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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 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 31, 2018 - 05:30   ET


[05:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: -- 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. Hunting sales fell but it claims it brought in other new shoppers.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: You wonder if this is ammunition, if you will, for other big corporations to make changes on that regard.

ROMANS: It could. It could.

BRIGGS: All right. EARLY START continues right now. And we answer the question, who is Kim Thong-un?

ROMANS: Oh no.

BRIGGS: We'll track.

ROMANS: 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?

BRIGGS: Secret memo now in the hands of the special counsel. Andrew McCabe says the president wanted to fire James Comey over the Russia investigation. So why did Rod Rosenstein say otherwise?

ROMANS: And remarkable story out of Ukraine. A Russian reporter thought to be assassinated turns out he is alive and a plot to kill him was foiled. That is such a cloak and dagger story.


ROMANS: We've got Fred Pleitgen on that one.

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

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It's Thursday, May 31st, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Who is Kim Thong-un? Well, Kim Kardashian met with President Trump in the Oval about prison reform and a pardon for her great grandmother. Kim Thong-un is what the "New York Post" it with that, and the other "Big Ass Summit." You can't make that up. Speaking of that summit, 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 in Seoul.

OK, set the -- I guess set the chessboard for me here now. Russia moving into the picture.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, and Sergey Lavrov in North Korea saying it's not Russia's right to interfere in the process and then goes on to lay out a whole sort of set of conditions or ideas that the outcome of the summit should go before the U.N. Security Council or at least some parts of it he says.

Clear effort here by Russia to try to internationalize with what is, you know, supposed to be just a one-on-one North Korea and United States summit. He also says and this seems to be a warning about President Trump's high speed diplomacy here. He said that they shouldn't try to rush to try to agree everything all at once. That they should take their time. That these are delicate diplomatic ideas that had been discussed and plans that are being laid out.

So Russia very much appear in the words of Lavrov anyway, despite what he says about not interfering is having a lot to say about the way President Trump's summit with Kim Jong-un should or could go. And this comes on the back of just the past couple of weeks where President Xi of China has had two meetings with Kim Jong-un. President Trump commented on the second of those meetings, indicating that that was sort of unwanted and sort of upsetting the run-up to his own summit.

Secretary Pompeo with Kim Yong Chol in New York today will have a chance again to get the U.S. position firmly in front of the North Koreans to try to bridge some of the gaps they have.

ROMANS: All right. Nic for us in Seoul. Thank you 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 Donald Trump 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 is now in the hands of the 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 attorney Rudy Giuliani out front on the Mueller probe Wednesday, reinforcing a White House timeline for getting this investigation all 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.

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.

[05:05:04] 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: 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 that were true it would still not be obstruction.

ROMANS: The president 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 says the attacks on Sessions serve no purpose.

BRIGGS: President Trump weighing in on the fallout surrounding Roseanne Barr's racist tweet. Demanding an apology from ABC, instead of condemning Roseanne's remark, the president tweeted this. "Bob Iger of 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 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.


ROMANS: Following the backlash over her claim that she was Ambien tweeting, Roseanne tried to clarify saying it was an explanation. Not an excuse. In a later tweet, she said, I'm not a racist. I never was and I never will be. And something that makes Ambien actually issued a statement yesterday.

BRIGGS: They had quite a burn really seen that on Twitter.

Joining us this morning from Washington, CNN Politics reporter Tal Kopan.

Good morning to you, Tal.

ROMANS: Good morning.


BRIGGS: Let's start with the president there and Sarah Sanders. A lot of me, me, me in the tweets and then the explanation from the press secretary. What was missing was the simple condemnation of racist remarks. Should we be surprised or is this par for the president's course?


KOPAN: Should we be surprised? I don't think that, you know, the tweet was particularly surprising. I think everyone was sort of waiting to see what he would say when he did weigh in. Of course, he never had to weigh in. This was his choice. But, you know, Roseanne is an outspoken supporter of his. So to a certain extent, it did sort of call into question, you know, that whole political aspect of the reboot and of, you know, her Twitter feed and that kind of thing.

