Return to Transcripts main page


Secretary of State Pompeo Expected to Leave North Korea with Detainees; What's Next with Iran?; Mueller Questions Russian Oligarch About Cohen Payment; Chris Paul Finally Gets Into Conference Finals. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 9, 2018 - 05:00   ET


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. EARLY START continues right now with the latest on the U.S. pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal.


[05:00:10] BRIGGS: Breaking news this morning. The secretary of state back in Pyongyang and three American detainees are expected to leave with him. We are live in Seoul.


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.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. is out of the Iran nuclear deal. The question, what's next to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon? Where's the plan B?

BRIGGS: 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.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, May 9th. It is exactly 5:00 a.m. in East, 6:00 p.m. on the Korean peninsula, 1:30 p.m. in Tehran. We'll have live reports in a few minutes.

But, let's start here with the breaking news. Mike Pompeo in North Korea this hour. According to South Korean government officials, the secretary of state is expected to return home with three American detainees.

I want to bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks. She is live. She is in Seoul for us where the hopes are high certainly here that these three men will come home. Any indication that it is official yet?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No indication at this point, no. We have had a pool report from journalists traveling with the secretary of state. They said that he had an hour-long meeting this morning with the North Korean former spy chief Kim Yong- chol. It was behind closed doors they discussed the agenda for the summit between Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump. And then they discussed the schedule with Pompeo for the rest of the day.

There were no details released as to what that was going to be. It's now 6:00 p.m., as you say, here on the Korean peninsula. We also know that they had lunch together, and the pool was allowed in to see that. It was an amicable situation, both sides complimenting the other side.

The North Koreans, though, saying that they haven't decided to open up and denuclearize because of sanctions as the U.S. president has claimed. They have done it because they want to focus on their economy.

Now, also just yesterday, there was another surprise visit by the North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un to China. He flew over there and visited Xi Jinping, the president. Clearly, Xi Jinping wanting to show once again that he is the main ally of North Korea, that he is in the center of all this flurry of diplomatic activity.

What we don't know at this point is how Kim Jong-un is likely to react to the fact that the U.S. president has pulled out of that nuclear Iran deal. There have been some critics here in the region, and around the world have said if he doesn't necessarily know what the next U.S. president will do, will he agree a deal with this U.S. president -- Christine.

ROMANS: Fascinating. All right. Paula Hancocks in Seoul. Thank you.

BRIGGS: Major international news elsewhere as President Trump ignores pleas from key European allies announcing the U.S. is quitting the Iran nuclear deal.


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.


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 as you would imagine swift both at home and abroad.

Let's bring in CNN's Fred Pleitgen live with that reaction from Tehran.

Good morning, Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hi, Dave, good morning. Very swift here in Iran. In fact, earlier today, Iranian lawmakers,

hard-line lawmakers, burned an American flag and a copy of the nuclear agreement inside parliament while chanting "death to America." They also said that they believe it's the U.S. that's isolating itself and that had shown that it cannot be trusted either by Iran or by anyone else.

Now, the moderate president here in this country, Hassan Rouhani, took a more moderate tone. He came out shortly after President Trump spoke last night. He said that he believes that it might be possible to salvage the Iran nuclear agreement but without the United States.

Now, the Iranians are saying they're going to look at what the European countries which as you said have been alienated by President Trump because they want to preserve this deal, what those countries are going to do. All of this, though, Dave, is easier said than done.

There's a lot of pressure from the U.S. on European companies especially on Germany and France and European countries to not do any business with Iran. That's going to be quite problematic.

[05:05:00] The Iranians have said that if the deal completely falls apart, they can ramp up their nuclear program again very quickly and to a higher level than it was before. They also say they have no intention of building a bomb -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Here lies with our European allies.

Fred Pleitgen live for us in Tehran, thanks.

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


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.


