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EARLY START

Secretary of State Pompeo Arrives in Pyongyang; What's Next with Iran?; Mueller Questions Russian Oligarch About Cohen Payment. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 9, 2018 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:13] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking this morning: the secretary of state back in Pyongyang. And three American detainees are expected to leave with him. We are live in Seoul.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was a horrible, on one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made. It didn't bring calm, it didn't bring peace, and it never will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. is out of the Iran deal. But the question remains, what's next to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon?

ROMANS: And a CNN exclusive. The special counsel is talking to a Russian oligarch about hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to the president's personal attorney. What is that about?

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

BRIGGS: That needs some explaining. We'll get to it in a moment.

I'm Dave Briggs. Wednesday, May 9th, 4:00 in the East, 5:00 on the Korean Peninsula, it's 12:30 p.m. in Tehran and we will have live reports from both. It's a very unusual morning.

Breaking news, Mike Pompeo in North Korea this hour. According to the South Korean government officials, the newly minted secretary of state is expected to return home with three American detainees.

Let's bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks who's live with us from Seoul, South Korea.

Paula, good morning.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Dave.

Well, we do know from one South Korean official that they expect Mike Pompeo to leave Pyongyang with three detainees. But it is just an expectation, at this point. We have no clarification or confirmation that that could happen. We do know, though, that the U.S. secretary of state on his way to

Pyongyang said that they've been asking about this for 17 months, and they will ask again. That this is going to be one of the main topics of conversation when he is in Pyongyang, saying it would be a great gesture if they decided to release the three Americans.

Also he is there, though, to pin down the date, the location, the specifics of the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. And earlier, Donald Trump saying that that has been decided upon, the date and location, but clearly North Korea has to sign off on that, as well.

In addition to that, Kim Jong-un just yesterday went to China once again to meet with President Xi Jinping, an unexpected meeting. Once again, Xi Jinping showing that he is the main ally of North Korea, reinserting himself into this entire process.

And, of course, the question is, how will Kim Jong-un take the fact that the U.S. is now out of the Iranian nuclear deal? Some critics here suggesting that he's unlikely to agree to a full denuclearization with this U.S. president if he doesn't know what the next U.S. president might do -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Xi Jinping reminding everyone he is the center of all of this. Paula Hancocks live for us from Seoul. Thanks.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump ignoring pleas from key European allies announcing the U.S. is quitting the Iran nuclear deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement. The Iran deal is defective at its core. If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The president plans to impose new sanctions on the Iranian regime and says any country that helps Iran obtain nuclear weapons would be strongly sanctioned.

Reaction to the move was swift both at home and abroad.

I want to bring in Fred Pleitgen. He is there for us in Tehran.

And, Fred, first, the reaction from where you are to the president fulfilling a campaign promise to get out of this deal.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Christine, they've been swift, and they've actually been very fierce, as well. Earlier today, an Iranian parliament, hard liners, conservatives burned copies not just of the American flag, but actually of the nuclear agreement, as well. They say the United States and President Trump have shown they cannot be trusted, especially in negotiations like these. And they say that the Iranians have always lived up to their commitments in the nuclear agreement.

Now, Iran's very moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, he came out earlier and he did take a much more moderate tone. He said that he hoped that in the future, Iran might be able to salvage at least part of the nuclear agreement, that being with Iran, the other countries that signed on to the agreement, of course then minus the United States. But, of course, all that would count on the Europeans still abiding by the nuclear agreement, the Iranians say they're going to look at that. They hope the Europeans do that.

But, of course, that's easier said than done. European countries France, Germany, Britain, the most important ones, have said they want the nuclear agreement to survive, to continue. But, of course, there is immense pressure from the Trump administration, not just on these governments but, frankly, from countries -- on companies that are trying to do business from these countries here in Iran.

[04:05:04] The Iranians have said that if the nuclear agreement falls apart, they are capable and willing to ramp up their nuclear program once again. However, they also say they've never had any intention and certainly don't now have any intention of building a nuclear bomb -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Fred Pleitgen for us in Tehran this morning, thank you. We'll get back to you soon.

BRIGGS: U.S. intelligence officials are growing increasingly concerned about a possible attack by Iran against Israel. Military officials tell CNN the intelligence not clear on what kind of attack might take place or even when. But the U.S. believes it could come from inside Syria or Lebanon or even Iran itself.

Let's bring in Ian Lee live from Jerusalem with the latest.

Ian, good morning.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave.

Yes, last night, we were hearing from the Israeli military. They are stepping up their alert level after what they said were irregular activities of Iranian forces inside of Syria. What does that actually mean is that they opened up shelters for civilians in the Golan Heights as well as across Northern Israel.

