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Trump Lawyers and Prosecutors Wrangle in Court Over Seized Evidence; U.N. Inspectors Blocked From Syria Attack Site; U.S. and the U.K. Issue Warning About Russian Hackers; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired April 17, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:13] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: FOX star Sean Hannity forced to explain after a court case reveals he is the mystery third client of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Jim Comey's revenge tell-all now on sale as the fired FBI director speaks out in a new interview this morning. Wait until you hear what he said.

BRIGGS: The president reportedly holding back on Russian sanctions, even with the Russians now accused of helping block chemical weapons inspectors in Syria.

ROMANS: We thought they'd be on-site, that they'd be doing some goods so far, but it looks like they are having trouble getting there.

BRIGGS: Yes. Nikki Haley has some explaining to do.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, April 17th, tax day, folks, 4:00 a.m. in the East.


ROMANS: 11:00 a.m. in Moscow. 9:00 a.m. in London. If you haven't today --

BRIGGS: It's too late.

ROMANS: So you've got to do it. You've got to do it.

All right. The battle over evidence seized in raids on Michael Cohen's home, office, and hotel room, that battle has moved to a New York federal courtroom. Lawyers for the president, his personal attorney, that's Cohen, and a federal prosecutor arguing over how to handle material covered by attorney-client privilege.

BRIGGS: The prosecutor wants a walled-off internal taint team, if you will, to go through the material. Cohen wants an independent arbiter, a special master to do it, and the president's lawyers want to make the decisions themselves. The judge rendered a split decision offering something for all three parties. Her rulings and what the prosecutor is calling a fast-moving case also triggered a big courtroom surprise. The latest now from CNN's Brynn Gingras in New York.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, a lot unfolding in court. Essentially the U.S. attorney is now going to hand over all of those seized documents to Michael Cohen. And the judge told those attorneys that they need to filter through them, see how much material, their volume, is really needed to be protected by the attorney-client privilege. Then some of those materials can also be handed over to the Trump administration.

Prosecutors are also going to do their own filtering. And then all three parties are going to reconvene in the courtroom again and that's when the judge is really going to make a final ruling on whether or not a special taint team is going to filter through the documents again before the DOJ continues their investigation.

So a lot of things need to happen before this investigation can continue, somewhat of a stall in this criminal investigation that really set forward all these things in motion. But, of course, this didn't all happen without a little bit of drama. If Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels in the courtroom wasn't enough, we learned today that Michael Cohen was actually representing multiple people throughout the years, but in the last three years three people in particular.

We know about Trump. We know about the RNC head. And then we learned today that he has represented or he has given legal advice, rather, to Sean Hannity, and that brought a little bit more drama into the courtroom. Certainly they talked about whether or not he had dealings with Sean Hannity, what kind of dealings those were.

Sean Hannity says that he only sought legal advice from Michael Cohen and he had nothing to do with the case that is going on at this point.

Christine and Dave, back to you.

ROMANS: All right. Brynn, thank you so much for that.

Sean Hannity gave his version on his FOX News show last night. Downplaying his attorney-client relationship with Michael Cohen, while also saying he expected their communications to be covered by attorney-client privilege.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Let me set the record straight. Here's the truth. Michael Cohen never represented me in any legal matter. I never retained his services, I never received an invoice, I never paid Michael Cohen for legal fees.

I did have occasional brief conversations with Michael Cohen, he's a great attorney, about legal questions I had or I was looking for input and perspective. My discussions with Michael Cohen never rose to any level that I needed to tell anyone that I was asking him questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: But Michael Cohen calls him a client. Calls Sean Hannity a client. One of Hannity's guests, law professor Alan Dershowitz did gently scold him for failing to disclose his relationship with Cohen.


ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL PROFESSOR: I really think that you should have disclosed your relationship with Cohen when you talked about him on this show. You could have said just that you had asked him for advice or whatever, but I think it would have been much, much better had you disclosed that relationship.


DERSHOWITZ: You are in a difficult situation obviously --

HANNITY: Do you understand the nature of it, Professor?


HANNITY: I'm going to deal with this later in the show.

DERSHOWITZ: Yes. Yes. No, I understand.

HANNITY: But it was minimal.

DERSHOWITZ: I understand that.

HANNITY: But I was candid about it.

DERSHOWITZ: But you should have said that.


ROMANS: Hannity made clear during the show and on Twitter afterward that his questions to Cohen were almost exclusively about real estate. He said Cohen never represented him on any matter involving a third party. Cohen's other two clients in the last year were ultra wealthy men who paid hush money through Cohen to women with whom they allegedly had affairs.

[04:05:01] BRIGGS: James Comey's book now on sale in bookstores nationwide. Some customers headed out to Kramer Books in Washington, D.C. at midnight last night to get their hands on their first copy. The former FBI director's new interview with NPR set to air this morning. Comey says he's concerned about the president interfering with the special counsel's Russia investigation. Telling NPR he thinks, "it is very important Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stays in his job because I do think he has conducted himself honorably with respect to his appointment of the special counsel and his assertion of that special counsel's work to the rule of law. And so I really do think it would be an attack on the rule of law for him to be fired or for the special counsel to be fired."

