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EARLY START

Secretary of State Arrives in Pyongyang; President Trump Withdraws from Iran Deal; Mueller Questions Russian Oligarch About Cohen Payment. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 9, 2018 - 04:30   ET

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


[04:30:57] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking this morning, the secretary of state is back in Pyongyang, and three American detainees are expected to leave with him. We're live in Seoul.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was a horrible, 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)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Campaign promise kept. The U.S. is out of the landmark nuclear deal with Iran, but the big question now -- what's the next step to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon?

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

Happy hump day, everybody, but also a big night for the president. He got a big win in West Virginia. We'll talk about that.

ROMANS: That's right.

BRIGGS: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

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

Let's start with the breaking news this morning. Mike Pompeo right now in North Korea, and according to South Korean government officials, the secretary of state is expected to return home with three American detainees.

Let's bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks live from Seoul.

Certainly that is the hope, that is the feeling, but it is not official yet.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine. It is just an expectation from the South Korean side at this point. Now, we just received a report from a team who's traveling with Mike Pompeo in Pyongyang saying that he had a lunch with Kim Yong-chol, he's the former spy chief of North Korea, and they didn't mention the words "detainees" in this report. That has not been discussed, at least not openly.

But Kim Yong-chol is saying that it's not the response from sanctions from the outside that they are deciding to have this summit with U.S. President Trump even though Mr. Trump said he believed that's why North Korea has decided it was willing to denuclearize.

There was a meeting we understand between the secretary of state and Kim Yong-chol. It lasted an hour, it was behind closed doors. We understand from the pool report they were discussing the agenda for the summit and Pompeo's schedule for the rest of the day. No details given on that.

We also know that just yesterday, Kim Jong-un made another surprise visit to China to meet with President Xi Jinping. Xi Jinping making it clear that he is the main ally of North Korea and making sure that he is in the center of the flurry of diplomatic activity at this point.

What we don't know is how Kim Jong-un is going to react to the fact that the president pulled out of the Iranian nuclear deal. Some experts saying that potentially, he would be less likely to denuclearize or sign a deal with this U.S. president if he doesn't know what the next U.S. might do -- Christine.

ROMANS: Very good point. All right. Thank you so much, Paul.

BRIGGS: President Trump ignoring pleas from key European allies after his announcement on 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)

BRIGGS: The president plans to impose new sanctions on the Iranian regime and says any country that helps Iran obtain nuclear weapons would also be strongly sanctioned. Reaction to the move was, as you might imagine, swift both at home and abroad.

Let's bring in CNN's Frederik Pleitgen live in Tehran.

Good morning, Fred. What's the latest?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Dave.

Pretty swift and pretty fierce here in Iran. In fact, earlier today, Iranian lawmakers set a U.S. flag on fire in Iranian parliament, as well as a copy of the nuclear agreement, the JCPOA. They say that the U.S. has shown that it's unreliable and also that it doesn't stick to these agreements and should not be trusted in the future.

Now, of course, the Iranians have always said that they are the ones abiding by the nuclear agreement while the U.S. is not.

[04:35:01] Iran's president, the moderate Hassan Rouhani, taking a more moderate tone, he's saying he hopes the agreement could be salvaged somehow including then all the original signatories except the United States.

So, a smaller version of the deal, but to do that, of course, they have to get -- maintain the European countries on board. European countries, America's European allies, who as you said are quite alienated by Trump for the deal. They say they want to maintain the deal, but that's easier said than done with the pressure that's coming from the U.S. both on European countries, but also on European companies as well who want to do business in Iran who would face backlash from the United States.

The Iranians have said that if the deal does completely fall apart, they would be able to ramp up their program very quickly but they have also stated that they have no intention of building a bomb -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Frederik Pleitgen, live in Tehran.

China this morning says they vow to safeguard the Iran nuclear deal. Stay tuned for what's next.

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

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

Ian, bring us up to speed.

IAN LEE, CNN REPORTER: Good morning, Christine.

