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EARLY START

Trump Bullish On North Korea Talks, But Willing To Walk Away; Sources: Trump Decided To Scrap Russia Sanctions; Former Trump Lawyer Warns President Cohen Could Turn Against Him; More Delays For U.N. Inspection Team In Syria. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired April 19, 2018 - 05:30   ET

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


[05:30:35] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There has been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A longtime lawyer for the president warning him to watch out. Trump's fixer, Michael Cohen, he says, could flip.

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

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. Dave Briggs happy to be here on a Thursday.

ROMANS: Christine Romans, in the third person, also happy to be here. Thirty-one minutes past the hour.

The president offering up an optimistic view of his planned summit with Kim Jong Un. Mr. Trump says he is in a position to accomplish what no president before him could, but he insists he will 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're not going to go. If the meeting, when I'm there, is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: CNN's Will Ripley tracking all this for us live from Hong Kong. Will has actually been to North Korea and has been watching these developments so closely. You know, the core of this, too, is their idea of the United States wants verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. The North Koreans want denuclearization of a different kind, we think. They want the United States and its nuclear umbrella out of the region.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right and that's one of the key sticking points for these talks if they actually happen because there are still so many details to be worked out.

This is part of the reason why people were so shocked when the announcement was hastily made from the White House that the summit would happen by May. Now they're saying June because there are these logistical things that need to be sorted.

Number one, where are they going to have this thing? It's proven to be a challenge. That was a sticking point when Mike Pompeo went to Pyongyang and it is a sticking point right now -- finding a neutral location suitable to the North Koreans and the Americans.

So there are -- there's a shortlist now, apparently, of possible locations and they're centering on neutral locations either in Asia or in Europe. In Asia, they're looking at Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam. In Europe, possibly Sweden, Switzerland, or some other country with diplomatic ties with North Korea.

But, of course, traveling a long distance could be a challenge for Kim Jong-un who has a preference, we're told, to stay close to home and even travel by train -- a heavily-armored train, if possible.

Now, there are some locations that have been ruled out because maybe they're the capitals of the stakeholders and they just feel that that wouldn't work. So, Washington, Pyongyang, Seoul, Beijing out.

Apparently, Donald Trump not interested in going to the demilitarized zone which he would consider Kim Jong Un's turf. And, Kim Jong-un's not interested in going to a U.S. aircraft carrier off the waters of the Korean Peninsula because that would be Donald Trump's turf.

So once they figure out the location, then they need to set a date and then they need to have this big discussion about what denuclearization is actually going to mean.

The North Koreans, they want to do away with the American nuclear umbrella, as we mentioned. They want American forces completely off the Korean Peninsula.

The United States, on the other hand, feels that it can offer relief from economic sanctions, the potential normalization of relations. Maybe a peace treaty ending the Korean War in exchange for Kim Jong-un giving up the missiles that have arguably gotten him to this point.

But let's not also forget there's going to be a lot of money requested by the North Koreans here. The price is far higher now than it was back in 1994 at the very early stages of North Korea's nuclear program. Now they have an unknown number of nukes and many of them hidden in locations that may be impossible for inspectors to completely verify for denuclearization even if an agreement is reached.

So much to sort out. Step one, Christine, the place.

ROMANS: Yes, the place.

All right, Will Ripley, thank you so much for that.

Now, 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We'll do -- 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)

ROMANS: Caught in the middle of that, the 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 also took a moment or two to talk about the Russia investigation.

[05:35:03] After being asked if he'll sit down for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller, this was the president's 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)

ROMANS: Now, over the past year or so we've seen it is not uncommon for this president to contradict himself but this one getting a lot of attention -- this contradiction. 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."

Less than a year ago the president told NBC's Lester Holt the opposite.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: But 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 DIRECTOR, FBI: I've seen the tweet. Both of those things can't be true. I actually think that illustrates part of the problem 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 know, you've heard from James Comey but you haven't heard him answer Jake Tapper's questions. The Comey interview live on "THE LEAD" today at 4:00 eastern, only on CNN.