They also called up reservists. These are noncombatant reservists which include medics, intelligence officers, also people who can operate Israel's anti-missile Iron Dome system. This highlights the increased tensions that we've been seeing in the northern part of Israel, along that border with Syria. Israeli officials have been afraid that there could be some sort of tensions and outbreak of violence around this nuclear deal, around the United States pulling out of it.

This morning, though, we did have Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before he was leaving to Russia to attend the victory day parade inside Moscow. He gave some statements, and he said that he wants to work with the Russians to talk about coordination between the two militaries so there aren't any mishaps.

As we know, Israel has been operating inside Syria. They've carried out a number of air strikes. And just last night we're hearing from Syrian state media that they intercepted two Israeli missiles in the Damascus neighborhood. Although the Israeli military says they're not commenting -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Tenuous times. All right. Ian Lee live for us in Jerusalem, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump's decision to pull out of the Iran deal drew strong negative reaction from Democrats and some Republicans. Even some lawmakers who vote against the deal are now saying that withdrawing is not the answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: This is a little like replace and repeal. They had these words, they used them in the campaign, and they don't have a real plan here.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I just don't think that it's a wise move. Oftentimes when you get into office you realize that, hey, that may have worked in the campaign or those were -- that was a good line or whatnot, but you realize that it's not good for the country at this point. Given where we are with negotiations now, especially with North Korea, our allies and our adversaries need to know that we are reliable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: There was also support for the president's decision. Florida Senator Marco Rubio arguing that Iran has used sanctions relief from the deal to build its missile program and boost its support for Hezbollah and Syria's Assad regime.

Former President Obama weighed in with a pointed statement calling the move misguided.

ROMANS: He said: In a democracy, there will always be changes in policies and priorities from one administration to the next, but the consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America's credibility and puts us at odds with the world's major powers.

President Trump has pulled out of the Iran deal, the Paris climate accord, and the Trans Pacific partnership, three major international agreements of the Obama era.

BRIGGS: Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators questioned a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin about hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to Michael Cohen. A source telling CNN, a U.S. affiliate of the oligarch's company made the large payments to President Trump's personal attorney in the months after the election. And in a bizarre twist, the money could be tied to the Stormy Daniels payoff. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz has more from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, Mueller's investigators have questioned a Russian oligarch named Viktor Vekselberg about hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments made to President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in 2017. Now, the payments went from Vekselberg's U.S.-linked company call would Columbus Nova to Cohen. Columbus Nova is run by Vekselberg's American cousin, Andrew Intrater.

And documents that were released by Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, alleged that half a million dollars was paid to Cohen beginning in January, 2017. And then last month, the Trump administration put Vekselberg on a list of sanctioned Russians for election interference.

[04:10:06] Now, what's not clear is the purpose of the payments that were made to Cohen or the nature of the business relationship between Cohen and Vekselberg, and the fact that investigators are scrutinizing this is significant because it essentially shows that a company created by Michael Cohen to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels was also receiving money, that same LLC was also receiving money, from a U.S. company in New York City that is linked to a Russian oligarch -- Christine and Dave.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Shimon, thanks for that reporting.

No comment yet from Cohen or Vekselberg. We have this statement from Columbus Nova's general counsel: I can confirm that the company is 100 percent owned and controlled by Americans. Any suggestion that at any point in time Viktor Vekselberg or any of his companies owned or exercised any control over Columbus Nova is patently untrue.

BRIGGS: All right. A big night of primaries in four states. Why Republicans are breathing a big sigh of relief. And an epic troll from Mitch McConnell's team toward that man, Don Blankenship. The latest, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:15:21] BRIGGS: All right. Primary results from four states are in. And the sound you hear from Washington is Republicans collectively exhaling. Controversial former coal exec and ex-con Don Blankenship finished a distant third in the West Virginia Senate race, and that prompted a memorable bit of trolling from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's campaign team which tweeted, thanks for playing, Don, on the poster for Netflix "Narcos". Now, that a veiled referenced to Blankenship's nickname for McConnell "Cocaine Mitch."

For more, we turn to Ryan Nobles in Charleston, West Virginia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: There is no doubt that the results here in West Virginia come as a relief to Republicans in Washington, particularly the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump. The former coal baron ended up with a disappointing finish, coming in third place.

There was some thought that Don Blankenship's campaign was surging, that he had an opportunity to defy all the odds. This despite the fact that President Trump put out a tweet telling voters in West Virginia to pick anyone other than Blankenship. It was that tweet that Blankenship believes was the difference between a win and a loss. Take a listen.

DON BLANKENSHIP, WEST VIRGINIA GOP PRIMARY SENATE CANDIDATE: It didn't work out. You know, I'm being asked, of course, whether some of the things we did, whether it's Cocaine Mitch or whether it's some of the other criticisms of Mitch McConnell or whether it's China people that made the difference, I really don't think so. I think if there was any single factor based on polling at different times, the debate, and the things I saw, it was more likely President Trump's, I don't know, lack of endorsement or what to call it, but don't vote for Don tweet.