BRIGGS: 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 weighing 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: And the key being no idea what's next in any of the situations.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigators have questioned a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin about hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to Michael Cohen. A source telling 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 now, a startling allegation from Stormy Daniels' attorney that these payments funded the hush money to Daniels.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz has more from Washington.


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.


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.

So, with all that in mind, are the revelations a big coincidence or problem for the president? We discuss, next.


[05:13:20] ROMANS: All right. Thirteen minutes past the hour. Welcome back.

The special counsel questioning a Russian oligarch about hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen just months after the election. Our sources say the money came from big U.S. affiliate of the oligarch's company.

Is this a new problem for this president?

Let's talk about that and more with CNN politics digital director Zach Wolf live in Washington.

Is it?

ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL EDITOR: Well, it's not a good thing. I think the bottom line is that it's getting very hard to separate. Even if they don't cross, it's getting very hard to separate in people's minds the Stormy Daniels aspect of this with the Russia investigation aspect of this. They both center so much on Michael Cohen, the president's lawyer, at this point.

BRIGGS: All right. Let's switch if we can to the Iran deal. The president pulling out yesterday predictably and pleasing his supporters, a campaign promise, another one checked, probably angering our European allies as well as those in Tehran.

And the president has shown that he nixes deals. Does he fix them? That remains the question. TPP, Paris climate, the Iran deal, let alone the individual mandate in Obamacare.

How does he fix deals, in particular this one? What's next?

WOLF: I don't know what's next. They don't know what's next, and that's totally clear right now. There is no plan B Iran deal.

But you can see, you know, you mentioned Paris climate deal. The U.S. is now one of the only countries if not the only country not a part of that deal. You mentioned TPP, the countries of TPP have gone around the U.S. essentially.

In Iran, Rouhani and who knows if this is possible because it would require European allies essentially to cross the U.S. to stay in the Iran deal without the U.S.

[05:15:08] So this argument of isolating the U.S., that company is isolating the U.S. by pulling out of the deals, there's a lot to back that up.

ROMANS: Well, now, you have the E.U. and China and these other countries talking with one voice about what the U.S. is doing, and the U.S. is there alone. But the "Wall Street Journal" in a pretty fascinating editorial said that this is actually -- Obama made this easier for Trump to pull out because Obama did not get a coalition --

BRIGGS: To make it a treaty, yes.

ROMANS: To make a treaty. This was -- this could have been done with more support in the U.S. to make it more binding.

But "The Washington Post" says this moves us, the Trump decision moves us closer to war.

This is what they say: The nuclear deal struck with Iran three years ago was far from perfect. President Trump's decision to abrogate it over the opposition of our European allies and without a clear strategy for replacing it is reckless, self-defeating. The president has frequently said that he has no wish for further Mideast wars. His decision has made one more likely.

What's the next move here?

WOLF: You know, it's -- it's interesting, and that's one of the things you saw the French president wanted was for the Iran deal to be renegotiated while this stayed in place. While the old one stayed in place.

So, now, you're in a world where the -- you're in a world where the U.S. is pulling out and we're kind of what's going to happen next, the cliffhanger aspect of this. And Trump views everything with this element of drama. I don't think anybody knows exactly what happens next.


BRIGGS: All right. Domestically, big night politically speaking. Primaries in a couple of states. We focus in particular on three big ones in West Virginia, Don Blankenship finishes a distant third, Patrick Morrissey, A.G., the winner who will take on Joe Mnuchin in Indiana. Mike Braun, somewhat Trumpian in that he's a businessman, outsider. And in Ohio, Jim Renacci wins there.

Let's focus if we can, Zach, on what happened in West Virginia where this ex-con, Blankenship, a fascinating figure who said he was Trumpier than Trump was knocked out by Trump because a tweet he sent out really was the decisive blow. What does last night mean for the president?

WOLF: It's a huge deal for Republicans generally. You know, we talked about the difficulty of Obama to get something, to get a treaty passed. The only reason Trump is able to do anything in Congress right now is because to the extent that he can is because he has that Senate majority.

