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EARLY START

Mueller Wants to Ask Trump Dozens of Questions; New Tariffs Delayed; Another DMZ Summit? Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 1, 2018 - 04:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:30:54] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The special counsel has dozens of questions for President Trump, those questions are public. They have a major focus on obstruction of justice.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House delays new steel and aluminum tariffs on the European Union, Canada and Mexico. So, what's the president's next move as he seeks better trade deals?

BRIGGS: And the president loves a good show. He's suggesting the North Korea summit at the DMZ. Kim Jong-un is already on board. Optics always central to the president's thinking.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour this Tuesday morning.

Possible obstruction of justice is the dominant theme in these dozens of questions the Russia special counsel wants to ask President Trump. A list of at least four dozens questions Robert Mueller has for the president was first obtained by "The New York Times" later matched by "The Wall Street Journal." The questions focused on the president's motivations for key decisions and whether he obstructed the Russia investigation.

Justice correspondent Evan Perez starts our coverage from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Evan, thanks.

"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 here on the list, what did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in late December, 2016?

ROMANS: There are at least nine questions about Michael Flynn, the 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 the investigators.

BRIGGS: The questions about the firing of FBI Director James Comey would be important in the investigation 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 the Oval Office. Still hard to believe that the president and his lawyers said firing Comey falls within the president's powers.

ROMANS: There are also questions about possible illegal contacts 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 potential assistance to the campaign? Manafort is a former Trump campaign manager who famously attended a meeting with Russians during the campaign to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.

BRIGGS: Manafort has pleaded not guilty to financial crimes, but no charges related to campaign had been filed. Manafort's deputy, Rick Gates, 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.

ROMANS: President Trump delaying tariffs on key U.S. allies, at least for now. A midnight deadline comes and goes. The administration gave several temporary exemptions when it imposed steel and aluminum tariffs in March. They expired at midnight. With just hours to spare, the White House gave the E.U., Canada and Mexico another 30 days to negotiate and agreed to permanent exemptions for Argentina, Australia, Brazil and South Korea.

[04:35:07] The White House says it is focused instead on quotas during negotiations to both curb imports and protect national security. This comes just days after French President Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel personally lobbied Trump. The E.U. threatens to retaliate that the tariff is going to effect, targeting $8 billion in U.S. exports.

Now, this extension also gives the White House more time to work on another trade battle with China. President Trump is sending his top economic officials to Beijing this week for trade talks. Both China and the U.S. threatening the other with billions of dollars in tariffs. This high stakes meeting starts on Thursday.

BRIGGS: CNN has learned South Korean President Moon Jae-in convinced North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un to hold his upcoming meeting with President Trump in the demilitarized zone. Moon and Kim met in the DMZ as you remember just last week, and now, President Trump says he is leaning towards that 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 and potential breakthrough like the one last week televised right here around the world.

For the latest, let's check with CNN's Alexander Field live for us in Seoul.

Alex, good morning. What's the reaction there?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, it would be another historical moment made for TV, Dave. What we're hearing from the Blue House here in South Korea is that there would be no place more symbolic to meet than the DMZ. That certainly sounds very much in line with what President Trump was saying from the White House.

We know that, as far as logistics go, this would certainly be an appealing option for North Korea. They, of course, have to be concerned about Kim Jong-un's security when he travels. Also, the process of traveling itself, there are questions about the ageing fleet of airplanes in North Korea. How far exactly Kim Jong-un could even get if asked to travel to a summit in a farther away location without having to stop and refuel which might be potentially diplomatically embarrassing for the regime in North Korea.

So, certainly, there are reasons that all sides seem to be expressing interest in having the summit at the DMZ. It would add a certain element of pomp and circumstance to a spectacularly historical moment. There's even the possibility then for President Donald Trump to cross into the North Korean side of the DMZ. He certainly was among the millions who were watching closely as we saw the North Korean and the South Korean leaders walk over that line of demarcation. Perhaps that was a preview of what we'll see just a few weeks from

now. It's certainly something that the South Korean president will be discussing when he travels to Washington, D.C. to meet with president Trump to further lay out the plans for the upcoming summit -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Dramatic developments 5:37 p.m. there in Seoul.

