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EARLY START

Trump Willing to Walk Out on Kim Jong-un; Gunfire Delays Inspection by U.N. Team in Syria; Blown Engine Debris of a Southwest Jet Found 70 Miles West of Philadelphia; Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired April 19, 2018 - 04:30   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:31:31] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

BRIGGS: A longtime lawyer for the president warning him to watch out. Trump's fixer Michael Cohen could flip on him.

ROMANS: The FAA orders jet engine inspections after that deadly mid- air explosion. Will the debris found in a Philadelphia field help investigators find the cause?

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

BRIGGS: Dave Briggs is happy to be here.

ROMANS: Are you?

BRIGGS: On a -- no, Thursday.

ROMANS: I know. Are you going to speak in the third person?

BRIGGS: I will to speak third person.

ROMANS: OK. OK.

BRIGGS: Just as much as I can.

ROMANS: OK, try.

BRIGGS: We start with President Trump, though, declaring there is nobody tougher on Russia than he, 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 underscoring his decision at a news conference in Florida with the Japanese prime minister. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: 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 announced the following day.

ROMANS: The news conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was expected to focus on North Korea and trade, and it did, but President Trump also took a moment or two to talk about the Russia investigation. He was asked if he has decided whether he will sit down for an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This was his answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Well, the last 15 months have certainly told us this is not uncommon for the president to contradict himself. But this one was rather 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," I think you've got to yell if they're all caps, right? "Except by the Dems."

Less than a year earlier, the president told NBC's Lester Holt exactly the opposite.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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)

BRIGGS: 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)

[04:35:04] BRIGGS: You heard from James Comey, but you have not heard him answer questions from Jake Tapper. He'll ask what no one has yet asked him. That's live today 4:00 Eastern Time on "The View" right here on CNN. "The View"? "THE LEAD." He's on "The View." This will be much better than "The View."

ROMANS: Four letters, but yes, you're right.

BRIGGS: This will be much better.

ROMANS: All right. Sorry, Jake.

BRIGGS: Set your DVR..

ROMANS: Sorry, Jake.

The president is trying to downplay reports he is poised to fire the special counsel and the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Listen to him I guess deflect report questions about his intentions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: 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 issuing a stark warning to the deputy attorney general. "The Washington Post" reports Republican Congressman Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Monday, who supervises the Russia probe.

The "Post" reports they demanded Rosenstein turn over more documents about the conduct of law enforcement officials in the Russia probe and the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. They told Rosenstein he could face impeachment or be charged with contempt of Congress. The two House members later met with the president.

BRIGGS: The president offering up an optimistic view of his 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'll walk away if he has to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: If 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: All right. CNN's Will Ripley, he's been to Pyongyang more than a dozen times, joins us live from Hong Kong this morning.

Will, good to see you. You hit on this earlier on the program but at the heart of all this is the difference and the definition of denuclearization in terms of what both sides see and if can expand on that.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is absolutely right. North Koreans have a very different view of what denuclearization means because to them denuclearization includes America's nuclear umbrella that protects South Korea and Japan. They want to see American troops entirely gone from the Korean peninsula because they use the American military presence as justification for their own nuclear deterrent.

And in addition to that, of course they want relief from sanction and the normalization of relations and substantial compensation to even consider doing away with the missile program that has arguably gotten into this point and given them leverage. The United States, obviously some of these conditions may really be a non starter. And that's not even taking into account the fact that you can't completely verify North Korea has gotten rid of all its nuclear weapons even if they destroyed some of them, because they simply don't know where all of these weapons and the materials to make them are hidden.

And then there's the question of optics. Optics are huge here. And that's why they're having such a hard time, the United States and North Korea, coming to terms on where they're even going to have these monumental discussions.

There are some locations that are considered possible at this point. These are neutral locations here in Asia. For example, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam. Or in Europe, Sweden, Switzerland or other countries that have diplomatic ties with North Korea. Considered unlikely or ruled out all together, the capitals of all the stake holders. So you're talking about Washington, Pyongyang, Seoul, Beijing.

President Trump reportedly not interested in going to the demilitarized zone. Kim Jong-un's turf. Kim Jong-un reportedly not interested in having a meeting at U.S. aircraft carrier off to the Korean coast, President Trump's turf. So step one agree on a place. Step two set a dare. And then the biggest step of all, talked about denuclearization. Clearly lots of challenges as we potentially just weeks away from this summit -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Monumental challenge. Some good insights there from Will Ripley, Jon Kong, thanks. ROMANS: All right. The Trump administration is using Mike Pompeo's

visit to Pyongyang to bolster the case for confirming him as secretary of State. The CIA director is on shaky ground in the Senate with 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. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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)

ROMANS: President Trump has had his share of disagreements with Senator Paul. He is now referring to him as a, quote, "very special guy."

[04:40:01] BRIGGS: A long-time lawyer for Donald Trump 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.

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 also announcing she has assigned an agreement with American Media which owns the "National Enquirer" and now has the rights to her life story back. McDougal says she has no plans to sell her story. As part of the deal, she 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: All right. 41 minutes past the hour. U.S. businesses are seeing 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. This is from a new Federal Reserve report. It rounds up how local businesses across the country are faring. Right now some manufacturers warn they will pass those price increases on to you, the customer. While others say tariffs are, quote, "killing high-paying American manufacturing jobs."

