Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump, First Lady, VP Pence, Pompeo Greeted the Former Detainees from North Korea; Administration Moving Forward on Summit; Israel Retaliates for Iranian Missile Attack; Michael Cohen Promised Access to White House as Post-Victory Pitch; Pentagon to Release Niger Ambush Report. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 10, 2018 - 04:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.


[04:31:35] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, they're letting them go before the meeting. Frankly we didn't think this was going to happen and it did.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Home at last. Three Americans released by North Korea touched down moments ago greeted by the president. Now work begins on diplomacy in search of a deal on the Pyongyang's nuclear program.

DAVE BRIGS, CNN ANCHOR: And tensions soaring in the Middle East. Israel and Iran exchanging rocket fire. The most direct confrontation between the two. We'll have live reports this morning from Joint Base Andrews, from Seoul, South Korea, Jerusalem, Tehran and Johannesburg, on an extraordinary breaking news day.

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

ROMANS: Around the world with EARLY START, we're calling it this morning. I'm Christine Romans. 32 minutes past the hour.

Let's begin here with the breaking news in just the past hour or so. Three Americans released from North Korea back on U.S. soil. The American military medical plane carrying the former detainees, touching down less than two hours ago at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

BRIGGS: The three men greeted by President Trump, the first lady, Vice President Pence, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Their historic release coming as final preparations are being made for the U.S. and North Korea summit.

Jeff Zeleny live from Joint Base Andrews.

Jeff, good morning.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave and Christine. There was a moment of anxiety when the plane landed there. You could almost feel the energy there as we stood on the tarmac.

The plane rolled to a stop and then shortly after that, President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump boarded that plane and spent some private moments with those three Americans freed and were flying overnight. Indeed about 20 hours to get back on U.S. soil here in Washington.

Now this certainly is one step toward more diplomacy. Of course, the potential of that historic summit one month away here was hanging over everything.

The president had this to say about Kim Jong-un.


TRUMP: Proudest achievement will be, this is a part of it, but will be when we de-nuclearize that entire peninsula. This is what people have been waiting for for a long time. Nobody thought we could be on this track in terms of speed. So I'm very honored to have helped the three folks. They're great people.


TRUMP: You know, I got to speak to them on the plane. These are great people. They have been through a lot. But it's a great honor. But the great -- the true honor is going to be if we have a victory in getting rid of nuclear weapons.


TRUMP: No, not at all. We very much appreciate that he allowed them to go before the meeting. It was sort of understood that we'd be able to get these three terrific people during the meeting and bring them home after the meeting. And he was nice in letting them go before the meeting. I mean, frankly, we didn't think this was going to happen and it did. So you could say we're a little bit -- it was a very important thing to all of us to be able to get these three great people out.


ZELENY: So it certainly signifies a new development. In fact, a heightening in the planning and preparations for that summit with Kim Jong-un which is likely to happen next month, likely in Singapore, although that has not been finalized yet.

[04:25:09] But the president clearly saying this puts all those discussions on a new footing.

Now the president is back at the White House getting a bit of sleep but before he left Joint Base Andrews here, he was asked by a reporter if he would ever visit North Korea. The president said it could happen. Of course, much has to happen between now and that point. But now all

the planning and preparations are going to be focused on that summit coming up next month -- Dave and Christine.

BRIGGS: Not the last time we'll hear from the president. He is in Indiana for a big rally tonight. A long day for the president and Jeff Zeleny.

ZELENY: That's right.

BRIGGS: Thank you, my friend.

ROMANS: Get a little bit of sleep at the White House. He's got a meeting at 11:00 this morning so big night.

A CNN poll out this morning shows a big improvement in Americans' opinion of how the president has handled with North Korea. The survey conducted by SSRS found 53 percent approval, up sharply from 35 percent last November. So with the detainees now back on American soil, what is next in the relationship between the U.S. and North Korea?

Let's go to Seoul where our international correspondent Paula Hancocks is.

Certainly a big foreign policy win for the president overnight. But this is just the first step and a new footing as the president says as we go forward with what will be a meeting between these two leaders.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine. Now clearly this was a very positive moment for the United States and North Korea is treating it as a positive moment as well. The state-run media saying that Kim Jong-un met with the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, talking about him in very warm terms which is radical change from what we saw in just a matter of months ago.

