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EARLY START

Trump Willing to Walk Out on Kim Jong-un; Blown Engine Debris of a Southwest Jet Found 70 Miles West of Philadelphia; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired April 19, 2018 - 04:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:00:13] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump.

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DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump talking tough, but sources say he personally opposed his team's plan for a new round of Kremlin sanctions.

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TRUMP: They have been saying I'm going to get rid of them for the last three months. They are still here.

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CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The president ducks the question when asked about firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller or the man overseeing him, Rod Rosenstein.

BRIGGS: And a long-time lawyer for the president warning him to watch out. Trump's fixer Michael Cohen could flip.

Good morning, everyone. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Nice to see you this morning.

BRIGGS: Good to see you, my friend.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. I thought it was Friday but it isn't. It's Thursday.

BRIGGS: Almost Friday is what we call.

ROMANS: It's almost Friday. It's Friday eve. Thursday, April 19th. 4:00 a.m. in the East. 4:00 p.m. in Hong Kong, 11:00 a.m. in Moscow.

President Trump declares there is nobody tougher on Russia than he is, even though it turns out the president himself decided to scrub plans for further sanctions on Russia over its support for the Syrian regime. That's according to three senior administration officials. The president underscored his decision at a news conference in Florida with the Japanese prime minister.

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TRUMP: We'll do sanctions as soon as they very much deserve it. We will have -- that is a question. There has been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump.

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ROMANS: Caught in the middle of that about-face, ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley. She apparently was not told about the administration's change of course before she went on Sunday talk shows to say there would be further sanctions.

BRIGGS: The news conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was expected to focus on North Korea and trade, and it did, but the president took a moment or two to talk about the Russia investigation after being asked if he'll sit down for an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This was his answer.

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TRUMP: There was no collusion. And that's been so found, as you know, by the House Intelligence Committee. There's no collusion. There was no collusion with Russia other than by the Democrats, or as I call them the obstructionists because they truly are obstructionists. So we are hopefully coming to the end. It is a bad thing for our country. Very, very bad thing for our country. But there has been no collusion. They won't find any collusion. It doesn't exist.

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ROMANS: As we've learned over the past couple of years, it is not uncommon for President Trump to contradict himself. But this one pretty remarkable. Yesterday, the president tweeted, "Slippery James Comey, the worst FBI director in history, was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation, where, by the way, there was no collusion except by the Dems."

That's what he tweeted yesterday. Less than a year earlier, the president told NBC's Lester Holt the opposite.

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TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: After the tweet, Comey said on ABC's "The View" that he takes the president at his original word that the Russia probe was his motivation. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I have seen the tweet. Both of those things can't be true. I actually think that illustrates part of the problem that I'm trying to bring up. That it matters that the president is not committed to the truth as a central American value.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: You have heard from James Comey, but you haven't heard him answer Jake's questions. The Comey interview with Jake Tapper live on "THE LEAD" today. That's at 4:00 Eastern only CNN.

BRIGGS: Very much looking forward to that interview.

The president trying to downplay reports he is poised to fire the special counsel and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Listen.

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TRUMP: They have been saying I'm going to get rid of them for the last three months, four months, five months, and they're still here.

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BRIGGS: President Trump's growing unease with the Russia probe and the recent FBI raid of his personal attorney Michael Cohen has two of his congressional allies hunting for information. "The Washington Post" reporting Republican Congressman Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Monday. The "Post" says they demanded Rosenstein turn over more documents about the conduct of law enforcement officials in the Russia probe but also once again the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.

The two House members later met with Trump. Rosenstein supervises Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and signed off on the FBI raid on Cohen's office, home and hotel room.

ROMANS: The president offering up an optimistic view of the planned summit with Kim Jong-un. Mr. Trump says he is in position to accomplish what no president before him could. But he insists he will walk away if he has to do.

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[04:05:09] TRUMP: I think that it's a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we are not going to go. If the meeting, when I'm there, is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting.

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ROMANS: CNN's Will Ripley is tracking the latest for us live from Hong Kong. Will has been to the North Korean capital many times.

Will, what do you believe of the president's comment yesterday that he is willing to walk away if the negotiation process or finding a place and a time and terms for this meeting don't go his way?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the North Koreans are willing to walk away as well because frankly they've already gained a tremendous amount of stature just by President Trump agreeing to this summit. You have world leaders lining up to meet with Kim Jong-un when before they just kind of brushed him off.

But the location is the key sticking point here and until they pick a place, they can't set a date. So there are some locations that are considered still possible at this point and they've narrowed it down to cities and countries in Asia closer to North Korea which is ideal for the North Koreans but also perhaps some neutral locations in Europe.

So you're talking about places like Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam. In Europe, Sweden, Switzerland or perhaps other European countries with diplomatic ties with North Korea. Locations that are unlikely or have been ruled out all together? Well, the capitals of all the major stake holders here. Washington, Pyongyang, Seoul, Beijing. They want to keep it on neutral ground.

