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Mueller's Questions for Trump Revealed; New Tariffs Delayed; Another DMZ Summit? Aired 4-4:30a ET
Aired May 1, 2018 - 04:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[04:00:14] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The special counsel has dozens of questions for President Trump. Those questions are now public. And they have a major focus on obstruction of justice.
DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House delays new steel and aluminum tariffs on Europe, Canada and Mexico. What is the president's next move as he seeks better trade deals?
ROMANS: The president loves a good show. He's suggesting the North Korean summit at the DMZ. Kim Jong-un is already onboard. The president also producing this pay-per-view TV event.
BRIGGS: Yes, he talked about the visual. Well aware of that.
ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Christine Romans.
BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is Tuesday, May 1st. May Day, folks, 4:00 a.m. in the East, 5:00 p.m. in Seoul, 11:00 a.m. in Jerusalem.
ROMANS: All right. Let's begin here with the president delaying those tariffs to U.S. allies, at least for now.
The administration gave several temporary exemptions when it imposed steel and aluminum tariffs back in March. Those expired at midnight, with hours to spare, the White House gave the E.U., Canada and Mexico another 30 days to negotiate and agreed to permanent exceptions to Argentina, Australia, Brazil, and South Korea. The White House says it is focused on quotas during negotiations, to both curb imports and protect American national security.
This comes just days after French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, personally lobbied Trump. The E.U. threatens to retaliate of these tariffs go into effect, targeting $8 billion in U.S. exports, including strategic items from the home states of Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
This extension also gives the White House more time to work on another trade deal with China. President Trump is sending his top economic officials to Beijing this week for trade talks. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, economic adviser Larry Kudlow and trade adviser Peter Navarro. Both China and the U.S. threatening the other with billions of dollars in tariffs. This is a high stakes meeting and it starts on Thursday. BRIGGS: All right. That's not only our major news this morning.
Possible obstruction of justice is the dominant theme in dozens of question the Russia special counsel wants to ask President Trump. Now, the New York Times obtained a list of at least four dozen questions Robert Mueller has for the president. The questions focus on the president's motivations for key decisions on whether he obstructed Russia investigation.
Justice correspondent Evan Perez starts our coverage from Washington.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The president's legal team composed a list of nearly 50 questions following a meeting last month with the special counsel Robert Mueller investigators to discuss a possible interview with the president. As CNN has reported, the questions roughly fall into four categories and deal with firing of James Comey, the former FBI director, and Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, as well as the president's dealings with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russians.
The questions published by "The New York Times" show a focus on the president's state of mind during key events. It's clear from some of the questions that despite the president's claims that collusion is off the table, the Mueller investigators are still pursuing questions of whether anyone broke the law in those repeated contacts between Trump campaign associates and people the FBI believes were Russian government operatives -- Christine, Dave.
ROMANS: All right. Evan Perez, thank you so much for that.
"The New York Times" says up front the questions are not verbatim quotes from the special counsel and some were condensed. Among the critical questions on the list, why did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December 2016?
BRIGGS: There are at least nine questions about Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser, most revolve around whether the president obstructed justice to protect Flynn from prosecution. Mueller also wants to know whether Flynn was operating on the president's behalf when he called the Russians. Prosecutors may already know the answer. Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying and is cooperating with investigators.
ROMANS: The questions about the firing of FBI Director James Comey would be important in the investigations of possible obstruction of justice. One question reads, what did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10, 2017, that firing Mr. Comey had taken the pressure off?
The day after Comey's firing, Trump met with Russian officials in Oval Office. You remember these pictures released by the Russians. The president and his lawyers have said firing Comey falls within the president's powers.
BRIGGS: Also, questions about possible illegal contact between the Trump campaign and the Russians. One of those questions reads, what knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including Paul Manafort to Russia about possible assistance to the campaign?
[04:05:09] Now, Manafort, a former Trump campaign manager, who famously attended a meeting with Russians during the campaign to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.
ROMANS: Manafort pleaded not guilty to financial crimes. But no charges related to the campaign have been filed.
Manafort's deputy Rick Gates is now cooperating with the Mueller investigation. Trump's newest lawyer in the investigation, Rudy Giuliani, met with Mueller last week. Another Trump lawyer, Jay Sekulow, declined to comment. A spokesman for the special counsel's office did not respond to our request for comment about those questions.
BRIGGS: We also have a strong sign this morning the president may be turning against the man known for years as his fixer. His personal attorney, Michael Cohen. The sign, this unflattering "National Enquirer" cover story, Trump's fixer's secrets and lies. "The Enquirer's" publisher David Pecker is a long time friend and ally of the president. And a source close to the president says Packer would never allow the story's publication without Mr. Trump's blessing.
ROMANS: CNN's Jim Acosta asked Cohen what message he thought that story's publication was sending. Cohen's answer: what do you think?
Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months. His home and office raided by the FBI.