Also saying that the U.S. president had asked for these detainees back and that Kim Jong-un had decided to grant them amnesty on the promise that they wouldn't come back to the country and carry out these alleged crimes that they believed they had carried out in the first place.

But what we're seeing here as well is reaction from around the region. We have had a welcome from South Korea and the President Moon Jae-in. But also a reminder that there are still six South Korean detainees in North Korea. They weren't released before or during or after the summit between Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in even though Moon Jae-in had brought that up numerous times he said during the day that he was meeting with the North Korean leader, and then of course in Japan, there are hundreds of Japanese who have been abducted according to the government. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe consistently talking about this saying they should be released as well.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much, Paula, in Seoul for us this morning. BRIGGS: All right. More on this. Harry Kazianis, the director of

Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest, joining us live from Washington.

ROMANS: Good morning.


BRIGGS: At 4:37. Great to see you. Look, it was a year ago essentially that Otto Warmbier was released and essentially killed by North Korea. How far have we come from that moment in June of 2017 to the release and return of these three Americans this morning?

KAZIANIS: I think we've come a very long way. I remember a year ago talking about this and we were, if you go fast forward to roughly December or January, we were on the brink of war with North Korea. And that would have been a nuclear war where millions of people would have potentially died. So the steps that we have gone through with North Korea are completely astounding.

And looking at the pictures this morning, you know, they pull at your heart. You know, this is really truly astounding and we're literally walking with history. But I think we also need to keep in mind, history's pages cry out first to be extremely skeptical when it comes to North Korea. You know, as I sit here in Washington, D.C., I'm reminded that North Korea actually has a gulag that is three times the size geographically of Washington, D.C.


KAZIANIS: You do remember that the North Koreans are still thugs, they're still murderers, and we have to be skeptical and keep our guard up.

ROMANS: I think that's a really good point here. You know, the president made this remark that he thought that they would bring these three men back after the meetings with the North Korean leader. And instead it is before. What does that tell you about I guess the intentions of Kim Jong-un and the regime?

KAZIANIS: Well, I think he wants to have a successful summit. I don't think there's any way that President Trump could have gone into any summit with the North Koreans with having sort of hostages hanging over the president's head. I think it would have soured the summit. I don't think there's any way that you can really do it. And considering the hard work and diplomacy that's happening probably right now, it's worth to remember we don't have summits where, you know, we just stick the two leaders in a room and they just sort of hash it out.

That doesn't happen anymore. That's something out of the 1600s. You know, they are actually working and doing the hard work now to figure out, you know, what Kim is actually wanting to give up his nuclear weapons. So you can't have hostages when you're trying to do something like that. It doesn't work. ROMANS: Well, we keep hearing this PVID, permanent verifiable

irreversible dismantling. That's what the United States wants. Anything less than that may be a nonstarter for the president. So how skeptical or cautious should we be here?

KAZIANIS: I am extremely skeptical. I mean, the North Korean playbook is clear. What they have tried to do is when there's tensions, you know, you can go back and look at countless situations over the last 20 years.

[04:40:05] The North Koreans will escalate a crisis, they'll ask for talks or we'll ask for talks, and we'll go into months or years of negotiations where the North Koreans continue to build up their nuclear weapons program. And we have to remember the steps they've gone through so far, you know, shutting down their nuclear improving grounds, they could turn those back on within a -- you know, a few weeks.

They can test missiles at anytime. So we have to be skeptical. But I think we have to try and see what we can accomplish here. It's very important, obviously.

BRIGGS: As for that relationship between the United States and North Korea, here's what the president said just a short time ago about how far we've come and where we are now.


TRUMP: We're starting off on a new footing. This is a wonderful thing he released the folks early. That was a big thing. Very important to me. And I really think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful and if anybody would have said that five years ago, 10 years ago, even a year ago, you would have said that's not possible.


ROMANS: It's sort of a hallmark of this president to congratulate himself for what people couldn't do before him. And he also took a shot at "The New York Times," which, you know, I'm not surprised about. And he also -- you know, and talked about the record ratings, television ratings at 3:00 a.m. So it was very Trumpian, this moment. But it is a big win, no question, for this president.

