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Hannity Explains Cohen Connection; Comey's Tell-All Memoir Released; Washington Post: Trump Puts Russia Sanctions on Hold; Warriors Take 2-0 Series Lead Against the Spurs. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 17, 2018 - 05:00   ET


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: OK. EARLY START continues right now with the latest from Sean Hannity link to President Trump's personal lawyer.


[05:00:08] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Fox host Sean Hannity forced to explain after a court case reveals he is the mystery client of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.

BRIGGS: Jim Comey's revenge tell-all now on sale, as the fired FBI director speaks out in a new interview this morning.

ROMANS: And the president reportedly holding back now on Russian sanctions, even with the Russians now accused of helping block chemical weapons inspectors in Syria. Real reversal from what we heard from U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley on Sunday.

BRIGGS: Yes, it has to be more to come on this.

ROMANS: Yes. Good morning. Welcome, everyone, to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs, Tuesday, April 17, 5:00 a.m. in the East. It is noon in Moscow, 10:00 a.m. in London, 6:00 p.m. in Tokyo.

We start with the battle over evidence seized on Michael Cohen's office, home and hotel room. It's moved to a New York federal courtroom. Lawyers for the president, personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and the federal prosecutor arguing over how to handle the material covered in client/attorney privilege.

ROMANS: The prosecutor wants a walled off internal taint team 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 decision themselves. Now, the judge rendered a split decision. Offering something for all three parties and what the prosecutor is calling a fast-moving case. It triggered a big courtroom surprise.

The latest now from CNN's Brynn Gingras in New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 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, the 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 kinds 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.


BRIGGS: All right. Brynn, thank you. Sean Hannity gave his version on his Fox News show last night, downplaying his attorney/client relationship with Michael Cohen also saying he expects their communications to be covered by attorney/client privilege.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS "THE SEAN HANNITY SHOW": 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.


BRIGGS: OK. One of Hannity's guests, law professor Alan Dershowitz, did gently scold him for failing to discuss the relationship with Cohen.


ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: 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. You are in a difficult situation now.

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


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

DERSHOWITZ: Yes, I understand.

HANNITY: It was minimal but I was candid about it.

DERSHOWITZ: I understand. Then you should have said that.


BRIGGS: 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 a matter involving a third party. Cohen's other clients were ultra wealthy men who paid hush money through Cohen with women whom they allegedly had affairs.

ROMANS: James Comey's new book new freshly on sale on bookstores nationwide. Some customers headed out to Kramer Books in Washington, D.C. at midnight to get their copies. The former FBI director's interview with NPR set to air this morning. In it, Comey says he is concerned with the president interfering with the special counsel's Russia investigation.

[05:05:04] He tells NPR he thinks it's, quote, very important Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stays in his job because I do think he conducted himself honorably with respect to the appointment of a special counsel and his assert of that special counsel's work to the rule of law. 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.

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

the crooked Hillary exoneration before he talked to her, lied in Congress to Senator Grassley, then based decisions on her poll numbers. Disgruntled, he and McCabe and others committed many crimes.

ROMANS: All right. Joining us --

BRIGGS: Though they did not commit crimes, at least James Comey, no crime was committed at this point.

ROMANS: Joining us is CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, historian and professor at Princeton University.

Good morning. It just gets weirder and weirder every day.

Let's start with this third client that Michael Cohen did not want to reveal and revealing it as Sean Hannity. You say it shows this nexus between conservative media, the GOP, and this president.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICIAL ANALYST: Yes, this has been a story that we've looked at for a while now, that relationship between conservative media outlets and the administration has been very close. Alan Dershowitz should not be surprised about the relationship. The bigger one is really the issue.

This takes us into another realm. This is a lawyer who fixes problems for people and all of a sudden, two of his clients are two political partners.

BRIGGS: What about this link, though, the federal case involving Mr. Cohen? Because Alan Dershowitz, that we played earlier, said this might be a bigger deal than the special counsel's Russia investigation. The reports are that the president's own lawyers are more worried about this and what is going on with bob Mueller.

How big a deal could it be?

ZELIZER: Well, certainly from the reaction of the administration, they seem worried. They have a level of concern that seems different than the Mueller investigation. They are worried about documents. They're worried information.