Alexandra Field, live for us, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Now to the 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 with this dramatic presentation of this Iranian files that's what we're talking about, laying out an elaborate detail his case against Iran. The prime minister claims his evidence proves Iranians were brazenly lying when they said they were not pursuing nuclear weapons. President Trump expected to decide in 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.

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ROMANS: Let's go live to Jerusalem and bring in CNN's Ian Lee with the latest developments. Just that presentation from the prime minister of Israel laying out what he says are terrible deeds by the Iranians, cheating and lying and these Iranian files somehow spirited out these pages and pages of documents.

Tell us about it.

IAN LEE, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Christine. He hailed his intelligence agency for getting this information. It was a very damning presentation. The prime minister talking about nuclear weapons schematics, talking about delivery systems of missiles as well as this being a covert operation.

There was one very important target audience member that is U.S. President Donald Trump. Prime Minister Netanyahu trying to urge the United States to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.

There is just one problem, weapons control experts who have followed this from the very beginning say everything that the prime minister presented, there was nothing new there. And that all this is well known to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, and the other signatories to the Iran nuclear deal.

The prime minister, though, does see Iran as a threat. There's a larger threat here. [04:40:01] Also, Iran's nuclear program, but also their involvement in

the neighboring civil war in Syria. And so, the prime minister is trying to build up this case against Iran.

As far as this new evidence the prime minister says he presented, well, that is going to these other members who signed up to this nuclear deal. You got France, Russia, China, the U.K., Germany, they're going to be looking it over, so is the IAEA to see really if there is something there or if he's rehashing old news. Also, the one important thing here, though, is President Trump. If this presentation goes forward in persuading President Trump to pull out of the nuclear deal, then Prime Minister Netanyahu will be declaring victory, Christine.

ROMANS: It's so interesting because the Defense Secretary James Mattis praised certain parts of the Iran deal saying that it was sort of written as if they were going to cheat and that it was verifiable. But again, the president could take a very different view on that and I think that's what Benjamin Netanyahu is hoping for. Ian Lee, thank you so much for that.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, a busy, busy news day benefitted no one more than the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly who was forced to deny reports his boss, called him an idiot.

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[04:45:55] ROMANS: All right. Here is today's installment of things you didn't think you would 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. Afterwards, 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. And we all know how that turned out.

More now from CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

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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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thanks.

The nation's top immigration official is stepping down less than six months after being nominated by President Trump to become director of ICE. Thomas Homan, currently the acting director, announcing he wants to focus on family after 34-year career he calls his last year heading up the agency the honor of his life. Under the tough-talking former border patrol agent immigration surged 40 percent. President Trump tapped Homan to be permanent ICE director last November but the nomination never reached a vote on the Senate floor.

ROMANS: Arizona Senator John McCain delivers a no holds barred take on President Trump in a new book, in a just released excerpt from "The Restless Wave". McCain writes about the president, quote, he has declined to distinguish the actions of our government from the crimes of despotic ones. The appearance of toughness or a reality show facsimile of toughness seems to matter more than any of our values.

McCain adding he would like to see us recover our sense that we are more alike than different. The 81-year-old senator is recovering at home from side effects of brain cancer treatment. McCain also writes in the book, I don't have a complaint, not one. It's been quite a ride.

BRIGGS: Comedian Michelle Wolf has no regrets about her performance at the White House Correspondent's Dinner. Wolf tells NPR, quote, I wouldn't change a single word. In an interview airing today on the "Fresh Air" radio show, Wolf says she did not expect this level of controversy but is 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 correspondent's association, Margaret Talev, expressed regrets 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. Michelle Wolf said I think they have preconceived notions of how women will present themselves and I don't fit into that box.

Do you agree with that? I don't think it had anything to do with personally --

ROMANS: I don't know. I will say this, the last, excuse me, six or seven years, we've been debating the relevance of the White House correspondent's dinner, haven't we?

[04:50:00] BRIGGS: Yes, we have.

