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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; Key Witness to Take the Stand in Bill Cosby Sexual Assault Retrial; Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired April 13, 2018 - 04:30   ET


[04:30:10] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Fired FBI director James Comey not holding back in his new book. Ripping what he calls the forest fire that is the Trump presidency.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: And sources tell CNN that FBI agents may have seized tapes of phone calls during a raid on President Trump's personal lawyer.

ROMANS: President Trump talking again with the British prime minister working on a final decision for a response to the suspected chemical attack in Syria.

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

MARQUARDT: And I'm Alex Marquardt. It is almost 31 minutes past the hour on this Friday.

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

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

ROMANS: 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 results, right?"

MARQUARDT: And then there's the so-called dossier, the Steele dossier, opposition research commissioned by Candidate Trump's opponents. Some material later verified. Among the unverified claims that Russia had a video of Trump watching prostitutes urinate in a hotel suite in Moscow.

Comey says that the president was obsessed with these so-called golden shower allegations, quote, "It bothered him, " sorry, "It bothered him if there was even a 1 percent chance that 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," Comey, "to investigate the allegation to prove it was a lie. I said it was up to him."

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

MARQUARDT: Now the White House and the Republican Party are not planning to respond to each of these many allegations in James Comey's book. People who are familiar with the matter say that the president's defenders will instead stick to a broad attack on Comey's credibility and his character. They've already come up with a Web site calling it And the RNC has put out a fake cover for Comey's book, re-titling it, "A Higher Loyalty," which is the original title, but "To Me, Myself and I."

Of course the response that everyone is wondering about this morning is -- and that really could come at any time or never, is on the president's Twitter feed. We'll find out in a couple of hours.

ROMANS: All right. Another day, another hush money bombshell involving this 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 suggesting Donald Trump had fathered a child with a housekeeper. According to the "New Yorker," the "Enquirer" buried the story as a favor to Mr. Trump. The parent company of the "Enquirer" is denying this allegation.

Let's get more this morning on that 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.

[04:35:05] 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.

MARQUARDT: All right. MJ Lee, thank you very much.

Now sources are telling 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 are saying that Cohen routinely recorded discussions about the campaign and interactions with the media. Two campaign officials tell the "Washington Post" that Trump associates are worried that Cohen's recordings are now in the hands of the FBI.

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

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

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

MARQUARDT: Sources also telling 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. He oversees the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The deputy attorney general met with the president at the White House on Thursday. Administration officials say the meeting was arranged to discuss just routine Justice Department business.

ROMANS: The White House says President Trump will grant a full pardon to Scooter Libby. 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 refused to grant a pardon. President Trump has already granted one controversial pardon to Joe Arpaio. The Arizona sheriff was convicted of criminal content over the -- his hard-lined tactics against undocumented immigrants.

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

We're now joined by CNN's Nick Paton Walsh live in northern Syria.

Nick, it has now been five -- six days, almost a week since the -- this attack. We know that the U.S. is talking with its allies about how to respond. But we also know that chemical weapons investigators are going to be allowed into Ghouta to inspect this. So what are we expecting now?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it does appear that the U.S. and U.K. and France, sort of the major outraged Western powers about this, have got themselves into a bit of a bind with the timing because we've heard the steady drumbeat all week of them discussing the evidence.

Emmanuel Macron yesterday talking about proof, not specifying what it was. Theresa May, the British prime minister, pointed a finger directly at the Assad regime, and now a Cabinet meeting approving some kind of action saying that the use of chemical weapons could not go unchallenged and also Donald Trump's variety of tweets. Make of them what you will.

But the problem they really face, though, is that the OPCW, the U.N. chemical weapons inspectors, say they'll start work tomorrow, Saturday, in Syria around Damascus, at the site of the weekend attack in Douma.

Now you can potentially argue that military strikes during those investigators' work perhaps shows a slight disregard for the results of what they're actually doing or maybe even the safety of those inspectors on the ground. And acting beforehand perhaps suggests a level of military or political urgency.