ROMANS: Regarding President Trump's weekend tweet calling for Comey to be incarcerated, the ex-FBI director says, quote, "The president of the United States just tweeted that a private citizen should be jailed. And I think the reaction of most of us was, meh, it's another one of those things. This is not normal. This is not OK. There is a danger that we will become numb to it and we will stop noticing the threats to our norms."

The president continued his attacks on Monday, tweeting this, "Comey drafted the crooked Hillary exoneration long before he talked to her, lied in Congress to Senator Grassley, then based his decisions on her poll numbers. Disgruntled, he, McCabe and the others committed many crimes."

BROWN: President Trump has ordered a hold on new sanctions against Russia that we just announced Sunday by his U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley. The "Washington Post" reports the president was upset about the sanctions rollout. And the plan is now at a holding pattern. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tamping down expectations, telling reporters the administration is only considering new sanctions and a decision will be made in the near future.

ROMANS: That sure is a change in tune.

Russian military officials say investigators from the U.N. watchdog group OPCW will be allowed to enter the city of Douma so they investigate the site of last week's suspected chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians. And despite having U.N. clearance, inspectors have not been able to get to the location. The United Kingdom says Syria and Russia are blocking these inspectors. One Russian diplomat calls that claim fake news.

CNN's Nic Robertson tracking the latest developments live from Moscow.

What can you tell us, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Christine, it's a real turnaround, isn't it? Because if you go back to the beginning of this past weekend, the Russians and the Syrians were saying get that OPCW team in here as fast as possible. We are ready to help them, we control that neighborhood of Douma. We have forces there and we can make it safe.

Yet the OPCW, the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, inspection team ride in Damascus on Saturday, still can't get out. Russian officials are saying that's because of the British, American and French airstrikes.

But the real concern seems to be that while the inspectors are able to get to the site, the evidence on the ground could be tampered with or the chemical residues there could slowly seep away. So what the Russians are saying is it's not us stopping them at all, it is in fact a process that is happening. That today the Syrians and Russians will do a test drive into that neighborhood to make sure it's safe for the OPCW inspectors to get out there.

The reality is that despite saying over the weekend they wanted that inspection team in there fast, Russia and Syria are slow rolling the access for the OPCW into the site. This is a point of contention between the United States and Russia, between Britain and Russia at the moment. Both of them very concerned about what Russia is doing in the meantime, and of course Russia's narrative all along has been there was no chemical weapons attack. And then the other narrative they have as well is there was a chemical weapons attack. But it was a fake attack.

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

BRIGGS: President Trump today preparing to welcome Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the Winter White House at Mar-a-Lago. The two are expected to tackle North Korea and trade during two days of pivotal meetings. Abe was apparently thrown off upon learning of Trump's plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un face-to-face next month. Abe being dogged by corruption scandal at home and in need of some type of policy win. The White House saying fair and reciprocal trade and investment programs will be explored between the U.S. and Japan.

ROMANS: New developments this morning in two of the controversies surrounding embattled EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. The Government Accountability Office says a $43,000 sound proof booth for Pruitt's office violated federal spending laws. The congressional spending watchdog says Pruitt's staff failed to notify Congress before spending more than $5,000 on office improvements. The EPA rejects that interpretation saying the law only applies to aesthetic improvements.

[04:10:01] BRIGGS: Meantime, the EPA's own watchdog office says two Pruitt aides who received substantial pay raises through a loophole in federal salary rules, those aides each had an earlier pay increase that was previously undisclosed. Documents show the raises where signed off by Pruitt's chief of staff who in some cases wrote Pruitt's name alongside his signature. Pruitt has denied knowing in advance about those raises.

And another Trump Cabinet member apparently in the clear this morning. The Interior Department's watchdog has found Secretary Ryan Zinke's travel patterns, quote, "generally followed policy despite recent scrutiny for mixing business with pleasure and chartering pricey military private aircraft. Report says most of those flights last year were indeed by the book.

ROMANS: By the book. All right. The U.S. cracking down on one of China's biggest tech companies. Intensifying the economic clash between Washington and Beijing. The Commerce Department slapping an export ban on ZTE forbidding U.S. companies from selling parts to the Chinese phone maker.

The ban is punishment for breaking the terms of the deal after ZTE violated U.S. sanctions. It did not penalize employees caught illegally shipping U.S. goods to Iran and North Korea.

ZTE did not -- this is a potentially devastating blow to ZTE. American brands provide up to 30 percent of the parts in ZTE's smartphones including microchips from Qualcomm and glass from Corning. It also escalates the current trade battle between the U.S. and China, both sides are threatening the other with tens of billions of dollars in tariffs. And tech is at the center of this clash. The U.S. accuses China of stealing trade secrets and forcing companies to hand over sensitive technologies that do business in China. Beijing rejects both of those allegations.

China's Ministry of Commerce says it is following the developments of the ZTE case and that it stands ready to, quote, "take necessary measures to defend the interests of Chinese firms."