So the loss of Blankenship last night makes it very possible that they can knock off Joe Mnuchin in West Virginia. It makes the map so much more appealing to Republicans going into these November elections. It was a huge deal.

ROMANS: Yes. And Blankenship had called Mitch McConnell "Cocaine Mitch." a Trumpian nicknaming.

Then this from the folks on team Mitch -- "thanks for playing," a takeoff of a "Narcos."

BRIGGS: The Netflix poster.

ROMANS: And they responded saying, "low blow, Mitch." kind of funny. Trolling.

BRIGGS: Thank you, Zach.

ROMANS: Who knew Mitch McConnell was so funny?

BRIGGS: Who knew? Mitch playing some hardball here. Speaking of HARDBALL, Zach, we'll see you in a bit.

Ahead, a Canadian pitcher making some major league history in his home country. Lindsey Czarniak with the details in "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:22:54] BRIGGS: Thirteen years into his NBA career, Rockets' star Chris Paul finally going to the conference finals.

ROMANS: Lindsay Czarniak has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Hey.

LINDSAY CZARNIAK, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Can you imagine how that feels for him, right? Huge opportunity.

BRIGGS: He's paid his dues.

CZARNIAK: You know, his teammate said Chris Paul had that look in his eyes. On a night when Rockets star James Harden was battling an illness, Paul has told his teammates, he said get out of the way, I'm putting you on my back. And that's what he did.

The future hall of famer put up 31 points on the Jazz, post-season career high. He office fire in the fourth quarter, draining clutch shot after clutch shot. He was determined to reach his first-ever conference finals after 86 playoff games. That's incredible, the most in NBA history without a conference finals appearance. Now, he's finally one step from his first NBA finals.


CHRIS PAUL, HOUSTON ROCKETS: Whatever it took to win, we kept talking about it, all of us. We started off the game kind of slow and just tried to do whatever it took to win the game. You know, closeout game, we can't be tired if it's 40, 42 minutes, guys got to suck it up.


CZARNIAK: The Rockets face the defending champion Warriors. Golden State advancing to its fourth-straight western conference finals after eliminating the Pelicans last night. This was not even close. The Warriors led wire to wire. The leads as large as 26 points. It's their 15th straight home playoff win. Incredible, tying the record set by Michael Jordan's Chicago bulls in 1991.

Warriors-Rockets game one Monday in Houston.

And to baseball now. History made in Toronto last night. Canadian- born James Paxton, he threw a no-hitter for the Mariners against the Blue Jays. They call him the Big Maple. That's his nickname. A big tattoo on his arm.

The first Canadian to toss a no-no in his native lands thanks to great defense from his teammates. This was the third no-hitter this season, each of them in different countries. Remember, the dodgers had one Friday night in Monterey, Mexico.

And the two hottest teams in baseball, Dave Briggs, Yankees and Red Sox, squaring off in the Bronx last night. Doesn't seem like anyone can stop the Yankees now, does it?

[05:25:02] Giancarlo Stanton got it going early with two home runs in his first two at-bats. Judge hitting a single for the go ahead run. And that would be all the Yankees need, they win 3-2. New York has now won 16 of the last 17 games in baseball's oldest rivalry, headed abroad. The yanks and sox will play two games in London next year. The first time games will be played in Europe.

BRIGGS: Baseball's in a good plagues when those two teams are at their best and they are at the game's best.

CZARNIAK: Isn't it fun to see Giancarlo Stanton finally get it together? Because he was struggling in the beginning. Now, man, when he hits --

ROMANS: Will John Berman take the day off? That's the question.

BRIGGS: John Berman took a tough one last night. His Red Sox are going to be OK. Still tied atop the division.

Lindsey, thanks.

CZARNIAK: We're good.

BRIGGS: Ahead, North Korea on the verge of freeing three Americans. The secretary of state is in Pyongyang. Could the decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal slow efforts with North Korea?