NOBLES: The eventual winner is the Attorney General Patrick Morrissey. He earns the right to take on the company, Joe Manchin, in the fall.

In some of the other big races across the country on Tuesday, it was Indiana businessman Mike Braun with a bit of a surprise win, beating out two sitting members of Congress in Indiana to take on the incumbent Joe Donnelly.

In Ohio, Jim Renacci has earned the right to take on the incumbent Sherrod Brown. In another surprise finish in North Carolina, where a number of house races had primaries, it was Robert Pittenger, who is the incumbent there, the incumbent Republican, who lost in a rematch to mark Harris. It will be Mark Harris who will move on to the general election -- Dave and Christie.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Ryan Nobles, thanks, Ryan.

Two other midterm races of note -- in Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence's older brother, Greg Pence, clinched the Republican nomination in his congressional bid. The seat which represents parts of rural eastern Indiana was previously held by the vice president.

And in Ohio, a Trump accuser secures the Democratic nomination for a seat in the state legislature. Rachel Crooks, remember her, she claims Trump kissed her without her consent when she worked at Trump Tower in 2005. She ran unopposed and will face off against first-term Republican Congressman Paul Reineke in November.

BRIGGS: All right. A big day on the Hill today, as Gina Haspel appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee this morning in her bid to become the first woman to lead the CIA. The path to confirmation appears to be clearing just days after she offered to withdraw her nomination. Haspel is expected to face very tough questions about her role in the use of harsh interrogation tactics like water boarding in the aftermath of 9/11.

ROMANS: The CIA releasing this excerpt from Haspel's planned remarks: having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer my personal commitment clearly and without reservation that under my leadership, CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program.

Most Democrats oppose the nomination even though she's comes highly recommended by colleagues including senior intelligence officials from the Obama administration. A very, very good point there.

BRIGGS: Yes. And also, look, the politics of this -- you have ten Senate Democrats running from Trump states. Can they oppose Gina Haspel and then turn around and win the midterms? That's a tough needle to thread.

We're going to talk basketball next. The western conference final everyone wanted. Now the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets will square off. We'll show you what led to the showdown, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:23:56] ROMANS: All right. Twenty-three minutes past the hour.

Wild swings in oil prices, folks, after the president pulled the U.S. from that Iran deal. I mean, this was really nuts to watch, Dave. Oil fell 4 percent, then climbed back above 70 bucks again. Sanctions could cut off Iran's oil exports putting another dent in a tight global supply.

Rising oil prices mean higher costs for many U.S. businesses like fuel for airlines, truck, delivery, and shipping for big consumer brands and that U.S. drivers will pay more at the pump. GasBuddy expects you will add another 30 cents per gallon to your gas bill.

But the U.S. quitting Iran deal has a direct effect on other businesses, as well. You know, many companies signed lucrative deals when Iran's economy opened up in 2015. Sanctions will turn those contracts into losses.

Iran's biggest foreign deals were to modernize its aging airlines. Now both Boeing and airbus have had to scrap multibillion dollar plans. Boeing saw writing on the wall here. The president has been clear, so they were already starting to prepare for this.

Airlines and hotel who's seized on tourism dollars also a big player here.

[04:25:05] You know, watch carefully to see what this means for automakers inside -- working inside Iran. You know, Germany's Volkswagen had planned to do business in Iran. It just began selling cars there for the first time in 17 years. Also, General Electric. Last year, it made millions selling equipment

for gas plants. Companies had three months to cut ties. That grace period also gives the U.S. time to adjust plans. Its actions could prove difficult to enforce, like with steel and aluminum tariffs. The administration later gave allies temporary exemptions there.

So, watch this space. A lot of uncertainty here.

BRIGGS: All right. We have some certainty in the NBA, though.

The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets holding serve in the NBA playoffs, setting the stage for their eagerly awaited match-up in the Western Conference Finals should be outstanding. The Warriors finished off the New Orleans Pelicans in five games. Stars Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson, 75 combined points in Golden States' 113-104 clinching win. The Warriors advancing to the western conference finals for the fourth straight year.

The rockets meantime closing out the Utah Jazz in game five 112-102 led by an outstanding effort from Chris Paul, 41 points, clear playoff high, ten assists, no turnovers. First time CP3 has reached the conference finals in its 13-year career.

Houston gets home court advantage. Game one on Monday, those dreaded, Romans, 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time starts, which means I'll see none of it. But it will be great. Hope you enjoy it.

ROMANS: All right. Twenty-six minutes past the hour.

North Korea may be on the verge of freeing three Americans. The secretary of state is right now in Pyongyang. But could the decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal complicates efforts with North Korea?