BRIGGS: The president trying to downplay reports he is poised to fire the special counsel and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. Listen here as he deflects reporter questions about true intentions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: All right, let's bring in political analyst David Drucker, senior congressional correspondent for the "Washington Examiner." Good morning to you --

ROMANS: Hi, David.

BRIGGS: -- sir.

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Hey, good morning, guys. BRIGGS: He's still here. The media also said that a couple of people -- Reince Priebus would be gone and a couple of months later he was. H.R. McMaster, he's gone. Rex Tillerson, he's gone.

Why should we be convinced that the president is not looking to fire Mueller or Rosenstein?

DRUCKER: Yes, you shouldn't.

Look, the president himself raised this issue in a recent cabinet meeting where he talked about the fact that a lot of people were telling him that he should fire Robert Mueller. We know a lot of people in Trump's extended orbit outside of the White House have been urging him to fire Robert Mueller and move against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which would be the first step toward getting rid of Mueller. So it's Trump, himself, that has raised this issue.

And as you noted, the president often disputes reports that he's thinking of canning somebody only to can them a couple of weeks or a couple of months later. And I suppose the timing is his way of getting away with saying that it's fake news but the reports were accurate. We know this investigation frustrates him. You can see that.

Interestingly enough, I spoke to some of the president's allies yesterday -- Dave Bossie and Corey Lewandowski. They're urging him not to fire Robert Mueller and let the investigation run its course as long as it doesn't run too long.

And so we'll have to see what the president does here, but the fact that he's not considering it -- and we know that he's considering it --

ROMANS: Right.

DRUCKER: -- because he, himself, has said so.

ROMANS: No one's tougher on Russia, he says, even as we learn that it was the president himself who made the decision not to make these new added sanctions against the Russians. And the president says he will make new sanctions as soon as the Russians deserve it.

When will the Russians deserve it, do you think?

DRUCKER: You know, it seems he doth protest too much. The president was set to enforce another round of sanctions on the Russians. It was a part of a recent pattern of stepping up his rhetoric criticizing Vladimir Putin and Moscow -- two things the president has been very hesitant to do.

It was going to couple with the fact that some of his actions preceding that have actually been a little bit more tougher than people realize.

But when he backs down on another round of sanctions when Russia is still behaving badly and then says look, I'll do it when they deserve it, it doesn't help him make his case that he's been tougher on Russia than his predecessors.

Also note here the president, as we know, was upset after that attack on a couple of ex-Russian spies in the United Kingdom, that the U.S. appeared to be taking the lead in punishing Moscow with the -- by expelling a bunch of diplomats and most likely Russian spies from the U.S. He wanted us to -- he wanted the U.S. to be -- to seem as they were acting -- we were acting in concert with Europe, not leading the effort.

[05:40:12] All of this suggests that he still has a very strange way of dealing with Russia as an adversary as compared to how he'll deal with China and other countries that he doesn't think treat the United States improperly. He never hesitates to jawbone allies and adversaries alike. When it comes to Russia, often it's a special case.

BRIGGS: Meanwhile, a battle brewing in the Senate over the confirmation of Mike Pompeo as the next Secretary of State. Pompeo, who is CIA director, just met with Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang over Easter weekend.

Mike Pompeo, who served six years in the House, was confirmed as CIA director, went to West Point, is a Harvard law grad, seems qualified, at least on the surface.

Can he get through and if he can't, what does that tell you about the environment today?

DRUCKER: Well look, we're in an election year. The Democratic base does not want their party in Congress to do anything to help President Trump. They have some policy issues with Mike Pompeo.

But at the end of the day, presidents do have a right to the advisers that they want unless they are grossly unqualified, and there's nothing unqualified about Mike Pompeo. That would suggest that he does not deserve to be confirmed as Secretary of State, especially after having been confirmed as CIA director.

There's been no intervening revelations of any sort that would suggest he shouldn't be allowed to move over to the State Department.

