50:11] Experts say more Americans will hit the road this year. Highway travel should jump just over one percent.

Bank of America will stop lending to some gunmakers, the second big U.S. lender to address gun sales in the -- in the wake of the Parkland school shooting.

Last month, Citigroup put new restrictions on how its corporate clients can sell guns, including restrictions on sales to anyone under 21.

Now, a Bank of America exec tells "Bloomberg" it will no longer finance military-style firearms for civilians, cutting ties with companies that produce such weapons. The exec did not name the gun manufacturers but Bank of America's clients include well-known publicly-held brands.

MARQUARDT: We've also seen a number of payment platforms --

ROMANS: That's right.

MARQUARDT: -- refuse to allow their customers to use --

ROMANS: That's right.

MARQUARDT: -- them to buy guns --

ROMANS: Yes.

MARQUARDT: -- as well.

ROMANS: Corporate leadership.

MARQUARDT: Corporate responsibility, yes. All right.

Well, a vote on whether or not to arm school teachers in the very community where the Parkland school massacre took place, that's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:55:40] ROMANS: Just hours from now Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg -- he goes back to Capitol Hill. He's got more questions to answer for the company's data privacy scandal. Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee will grill him this time.

"CNN MONEY"s Samuel Burke joins us. Samuel, what can we expect on day two?

SAMUEL BURKE, CORRESPONDENT, "CNN MONEY": Well, good morning, Christine.

Investors liked what they saw on day one. They're clicking like.

Facebook stock is up 4.5 percent, adding $20 billion back to the stock market value of that company. Keep in mind this is a company that's lost tens of millions -- tens of billions of dollars, rather, over the past few weeks.

Now, at the end of the day, what stock investors are looking at is will day two be harder than day one. A lot of people think that Mark Zuckerberg either met or exceeded expectations. It was the senators who were weak in answering questions. That sends a signal that maybe there won't be big data reform, big data protection.

Mark Zuckerberg seemed very prepared except for on one key question, Christine. Of course, this has to do with the possible connection between Donald Trump and Russia.

Look at what Patrick Leahy, the senator from Vermont, asked Mr. Zuckerberg and how Zuckerberg had to walk back his answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

ZUCKERBERG: Yes.

LEAHY: Have you been interviewed by them?

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 just want to make clear that you have been contacted, you have had subpoenas.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURKE: Facebook cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

What many are hoping for today is that the House is tougher on Mark Zuckerberg. We'll see, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, we will. All right. He's got a lot of work to do today.

Thanks so much, Samuel.

MARQUARDT: All right.

New this morning, the National Weather Service says that yesterday's storm damage in Fort Lauderdale was caused by two tornadoes. One was downtown, one at Fort Lauderdale Airport.

The twisters were small EF0s but enough to topple trees, bang up a small private plane, and cause other minor damage.

ROMANS: 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, Gov. 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 violence legislation enacted in the state after the Parkland school massacre last February.

MARQUARDT: And people in South Africa and around the world really, remembering Winnie Mandela. A memorial service being held for her in Soweto in the township just outside Johannesburg as part of 10 days of mourning for the anti-apartheid activist and former wife of the country's first black president, Nelson Mandela.

She'll be laid to rest on Saturday.

ROMANS: Those are live pictures there of that -- of that event. Certainly, a --

MARQUARDT: A real icon --

ROMANS: Yes.

MARQUARDT: -- in that country and around the world.

ROMANS: All right.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, thanks so much for having me. Thank you for joining us. I'm Alex Marquardt.

ROMANS: You'll be here tomorrow, right?

MARQUARDT: I will be back tomorrow.

ROMANS: All right, so come back tomorrow.

I'm Christine Romans. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Firing Rod Rosenstein would provoke outrage and intense opposition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rod Rosenstein has done nothing wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He wants this investigation to come to an end. He doesn't respect the rule of law.

GRASSLEY: I think it would be suicide for the president to fire him.

SANDERS: Certainly believes he has the power to do so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This raid is about scaring the hell out of the president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Manhattan federal attorney's office sought information about Karen McDougal.

PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The likelihood that Michael Cohen is going to be charged is high.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Cambridge Analytica misappropriated data from 87 million Facebook users. A decision was made not to notify the users.

ZUCKERBERG: In retrospect, I think we clearly view it as a mistake.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I was mildly disappointed. I don't want to regulate him but by God, I will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, April 11th, 6:00 here in New York.

Here's our "Starting Line."

Sources are telling CNN that President Trump is considering firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. That, of course, the man who oversees Bob Mueller's Russia investigation.