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Russia's Foreign Minister Meets Kim Jong-un in North Korea; Representative Gowdy Defends FBI Conduct; Russian Journalist Turns Up Alive After Claims of Assassination; Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 31, 2018 - 04:30   ET


[04:30:35] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight. Russia's Foreign minister meets with Kim Jong-un in North Korea. Could Russia now throw a wrench in the U.S. approach to Pyongyang?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And a secret memo now in the hands of the special counsel. Andrew McCabe says the president wanted to fire James Comey in part over the Russia investigation. So why did Rod Rosenstein say otherwise?

ROMANS: And a remarkable story out of Ukraine. A Russian reporter thought to be assassinated. Turns out he's alive and a plot to kill him was foiled. Unbelievable story there. We've got Fred Pleitgen on that.


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

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. 31 minutes past the hour. It's almost Friday.

Breaking overnight. Russia's Foreign minister meets with Kim Jong-un in North Korea. Sergey Lavrov on a visit to Pyongyang says sanctions must be lifted if there is to be a solution to the North Korea nuclear problem. That would once against pit Russia's stance against the United States.

ROMANS: This morning Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to meet again in New York City with Kim Yong Chol, the former North Korean spy chief.

For the very latest, let's bring in international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson. He is in Seoul for us -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. Good morning, Christine. It was Sergey Lavrov meeting with Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang is a very clear indication that Russia is wading right into the middle of what President Trump may view here as U.S. business. He's laying down some of the ideas that he thinks are important, that Russia believes are important for getting some kind of denuclearization agreement.

He says it's very clear that to do this in a comprehensive way, you have to lift economic sanctions so he's thrusting himself right into the negotiations in a way there. He's also saying that, you know, there are some elements or whatever President Trump and Kim Jong-un may agree should go to the U.N. Security Council. This is very odd language to hear from Russia that typically avoids the U.N. Security Council. But it does seem to be a clear effort by Russia to try to internationalize what is supposed to be or expected to be a -- you know, a one-on-one between Kim Jong-un and President Trump.

You've President Xi recently have two meetings with Kim Jong-un. President Trump was upset about that. He said that China was destabilizing the sort of balance of the process coming up to the summit in Singapore.

Certainly Secretary Mike Pompeo will be having another round of talks today with North Korea's top negotiator Kim Yong Chol. He -- the pair of them are expected to try to bridge the gap and understanding between what North Korea talks about when it says it wants denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and what the United States says it must have which is complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.

These positions, a gap remains. We're told progress is happening. They are narrowing the gap, but it does seem to be the key to moving forward. And the State Department saying North Koreans must make an historic concession. Leave no doubt, Russia and China are trying to get a stake in all of this.

ROMANS: Yes. Now Russia, a new piece on the chess board here. All right. Thanks so much for that, Nic Robertson.

BRIGGS: All right. A crucial new question in the Russia investigation this morning. Did the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein provide cover for the president over the decision to fire FBI director James Comey?

The "New York Times" reports Comey's former deputy Andrew McCabe thought that might be the case after talking to Rosenstein. CNN has confirmed the memo McCabe wrote about that discussion now in the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

ROMANS: That memo says Rosenstein told McCabe the president wanted Russia mentioned in his recommendation to fire Comey. Doing so could have been problematic for the president. But Rosenstein ended up citing Comey's handing of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.

The president and his allies have used Rosenstein's role in the Comey firing to suggest he should have recused himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation. The Justice Department declined to comment.

BRIGGS: President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani out front on the Mueller probe Wednesday, reinforcing the White House timeline for getting the investigation wrapped up.


RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: If he doesn't file his report by September 1st, mid-September, he's clearly doing a Comey. [04:35:04] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So will he fire him if he doesn't

file the report by September 1st?

GIULIANI: I don't think he's going to fire Mueller. Mueller is creating his own problems.


BRIGGS: Giuliani also echoing the president's line of attack with a veiled threat to Mueller's team.


GIULIANI: We'll challenge Mueller to write whatever you got. Take your best punch with all your 13 Democrats there. You couldn't find a Republican? So you've got a group there that's a lynching mob. So let them do their job, and boy, we're ready to knock the heck out of you with our report.


BRIGGS: Wow. Giuliani also defending the president following reports he tried to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself on Russia. Giuliani says even if true that would still not be obstruction.

ROMANS: President Trump launched a new barely veiled attack on Sessions yesterday with the volley of tweets saying he wishes he had picked a different attorney general. But Giuliani says he does not think the president will fire Sessions before the Mueller investigation ends.