But look, these things are about politics and policy. We saw Republicans during the Obama era repeatedly obstruct or try to slow down President Obama's confirmations. Democrats cried foul. Now they're doing the same thing.

But when you have a 51-49 majority in the Senate, as Republicans do, and you need -- you know, you need a bare majority, it's really hard to come by.

I think at the end of the day the White House leak of Pompeo's trip to North Korea to set the stage for this summit might help get Mike Pompeo over the top.

BRIGGS: First, they need Rand Paul to come on board. The Republican who says he currently opposes Pompeo will meet with him at the urging of the president.

No Democrats, of yet, said they will back Pompeo.

David Drucker from the "Washington Examiner." Thank you, sir.

ROMANS: Nice to see you, David.

DRUCKER: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right.

A longtime lawyer for Donald Trump is warning the president to be careful about his fixer and personal attorney Michael Cohen. Jay Goldberg is the attorney who negotiated Mr. Trump's divorces from Ivana Trump and Marla Maples.

He says he received a call for advice from the president last Friday and he predicted Cohen could wind up cooperating with prosecutors. Goldman (sic) tells CNN his warning was met with silence. Goldberg says he also advised the president not speak to the special counsel.

BRIGGS: All right.

Some 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)

[05:47:14] BRIGGS: Five forty-seven eastern time.

And more delays for the U.N. weapons inspection 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 Tuesday 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 Nic Robertson has the latest for us, live in Moscow. Good morning, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, good morning, Dave.

The weapons inspectors have been in Damascus five days now. They haven't been able to have access to the site. The concerns are, as you say, that the chemicals that were used in this alleged attack over a week and a half ago may have dissipated and may be harder to find.

And then that very real concern, as well, that both the Syrian and Russian forces who now control that area and have done for over a week -- that they may have made the job for the weapons inspectors much harder by perhaps moving things, by perhaps tampering with the site. That's been the concern expressed by British and American diplomats.

So where we stand right now -- on Tuesday, the weapons -- the inspection team didn't get to the site but they sent out a U.N. security convoy ahead of them. That security convoy was shot at and an explosion went off. The U.N. says they don't know who was responsible for the shooting.

They went back to their main base inside the city of Damascus and they're still trying to figure out how to get back out on the ground now. And as we understand at the moment, the first item -- the first team that goes out on the ground is that U.N. Security team.

So we're looking at even bigger delays now before the actual weapons inspectors can get out there, Dave.

BRIGGS: It should be the ammunition the administration needs for further Russian sanctions but that's a debate for another day.

Nic Robertson, thank you, sir.

ROMANS: All right.

The FAA now ordering fan blade inspections after a midair engine explosion killed a passenger and forced the emergency landing of a Southwest Airlines jet in Philadelphia. Pieces of the blown engine were recovered about 70 miles west of the city.

Meantime, the NTSB continuing to comb through evidence from the voice data recorder and interviewing crew members. Investigators will go through records to make sure the proper maintenance was done on that engine.

BRIGGS: 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 impacted 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.

[05:50:01] ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on "CNN Money" this morning.

Stocks around the world are rising. Wednesday, the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 rose on fantastic earnings for U.S. companies.

But the Dow has slipped because IBM shares fell 7.5 percent. IBM said it would make less money this year than it originally thought. IBM, an outlier.

S&P 500 profit growth this quarter expected to be 17 percent, the best since 2011.

Still, most investors think the 9-year bull market may be on its last legs. The Bank of America survey finds 58 percent say the stock market will peak this year. Despite the recent downturn it's keeping score at home, folks. The S&P 500 is up 300 percent since its 2009 low.

In AT&T's antitrust trial, Time Warner's CEO says that deal is necessary to take on Silicon Valley. The DOJ is suing AT&T to block its purchase of Time Warner, parent of CNN.

And yesterday, CEO Jeff Bewkes testified that a merger is the only way to compete with Google and Facebook. Those companies are grabbing an ever-growing share of ad dollars because unlike T.V., tech has the data to target ads.