KAZIANIS: Yes. It's definitely a big win. And I think now we really need to look forward to what happens because I think the question that everybody needs to start asking is what does Kim want for his nuclear weapons? But I think it even goes further than that. Remember Kim has got 5,000 tons of chemical weapons, probably biological weapons, and over 1,000 missiles.

Does the Trump administration demand that he get rid of really all of that weapons of mass destruction? Because he could still kill millions of people without nuclear weapons. So now the challenge is they magnify a lot. That this is really just step one of really a 10,000-step journey, to be very frank. ROMANS: We'll see if we find more about the regime from these three

men who've been held there, too. I mean, they're being debriefed. You know, there's just a lot we don't know about the regime which makes it hard to trust. You know?

BRIGGS: They'll meet with intel officials and also a trip to Walter Reed, any medical attention they need.

Harry Kazianis, thanks so much. We'll check back to you --

ROMANS: Thanks, Harry.

BRIGGS: -- next hour.

KAZIANIS: Thank you.

BRIGGS: Also breaking overnight, Israel retaliating after rockets fired from Syria targeted its soldiers in the Golan Heights. Those rockets according to the Israelis were fired by the Iranians. It marks the most direct confrontation to date between Israel and Iran.

Let's go live to Jerusalem and check in with Ian Lee.

Ian, good morning.

IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. It was a frightening experience for residents of the Golan Heights as they had to scramble for bomb shelters as the night sky was lit up as both sides exchanged fire.

Israel shooting down some of those Iranian rockets with their Iron Dome anti-missile system. Israel retaliating, though, going after dozens of sites in Syria. Syrian official media saying that a lot of those rockets were shot down. But some of those sites that were targeted include Iranian intelligence, locations, logistics headquarters, military base, north of Damascus, weapons depots, observation points, as well as Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

Just this morning, we heard from Israel's Defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman. He said that most of Iran's infrastructure in Syria was hit in Israel's retaliation. He also warned that if it rained in Israel, there will be a biblical flood on the other side in Syria.

We do know that Israel contacted the United States as well as Russia before they conducted their air strikes to make sure that there wasn't anything that conflicted. Russia, though, saying from the Russian president Vladimir Putin saying that he wants a de-escalation of tensions. The Israeli military has said that they don't want to see this escalate either. As far as the north goes this morning, well, schools are open and people are back to work.

BRIGGS: OK. Ian Lee live for us in Jerusalem this morning. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. As these tensions flare, what is Iran saying about all of this? Senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen is live for us.

He is our man in Tehran this morning -- Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. And the Iranians really are taking their time with any sort of response. It's interesting because just a couple of minutes ago, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general made some statements and didn't even manage -- didn't even say anything about what was going in the Golan Heights there overnight. The Iranian government certainly hasn't put out any statement either.

It's interesting because Iranian media is actually talking about what took place there but they themselves are only saying that Israel conducted strikes on Syrian territory. Not saying that the Iranians were part of it. And even Iranian media is saying that Israel is blaming Iran for firing into the Golan Heights. But also saying that they're still waiting to get a statement officially from the Iranian government. So nothing forthcoming there.

But of course, guys, the timing for this absolutely crucial coming a little over a day after President Trump pulled out of the nuclear agreement.

[04:45:06] The Iranians now ramping up their diplomatic machine. There was a phone call last night between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the French President Emmanuel Macron, where the two of them tried to find ways to maybe somehow salvages this deal, but of course without the U.S.

ROMANS: All right. And of course oil prices, global oil prices rising because they think that output from the fifth largest exporter in the world or producer in the world is going to be dinged by all of this.

Thank you so much, Fred, in Tehran.

BRIGGS: OK. I'm the guy you should hire. I'm closest to the president. That's how one Republican says Michael Cohen tried to bring in potential clients after the president was elected. Was Cohen trying to sell access to this new White House?

ROMANS: And this, within the past two hours a huge foreign policy win for the president of the United States. Three American citizens brought home from North Korea. Greeted there to applause at Joint Base Andrews. We'll have the very latest next.


[04:50:15] ROMANS: Breaking overnight. Three American prisoners released by North Korea, touching down at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland about 90 minutes ago. President Trump greeting the men at the air base. He was with the first lady, the vice president, his wife, and the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The president praised the Kim Jong-un regime for releasing the three Korean American men ahead of the agreed time table.