ROMANS: I mean, it is not just this year. And in the Trump era, all the rules are changed.

BRIGGS: It clearly needs to change if nothing else.

ROMANS: All right. Fifty minutes past the hour. One of Harvey Weinstein's most notable accusers taking the embattled producer to court. What Weinstein's spokesman says about Ashley Judd's lawsuit, next.

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ROMANS: Ashley Judd suing Harvey Weinstein, claiming he tried to destroy her acting career after she rebuffed his sexual advances.

[04:55:05] Judd is one of the first women to publicly accuse the disgraced film mogul of sexual misconduct.

The lawsuit focuses on a claim by the director of "Lord of the Rings", Peter Jackson. He told a New Zealand publication Weinstein dissuaded him from casting Judd. 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.

BRIGGS: Day four of a teacher strike in Arizona. Look at these pictures. Many school districts shut down Monday as teachers swarmed 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. Now, teacher pay in Arizona has fallen 10 percent since 1999, fallen, when adjusted for inflation, and teachers kick in a larger portion of their pay to the pension fund, more than 11 percent of their pay.

ROMANS: Yes, it was 2 percent back in the '90s.

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.

BRIGGS: A dramatic rise in temperatures in the eastern half of the country.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joining us from the CNN weather center.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Dave and Christine.

Get ready for summer-like temperatures over the next couple days. High pressure beginning to build here. And as it does, look at the trend across New York City going from 51 yesterday, 26 better what we expect today up to 77. How about the 40s to 60s for places like Boston, the 70s from yesterday to the 80s of today across places like Detroit and New York City. I think you'll get to the hottest temperatures of 2018 there by Thursday afternoon, little temperatures down into the 70s and frankly not a bad weekend.

It cools off, yes, but still very comfortable setup across much of the Northeast. In D.C., we even do it a few degrees better than that, up to the lower 90s come Thursday afternoon and spectacular weekend coming in across that region, this high pressure really sets up shop here and continues to hold a pretty firm ground while back towards the west, it is really re-enforcing the severe weather pattern. We do have an active jet stream across this rejoined, of course, and a blocking pattern setting up to the east, so storms one after the other impacting the plains.

And from Tuesday into Wednesday, you see the threat zone for severe weather in store across the plains -- guys.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Pedram Javaheri, thank you for that.

Now, back to the weather. How about some money this morning. Looking at the Wall Street right now, global stocks rising overnight after the U.S. extended those tariff exceptions for key allies. But Wall Street still worried about trade tensions and if Washington will abandon the Iran nuclear deal. U.S. stocks closed lower despite strong economic data and strong company earnings.

Sprint fell 14 percent after reaching that deal with T-Mobile. T- Mobile agreed to buy Sprint for $26 billion, leaving just three major carriers in the U.S. Analysts are skeptical this deal will get federal approval. The Treasury, by the way, says the U.S. borrowed a record $488 billion in the first three months of 2018. Look at that. The previous high was back in 2010 when the U.S. was

fighting its way out of a recession. Deficits are on the rise. These numbers are pretty big. It means the government is borrowing more to cover costs.

Hitting the road this summer? You'll probably pay more at the pump. Oil prices are rising thanks to production cut by major exporters and soon, that will translate into higher gas prices. Experts predict an average $2.74 a gallon. That's up above 14 percent from last summer. It's the highest in four years.

Still gas prices may be rising but they are below the $4 a gallon prices were in 2008. Remember that? That was horrible.

All right. Apple facing panic over its most important product, the iPhone. Apple reports earnings today and investors are worried about slowing iPhone sales. Two weeks ago, a key supplier warned that demand is looking a little bit weak. The stock is down 7 percent since then.

Some analysts blame the pricey iPhone 10. Others say its new devices look too similar to older models and if sales do slow, even at $100 billion giveaway may not be enough to calm investors.

Apple is expected to announce plans to return $100 billion to shareholders today. It's the tax bill makes it cheaper for Apple to bring home its quarter of a trillion dollars in foreign cash. They're going to give some of that, we think, to investors.