So we have pretty much the rest of today around the United Nations Security Council meeting scheduled at 11:00 your time for the U.S., frankly, and its allies to act given some elements of that timetable or perhaps you may argue they choose to wait until the OPCW has come with its results. Now that took a full 14 days, sorry, 12 days the last time sarin gas or a chemical weapon was used according to their results back in April of last year.

And you have to really ask yourself whether or not the U.S. commander- in-chief or its allies facing domestic pressure about what level of consent they have for military action if those necessarily have the tolerance or attention span to hold off another two weeks before a military action -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: Yes. President Trump saying the attack or a strike could come very soon or not soon at all.

All right. Nick Paton Walsh in northern Syria, thanks very much.

President Trump is ordering a review of U.S. Postal Service operations and finances.

[04:40:05] The executive order signed last night comes just weeks after the president publicly railed against Amazon claiming that the online retailer giant does not pay its fair share of postage. In the order the president says that the Postal Service's finances are currently financially unsustainable and must be, quote, "restructured" to prevent a taxpayer funded bailout. The task force will be led by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and will be -- will include the attorney general and the Labor secretary.

ROMANS: A House GOP bill will put new work requirements on food stamps. A first step in overhauling the federal safety net. 42 million Americans use the supplemental nutrition assistance program, it's called SNAP, and a new farm bill dramatically expands SNAP's work requirements. It requires that most adults work part time or enroll in job training. If not, they could lose assistance for up to three years.

House Agriculture Committee chair Mike Conaway wrote in an op-ed that while benefits are critically important, equally important is a focus on helping these same people climb back out of poverty. Now consumer advocates say many low-income Americans already work and this move could lead to millions losing crucial assistance.

This is just the latest step in the GOP's efforts to tighten work requirements on government assistance. President Trump directed federal agencies to review welfare work rules earlier this week.

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


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?


MARQUARDT: You will hear Pompeo's response coming up next.

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


[04:46:02] ROMANS: All right. CIA director Mike Pompeo facing an uphill battle here in his bid to become secretary of State. Two key Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have signaled they are prepared to vote against his nomination. With Republican Rand Paul already opposed, 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.


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.


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


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.


ROMANS: 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.


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.


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

MARQUARDT: That would be pretty extraordinary.

Now 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. ROMANS: A big day ahead at Bill Cosby's sexual assault re-trial.

Accuser Andrea Constand is scheduled to take the witness stand when court resumes this morning. Her testimony comes after the last of five women who were allowed to testify told the jury how they were allegedly drugged and sexually assaulted by Cosby.

We get more this morning from CNN's Jean Casarez.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Alex, Judge Stephen O'Neil said from the bench to expect Andrea Constand, the accuser in this case, to take the stand today. This is the woman that went to police in 2005 saying that a year before that as she was the director of basketball operations for the women's team here at Temple that Bill Cosby, who she had known and trusted and was her mentor, drugged her and sexually assaulted her one night at his home.

The defense will aggressively cross examine her to say not only was any activity consensual but she decided that Bill Cosby was going to be her payday. All of the five prior bad act witnesses, those women who say they, too, were drugged and assaulted by Bill Cosby, they have taken the stand, including supermodel Janice Dickinson saying that he called her to South Lake Tahoe in 1982, drugged her, she believes sexually assaulted her. And on cross-examination, Tom Mesereau was extremely aggressive for the jury to not believe what Dickinson was saying.

The trial continues today. We are in the case of the "Commonwealth of Pennsylvania versus Bill Cosby" -- Christine, Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right. Jean Casarez, thanks so much.

More than 21,000 victims of Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme will be receiving $504 million in payouts. The Justice Department says it is the second distribution in a series of payment from the Madoff victim fund.

[04:50:03] A total of $4 billion has been recovered by federal authorities through asset forfeitures and will be returned to those who were defrauded. Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 felonies in 2009. He was sentenced then to 150 years in prison and ordered to forfeit over $170 billion.