More throughout the day on CNN.

All right. CNN has learned that when Donald Trump won the race for president, his personal attorney Michael Cohen made an aggressive pitch to turn that victory into big business for himself. Cohen's actions on that front, while legal, raise serious concerns of influence peddling. Multiple sources tell us Cohen reminded potential clients of his proximity to the world's most powerful one.

BRIGGS: One Republican strategist described Cohen's pitch this way, "I don't know who's been representing you but you should fire them all. I'm the guy you should hire. I'm closest to the president. I'm his personal lawyer." And as it happened, Cohen's efforts did pay off. Landing him lucrative consulting deals.

More now from Sara Murray in Washington.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave and Christine. The president's personal attorney Michael Cohen is under scrutiny yet again. But this time it's amid questions about whether he engaged in influence peddling.

Now Donald Trump's unexpected victory in November 2016 sent corporate America scrambling. They were looking to hire anyone who could offer insights into the new administration. Cohen who's Trump's longtime attorney jumped at the opportunity. And the money started flowing in. Korea Aerospace Industries paid Cohen $150,000 for what they call legal advice. AT&T, which is trying to buy CNN's parent company, Time Warner, paid Cohen at least $200,000, saying he was hired to provide insights into understanding the new administration.

Now paying for access is nothing new in Washington. And Cohen hasn't been accused of wrongdoing when it comes to these payments. But he is already under criminal investigation and Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been scrutinizing some of these transactions. Pharmaceutical giant Novartis said it was also contacted by the special counsel over its payments to Cohen. That's after paying him more $1 million over the span of a year.

A source says Cohen promised Novartis access to the White House when it came to health care policy. But the company said they quickly discovered Cohen couldn't deliver. As for Cohen and his lawyer, they did not comment.

Back to you, guys.

ROMANS: All right. Sara, thank you for that.

BRIGGS: All right, ahead, what happened to four American soldiers ambushed in Niger? The Pentagon expected to release answers today. We are live in Africa next.

ROMANS: And this within the last two hours. These three Americans return to U.S. soil at Joint Base Andrews. Their release secured by Mike Pompeo, the secretary of State, and there's the president and the first lady welcoming them home.

What it means for the upcoming North Korea-U.S. summit? When we come back.


[04:57:39] ROMANS: A combative confirmation hearing for CIA director nominee Gina Haspel. A number of Democrats now publicly opposing her nomination and they're being joined by a prominent Republican, John McCain. Senator McCain home in Arizona of course battling brain cancer but he did release this statement.

"Miss Haspel's role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying."

BRIGGS: McCain and many of Haspel's critics are troubled by her refusal to plainly state whether the use of torture after 9/11 was immoral.


GINA HASPEL, CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: I believe that the CIA did extraordinary work to prevent another attack on this country given the legal tools that we were authorized to use.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Please answer yes or no. Do you believe in hindsight that those techniques were immoral?

HASPEL: Senator, what I believe sitting here today is that I support the higher moral standard we have decided to hold ourselves to.

HARRIS: Please just answer the question.


BRIGGS: Now Haspel did say she would not allow the CIA to undertake any activity she thought was immoral even if the president ordered it.

What happened to four American soldiers who died in an ISIS ambush in West Africa? Later today the Pentagon releases its final report on that attack. And David McKenzie joins us live from Johannesburg with what to expect.

David, good morning.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. Yes, it's a really highly anticipated report, outlining in detail, we expect, what exactly happened to those four U.S. servicemen who were killed in remote West Africa. Taken on by a vastly superior force of ISIS-linked militants. The big questions will be, what was their authorization? Was that authorization in fact incorrect as some have already suggested? And what implications will this have for the U.S. Military in Africa?

In West Africa and in East Africa, the U.S. has substantial boots on the ground. Now because of the fallout of this, politically and militarily, will there be a change in policy, a change in combat operations for those special operations forces? There have been complaints on the ground by Nigerians and others that the U.S. soldiers didn't have enough support, didn't have enough air support.

So will those operations change and will there be any political pressure to draw down the numbers of U.S. troops on the ground -- Dave and Christine.

BRIGGS: All right. David McKenzie live for us in Johannesburg.

EARLY START continues right now with the latest on three Americans released and returned from North Korea to the United States this morning.