Last night, Syrian state television is saying that their air defenses intercepted two Israeli missiles in the Damascus area. Israel's military isn't commenting, but this really sums up what has been happening in the past 24 hours in the northern part of Israel, in the Golan Heights. The army there on heightened state of alert. They have opened up shelters for civilians in the northern part of the area.

The army is also calling up non noncombatant reservists, medics, intelligence officers, as well as those who are able to operate the Iron Dome anti-missile system. Israel is saying that they observed irregular activity from Iran inside of Syria, and the United States also echoing that claim. You know, this has been this heightened tension as Israel is very concerned about Iran's activities in neighboring Syria. Today, Israel's prime minister is in Moscow. He's meeting with the

Russian president Vladimir Putin to talk about coordination of the two militaries so there isn't any conflict there. You know, this also comes as Israel prepares for another celebration. They're opening up the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. It's moving next week. Expect this alert to remain at least until then.

ROMANS: Yes, absolutely. Ian Lee for us in Jerusalem, thanks, Ian.

BRIGGS: All right. President Trump's decision to pull out of the Iran deal drew strong negative reaction from Democrats and even some Republicans. Even some lawmakers who voted 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)

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

Former President Obama weighed in with a pointed statement -- you don't hear from him very often.

BRIGGS: Not much.

ROMANS: Calling the move misguided. Here's what he said.

BRIGGS: In a democracy, there will always be changes in 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 now pulled out of the Iran deal, the Paris climate accord, and the Trans Pacific Partnership, the TPP -- three major international agreements of the Obama era.

ROMANS: Saying nothing of trying to dismantle Obamacare, another major achievement in the Obama administration in their view.

All right. Special counsel Robert Mueller's questioning an oligarch to Vladimir Putin about hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to Michael Cohen. A source tells CNN the 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 a startling allegation from Stormy Daniels' attorney that these payments funded the hush money to Daniels.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz has more from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[04:40:04] 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.

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)

BRIGGS: Shimon, thanks.

No comment yet from Cohen or Vekselberg. We have this statement from Columbus Nova's general counsel, quote, 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 control over Columbus Nova is patently untrue.

You got all that? If you do, I'm impressed.

ROMANS: It is a tangled web. It's certainly --

BRIGGS: You need a cup of coffee.

ROMANS: All right. Forty-two minutes past the hour.

A big night of primaries and big win for the president. Why Republicans are breathing a big sigh of relief and the epic troll from Mitch McConnell's team, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [04:46:32] ROMANS: All right. Some really fascinating job market news. There are today more job openings than unemployed people in the U.S.

Think about that for a second, American businesses cannot hire workers fast enough. Job openings hit a record high in March, 6.6 million open jobs. That's the most since the labor market started keeping track.

With the jobless rate at a 17-year low, job openings essentially match the number of unemployed workers. There is one jobseeker for every job opening. You know, typically there are more people looking for work than there are jobs. During the recession, there were seven jobseekers for each available job, a terrible ratio.

The number of new hires fell in this report. That shows that businesses are struggling to find skilled workers in a dwindling supply. They'd hire more if they could. Half of small businesses say they can't find enough qualified employees. That should be boosting wages, but overall growth is modest.

Other measures show a stronger wage picture. Private sector pay rose at the fastest pace between the first months of 2018.

And, Dave, what these numbers highlight all the people who are not jobseekers, they're out of the labor market.

BRIGGS: They're on the sidelines.

ROMANS: On the sidelines.

And that has been something that, you know, during the campaign Donald Trump said there are people who are unemployed but are not counted as unemployed. Are those people going to start coming into the labor market?

BRIGGS: All right. Primary results in from four states. That sound you're hearing 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. 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 "Narcos." an apparent reference to Blankenship's nickname for McConnell, "Cocaine Mitch." Only in 2018.

We get more from CNN's 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.

[04:50:03] 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, thank you.