GIULIANI: I don't think the president is going to touch him, Mueller, or Rosenstein, and I think in the long-run, it'll be worked out. I don't think he'll fire him. They're too good friends.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Has he ever said to you, man, I'd like to get rid of Jeff Sessions?

GIULIANI: I decline to answer that.



ROMANS: Former attorney general Michael Mukasey also weighing in on the president's repeated attacks against his successor.


MICHAEL MUKASEY, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's (INAUDIBLE). It serves no purpose whatever. It doesn't help the president. And he's essentially attacking him for something that he was obligated to do. To recuse himself. ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So your advice to Jeff Sessions?

MUKASEY: Stay strong, brother.


BRIGGS: "Stay strong, brother." The White House pushing back today after Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy undercut President Trump's conspiracy theory that the FBI planted a spy in his campaign. This morning the "Washington Post" editorial says Gowdy underscored the, quote, "cowardice" of the many Republicans who haven't spoken up against the president, calling their silence "bad for Republican leaders themselves whom history will remember as moral weaklings in the face of a president who assaulted democratic institutions."

CNN's reporting is the FBI used a confidential source, but not planted within the Trump campaign. Boris Sanchez with more from the White House.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House not letting a lack of evidence take the wind out of their sails, Dave and Christine. They pushed back on comments made by Trey Gowdy, the congressman who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, a Republican who's actually been able to see some of the underlying classified information that the president is using to base these conspiracy claims about a spy being imbedded in his campaign by the deep state, something that the White House has not been able to provide any evidence for.

Gowdy actually saying that this investigation has nothing to do with Donald Trump. Sarah Sanders from the podium not directly addressing what Gowdy said, but essentially saying that the president does have reason to be concerned. Listen to this.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Clearly, there is still cause for concern that needs to be looked into as the president is concerned about the matter and we're going to continue to follow the issue.


SANCHEZ: This should not come as a surprise. A source telling my colleague Jim Acosta here at the White House that the president is the one that's directing this sort of political strategy against the Mueller probe. He is essentially trying to use it as a political weapon to defend himself and further to try to energize his base. That source telling Jim that they believe that it is bad for the country and likely will continue to get worse as the Russia probe moves forward -- Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Boris at the White House, thank you.

President Trump weighing in on the fallout surrounding Roseanne Barr's racist tweet. The president demanding an apology from ABC. Instead of condemning Roseanne's remarks, the president tweeted this. "Bob Iger of ABC," he's actually the CEO of Disney, which owns ABC, "called Valerie Jarrett to let her know that ABC does not tolerate comments like those made by Roseanne Barr. Gee, he never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the horrible," all caps, "statements made and said about me on ABC. Maybe I just didn't get his call."

Here's White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.


SANDERS: Where was Bob Iger's apology to the White House staff or Jemele Hill calling the president and anyone associated with him a white supremacist? To Christians around the world for Joy Behar calling Christianity a mental illness? Where was the apology for Kathy Griffin going on a profane rant against the president on "The View" after a photo showed her holding President Trump's decapitated head? This is a double standard that the president is speaking about. No one is defending her comments. They're inappropriate. But that's what the point that he was making.


BRIGGS: Following the backlash over her claim that she was Ambien tweeting, Roseanne tried to clarify saying it was an explanation. Not an excuse.

[04:40:03] In a later tweet, she said, I'm not a racist. I never was and I never will be. Roseanne's ex-husband Tom Arnold spoke out last night on CNN.


TOM ARNOLD, ACTOR, ROSEANNE BARR'S EX-HUSBAND: She was so into the conspiracy stuff with Donald Trump and so how far gone she was in the pizzagate and Hillary is a pedophile and Obama wasn't born here, and she was -- you know, birther and how crazy that was. I just knew that this would not end well.


BRIGGS: Roseanne's on-screen husband John Goodman with his first reaction to the show's cancellation, he shrugged it off, saying, quote, "I wasn't going to get an Emmy anyway."

ROMANS: Funny guy.

All right. This year marks a decade since the financial crisis. But now regulators are easing a rule that prevents the risky trading that helped trigger it. Federal Reserve plans to water down the Volcker Rule. The rule keeps banks from making risky trades with their own money including customers' deposits. The Volcker Rule was a landmark piece of Dodd-Frank but for years, banks have complained it's just too complex. So this change simplifies the rule, it eases oversight for most banks, keeps the strictest rules only for those that do the most trading. Banks also no longer have to prove why they are making a trade. Instead that burden shifts to regulators. Fed chairman Jerome Powell says the change will undo the uncertainty

and complexity that make it difficult for banks to comply. But how difficult really is it? Critics call it a giveaway to big banks. They are making record amounts of money. So is Dodd-Frank really holding them back? This is the latest move by the Trump administration to ease financial regulations. Last week, Congress voted to roll back other parts of Dodd-Frank just as banks report their best quarter in history.