That also rules out the Demilitarized Zone. President Trump doesn't want to go on North Korea's turf and Kim Jong-un doesn't want to go to a U.S. aircraft carrier off the coast of the Peninsula. That would be on American turf. So they need to figure this out because that's step one and of course the bigger step after they set the location and set a date is this discussion about denuclearization, which means very different things depending on the American perspective or the North Koreans perspective.

The North Koreans might view denuclearization as the American nuclear umbrella that protects South Korea and Japan, going away. Pulling out American forces off the Korean peninsula. Signing a peace treaty with South Korea. That's what North Korea might need along with significant financial compensation to consider getting rid of the nuclear program that has gotten them to this point and given them this leverage. As far as the United States, well, they want North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons in exchange for the normalization of relations, lifting of sanctions. That sort of thing -- Christine.

ROMANS: Denuclearization means very different things to these two parties. A very good point.

Will Ripley in Hong Kong. Thanks, Will.

BRIGGS: That is the key. The Trump administration meanwhile using Mike Pompeo's visit to Pyongyang to bolster the case for confirming him as secretary of State. The CIA director is, though, on shaky ground with the Senate, with very few votes to spare in his bid to head up the State Department. Republican senator Rand Paul opposes his nomination. But President Trump believes the Kentucky senator will come around. Senator Paul? Not so sure.

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TRUMP: I will say this about Rand Paul. He's never let me down. Rand Paul is a very special guy as far as I'm concerned. He has never let me down. And I don't think he'll let us down again. So let's see what happens.

REP. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Because the president asked me to and because I have a great deal of respect to the president, I will meet with Director Pompeo sometime before the vote.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Does that mean that you're open to being a yes?

PAUL: I'm open to meeting right now. And we'll see what comes of the meeting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: All right. President Trump has had his share of disagreements, as you know, with Senator Paul but he's now referring to him as a, quote, "very special guy."

ROMANS: A long-time lawyer for Donald Trump is warning the president to be careful about his fixer and personal attorney Michael Cohen. Jay Goldberg who negotiated Mr. Trump's divorces from Ivana Trump and Marla Maples says he received a call for advice from the president last Friday. And he predicted Cohen would wind up cooperating with prosecutors. Goldberg says his warning was met with silence. Goldberg says he also advised the president not to speak to the special counsel.

BRIGGS: Former Playboy model Karen McDougal free to sell her story to the world. McDougal claimed she had a 10-month affair with President Trump and was tricked into signing a contract that kept her from speaking to the press. McDougal announcing she has assigned an agreement with American Media which owns the "National Enquirer" and now has the rights to her life story back. As part of the deal, McDougal will also be on the cover of the September issue of "Men's Journal." And AMI will also publish five health and fitness columns by the former Playmate.

ROMANS: Nine minutes past the hour this Thursday morning. U.S. businesses face higher steel prices. And President Trump's new tariffs are the reason. The president slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in March. Since then businesses say prices for those metals have jumped significantly. That's from a new Federal Reserve report. It rounds up how local businesses across the country are faring. And right now some manufacturers warn they will be passing those price increases to their customers, while others say tariffs are killing high-paying American manufacturing jobs.

[04:10:05] Again this is a Fed report. Despite trade concerns, the report finds economic growth is on track thanks to strong consumer spending. Still a very tight labor market and a surge in business lending. That's of course the Federal Reserve's plan to speed up the pace of interest rate hikes. Former Obama economist, Austan Goolsbee, though, worries it's moving too fast.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO BOOTH SCHOOL OF BUSINESS: If you think and I do think the growth rate is OK, but not as good as the optimists believe, then there is the possibility that the economy cannot stand too many rate increases in too short of a time. And that would be the thing that would lead to recession.

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ROMANS: Goolsbee also telling CNN that the Fed's actions are raising the risk of sparking a recession in the near term. Interesting analysis from him.

BRIGGS: Indeed. All right. Ahead, some key clues to a deadly mid- air jet accident found in a field in Pennsylvania. What they could reveal about the engine that exploded next.

ROMANS: And much of Puerto Rico plunged into darkness again. More on what caused it this time just ahead.

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[04:15:18] BRIGGS: Pieces of that blown engine that forced the emergency landing of a Southwest Airline jet in Philadelphia recovered about 70 miles west of the city. Residents in Burkes County reported seeing large metal fragments scattered on a farm. Meantime, the investigation to the accident well under way.

More now from CNN's Polo Sandoval in Philadelphia.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, good morning to you. Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board, they went back to Washington yesterday as they continue going through the evidence, trying to find out exactly what went wrong with that Southwest Airlines flight on its way to Texas from New York on Tuesday. Yesterday, what is supposed to be their final press conference that took place here in Philadelphia as it continued to investigate.

They said that they are currently interviewing some of these crew members, they're going through what they had to say and also some of the video that was captured of some of those dramatic moments aboard that Boeing 737. They also went into great detail about so far what the voice and data recorders, what kind of evidence those two items have provided.