BRIGGS: All right. Coming up, cyber spies from the Kremlin could be trying to hack into your home office router. We go live to London with a new warning next.

ROMANS: And punches instead of prayers at this place of worship. That's just ahead.


[04:16:13] BRIGGS: A joint warning this morning from the U.S. and the UK. Russian hackers are trying to gain access to the very devices that control the flow of internet traffic, including home routers.

Let's go live to London and welcome in CNN's Erin McLaughlin for the latest developments.

Good morning, Erin.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. Well, it's extremely unusual for the sort of joint alert to be issued by the United States and the United Kingdom. Unprecedented in fact. And the purpose, according to officials that the alert really is twofold, to call out the Russian government and also to warn industry of what's been going on.

Now officials say that it's highly likely that Russian government itself has been behind some of these malicious attacks. They've issued the statement. Let me read you part of it, that "The U.S. and UK governments have high confidence that Russian state sponsored cyber actors were behind this malicious cyber activity that aimed to exploit network infrastructure devices. This activity threatens the safety, security and economic well being of the U.S., UK and international allies."

Pretty strongly worded statement there. Now network infrastructure devices are really critical because they're seen as the nexus point for massive amounts of internet traffic. And what they believe has been going on is that hackers have been scanning the Internet trying to trick these devices into giving up, for example, their log-in details. Once they have that, they then have control of the device.

Described as one -- by one U.S. official as a, quote, "tremendous weapon" in the hands of the adversary. Now Russia for its part has denied these allegations. We have a statement from the Russian embassy here in the United Kingdom saying it is. quote, "A striking example of the reckless, provocative, an unfounded policy against Russia -- Dave. BRIGGS: But of course. Erin McLaughlin, live for us in London.


ROMANS: It makes the smart home sound terrifying, doesn't it? All the different ways that you're connected.

All right. 18 minutes past the hour. Violence erupting at the Sikh Temple in Greenwood, Indiana. A fight involving about 150 people broke out Sunday during the process of selecting new temple leaders. Police say some of the old leaders did not want to relinquish power. Nine people suffered minor injuries in the brawl and were hospitalized. Authorities are reviewing surveillance video from that temple.

BRIGGS: All right. A Blago update. Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich running out of legal options. The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear his appeal. I think that means he'll continue serving a 14-year sentence for corruption in a Colorado prison. The 61-year- old Blagojevich was convicted in 2011 of attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Barack Obama in 2008. He was impeached by the Illinois House of Representatives and removed from office by the state Senate in 2009. At his corruption trial, a jury returned 18 guilty verdicts against him.

ROMANS: Arizona Republican Senator John McCain is hospitalized, in stable condition, after surgery for an intestinal infection. The 81- year-old lawmaker has been undergoing treatment for brain cancer in Phoenix. McCain's office released a statement saying he has remained engaged in his work as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Last night McCain's daughter tweeted her admiration for his, quote, "intense grit and determination." And thanks to his doctors and everyone praying for him.

BRIGGS: Indeed everyone is praying.


BRIGGS: For Senator McCain.

Ahead, a fight to survive in an island paradise. Flood waters forced people to call for help. More from Hawaii next.


[04:24:12] ROMANS: Anger is still simmering at the Philadelphia Starbucks where two black men were arrested. The men now agreeing to meet with the coffee giant CEO.

Protesters chanting and singing during a sit-in. Yesterday the cafe briefly closed. African-American leaders are calling the chain anti- black. Philadelphia's police commissioner initially said his officers did nothing wrong and now adds the officer did not want to make the arrest. The store manager called the police because the men were sitting in the store without placing an order. They were arrested for trespassing, but not charged. They said they were waiting for another to arrive. They were waiting for a friend to arrive. That person arrived at the store just as his friends are being arrested. Starbucks says the manager is no longer working at that store. It is unclear if she was terminated or relocated by Starbucks.

[04:25:04] The men have agreed to meet with the Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson. The timing has not yet been worked out.

BRIGGS: Record-breaking rains triggered widespread mudslides and flooding on the Hawaiian island of Kauai last weekend. Authorities say more than 100 people had to be airlifted to safety after a storm dumped 32 inches of rain in just 48 hours. At least two homes torn from their foundations. Dozens more were damaged. Hawaii's governor declared the island in a state of emergency. At this point no injuries, though, had been reported. A full scope of damage is not yet known.

ROMANS: Kendrick Lamar will have to move all those Grammy Awards aside to make room for his Pulitzer Prize.

Lamar's album "Damn" capturing the prestigious award on Monday. Historic first for a rap artist. The Pulitzer Music Award is typically given to classical or jazz artists. "Damn" also won Best Rap Album at the Grammy Awards in January and the song "Humble" won Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song and Best Music Video.

And I can say, there are newsrooms yesterday where the champagne was popping, including my former colleagues at Reuters, they took home two. Congratulations to them.

BRIGGS: Congratulations to all.

All right. And the Michael Cohen now case has a Sean Hannity twist. You'll hear from the FOX host on his connection to Trump's personal lawyer. Next.