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EARLY START

James Comey Shreds President Trump in New Book; Former Trump Tower Doorman Speaks Out; President Trump, Prime Minister May Vow to Deter Use of Chemical Weapons; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired April 13, 2018 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:12] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: Fired FBI director James Comey not holding back in his new book. Gripping what he calls the forest fire that is the Trump presidency.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Sources tell CNN that FBI agents may have seized tapes of phone calls during that raid on President Trump's personal lawyer.

MARQUARDT: President Trump talking again with British Prime Minister Theresa May working on the final decision for a response to the suspected chemical attack in Syria.

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

ROMANS: Nice to have you here this Friday.

MARQUARDT: Happy Friday.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday, Friday the 13th. April 13th. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East. It's 11:00 a.m. in northern Syria. We will have a report from there in just a few minutes.

But first, in his upcoming book, fired FBI director James Comey blasts President Trump in brutal terms calling him unethical and untethered to truth and institutional values. Comey writes, "His leadership is transactional, ego driven and about personal loyalty."

The book is not official out until Tuesday but it exploded into public view last night. CNN obtained a copy. Comey calls the Trump presidency a, quote, "forest fire" and says that aspects like Trump's loyalty oaths and boss in complete control reminded him of his days prosecuting the mob.

MARQUARDT: In other key passages, Comey recounts his first meeting with President-elect Trump. When Russian meddling in the election came up, Comey says Trump's only question was, "You found there was no impact on the result, right?"

ROMANS: And then there's the so-called dossier, opposition research commission by candidate Trump's opponent. Some material later verified. Among the unverified claims that Russia had video of Trump watching prostitutes urinate in a hotel suite.

Comey says the president was obsessed with these so-called golden shower allegations, quote, "It bothered him if there was even a 1 percent chance his wife Melania thought it was true. He just rolled on, unprompted, explaining why it couldn't possibly be true. Ending by saying he was thinking of asking me to investigate the allegation to prove it was a lie. I said it was up to him."

MARQUARDT: So many quotes. Comey also has tough words for his fellow Republicans, criticizing them. He seems to lay out his own mission statement, saying, "It is also wrong to stand idly by or worse, to stay silent when you know better while the president brazenly seeks to undermine public confidence and law enforcement institutions that were established to keep our leaders in check."

ROMANS: The White House and the Republican party are not planning to respond to each of the many allegations in Comey's book. People familiar with the matter say the president's defenders will instead stick to a broad attack, an attack on Comey's credibility and character. They already have a Web site set up called LyingComey.com. And the RNC has put out a safe cover for Comey's book, re-titling it, "A Higher Loyalty to Me, Myself and I."

Of course the response everyone is wondering about could come at any time or never on the president's Twitter feed.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, another day and another hush money bombshell involving the president. A former Trump Tower doorman is standing by his claim that he was paid $30,000 by the "National Enquirer" in 2015 for his story that suggested that Donald Trump had fathered a child with a housekeeper. According to the "New Yorker," the "Enquirer" buried that story as a favor to Mr. Trump. The parent company of the "Enquirer" is denying the allegation.

We get more from CNN's MJ Lee.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Good morning, guys. Well, what we have is just one more story that appears to show an effort to pay to kill a damaging story about President Trump. The Associated Press and the "New Yorker" have reported that in 2015, American Media Inc., this is a company that owns the "National Enquirer," bought the rights to a salacious story from a man who worked as a doorman at one of the Trump building.

AMI ultimately killed that story. Now what was the doorman's story? He claimed that Donald Trump had a secret child with one of its former employee at the Trump Organization. The doorman, Dino Sajudin, even gave the name of the mother and the child to AMI.

Now yesterday, we got a statement from Dino Sajudin. Here's what he said. He said, "Today I woke to learn that a confidential agreement that I had with AMI, the "National Enquirer," with regard to a story about President Trump was leaked to the press. I can confirm that while working at Trump World Tower, I was instructed not to criticize President Trump's former housekeeper due to a prior relationship she had with President Trump which produced a child."

Now to be very clear about this, CNN has not independently confirmed if there is any truth to what this Trump doorman is saying and Ronan Farrow, who wrote the "New Yorker" piece, said this claim was salacious and unconfirmed. And we're also told that according to his agreement with AMI, Sajudin can speak about the story, that being his claim that Trump had a lovechild but he cannot speak about the agreement with AMI or any money he may have received from that company.

Now AMI meanwhile is categorically denying that Trump or his lawyer Michael Cohen had anything to do with pursuing the story. They also say that David Pecker, the publisher of AMI, never used company funds to shut down any story.

Back to you, guys.

ROMANS: All right. MJ, thank you for that.

Sources tell CNN that conversations recorded by President Trump's personal lawyer before and during the 2016 campaign were likely scooped up in this week's raid on Michael Cohen's home, his office and his hotel room. The sources say Cohen routinely recorded discussions about the campaign and interactions with the media. Two campaign officials tell the "Washington Post" that Trump associates are worried Cohen's recordings are now in the hands of the FBI.