Look at that. Profits soared to a record $56 billion during the first three months of 2018.

BRIGGS: But you ask the key question. Do they need more relief?

ROMANS: They say they do. And the Fed chief, you know, appointed by the president, says that they do and they'll start rolling back those rules.

BRIGGS: An emotional in the White House briefing room. Benje Choucroun was in Washington, D.C. to cover a sports and fitness event. The 13-year-old a kid reporter for "TIME" magazine's edition for children, his question caused Press Secretary Sarah Sanders to choke up momentarily. Watch.


BENJE CHOUCROUN, KID REPORTER: At my school, we recently had a lockdown drill. One thing that affects mine and other students' mental health is the worry about the fact that we or our friends could get shot at school. Specifically, can you tell me what the administration has done and will do to prevent these senseless tragedies?

SANDERS: I think that as a kid and certainly as a parent, there is nothing that could be more terrifying for a kid to go to school and not feel safe. So I'm sorry that you feel that way. This administration takes it seriously and the School Safety Commission that the president convened is meeting this week, again an official meeting, to discuss the best ways forward and how we can do every single thing within our power to protect kids in our schools.


BRIGGS: Yes, that commission with the field meeting today. The president will also meet with families of victims of the Santa Fe shooting. But no real great answer there from Sarah Sanders as to what the administration, Christine, has done, what they will do. That is up in the hands of the commission. What have they done? We are still waiting for that answer. Emotional, but the kid didn't get his answer like a lot of other White House reporters.

ROMANS: Yes. Yes. Exactly. Like a real grown up White House reporter.

BRIGGS: Yes. ROMANS: All right. It's the stuff great movies are made of. This

one was real. A reporter faked his own death to avoid assassination and guess who he didn't tell ahead of time? You won't believe it. More from Moscow next.


[04:47:48] ROMANS: Back from the dead. In a cloak and dagger story filled with intrigue, a Russian journalist and Kremlin critic reported to have been shot dead in Ukraine turned up alive at a news conference. He declared Ukrainian security services faked his murder to foil an assassination plot. Ukraine officials say they have two people in custody. One suspected of orchestrating the hit, another the potential, would-be assassin.

Senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen following all of these for us from Moscow -- Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dave and Christine, this was an absolutely bizarre story that unfolded. After initially blasting the Russians for allegedly killing Arkady Babchenko including the prime minister of Ukraine coming out and essentially saying on his Facebook page that he holds the Russian government accountable. The Russians of course fired back at that and said it wasn't them.

It turned out all of it was staged. At some point during the day there was a press conference in Kiev where Arkady Babchenko, the man who was allegedly killed, showed up and he was very much alive. He then confirmed that this was all part of an operation by the Ukrainian Intelligence Service. They had apparently gotten wind of what they say was a Russian controlled plot to try and kill Babchenko. And they say that the only way they could have prevented that plot and try to find the people who were behind it was to stage this man's death.


ARKADY BABCHENKO, RUSSIAN JOURNALIST (through translator): Personally I would like to apologize for what you all had to go through because I buried friends and colleagues many times. And I know it's a sickening, vomiting feeling when you have to bury your colleagues. You're sorry that they forced you to experience all of this.


PLEITGEN: Interestingly, apparently even Babchenko's wife did not know about the fact that he was part of this operation. He came forward and apologized to her for what he called the hell that she'd been going through in the time that she thought that he was dead.

The Ukrainians are calling this a brilliant operation. They are obviously very, very happy. The Russians, of course, for their part, absolutely fuming. They ripped into the Ukrainian and called all of this Russophobic attack -- Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Fred Pleitgen. And, you know, it was the wife apparently who found him. You know --

BRIGGS: According to the story they put out there.

ROMANS: Yes. Wow.

[04:50:01] BRIGGS: That is one heck of an apology that man had to make to his wife. What an incredible story as well.

Ahead, the Stanley Cup Finals, all even and just barely, wait until you see the save that kept the Capitals on top.


BRIGGS: Kilauea's lava flows are quickening raising fears that the molten rock could cut off escape routes.

[04:55:02] Observers say lava from fissure eight is flowing down Highway I-32, further isolating Hawaii's lower Puna. The molten rock now spreading at a much faster cliff of about 10 yards a minute.