And he is someone who has been, it seems, deeply involved in Trump's life -- his personal life, his business operations in New York. And we learned that one scandal can lead to a bigger scandal. That might be exactly what just happened because of Stormy Daniels.

ROMANS: I think some many people are trying to figure out why you need attorney/client privilege for someone who's not an attorney you ever paid or ever retained or ever used as a traditionally attorney? What is that relationship?

ZELIZER: Right. And I think that is at the knob of why there is so much concern over what's going to happen to this information. There are many attorneys in the area who don't know exactly what conversations might, all of a sudden, be front and center. ROMANS: Right.

ZELIZER: So, you know, in politics, people like certainty. They like to know what they are dealing with and right now, the administration doesn't really know that. That's what has unnerved them.

BRIGGS: Another thing that unnerved them is James Comey talking to George Stephanopoulos. And now, the media tour really begins. Today, the book goes on sale. And this quote that he told to the NPR is really interesting. And he talks about normalizing things that are terrifying really for the American public. How big a concern is it when the president tweets things like locking up a private citizen?

ZELIZER: It's a big one. And I think that's where Comey is most spot on. He has said that we have normalized things that shouldn't be considered normal. We have accepted all sorts of behavior from the president such as that tweet. We move on from day-to-day. That is dangerous. That is how things erode in a Democratic system.

The problem is that might be exactly why his warnings don't have any effect. He is explaining why people would tune out what he says on this book tour. Our system is broken enough that we live with this kind of politics.

ROMANS: Meanwhile, we are looking at policy and trying to figure out the administration's policy will be toward Syria, toward Russia. You had the U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley on Sunday very strongly saying there would be new sanctions on Russia for its behavior in Syria. Now, it sounds like the White House is walking that back. What is this what is the policy of this White House on Russia?

ZELIZER: There seems to be no policy on Russia. It seems to be a day to day ad hoc policy. And here, the president is contradicting someone who might have the most clout in the administration, Nikki Haley. And this comes right after Syria, and it just raises questions again why isn't the president more serious about dealing with the problems we know that exist with Russia from Syria to the elections.

[05:10:02] But he is walking it back once again. We have seen it before. And he does not seem as determined as he does in other areas like North Korea.

BRIGGS: Expect that to be one of the things that James Comey talks about, that relationship with Russia. Whether the president is or is not compromised when this media tour fully kicks off.

All right. Julian, we'll check back with you about 30 minutes. Thanks.

ROMANS: Thank you, Julian.

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 ZTE breaking the terms of the deal after ZTE violated U.S. sanctions. ZTE did not penalized its employees who were caught illegally shipping U.S. goods to Iran and North Korea. A big no-no.

This is a potentially devastating blow to ZTE. American brands provide up to 30 percent of the parts up in ZTE's smart phone, including microchips and Qualcomm, glass from Corning.

It also escalates the trade battle between the U.S. and China. Both sides are threatening the other with tens of billions of dollars in tariffs. In fact, China just slapped a 179 percent duty on U.S. sorghum.

But tech is at the center of this trade clash. The U.S. accuses China of stealing trade secrets, of forcing American companies to hand over sensitive technology to do business inside China. Beijing rejects that, of course.

China's ministry of commerce says it is following the developments of the ZTE case and that it stands ready to take necessary measures to defend the interests of Chinese firms.

BRIGGS: All right. What happened to those new Russian sanctions Nikki Haley talked about? President Trump reportedly pulling back. We'll go live to Moscow, next.


[5:15: 57] BRIGGS: Five-fifteen Eastern Time.

The President Trump has ordered a hold on new sanctions against Russia that were just announced Sunday by his own U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Here's what she said Sunday.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: So, you will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down. Secretary Mnuchin will be announcing those on Monday if he hasn't already. They will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use.


BRIGGS: Not so much. "The Washington Post" reports the president was upset about the sanctions rollout. The plan is now in a holding pattern. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tamping down expectations, telling reporters the administration is only considering sanctions and the decision will be made in the near future.