Two other midterm races of note -- in Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence's older brother Greg Pence clinched the nomination for his brother's seat in rural Indiana. In Ohio, Rachel Crooks secured the Democratic nomination for a state in the state legislature -- a seat in the state legislature. You may remember, Crooks, she claims President Trump kissed her without her consent when she worked at Trump Tower back in 2005. She ran unopposed and will face off against first-term Republican Congressman Bill Reineke.

BRIGGS: All right. Do you ever dream of riding in a flying taxi? Yes, Uber and NASA are teaming up. Details next.

(COMMERCIOAL BREAK)

[04:55:42] ROMANS: Gina Haspel appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee this morning in her bid to become director of the CIA. The path to confirmation appears to be clearing days before she offered to withdraw her nomination. Haspel he's expecting to face questions about her role in harsh tactic like water boarding in the aftermath of 9/11.

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

Most Democrats oppose Haspel's nomination even these show comes highly recommended by colleagues including Leon Panetta, including senior intelligence officials from the Obama administration.

ROMANS: The Democratic Republic of Congo declaring a new outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. Lab results confirming Zika in the rural northwest. Over the past five weeks, there have been nearly two dozen suspected cases including 17 deaths. The health ministry has taken all necessary measures to respond promptly and effectively. A team of experts is traveling to the area today that help with containment efforts.

In Hawaii, two new fissures are erupting in the zone of the Kilauea volcano bringing the total to 14. The volcano spewing out hazardous fumes. Residents only allowed in during the daytime hours. Officials say there is still seismic activity, so the eruptions are not expected to stop any time soon. Lava has now covered 104 acres on the big island since Kilauea started erupting.

The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets are holding serve in the NBA playoffs, awaiting the match-up in the western conference finals. The warriors finished off the New Orleans pelicans in five games. Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson combining for 75 points in golden state's 113-104 clinching win. The Warriors advance to the Western Conference Finals for the fourth straight year.

Meantime, the Rockets closed out the Utah Jazz in game five 112-102. They were led by Chris Paul who was unreal, 41 points, a career playoff high, ten assists, no turnovers. First time CP3 has reached the conference finals in his 13-year career. Houston gets home-court advantage here against Golden State. Game one Monday night, 9:00 Eastern Time.

ROMANS: All right. Let's check CNNMoney this morning. Wild swings for oil after president Trump pulled the U.S. from the Iran deal. Prices fell as much as 4 percent, then they went back above $70 once again. Sanctions could cut off oil -- off Iran's oil special report putting another dent in tight global supply.

U.S. stocks closed flat yesterday. Wall Street is nearing the end of a strong earnings season. You know, worries about geopolitical tensions and trade, they've been overshadowing these big company profits. Right now, global stocks are mixed this hour. U.S. futures are a little bit higher.

Disney's movies are bringing in billions, and that's making up for its TV business. "Black Panther" has made more than $1 billion at the box office. BRIGGS: That drove Disney's revenue up 9 percent during the first

three months of 2018 to $14 billion. It also helped offset losses on its TV side. Channels like ESPN and ABC are losing money as more customers turn to streaming services.

ROMANS: All right. Ever dream of riding in a flying taxi? Uber and NASA are teaming up to make it a reality. In 2016, Uber unveiled plans to develop flying cars. The aim was to alleviate congestion and provide affordable transportation.

Now, NASA wants to help get the concept off the ground literally. The goal is to roll out commercial trips by 2023. Uber says you'll be able to book rides by using a regular Uber app and you go to sort of like a pickup, an air pickup location to get in and go. I keep thinking "Back to the Future" quotes here.

BRIGGS: The flying DeLorean?

ROMANS: Yes, I don't know.

BRIGGS: What do you tip a pilot on an Uber app? Not like the $1 tip I had on there --

ROMANS: What about all of those Amazon drones that are going to be flying around dropping packages? It feels like there's going to be a lot going on in the skies.

BRIGGS: Yes. Sounds like problems.

All right. EARLY START continues right now with the latest on the U.S. pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal.