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President Trump Considers U.S. Troop Reduction in South Korea; U.S.-China Trade Talks Wrapping Up in Beijing; Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 4, 2018 - 04:30   ET



[04:30:33] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can't get into the details of the ongoing litigation. I have given the best information I had at the time. Again, I gave you the best information that I had. I gave you the best information that I had.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House struggling for words after Rudy Giuliani admitted the president did pay back the Stormy Daniels hush money. Now anger is building on the president's legal team.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: South Korea's top national security official is in D.C. ahead of nuclear talks with North Korea. Now President Trump reportedly taking steps to reduce the U.S. military presence in the region.

ROMANS: And mandatory evacuations in Hawaii as the Kilauea volcano erupts. Emergency resources being deployed as lava heads for residential areas.

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

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. 31 minutes pas the hour. May the 4th be with you. Happy "Star Wars" day, everybody.

We start once again with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani seeming to have thrown a bit of a wrench into the president's legal strategy or taken a flamethrower to it. Multiple sources tell CNN Trump's other legal advisers felt blindsided, angry, confused when Giuliani revealed the president reimbursed his lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen for a hush payment to porn star Stormy Daniels. That remark contradicting previous explanations by the president and Cohen.

Giuliani told CNN Thursday he and the president are on the same page, aiming to, quote, "get everything wrapped up and done with, so that this doesn't take on a life of its own."

ROMANS: But the White House struggling to explain away the contradictions after the president spent months denying he knew about the hush money or the reimbursement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president did talk about monthly retainers in his tweet and then Rudy Giuliani said that the president only knew about this 10 days to two weeks ago.

How can you only be aware of something 10 days to two weeks ago, but at the same time, in process of paying monthly retainers that apparently cover this reimbursement to Michael Cohen?

SANDERS: Again, I can't get into the details of the ongoing litigation. I'd refer you back to the president's outside counsel.

ACOSTA: If I could follow up on, you said on March 7th, there was no knowledge of any payments from the president. And he's denied all of these allegations. Were you lying to us at the time or were you in the dark?

SANDERS: The president has denied and continues to deny the underlying claim. And again, I've given the best information I had at the time.


ACOSTA: Why can't you just say whether you were in the dark? I think it's a fairly simple question whether you didn't have any information at the time.

SANDERS: I think it's a fairly answer that I've given you actually several times now.


ROMANS: On Thursday, the president confirmed the hush payment and the reimbursement in a series of tweets while also denying any connection to presidential campaign. A source says that president's legal team is, quote, "calling it one play at a time."

BRIGGS: The issue of guns front and center today as both President Trump and Vice President Pence address the National Rifle Association convention in Dallas. The firearms industry has been fighting back against calls for stricter gun laws in the wake of the Parkland school massacre. You may recall the president telling lawmakers not to fear the NRA and even suggesting taking away guns without due process. He dialed back his own rhetoric of course and proposals after meeting with the gun lobby. Mr. Trump is the first sitting president in more than 30 years to speak in an NRA convention and this will be his second time doing so.

ROMANS: Another mess, actually a few more involving embattled EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. The "Atlantic" reporting a member of Pruitt's press team Michael Abboud has been shopping negative stories to the media about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to take the spotlight off of Pruitt.

Abboud reportedly telling members of the media an Interior staffer conspired with former EPA official to leak damaging information about the EPA. The spokesman for the agency calls the report categorically false.

BRIGGS: Also developing this morning the "Washington Post" reporting Pruitt drew up a list of at least a dozen countries he hoped to visit once he became EPA administrator and enlisted the help of lobbyists and allies to make those trips happen. In at least on case a lobbyist traveling with Pruitt to Morocco got a contract with the host country.

ROMANS: And new this morning, a CNN analysis revealing Pruitt paid himself nearly $65,000 from his two campaigns for Oklahoma attorney general. Records show Pruitt made purchases himself then received reimbursement from the campaign. It makes it difficult to tell if the purchases were legitimate. The spokesman for Pruitt tells CNN the payments were, quote, "standard reimbursements."

[04:35:00] BRIGGS: A Catholic priest is back on the job as the congressional chaplain after rescinding the resignation he submitted last month. House Speaker Paul Ryan accepting Reverend Pat Conroy's decision. Ryan faced questions from Democrats and Republicans about asking the Jesuit priest to step down after nearly seven years of praying at the start of House sessions.

ROMANS: Conroy says Ryan's chief of staff told him lawmakers wanted a chaplain who is not Catholic. A claim the chief of staff strongly denies. The speaker say he plans to meet with Father Conroy early next week. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi now demanding an explanation for Father Conroy's dismissal.

BRIGGS: Republican lawmakers in Missouri will convene a special legislative session later this month to consider impeaching embattled GOP governor Eric Greitens. Statehouse and Senate leaders announcing the extraordinary move Thursday. There's been mounting pressure on the governor to resign over two criminal felony charges against him. Greitens also faces three separate investigations into his conduct.

Missouri's Republican House speaker says, quote, "They will not avoid doing what is right just because it is hard."

ROMANS: Corporate America raking in huge profits thanks to the new tax bill. The tax reform slashed the corporate rate to 21 percent from 35 percent. And those tax savings are driving profits to new highs. S&P 500 profits grew 25 percent during the first three months of 2018. That is the highest in seven years. And a "Wall Street Journal" analysis found more than half of that total growth comes from those lower corporate taxes.

The corporate tax reform was a centerpiece of the tax bill at a promise it would encourage investment, creating jobs and boosting wages. So far many companies are using their tax savings to reward shareholders. Companies have spent now $375 billion buying back their own stock. On workers, they have given bonuses and wage increases totaling $6.7 billion.

BRIGGS: All right. Some mandatory evacuations now under way in Hawaii as the Kilauea volcano erupts releasing lava in a subdivision. The evacuations affecting 1700 people with almost 800 structures threatened. A woman who safely evacuated took this video. The focus you can see lava in the distance spewing out of a crack in the street.

HARLOW: Goodness.

BRIGGS: The governor has now expedited relief efforts and activated the Hawaii National Guard to help with evacuations and security. The Red Cross has opened two shelters. The eruption comes after hundreds of earthquakes rocked the area since Monday. Those quakes have now slowed down.

ROMANS: A downside of paradise.

BRIGGS: Some downside. Yes.

ROMANS: There's simply no place more beautiful than Hawaii. But you get that to deal with.

All right. All of you who use Twitter. You should change your password immediately. Get on there, Dave Briggs.

BRIGGS: I still won't do it.

ROMANS: There is this glitch forcing 336 million people. You've got to make that change. That's next.


[04:42:31] ROMANS: OK. Twitter says all of you who use it, you've got to change your password. I'm talking 336 million people. It discovered a glitch causing user passwords to be saved unprotected on its internal computer server. The company says there's no evidence passwords have been leaked or misuse. The issue has been resolved, but it would not say when the bug was discovered or how long it has been storing passwords incorrectly. Twitter CEO says it was important to be open about this internal defect. Their chief technology officer tweeted an apology. Just change your password please.

BRIGGS: All right. I will.

Arizona school teaches returned to their classrooms this morning one day after the governor signed an education funding bill that give them a 20 percent pay raise by the year 2020 including a 10 percent hike in the upcoming school year. The new measure also increases funding for support staff, new textbooks, upgraded technology and infrastructure. The president of the Arizona Education Association says she is proud of the deal which ends a six-day walkout.

ROMANS: Investigators hoping a genealogy Web site will help crack one of America's most mysterious unsolved cases. Authorities in California have been trying to hunt down the Zodiac Killer for decades. The murderer has been definitively linked to five deaths in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. Now the killer claimed more than 30 murders and sent a series of bizarre and detailed letters to news organizations in which he called himself Zodiac.

Now you'll remember a genealogy Web site was the -- cracked the case for the Golden State Killer after he also evaded capture for decades. One man is dead following a shooting at a shopping mall in Nashville.

Police say a personal dispute between two men may led to the violent confrontation at the Opry Mills Mall Thursday afternoon. The suspect identified as 22-year-old Justin Golson fired at least two shots before fleeing the scene. He later surrendered at a nearby ticket booth telling bystanders to call 911. He was taken into custody a short time later. Police say both men were previously known to local authorities.

BRIGGS: The Washington Redskins taking issue with the "New York Times" story on the treatment of the team's cheerleaders. Now the "Times" says Redskins cheerleaders were required to pose topless for a 2013 photo shoot in Costa Rica right in front of male sponsors invited by the team. The report also said cheerleaders had to escort some team sponsors to a nightclub. Redskins president Bruce Allen says his conversations with current and former cheerleaders contradict the "Times" but he adds the team will conduct a review and any employee who acted inappropriately will face, quote, "significant repercussions."

[04:45:07] ROMANS: On the heels of his sexual assault conviction, Bill Cosby, getting expelled from the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences. The group behind the Academy Awards voting to remove Cosby and Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski as members, citing its new standards of conduct.

Bill Cosby was found guilty last week on three counts of aggravated indecent assault. Director Roman Polanski fled the U.S. back in 1978 after being charged with statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. He has continued to make films in Europe.

BRIGGS: Ahead, is the U.S. preparing to drawdown troops in South Korea? Some new reporting this morning ahead of nuclear talks with Pyongyang. We are live in Seoul.


[04:50:28] BRIGGS: It's 4:50 Eastern Time on a Friday. As you might imagine, Christine, late-night comedians had a field day with Rudy Giuliani's revelation to Sean Hannity.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, " THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": It's not just a storm this time. It's Hurricane Rudy. Last night, Hurricane Rudy made landfall on FOX News. And Trump may have to declare himself a disaster area.

RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: Funneled through a law firm and the president repaid it.

COLBERT: Rudy, you're not helping. I got this. Officer, you can't accuse my buddy here of speeding. He was way too drunk to do that.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": So the president repaid Michael Cohen for the hush money he didn't know anything about, which almost makes you think maybe he did know something about it. And he funneled it which doesn't sound suspicious. See, that's how I pay all my porn stars, too, through a funnel.

Vice President Pence delivered a speech that I think sums things up very well.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, the sweetest words the president and I ever hear are the words, I'm praying for you. And we hear it a lot.


KIMMEL: I bet you do.


ROMANS: There has been so much material in the last 15 months for those guys, you know. Remarkable.

BRIGGS: It writes itself. Really do.

ROMANS: It really does. It really does.

All right. 51 minutes past the hour. Let's talk about North Korea here. The National Security Adviser John Bolton meets with the South Korea's security chief today in Washington. They're going to be laying the groundwork for the president's planned summit with Kim Jong-un.

The focus will be on location, that's still up in the air, and on the broader elements and sort of contours of the talks. This as the "New York Times" reports the president is ordering the Pentagon to prepare options for reducing the number of U.S. troops in South Korea.

CNN's Alexandra Field live in Seoul for us this morning with the very latest. Looking at the options for some sort of a troop drawdown.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. South Korean officials were certainly interested in that report. They're saying that they've been told by officials in Washington that the report is not true. Earlier this week, South Korean officials linked the presence of U.S. troops on the peninsula to wider issues of regional stability and security.

But as we talk about the possibility of a peace treaty that would bring to a formal end the Korean War since 65 years after the fighting stopped, the question has been raised over and over again, would the U.S. continue to maintain the level of troops that it currently has on the peninsula? You're talking about some 30,000 people.

In the past, we know that President Trump has publicly complained about the cost of maintaining some of these forces out here in the region. A source with knowledge of the administration's thinking has said that the president isn't evaluating any options for reducing the number of troops that would be used as a bargaining chip with North Korea at this point. But that the only consideration to reduce the number of troops would happen well into the future after any nuclear weapons were verifiably gone from the peninsula.

That's what that source is saying. At the same time, you've got Kim Jong-un telling the Chinese foreign minister who has traveled to Pyongyang this week that he is still committed to denuclearization, the plans are under way now for the big sit-down between Kim Jong-un and President Trump. The question on everyone's mind, though, is whether or not North Korea will offer a good faith gesture in advance of that summit by releasing the three American detainees.

A lot of talk in the last day or two especially from the top levels of the U.S. administration that a release could be coming soon. Certainly it is what the families are hoping for at this moment -- Dave, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes. OK. Thanks a lot. Well, keep us posted if you're getting new developments on that. Thanks, Alexandra.

BRIGGS: All right. Meanwhile, President Trump's top economic advisers wrapping up two pivotal days of trade talks with China. Leaders of the world's two largest economies threatening to impose billions of dollars in tariffs on each other's products. The breakthrough will require a fundamental change in China's economic policies. That is not considered likely.

Matt Ricers live for us in Beijing with the very latest.

Matt, we have not heard anything publicly regarding this trade talks. What's happening there?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, it's funny, Dave, just in the last minute or two actually, we did get something from the Chinese side. This would be coming from state media. Really nothing anything substantive at this point. But they did say that both sides reached some agreements on a couple of things including expanding exports from the United States to China and intellectual property protection.

I'm reading that right now for the first time here. It was just handed to me. But anything more substantive than that we're not sure. Is that enough there?