BRIGGS: CNN has learned South Korean President Moon Jae-in convinced North Korean's leader Kim Jong-un to hold his meeting with President Trump in the demilitarized zone. Moon and Kim met in the DMZ, just last week as you remember. And now, President Trump says he's leaning towards that plan himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's something that I like about it because you're there. You're actually there. Where if things work out, there's a great celebration to be had on the site, not in a third party country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIGGS: And our sources say that is the main attraction for the president. A diplomatic drama, potential breakthrough like the one last week, televised live around the world right here on EARLY START.
For the latest, let's go to CNN's Alexandra Field live in Seoul.
Good morning, Alex. Presumably, this would work for Kim Jong-un as well. We've always heard he doesn't want to leave the country in a train fearing what might happen back home.
What's the reporting?
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And certainly, there are a lot of concerns that we know that Kim Jong-un might have about traveling a great distance for this kind of summit. Security not the least of those problems but also logistically, we don't know with his ageing air fleet, how far he could get. It could be potentially embarrassing in a sort of diplomatic way.
So, one option that is being eyed pretty strongly it seems from all sides would be to have this meeting at the DMZ. Anyone who watched that moment last week won't forget seeing the leaders of North Korea and South Korea step over the line of demarcation. Millions of people saw it. The President Donald Trump also saw it and apparently he like what had he saw. He's looking at that as potentially a preview of what could be to come. They would meet face to face with all the pomp and circumstance of doing it right there at the DMZ. You heard him say there about the things went well, this would be a good place to celebrate.
Although the other options have not exactly been knocked off the table entirely. There's still the possibility of the summit happening in Singapore. Skeptical people in Washington have suggested that a neutral place might be more preferable. That the president traveling to the DMZ could appear too conciliatory.
However, we know this is a president that likes made-for-TV moments. And there wouldn't be anything quite like this. As preparations are made for that summit and a final choice is declared, the South Korean president is traveling to meet with President Trump in Washington, D.C., and as all that's happening, another effort toward reconciliation coming from South Korea and North Korea, both sides stopped blaring the propaganda that used to play across the DMZ, and just today, South Korea taking down the speakers that have done that job for decades now.
Another show of good faith as we all wait for a summit that should be happening sometimes perhaps this month -- Dave.
BRIGGS: Continued dramatic developments there.
All right. Alexander Fields live for us this morning, thank you.
ROMANS: Nine minutes past the hour.
Tensions rising between Israel and Iran. The two sides appear headed for a major conflict over Tehran's nuclear program. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirming the Iranian files obtained by the Israelis are authentic. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claiming he has evidence proving the Iranians were brazenly lying when they said they were not pursuing nuclear weapons, a remarkable display yesterday in Tel Aviv by Benjamin Netanyahu, with all kinds of props and PowerPoint.
President Trump expected to decide on the next 12 days whether to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, a fact not lost on Netanyahu.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAEL PRIME MINISTER: I'm sure he'll do the right thing -- the right thing for the United States, the right thing for Israel and the right thing for the peace of the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[14:10:00] ROMANS: Let's go live to Jerusalem and bring in CNN's Ian Lee with the latest developments.
We know that Benjamin Netanyahu was very opposed to this Iranian nuclear deal with the United States. I mean, going to Congress and really, really almost begging Congress not to do this deal. And now on display again, he's laying out his case.
IAN LEE, CNN REPORTER: That's right, Christine.
And you watch that presentation he gave last night, it was very damming. He was talking about schematics of nuclear weapons, delivery systems through missiles as well as this being a covert program. And he had one very important target audience, that is the president of the United States, Donald Trump.
But despite all of that, weapons control experts say really there was nothing new in all of this. This was all known stuff that the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, knew about all this information that the Israeli prime minister presented and that they have dealt with it before and that Iran has been -- the IAEA has said Iran has complied so far with this nuclear program.
But for Prime Minister Netanyahu, this is something he has, as you said, championed since the very beginning before this deal was signed. You know, he sees Iran as a real regional threat to Israel's security, especially with their involvement in neighboring Syria.
But all this information now is going to go to the IAEA. It's going to go to the other members of the Iran nuclear deal, the U.K., Russia, France, China, Germany. They're going to go over and they're going to assess, really is there something here or is there nothing, is he just rehashing old things? But really, the prime minister will be able to claim victory if President Trump does back out of this nuclear deal.
ROMANS: Yes. As you say, an audience of one potentially for that presentation yesterday from President Benjamin Netanyahu.
Thanks so much. Ian Lee for us this morning in Jerusalem.
BRIGGS: Well, this wild news day benefitted no one more than the White House chief of staff. John Kelly forced to say he called his boss an idiot. That's next.
[04:16:15] BRIGGS: All right. Here now, today's installment of things you didn't think you'd ever hear. White House chief of staff, John Kelly, meeting face to face with President Trump to deny an NBC report that he called his boss an idiot. Afterward, the president agreed, declaring the report false in a tweet. All of this sounding a lot like the moron episode involving ex-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Mr. Trump. We all know how that turned out.