So, you know, that sort of allowed for the president to come in with an opportunity. But you're absolutely right. The glaring missing piece of that comment was any sort of condemnation of what she actually said and the underlying sentiment. You know, and this, of course, one tweet about Valerie Jarrett certainly got the most attention. But there was a series of -- you know, there were some stuff that critics could claim was anti-Semitic. I mean, there's a series of stuff that came out on the Twitterfeed and the president didn't really focus on any of it, instead sending up his press secretary to use the daily briefing to air a list grievances against the ABC network.

ROMANS: Well, and even conspiracy theory, you know, completely false conspiracy that Donald Trump Jr. actually retweeted, too.

KOPAN: Right. Exactly.

BRIGGS: Yes. Yes.

ROMANS: I was mentioning that Sanofi, that makes Ambien, this is what they said, they said while all pharmaceuticals treatments have side effects, Racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi --

BRIGGS: Not that we know.

ROMANS: -- medication but that just gives you a sense of just how crazy, crazy things got yesterday. There's this interesting "New York Times" piece today with some pullouts of Ben Rhodes book. A longtime Trump -- I'm sorry.

BRIGGS: Obama. Obama.

ROMANS: Obama adviser. And I wanted to read a couple of these because I think it goes to kind of the mood in the country right now. And this is Ben Rhodes quoting the president. He said, "He had read a column asserting that liberals had forgotten how important identity was to people and it promoted an empty cosmopolitan globalism that made many feel left behind. Maybe we pushed too far, Mr. Obama said. Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe."

I thought that was really interesting. There were some other comments along those same lines. But I think that's really interesting in light of what we're hearing in terms of immigration and how, you know, on the campaign trail for the midterm immigration will be a big discussion. And the tone of immigration rhetoric from this White House.

[05:10:08] KOPAN: Yes. That's absolutely right, Christine. I mean, you know, let's remember that President Obama didn't just, you know, kind of campaign for Hillary Clinton. I mean, he basically staked his reputation on the election of Hillary Clinton and said, you know, if you appreciate what I did, you should vote for Hillary Clinton. And so it's not necessarily surprising that, you know, an election that elected perhaps what you could argue is the polar opposite of President Obama would rattle him a little bit.

And, you know, I do think that Democrats who really believed not just Obama, that the sort of message that they were delivering was the one the American people wanted to hear. You wake up, you know, the morning after the election and you have to question all of that and wonder, you know, what were the American people actually are hungry for, you know, was it the strong rhetoric from the president on immigration, was this notion of, you know, nationalism and retreating into America. Was that what resonated?

And that seems to be what President Obama was grappling with in those sort of insights into those private moments.

BRIGGS: Yes, I don't think anybody knew what was coming. Not Obama or Rhodes, anybody. But just to point out on immigration, we'll get more into this in the next half hour, Republicans have run more than 14,000 ads on immigration for the upcoming midterms. It will be the central issue for them when we move ahead and we'll talk about that in about 20 minutes.

Thanks, Tal.

ROMANS: All right. Tal, thank you.

Let's talk about money here for a minute. The U.S. may make good on a trade threat slapping metal tariffs on key allies, creating another trade battle with three of its biggest trading partners. The Trump administration granted -- remember they granted a few temporary exemptions when it imposed those deal on aluminum tariffs that was back in March. It gave EU, Canada and Mexico more time to negotiate. However, those exemptions expire in less than 24 hours.

"The Washington Post" says the White House did not get what it wants from trade talks. So it plans to hit all three of these Key American allies with those tariffs. If that happens, the EU will retaliate, targeting $8 billion in U.S. exports including strategic items from the home states of Speaker Paul Ryan, motorcycles, majority leader Mitch McConnell, whiskey.

Metal tariffs could also affect NAFTA renegotiations with Canada and Mexico. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says a decision will be announced today. Ross was in Paris yesterday to negotiate with the EU. He now heads to Beijing for another U.S. trade battle. China, the two countries currently working on a trade deal but another set of tariffs threatened to derail those talks. The U.S. just announced plans to target 50 billion in Chinese goods. And look, the administration says this is about America First. This is Trump's America First policy put into action.

BRIGGS: This is going to be an interesting couple of days and weeks ahead as they try to figure out some strategy there.

Well, ahead, it's the stuff great movies are made of and spy novels. This one was real. A reporter faked his own death to avoid assassination. And guess who he didn't tell ahead of time? The story from Moscow next.