ROMANS: The upset winner in last month's special election in Pennsylvania's 18th District was sworn in to Congress last night by Speaker Paul Ryan. Democrat Conor Lamb will serve out the remaining eight months of former Congressman Tim Murphy's term. Lamb defeated Republican state senator Rick Saccone by the narrowest of margins, just 755 votes. The victory was a major upset in a district President Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

MARQUARDT: And Colonel Lorna Mahlock has been nominated by President Trump to become the first black female brigadier general to serve in the Marine Corps. Colonel Mahlock is currently a deputy director at corps headquarters in Washington. Previously she served in Okinawa, Japan as a commanding officer in charge of 1300 troops and civilian personnel. Women make up just 8 percent of the Marine Corps but corps officials launched a diversity campaign in 2012 and say they expect to see an increase among women in the ranks.

ROMANS: 51 minutes past the hour. Tesla is in an open feud with the National Transportation Safety Board and it is getting pretty intense. We'll tell you why on "CNN Money" next.


[04:56:09] MARQUARDT: Powerful winds are fueling multiple wildfires out in Oklahoma. Woodward County is one of the hardest hit areas in the state. A cluster of fires has already scorched 115,000 acres there and is continuing to grow. Nearly two dozen homes have been lost, hundreds of people forced to evacuate.

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

ROMANS: In southeast Colorado, one person has been injured in a 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-an-hour wind gusts. The fires forced road closures but so far no structures have been destroyed.

MARQUARDT: A stolen Chagall painting that was missing for 30 years has been recovered by the FBI. The 1911 masterpiece, "Othello and Desdemona," was stolen from the New York City apartment of art collectors Earnest and Rose Heller. That was in 1988. It was an inside job orchestrated by an employee in their building. The Hellers are now deceased but the painting will be returned to their estate and put up for auction. It's expected to fetch close to $1 million.

ROMANS: All right. Speaking of money, let's get a check on "CNN Money" this morning. Global stocks mostly higher today. Wall Street rose on reports that President Trump may rejoin the TPP trade agreement. And he walks back threats of an immediate strike on Syria. The hope today is investors will focus on fundamentals, not headlines. Earnings season kicks off starting with -- starring some big, big banks, Citibank, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo. And Wall Street expected big profits. Bank stocks soared yesterday in anticipation.

In AT&T's anti-trust trial, its first witness aimed to undermine the Justice Department's case. The DOJ is suing AT&T to block its purchase of Time Warner, parent of CNN. The government claims this deal would mean higher prices for you, the consumer. But AT&T's economist says no, it will actually lower prices because the merger creates a more efficient company. The trial began in mid-March and is expected to wrap up this month.

Tesla in an open feud with the National Transportation Safety Board. And it is getting pretty intense. At issue is the NTSB's investigation of a fatal Tesla crash while it was in auto pilot mode. The agency took the unusual step of removing Tesla from the official investigation. It says Tesla violated the rules by releasing info about the crash before it was vetted. But Tesla says it removed itself from the investigation and now accuses the NTSB of being more concerned with press headlines than actually promoting safety.

Rare you see such an open feud with the NTSB and a subject of an investigation.

MARQUARDT: And it's Tesla, which has such a positive public perception.

All right. Well, EARLY START continues right now.

ROMANS: Fired FBI director James Comey not holding back in his new book. Ripping what he calls the forest fire that is the Trump presidency.

MARQUARDT: And sources are telling CNN that FBI agents may have seized tapes of phone calls during a raid on President Trump's personal lawyer.

ROMANS: President Trump talking again with the British prime minister working on a final decision for a response to the suspected chemical attack in Syria.

All right. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START.

MARQUARDT: It's Friday. It's Friday the 13th. It's Friday.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans.

MARQUARDT: But in other good news, it's Friday.

ROMANS: It's Friday. It's Friday, that's all I care about.

MARQUARDT: All right. Almost there.

I'm Alex Marquardt. It's Friday, 13th, as Christine just said. It is 5:00 a.m. here in the east. Noon in northern Syria. 6:00 p.m. in Tokyo. We have reports from those places coming up.

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

The book is not officially out until Tuesday but it exploded into public view late last night.