Investigators will have to wait to hear the recordings. Evidence from the raids has to be reviewed by an independent team to make sure it doesn't breach attorney-client privilege.

MARQUARDT: And in the wake of the FBI raid on Michael Cohen, sources say that President Trump's legal team has pulled back on a proposal for an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. And they are now reevaluating whether the president should actually talk to Mueller at all.

The Cohen raid happened at the same time that attorneys were meeting to discuss the president's testimony to the special counsel. A source says that Trump lawyers were blindsided by the raid and consider it a major breach of trust.

ROMANS: Sources tell CNN that the White House is preparing talking points to undermine the credibility of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The strategy is to cast him as too conflicted to oversee the Russia investigation. The plan is still in its preliminary form, we're told.

The president is considering firing Rosenstein who oversees the special counsel. The deputy attorney general met with the president at the White House on Thursday. Administration officials say the meeting was arranged to discuss routine Justice Department business.

MARQUARDT: Meanwhile, amid all the talk about Comey's book and the Russia investigation, the White House says that President Trump will grant a full pardon to Scooter Libby. That's a name we haven't heard a while.

Libby was chief of staff to then vice president Dick Cheney. In 2007 Libby was convicted of obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI about leaking the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame. President George W. Bush commuted Libby's sentence but he refused to grant a pardon.

President Trump already has granted one controversial pardon. That's to Joe Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff who's convicted of criminal content over his hard-lined tactics against undocumented immigrants.

ROMANS: Turning now to Syria. The White House says no final decision on how to respond to the apparent gas attack on civilians in eastern Ghouta. But officials say that President Trump and Prime Minister Theresa May have vowed in a phone call to deter further use of chemical weapons in the region.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh live in northern Syria. He's got all the details.

Good morning, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Strange times here in the time table of perhaps looking out for military action. It appears the Western powers of the U.S. and its British and French allies have gotten themselves into a bit of a jam.

U.N. chemical weapons inspectors arrived and start work they say on Saturday. Now it's tough to show you have respect for a mission like that, gathering evidence at the site -- scene of the alleged weekend chemical weapons attack at Douma if you're bombing the country at the same time. If you go ahead beforehand, you could perhaps argue you needed to show some kind of urgent response to what now the U.S., the U.K. and France say is the use of chemical weapons, possibly chlorine, possibly something worse by the Assad regime.

Also, too, bear in mind that we're dealing with a multi-pronged, a multinational response here. The U.S. always at a high state of readiness with assets in this region. A $700 billion budget. But the U.K. and France significantly less in their readiness. Perhaps it takes a while to get things militarily in place but all of this simply adds to the tension here inside Syria.

The lead time, many argue, that the Syrian regime and its Russian backers have had to move assets out of harm's way or to confuse the battlefield picture for any potential U.S. strikes and also too, some argue, to tamper with the alleged crime scene where these chemical weapons were used taking over 40 lives and affecting 500 people.

It's a tense moment here because I think once we see the OPCW chemical weapons inspectors at work on the ground this weekend, there will be growing international pressure for their work to finish and continue. It took a full 16 -- sorry, a full 12 days after the Khan Sheikhoun attacks last year which prompted a U.S. military response for the OPCW to come out and certify that sarin had been used in those attacks.

But I do not personally believe that the U.S. commander-in-chief's attention span or the public opinion globally has a full two weeks' worth wait in them before any action here.

Back to you.

ROMANS: I think that's been pretty spot-on analysis there. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much for that.

Trade tensions with China remain.

[04:10:03] So President Trump may rejoin a trade deal he quit his first week of office. Trump told lawmakers he directed his top economic advisers to take a fresh look at the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It's this huge trade pact with 11 other Pacific nations. Candidate Trump railed against it, called it an unfair deal. President Trump withdrew in 2017. The other countries including Mexico, Canada, and Japan, they moved forward without the U.S. They signed TPP 11. But now Senator Ben Sasse says Trump is reconsidering the agreement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: Multiple times reaffirmed the point that TPP might be easier for us to join now once the TPP 11 is aligned and we might be the 12th party to those negotiations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Trump made those comments during a meeting with lawmakers from states that rely on agriculture. Farmers have criticized the administration's escalating trade battle with China. China threatening tariffs on many agricultural exports and experts say TPP, which does not include China, it's designed, it was always designed to combat China's economic clout. To be a blunt to China's economic influence.

All these countries together -- together -- making sure that they are working to -- you know, to blunt China. Well, last night, late last night, Trump tweeted he would only join TPP if the deal was substantially better than the deal offered to President Obama, adding that the U.S. already has one-on-one deals with six of the TPP nations and is currently working another with Japan.

MARQUARDT: Is that just late recognition of what the TPP was actually intended for?