That's all from this Fed report now. Despite the trade concerns, the report finds economic growth is on track thanks to strong consumer spending, a 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. But former Obama economist, Austan Goolsbee worries the Fed might be moving too fast.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO BOOTH SCHOOL OF BUSINESS: If you think and I do think that 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Goolsbee also told "CNN Money" that the Fed's actions are raising the risk of sparking a recession in the near term. Certainly in this new environment of rising interest rates, watching for inflation. And a lot of people are wondering if this is going to be the peak year for stocks after nine years.

BRIGGS: And talk about future tax cuts, additional tax cuts by the Republican Party. Could that confuse the whole situation or make it worse?

ROMANS: Well, if you're cutting taxes to stimulate the economy at the very time that the Fed is trying to raise interest rates to contain growth in the economy.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: That is two part -- two things (INAUDIBLE) cross references, yes.

BRIGGS: Interesting. All right. Ahead, some key clues to a deadly midair 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.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:47:11] BRIGGS: More delays for the U.N. weapons inspections team trying to get a firsthand look at the site of the suspected gas attack in Syria. Despite assurances from the Russian and Syrian governments they had been granted access the inspectors came under fire on Wednesday. In a race against time, the question remains, will they be able to detect traces of chemical weapons before the poisons disintegrate?

CNN international diplomatic editor Nick Robertson live in Moscow with the latest.

Nic, good morning.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. Good morning, Dave. I mean, some of the things about the situation that was happening with those inspectors right now in Syria raised huge question. They have been on the ground for five days. Two days after they arrived journalists went into this neighborhood. Some of those journalists in this area of Douma where this alleged chemical weapons strike took place said that they were able to walk around freely, no danger to them.

We had heard from the Syrian and Russian governments that the area was now fully under their control, that they completely controlled it. When the U.N. was asked who was it who fired at their security convoy that had gone in first ahead of the main weapons inspectors had gone in to try to reconnoiter the situation on the ground, find out where they needed to go, how it was safe to get there.

When the U.N. official in New York was asked, do you know who shot at you, he said no, we don't. We -- all we know is that we got out of there quickly. The situation right now is that the progress for the weapons inspectors seems to be sort of stuck in the sand. The U.N. says they want to get to the site as soon as they can, but their first order of business again is to send out that security team ahead of the actual inspectors. And at the moment, we're not even aware that that security team has been able to get out on the ground.

So, you know, the concerns that Russia and Syria have had the chance to wipe away all evidence of the alleged chemical weapons attack that is -- remains a very real underlying concern -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Certainly is a race against time.

Nic Robertson, thank you.

ROMANS: Well, 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 into the accident is well under way.

We get more this morning from CNN's Polo Sandoval. He is 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.

[04:50:09] They also went into great detail about so far what the voice and data recorders, what kind of evidence those two items have provided.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

BRIGGS: Polo, thanks.

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 transmission 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.

Just can't get any good news there.

ROMANS: It's 2018. It has been since September. I just -- it is so frustrating that they cannot --

BRIGGS: It's impossible.

ROMANS: Figure this out.

All right. 52 minutes past the hour. Fewer than Netflix, but larger than any other subscription service, Amazon has 100 million prime members. It's finally revealing its stat long kept under wraps. More in "CNN Money" next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [04:57:17] ROMANS: All right. It's that time in the morning. Let's get a check on "CNN Money" right now. Stocks around the world are rising. Wednesday, the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 rose on fantastic earnings for U.S. companies. The Dow slipped because IBM shares fell 7.5 percent. IBM said it would make less money this year than it originally thought. IBM an outlier, though. S&P 500 profit growth this quarter expected to be 17 percent. The best since 2011.

Still most investors think the nine-year bull market may be on its last legs. A Bank of America survey finds 58 percent say the stock market will peak this year.

In AT&T's anti-trust trial, Time Warner's CEO says the merger is necessary to take on Silicon Valley. The DOJ is suing AT&T to block its purchase of Time Warner, the parent of CNN. Yesterday CEO Jeff Bewkes testified that joining with AT&T is the only way to compete with Google and Facebook. Those companies are grabbing an ever growing share of ad dollars because unlike TV, tech has the data to target ads. Bewkes also called the government's argument that AT&T will block out Time Warner Channel as ridiculous, explaining that Time Warner would lose hundreds of millions of dollar if its channels were blocked out.

Amazon has more than 100 million Prime members. Finally revealing a statistic that is long kept secret. And that's what CEO Jeff Bezos wrote in a letter to shareholders. Prime is Amazon's membership program 100 million, it's fewer than Netflix, but larger than any other subscription service. The difference of course is that the Prime isn't just for streaming music and video. It also includes free and discounted shipping. And those members bought 5 billion items on Amazon last year. Numbers are just astonishing.

BRIGGS: Fourteen years it's been around?

ROMANS: Man.

BRIGGS: Why were they long keeping it a secret? Any sensitive facts?

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: I don't know. I think proprietary information. They just didn't like to keep it -- to put it out there but now we know. Those Bezos letters are always really interesting.

BRIGGS: Massive.

EARLY START continues right now, with the latest on the North Korean negotiations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: There's been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

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

ROMANS: The FAA orders jet engine inspections after a deadly midair explosion. Will debris found in a Philadelphia field help investigators find the cause?

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

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. Thursday, April 19th, 5:00 a.m. in the East, 5:00 p.m. in Hong Kong. Noon in Moscow. We begin with the president offering up an optimistic view of his planned summit with Kim Jong-un. Mr. Trump speaking at a news conference in Florida with the Japanese prime minister, says he's in position to accomplish what no president before him could.