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

CNN's Nic Robertson tracking the latest developments live from Moscow. And, Nic, the players here all with sort of familiar tunes. The West

complaining about Russia's behavior in Syria, Russia calling it fake news.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Sure. The catch to the Russian military saying the inspectors can get into Douma is that that will be Wednesday and they have been in country since Saturday. And the concern about that is, and this has been expressed by both British and American diplomats is that Russia will be using that time to scrub the site and hide the evidence of the attack and also that with the passage of time, it gets harder to detect the chemicals on the ground.

What Russian officials are saying is there will be a test dry run today without the OPCW of Russian and Syrian security services to make sure that the path is clear for the inspectors to go out to the site. That hardly stands up to the scrutiny of international journalists did get to the site of the attack Monday and seemed to be there with Syrian security services as well. So, from outside perspective here, looks like Syria, Russia slow-rolling the access. Why? Not clear.

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

BRIGGS: Ahead, the defending champion Golden State Warriors literally limping into the playoffs. But they are running right past the San Antonio Spurs.

Lindsay Czarniak has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:23:09] BRIGGS: Golden State Warriors takes another step toward winning the third NBA championship in four years.

ROMANS: Lindsay Czarniak has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." She's here with us.


BRIGGS: Welcome.

LINDSAY CZARNIAK, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: This team is fun to watch. They always are. The Warriors are such a blast. And last night was no exception. It did not matter that they were without two- time league MVP Steph Curry, who is expected to miss this entire series against the Spurs because of that knee injury.

That was no problem because Andre Iguodala made it his mission to steer the ship. He knocked down not one, not two, not three, but four three-pointers.

I want you to show what it was that actually brought Steph Curry to his feet, OK? Steph Curry on the sidelines, and he started celebrating Klay Thompson's three-pointer before it even left his hands. That's his splash brother after all, right? You guys know that.

Thompson and Kevin Durant teamed up for 63 points. The Warriors rolling to a 116-101 victory to grab a 2-0 series lead.

And we now have an even series that's because 36 years old Dwyane Wade turned back the clock, coming off the bench. He scored 28 points leading the Heat to a 113-103 win over Philadelphia. Wade says Sixers fans can thank Kevin Hart for that scoring outburst.

Here's why, the comedian, he was talking trash from his court-side seat. But Wade was the one that obviously got the last laugh. You can take a look at the stare-down.

Here is what Wade described his performance.


DWAYEN WADE, MIAMI HEAT GUARD: It's in my DNA. I love the stage. You know, as I said, multiple times I played this game for these moments.

ERIK SPOELSTRA, MIAMI HEAT COACH: It's like that country song, I'm not as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was.


CZARNIAK: Thank you, Toby Keith. Great when your coach is quoting country music lyrics to sum up your performance.

Marathon runner Desi Linden didn't need any music to push through the cold and windy conditions, a terrific performance.

[05:25:02] An American woman, guys, hasn't won the Boston marathon since Lisa Rainsberger did it in '85. Linden was only five months old then. She said losing by two seconds back in 2011 helped keep her motivated. It also doesn't hurt to have a running buddy. She has a puppy appropriately named Boston.

And he might not have won the race, but CNN's John Berman still number one in our hearts, look at him, co-host of "CNN NEWSROOM", finishing the Boston marathon. More importantly, he helped -- why are you laughing?

BRIGGS: He looks miserable.

ROMANS: I love it.

CZARNIAK: He helped raise $16,000, guys, for the non-profit West End House of boys and girls club in Boston. He really is Boston strong.

Look at that tweet afterwards. Quoting Apollo Creed. There ain't going to be no rematch. I love it.

He ran New York twice, by the way. This is his third marathon.

ROMANS: He is a warrior. He has been watching the weather report for the past week. His eyes are so wide, 30-mile-an-hour winds, 39 degrees, an inch of rain, and he did it.

BRIGGS: I would not make it halfway. He looked miserable.


CZARNIAK: Just must be awful, right?

ROMANS: All right.

BRIGGS: Way to go, John. Congratulations. We are proud of you.

ROMANS: You need an ice bath.

BRIGGS: Thank you, Lindsay. Good to see you.

ROMANS: Thanks, Lindsay.

BRIGGS: Ahead, the Michael Cohen case now has a Sean Hannity twist. Hear the FOX host explain his connection to the Trump personal lawyer, next.