For now, we turn to Jeff Zeleny.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, more turmoil and drama in the West Wing. This time, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
CNN is reporting a meeting last month with top national security officials, he reportedly said that he believes the president was becoming unhinged relating to a meeting about Syria, about the strategy in Syria. This is coming on the heels of an NBC News report on Monday that the White House chief of staff referred to the president as an idiot.
Now, John Kelly pushed back hard on that, said it was a B.S. report to use his words there, but this simply is again raising questions about how long John Kelly will remain at his post as chief of staff. As we've been reporting so many mornings for weeks and indeed months. The president has gradually lost some faith in his chief of staff. Yes, he is still controlling things in the West Wing, but not with the iron fist he had at the very beginning here.
Now, we talked to several White House officials who said that John Kelly and the president's relationship is just fine, but others have said it's not a matter of if he's going to leave, it's when he's going to leave. This is the president's choice, of course. But words like idiot, unhinged certainly not helping the mood in the West Wing -- Dave and Christine.
ROMANS: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you so much, Jeff.
Now, a CNN exclusive, concerns were raised about White House physician Ronny Jackson as far back as last fall by Vice President Mike Pence's doctor. Now, CNN has learned the vice president' door reported Jackson for allegedly violating federal privacy protections in a case involving Mrs. Pence. The complaint also alleged Dr. Jackson intimidated the vice president's physician during angry confrontations over the incident. Dr. Jackson and the White House continued to deny any allegations of misconduct.
The administration claims the incident involving Mrs. Pence was simply a dispute between two doctors who had a strained relationship. The vice president's physician did not respond to multiple requests for a comment.
BRIGGS: Comedian Michelle Wolf has no regrets about her performance at the White House correspondent's dinner. Wolf telling NPR in an interview set to air today, I wouldn't change a single word in an interview it will hear today on "Fresh Air". Wolf said she did not expect this level of controversy but sure glad she stuck to her guns.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MICHELLE WOLF, COMEDIAN: I'm more surprised on what they're focusing on, rather, because I think I said more controversial things than the actual jokes they're focusing on. I wanted to do something different. I didn't want to cater to the room. I wanted to cater to the outside audience and not betray my brand of comedy.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BRIGGS: The head of the correspondents association expressed regret that the jokes overshadowed the dinner's celebration of the First Amendment. Others say the reaction is overblown given the president's sustained attacks against the news media, including the White House press corps.
What do you make of that explanation?
ROMANS: I mean, I think she sounds reasonable. She was hired to be a comedian to roast the people in that room --
ROMANS: -- to the entertainment of the people who want to roast the people in that room. That's exactly what she did.
BRIGGS: I think she's talking about the abortion jokes, which actually should have been more controversial than the ones that were about Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
ROMANS: Look, she tore apart the media, too.
BRIGGS: No question.
ROMANS: She tore apart the media --
BRIGGS: Including this network.
ROMANS: -- more extensively, yes, than she did Sarah Huckabee Sanders. So, you know, I mean, she went in there with guns blazing.
All right. One of Harvey Weinstein's most notable victims taking the battle to court. What Weinstein's spokesman says about Ashley Judd's lawsuit, next.
BRIGGS: Actress Ashley Judd suing Harvey Weinstein, claiming he tried to destroy her acting career after she rebuffed his sexual advances. Judd is one of the first women to publicly accuse the film mogul of sexual misconduct. The lawsuit alleges the director of "Lord of the Rings", Peter Jackson, told a New Zealand publication Weinstein dissuaded him from casting Judd.
[04:25:07] That came about a year after the actress says she rejected Weinstein's advances.
A spokesman for Weinstein says he championed her work and repeatedly approved her casting, adding he is looking forward to a vigorous defense of these claims.
ROAMNS: All right. Day four of a teacher strike in Arizona. Look at these images. Many school districts shut down again as teachers swarm the capital, demanding an increase in education spending. After the rally, they marched on the governor's office in downtown Phoenix led by a student marching band, the two largest districts in the state, Mesa public schools and the Tucson unified school district, expected to remain closed today.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is proposing a 20 percent teacher pay raise by the year 2020 with an additional $100 million budgeted for general education spending. Teacher pay in Arizona has fallen 10 percent since 1999 when adjusted for inflation, and teachers kick in a larger portion of their pay to the pension fund, more than 11 percent of the pay today. That compares to about 2 percent in 1999.
BRIGGS: Australian Cardinal George Pell will stand trial for allegedly sexually abusing multiple victims decades ago. Pell, the Vatican treasurer, is the most senior figure in the Holy See to face criminal charges for alleged sexual assault. An Australian judge made the ruling following a month long preliminary hearing. Half the charges against Pell were dropped but the judge decided the prosecution's case was strong enough to warrant a jury trial.
The 76-year-old cardinal pleaded not guilty to multiple charges of historical sexual abuse. In a statement through his lawyers, Pell steadfastly maintains his innocence.
Ahead, if the president does sit down with Robert Mueller, we now know what the interview could look like. Dozens of questions for the president published this morning. The prevailing theme: obstruction of justice.