ROMANS: The TPP became a real political thing. I mean, even Hillary Clinton was against it, too. It became sort of the symbol of everything that had gone wrong with prior trade deals. But the point of TPP was always to have these voices together working to balance China's influence in the region. And now the United States needs to balance China's influence in the region because of this trade fight, needs to work together with its allies.

MARQUARDT: China threatens tariffs, and we're like, oh, maybe TPP is not so bad.

ROMANS: TPP -- yes. Maybe, I guess.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo was asked at his confirmation hearing what he would do if President Trump fired Robert Mueller.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Would you resign your post as secretary of state to demonstrate that we are a nation of laws, not of men?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: You'll hear Pompeo's response next.

ROMANS: And help for the thousands of people victimized by Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff.

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[04:16:28] MARQUARDT: Welcome back. CIA director Mike Pompeo is facing an uphill battle in his bid to become the next secretary of state. Two key Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have signaled that they are prepared to vote against his nomination. That combined with Republican Rand Paul already in opposition. Pompeo may not have enough support to win a favorable recommendation from the committee.

Listen to Pompeo deflecting questions about President Trump and the Russia probe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he ask you to do anything as it relates to that investigation?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: Senator, I don't recall. I don't recall what he asked me that day. Precisely. But I have to tell you I'm with the president an awful lot. He has never asked me to do anything that I consider remotely improper.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Assuming he is confirmed, Pompeo was also asked whether he would resign as secretary of state if President Trump tries to fire Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POMPEO: Senator, I haven't given that question any thought. My instincts tell me no. My instincts tell me that my obligation to continue to serve as America's senior diplomat will be more important at increased times of political domestic turmoil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Pompeo was also pressed on how he would handle the nuclear threat posed by Iran. He insists that as secretary of state he would pursue diplomacy first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POMPEO: There is no doubt that this administration policy and my view is that the solution to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapons, to finding ourselves in the same place we are in North Korea in Iran is through diplomacy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Now if Pompeo fails to get a favorable recommendation from the Senate committee, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell could still bring up his nomination on the Senate floor. That would be extremely rare. Pompeo would need the support of at least one Democratic senator, and given Rand Paul's opposition, and the continued absence of Senator John McCain, that would be very difficult.

ROMANS: All right. A Massachusetts police officer was shot and killed while serving a warrant. He has been identified as 32-year-old Sean Gannon of the Yarmouth police force. Officer Gannon's K-9 partner Nero was also shot and will go undergo surgery this morning. 29-year-old Thomas Latanowich of Somerville was taken into custody within an hour of the shooting. He will be arraigned today on a murder charge.

More than 21,000 victims of Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme will be receiving $504 million in payouts. The Justice Department says it's the second distribution in a series of payments from the Madoff victim fund for a total of $4 billion. It's been recovered by federal authorities through asset forfeitures and will be returned to those who were defrauded. Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 felonies back in 2009. He was sentenced to 150 years in prison and ordered to forfeit over $170 billion.

Nine years ago. People have been waiting for their money.

MARQUARDT: Yes. That seems like a really long time ago now.

ROMANS: Yes.

MARQUARDT: Well, a mystery. Three decades in the making. Finally solved. More on this work of art, next.

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[04:23:50] ROMANS: Powerful winds fueling multiple wildfires in Oklahoma. Woodward County is one of the hardest hit areas in the state. A cluster of fires has already scorched 115,000 acre there and still growing. Nearly two dozen homes have been lost, hundreds of people forces to evacuate.

A fire in Dewey County, Oklahoma, has burned another 20,000 acres. One person is reported missing. Emergency officials described the fire conditions as historic. They say things could get much worse today.

MARQUARDT: And in southeast Colorado, one person has been injured in another spreading wildfire. The fire threatens hundreds of homes in the town of Boone. Officials say crews battling the mile-wide blaze are being hampered by a 60-mile-hour wind gusts. The fires have forced road closures but so far no structures have been destroyed.

ROMANS: New power problems in Puerto Rico. Electricity is gradually returning this morning after a massive blackout Thursday. Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority says a tree fell on a major power line knocking out service to 870,000 customers. That's about half of the island. We're also learning one power line worker was hurt during the outage. Authorities tell CNN the machine it was using touched the tree that came down resulting burns on his hand and food. He is in stable condition.

[04:25:04] MARQUARDT: And look at this. A stolen Chagall painting that has been missing for 30 years has been recovered by the FBI. The -- 1911 masterpiece, excuse me, "Othello and Desdemona," was stolen from the New York City apartment of art collectors Earnest and Rose Heller back in 1988. It was an inside job. It was orchestrated by an employee in their building. The Hellers are now deceased but the painting will be returned to their estate to be sold at auction. It's expected to fetch close to $1 million. $1 million for a Chagall? It seems a bit cheap.

ROMANS: I know. Maybe a little bit more.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: All right. Fired FBI director James Comey all but declares war on President Trump in his new revenge tell-all. CNN has a copy of the book and we're sharing the best parts next.

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