[05:17:11] ROMANS: All right. 17 minutes past the hour. Back from the dead in a cloak and dagger story filled with intrigue, a Russian journalist and a Kremlin critic reported to have been shot dead in the Ukraine. He showed up alive at the 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 this hit, another the potential assassin.

Our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen following all of this 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 for 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: What a story. All right. Fred, thanks.

BRIGGS: Remarkable. I just can't go over the apology. Sorry, honey, for faking my own death.

OK. Ahead the Stanley Cup final from Vegas to the Nation's Capital and it is all tied with a game a piece thanks to an incredible effort by a net minder. No one happier than Lindsay Czarniak. Caps fans on deck with the "Bleacher Report."


[05:23:39] BRIGGS: Washington battles back to earn their first ever Stanley Cup Final win. Vegas also has one in their franchise history. A sensational save that has everyone --

ROMANS: I know you keep looking at them in the break. But Lindsay Czarniak has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Lindsay.

LINDSAY CZARNIAK, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, guys. Yes. We're going to get to that save but this series truly is proving as entertaining as the Las Vegas Golden Knights' pre-game shows themselves. The Capitals stealing momentum back last night with the win even after they lost one of their best players to injury. Now they take the series back to Washington but they had to get past this.

This pre-game show is ridiculously awesome. It literally means you're glued to your TV set like a Super Bowl halftime show. If you haven't seen it you really should. It's kind of Medieval rock, you know, that at times it's just scary. So Washington had to find composure. Alex Ovechekin helped keep score on the power play. And then with two minutes left, the hero was Capitals' goaltender Braden Holtby. Look at that stick save on the Knights' Alex thought unreal. No hiding how big that was for Washington. You can feel the relief here. I love this shot from the Capitals bench. The Capitals win 3-2. But everyone is talking about that sensational save.


BRADEN HOLTBY, WASHINGTON CAPITALS GOALTENDER: That's one of the things to help us win a game, and move forward on to the next game. Because we have a goal in mind that will be a lot bigger than some save on social media.


[05:25:01] CZARNIAK: Holtby, just own it. Right? I mean, it was spectacular. It was unreal. People will be talking about that for years to come.

BRIGGS: Bravo. Bravo.

CZARNIAK: All right. From NHL playoffs to the NBA. Game one of the familiar Cavaliers-Warriors finals tonight in Oakland. These teams, they don't want to hear that this matchup is boring or is bad for the NBA. After all this is a very different path each team took and different history at stake here. The Warriors on the brink of really pulling off an incredible third championship in four years. Can you believe that?

Golden State, a heavy favorite at home, to start the series. Meanwhile, LeBron James once again has led his group back to the finals. Somewhere he has done something he has done for eight straight seasons. And if you don't like the matchup, LeBron James says well, someone has to stop them.


LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: Teams will have their opportunity to beat the Cavs over the last four years and the teams have an opportunity to beat the Warriors over the last four years. And if you want to see somebody else in the post season, then you've got to beat them.

KEVIN DURANT, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: It may not be as suspenseful as a lot of people may want it to be or as drama filled, but that's what you got movies and music for.


CZARNIAK: So save the drama for your mama and enjoy it.

The goose is loose. During the rain delay in Detroit, a wild goose decided it would take over the field and entertain the crowd. But before the game could start again.

BRIGGS: Here it comes.

CZARNIAK: There was a wild goose chase. It looked like it ran out of energy and went right into one of the scoreboards. But it was OK. It was OK. And look at this. Wow. It was contained. It was fine. Detroit would go on to win 6-1 and give credit where credit is due. To the rally goose of course. That thing could bit your head off by the way.

BRIGGS: This goose was cooked.

CZARNIAK: Yes. I mean, they're no joke.

BRIGGS: Geese. Right?

CZARNIAK: I say gooses.


BRIGGS: I thought they only ran into like rear windows and doors. That goose --

CZARNIAK: I think there's a --


CZARNIAK: Geese. I mean, yes, those are --

BRIGGS: The rally goose.


ROMANS: No gooses were harmed in the making of this baseball.

BRIGGS: Good morning, Lindsay.

ROMANS: All right, thank you. Nice to see you.

Breaking overnight. Kim Jong-un face-to-face with the Russian Foreign minister. Is Russia now inserting itself into the North Korea talks?