Bewkes also called the government's argument that AT&T will blackout Time Warner channels ridiculous, explaining that Time Warner would lose hundreds of millions of dollars if its channels are blocked.

All right. Amazon has more than 100 million prime members, finally revealing a stat long kept secret. That's what CEO Jeff Bezos wrote in a letter to shareholders.

Prime is Amazon's membership program. One hundred million, fewer than Netflix but larger than anything else out there -- any other subscription service.

The difference, of course, is that prime isn't just for streaming music and video. It also includes free and discounted shipping. Those members bought five billion items on Amazon last year alone.

BRIGGS: I'm one of those 100 million for the free shipping -- you?

ROMANS: I have too many boxes in my basement. If Amazon just --

BRIGGS: You've got an Amazon addiction, my friend.

ROMANS: If you could just figure out how to get those boxes out of my house. Please, that's what I need to know.

BRIGGS: There's a support group for that.

ROMANS: I know, I know.

BRIGGS: Ahead, police officers in Texas walked right into an explosive situation -- wow. The story behind this video, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:56:42] ROMANS: Police in Texas releasing dashcam video of a home exploding after an SUV slammed into a house and hit a gas line. The blast happened just as officers were approaching the house.

They rescued three people from that wreckage. All three were injured but are expected to recover. The two officers sustained minor injuries.

The driver -- unbelievably, the driver was not hurt.

BRIGGS: That's incredible.

All right. NASA launching its new planet-hunting satellite. For the next 60 days, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite -- TESS, for short -- will establish an orbit around earth and its test for instruments. Then, its 2-year mission will officially begin with the goal of surveying 85 percent of the sky for planets.

TESS takes over the Kepler space telescope, which is running out of fuel.

ROMANS: The U.S. Senate voting unanimously last night to allow newborns on the Senate floor for the first time. It is designed, of course, to accommodate senators like Tammy Duckworth who gave birth to her second child this month, making her the first senator to bear a child while in office.

She spearheaded the move and is now applauding fellow lawmakers for bringing the Senate into quote "the 21st century."

I would say actually the 20th century.

BRIGGS: I'd say close to it, yes -- not exactly.

ROMANS: Moving forward, children under one can now be brought onto the Senate floor and breastfed during votes. Bravo.

BRIGGS: Of course, the entire Internet made the same jokes there. There have long been whining babies on the Senate floor.

ROMANS: Yes, yes.

BRIGGS: Now, it's appropriate.

ROMANS: But these babies are cute and --

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: -- (INAUDIBLE).

BRIGGS: President Trump's well-known desire for discretion was the target of late-night hosts -- listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, ABC "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!": The most surprising thing about this secret meeting is that Trump was able to keep it secret. He didn't accidentally tweet it while it was happening.

And next, he's expected to meet with Kim Jong Un, himself. That's supposed to happen in May or June. He told reporters there are five possible locations being considered, which are Mongolia, Stockholm, Geneva, Seoul, and the Dave & Buster's in Pasadena. STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, CBS "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": I can't believe Trump kept something this big secret. How did he do it?

I mean, the only possible explanation is that Michael Cohen paid him $130,000 to stay quiet about it. Check his bank account. Allegedly, allegedly, allegedly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Funny.

BRIGGS: I did not see that coming.

ROMANS: Me neither -- all right.

Nice to see you all this morning. That's it for us. Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Should I say it in the third person? Now, I'm looking for some third person from you.

"NEW DAY" starts right now. We'll see you tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I will be meeting with Kim Jong Un. We will be doing everything possible to make it a worldwide success.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know how this is going to turn out at this point in time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: North Korea, for years, has wanted respect.

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't make sense that you want to take military action but you don't want to do sanctions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To not target them with sanctions is just letting them off easy.

TRUMP: They've been saying I'm going to get rid of them. They're still here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's endlessly whining about Mueller and Rosenstein. You have fired, but he can (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think everybody jumps the gun. The fact of the matter is he hasn't fired them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)