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ROBERT SUMWALT, NTSB CHAIRMAN: The aircraft began a rapid, un- commanded left roll of about 41 degrees of bank angle. So usually when you're flying on an airline, and you rarely get over about 20, 25 degrees of bank, this went over 41 degrees. The pilots leveled the wings and throughout the rest of the flight, there was what I'm going to describe as a fair amount of vibration throughout the air frame.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SANDOVAL: Investigators still maintain that they have a long way to go in this case as they try to say definitively what went wrong. Of course that prevailing theory right now is that one of the fan blades on that engine was detached setting off that catastrophic chain of events. They are -- this investigation is far from over as investigators will be traveling to Dallas in the next few days, going over the maintenance records, to make sure that the proper maintenance was done on that engine, and we're also getting word that the Federal Aviation Administration will be requiring inspections on a certain model engine using ultrasonic equipment to look for any potential signs of metal fatigue. That's the same model that was on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 -- Christine and Dave.

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

Several ex-presidents and the First Lady Melania Trump will attend the funeral for Barbara Bush on Saturday. The West Wing Communications office won't say whether President Trump plans to be there. Today the mayor of Houston and other city leaders hosted a celebration of the former first lady's life. There'll be a public viewing at the St. Martin's Church on Friday and 1500 people are expected to attend a private funeral on Saturday including former presidents Obama and Clinton.

Take a look at Houston City Hall lit up in blue last night in honor of Barbara Bush.

BRIGGS: Missouri's top GOP lawmakers calling on Republican Governor Eric Greitens to resign. Greitens already facing sex abuse allegations and now the state attorney general says he has evidence of alleged criminal wrongdoing by the governor who allegedly used a donor list from his veterans charity to benefit his 2016 campaign. Attorneys for Greitens asking a judge to issue a restraining order against the attorney general and appoint a special prosecutor instead.

ROMANS: Most of Puerto Rico still without power this morning for the second time in a week. And the governor is asking the island's power authority to cancel its contract with the company responsible for both outages. Yesterday's blackout was caused by a subcontractor when one of its excavators got too close to a major transition line. The power authority says the same company was responsible for a blackout last week that affected 870,000 customers. The power company says it expects service restoration at least to customers who had electricity before the latest outage within 24 hours.

BRIGGS: For the first time in most Cubans' memories, a man not named Castro is set to become the island's new president. The National Assembly of Cuba nominating first vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel to run unopposed replacing 86-year-old Raul Castro. Castro backed Diaz- Canel during an assembly session on Wednesday, all but guaranteeing he will be the next Cuban leader. Nothing, though, is expected to change on the island. The 57-year-old technocrat embracing the course set by the Castro brothers telling reporters he believes in continuity.

ROMANS: All right. 19 minutes past the hour. Police officers in Texas walk right into an explosive situation. The story behind this amazing video next.

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[04:24:19] ROMANS: Police in Texas releasing dash cam video of a home exploding after a vehicle slammed into the house and hit a gas line. Police say the driver of the SUV crashed after brakes failed, then gas started building up and ignited just as officers were approaching the house. They rescued three people from the wreckage, all three were injured but are expected to recover. The two officers sustained minor injuries. The driver, remarkably, I mean, when you look at this, was not hurt. I just can't believe it.

BRIGGS: OK. Three members of the Tennessee National Guard have been removed from their posts after playing roles in the video which appears to mock the reenlistment ceremony.

[04:25:01] It shows a master sergeant using a dinosaur puppet to recite her oath, which is being administered by a colonel. That have been viewed at least 2.5 million times. U.S. Air Force says dinosaur puppets have no place in its time honored military traditions, adding the oath represents the sacred call to service.

ROMANS: NASA launching its new planet hunting satellite. Over the next 60 days, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, TESS, for short, will establish an orbit around earth and tested instruments. Then its two-year mission will officially begin with a goal of serving 85 percent of the sky for a planet. The database it creates is expected to guide NASA missions for decades. TESS takes over from the Keplar Space telescope which is running out of fuel. Keplar has discovered more than 4500 potential planets and confirmed exoplanets.

BRIGGS: The U.S. Senate voting last night to allow newborns on the Senate floor for the first time. The rule change approved by unanimous consent. The Senate can agree on something. It is designed to accommodate senators like Tammy Duckworth who gave birth to her second child this month, making the veteran the first senator to bear a child while in office. She spearheaded the move and is now applauding for the lawmakers for bringing the Senate into, quote, "the 21st century." Moving forward, children under 1 can now be brought on to the Senate floor and breastfeed during votes.

ROMANS: Good.

BRIGGS: Backdrop to all that, a record number of women running for Congress across the country. Probably just adds to a positive environment for women and politics today.

ROMANS: I would say, screaming babies will cross up the joint. No question.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIGGS: They've had screaming babies for as long as we can remember.

ROMANS: My father says, whenever you hear the baby, he said, ah, you hear that? That's the sound of America singing -- America singing on the Senate floor.

All right. 26 minutes past the hour. The president dances around the question about whether he'd fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller or the man overseeing him, Rod Rosenstein.

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TRUMP: They have been saying I'm going to get rid of them for the last three months. They're still here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: You'll hear more from the president next.

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