[04:55:02] Is that agreement that they're talking about enough for both sides to back away from the tens of billions of dollars in looming tariff threats that both sides have made? We know that these sides are extremely far apart on many, many issues when it comes to the trading relationship. But at least in the initial statement from the Chinese, there does seem to be some positive light there. Nothing from the U.S. side as of yet. We know the delegation is heading home to the U.S. pretty soon.

And at the same time, as all of this is going on there's a whole another issue with national security down in the South China Sea. We know according to the White House that it's likely that the Chinese have deployed missiles that could target ships and aircraft on the artificial islands they've been militarizing in that part of the world for the last several years. That is a big step forward. That's something the United States is very unhappy with, the White House said they will respond. They haven't had said how yet but that's just one issue among multiple between the U.S. and China right now that's making things quite tense.

BRIGGS: All right. Matt Rivers live for us in Beijing this morning. Thanks, Matt.

ROMANS: And there's this, talking about multiple issues. The Pentagon claiming that Chinese soldiers are using military grade lasers to interfere with U.S. aircraft in Djibouti. The U.S. and China both have bases in the East African nation. Defense Department officials claim multiple incidents involving the laser interference with two U.S. airmen sustaining minor eye injuries. The U.S. launching a formal diplomatic protest with Beijing and all U.S. airmen now being urged to use caution when flying in certain areas over Djibouti.

BRIGGS: All right. The Nobel Prize in Literature is being postponed. The Swedish Academy, the group that awards the prize, has been mired in financial and sexual scandal in recent weeks. Six members of the Academy, including the head of the organization, Sara Danius, have stepped down in the wake of the controversies. A statement released today says the Nobel Foundation is supporting the decision. This is the first time the award will not be presented since World War II. The postponed Nobel will be awarded next year.

ROMANS: All right. Let's get a check on "CNN Money" this morning. Trade tensions sending global stocks mostly lower today. It is day two of trade talks between China and the U.S. These high stakes meeting wraps up day.

It was a mixed day on Wall Street. Strong earnings helped the Dow erase a nearly 400-point loss to close higher, ending its four-day losing streak. But the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 close lower.

Today is the jobs report. Hiring expected to pick up. The jobless rate may fall to 4 percent. Wall Street will focus on wage growth. The market fell remember in January when wages rose at the fastest pace since 2009. Strong growth could mean inflation is picking up and that means the Federal Reserve may hike interest rates faster than planned.

One reason there are so few women CEOs, women make up just 11 percent of the highest paid jobs in corporate America. That's from a new Pew survey of S&P 500 companies. The executive roles a stepping stone to CEO. And only a small fraction are held by women. One surprising fact, utility companies have the largest share of female executives. In fact five of the 24 female CEOs in the S&P 500 run utility firms. One theory is the jobs are regional, meaning they don't require international assignments like other industries. That's harder for women who had family obligations frankly.

Wall Street's chief regulator is coming for the king of New York. Rapper Jay-Z. I'm telling you the SEC has asked a federal judge to order Jay-Z to appear in court next week. Jay-Z ignored two subpoenas asking him to testify. He is not the center of an SEC probe, but investigators want to ask him about the sale of his Rocawear brand. The group he sold it to is being investigated for securities fraud.

When the SEC sends you a little letter and telling you --

BRIGGS: You can't cancel.

ROMANS: You got to go. You got to go.

BRIGGS: You don't have 99 problems, but he certainly has one.

All right. EARLY START continues right now with the credibility of the president once again on the line.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can't get into the details of the ongoing litigation. I have given the best information I had at the time. Again, I gave you the best information that I had. I gave you the best information that I had.


ROMANS: Wow. The White House struggling for words after Rudy Giuliani admitted the president did pay back the Stormy Daniels hush money. Now anger building on the president's legal team.

BRIGGS: And South Korea's top national security official is in Washington ahead of nuclear talks with North Korea. Now President Trump reportedly taking steps to reduce the U.S. military presence in the South.

ROMANS: And mandatory evacuations in Hawaii as the Kilauea volcano erupts. Emergency resources being deployed as lava heads for residential areas. The pictures just astonishing there in paradise.

Good morning. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Good morning, everyone. Friday, May the 4th. Happy "Star Wars" day. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East. We start once again with Rudy Giuliani.

The Trump attorney seems to have thrown a wrench into the president's legal strategy or have taken a flame thrower to it depending on how you see it.