ROMANS: The National Park Service releasing this video of solidifying lava being removed from a roadway in case it needs to be used as a possible evacuation route. Some 2500 people have evacuated, 75 homes destroyed. Incredibly the National Weather Service says Kilauea's volcanic haze has drifted 4,000 miles on strong winds, reaching some people in Guam.

BRIGGS: Flooding in the Carolinas is claiming two more victims. Officials say a landslide into a home in Boone, North Carolina, triggered a gas leak that blew up the building, killing two people. That brings the number of deaths attributed to Alberto to four. More heavy rain and flooding in the mid-Atlantic overnight with water rescues reported in Charlottesville, Virginia.

ROMANS: A New York City grand jury has indicted disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein on rape and other charges. The indictment comes seven months after dozens of women came forward with stories alleging sexual misconduct by Weinstein. The once powerful Hollywood producer intends to plead not guilty, is currently free on $1 million bail. The 66-year-old's attorney said news of the indictment does not come as a surprise. Weinstein is due back in court July 30th.

BRIGGS: In Tennessee, a woman has been charged with murder in the shooting death of a sheriff's deputy. Authorities say Erica Castro Miles gunned down Sergeant Daniel Baker during a traffic stop on Wednesday. She is currently in custody. Officials are still hunting for a second subject identified as Steve Wiggins. They say he is armed and dangerous and has been added to the state's 10 most wanted list.

Just when you think you've heard it all. A prosperity gospel televangelist from Louisiana says Jesus has asked him to buy a new private jet. Yes. Jesse Duplantis, head of Jesse Duplantis Ministries, and the owner of three other private jets, asking his followers to chip in so his ministry can buy a brand new $54 million jet. Duplantis say the plane gets him closer to the Lord. Listen.


JESSE DUPLANTIS, TELEVANGELIST: I really believe that if Jesus was physically on earth today he wouldn't be riding a donkey. Think about it for a minute. He'd be on an airplane preaching the gospel all over the world.


BRIGGS: Yes. Think about that for a minute. Do it, please. Duplantis says jets especially nice ones with good fuel efficiency allow him and his ministries to reach more people around the world.

We need your help, Twitter. If he gets that jet, what should he name it? What should he name it? @DavebriggsTVatEarlyStart. Any thoughts?

ROMANS: WWJF. What would Jesus fly, I guess.

BRIGGS: OK. The Stanley Cup Finals tied at a game apiece. The Washington Capitals win game two on the road in Vegas. They took a 3- 1 lead over the Golden Knights in the second period on goals by Alex Ovechekin and Brooks Orpik. The Golden Knights got within 3-2. But a stunning save by net minder Braden Holtby helped preserve the lead. It was a beauty.

The Caps win 3-2. Game three Saturday night in Washington. Look at the paddle save to save the series for now. It shifts back to D.C.

ROMANS: All right. That's your sports. Here's your money this morning.

Global stocks rebounding today. Shredding off fear of political turmoil in Italy. The concern is that radical parties could gain ground fueling fears Italy could leave the EU. They're calling it Ita-leave. Get it? Ita-leave.

BRIGGS: I get it.

ROMANS: Robbing the eurozone of its third biggest economy. The U.S. stocks also closed higher. The Dow and S&P 500 both up about 1.3 percent. Microsoft shares rose. It's now the third most valuable company in the world. Just edging out Google for the spot. Microsoft worth $760 billion. That trails Amazon by about $30 billion. At the top spot, there it is, Apple worth about $920 billion.

The nation's largest private employer Walmart has a new perk for workers. College tuition. Get this. Employees will pay just $1 a day to earn a degree. Walmart will cover the remaining costs for tuition, fees and books.

This is a brand new benefit. It applies to all 1.4 million Walmart employees. For now, the degree is limited to an online degree in either business or management. It is Walmart's latest attempt to keep talent in a very tight labor market. Earlier this year it hiked its starting wage to 11 bucks an hour. It expanded maternity and parental leave. There is a food fight out there in retail for the best talent and to keep people from leaving. Walmart is doing its best there.

Dick's Sporting Goods introduced a stricter gun policy in the wake of the Parkland shooting. But guess what? It is not hurting its bottom line. In February remember Dick's stopped selling those modern sporting rifles like the AR-15 style riffles and raised the age of purchase to 21. Gun rights advocates predicted Dick's would lose business. Instead its sales rose during the first quarter sending its stocks 27 percent higher yesterday. In the earnings call the CEO said the benefits of the new gun policy outweigh the drawbacks.