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EARLY START

WH: Trump Considering Each Case On Its Merits; U.S. Allies Hit Back At Metal Tariffs; Fmr. N. Korean Spy Chief To Meet President Trump; Audio Captures Michael Cohen Threatening Reporter. Aired 4:30- 5a ET

Aired June 1, 2018 - 04:30   ET

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


[04:30:44] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President's pardon of a conservative firebrand sitting off a wave of criticism. Why are celebrities getting priority and could it be a signal for aides caught up in the Russia investigation.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Fears blow back some allies and the President's own party over his new tariff, millions of American jobs could be on the line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMANTHA BEE "FULL FRONTAL WITH SAMANTHA BEE": Do something about your dad's immigration practices you feckless --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Still shocking. Samantha Bee now apologizing for that vulgar crack about Ivanka Trump but she gets to keep her job. Is there a double standard for liberal comedians?

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. Did you know that today is Friday?

BRIGGS: Oh yes. I've been waiting on it all week.

ROMANS: That's the breaking news. I can really get behind this morning. 4:31 in the East. Welcome to EARLY START everybody. Dinesh D'Souza, Rod Blagojevich, Martha Stewart, what do these high profile names have in common, they were all prosecuted by Trump adversaries. And they are now President's list apparently for clemency or at least he's thinking about it.

It started yesterday when President Trump announced he is granting a full pardon to D'Souza, the conservative author pleaded guilty in 2014 for violating federal campaign finance laws, D'Souza also has a history of racially charged comments about former President Obama including this one here.

Now, D'Souza says, Obama and his stooges tried to extinguish my American dream and destroy my faith in America. Thank you Donald Trump for fully restoring both. BRIGGS: The President's move raising the eyebrows of many including the Former Director of the Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub who twitted quote, Imagine if Nixon had been waiting with a stack of pardons for his Plumbers to return from the Watergate break-in. A president may not be above the law, but he has the power to put his henchmen above the law. That's what Trump is telling Manafort and others with the D'Souza pardon.

For more let's bring in Jim Acosta at the White House.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the White House is defending the President's use of his pardon power saying he is not only considering granting leniency to celebrities. President granted a pardon the conservative commentary Dinesh D'Souza. And then told reporters he is considering a pardon for Martha Stewart and commuting the prison sentence for Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Both Stewart and Blagojevich starred on Mr. Trump's T.V. show "The Apprentice". D'Souza has made offensive and racially loaded comments over the years about Former President Obama. The White House said the President is considering each case on its merits.

Here's what Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah told reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJ SHAH, DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: He's worked as a process through the White House Counsel and he felt that it was appropriate to pardon Dinesh D'Souza.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he sending a message to any of allies wrapped up in the Russia investigation with before?

SHAH: No. Each of the President's actions on pardons or another things should be judged on the merits, looking at the facts and the circumstances surrounding that case. The president felt it was merited.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: The President has shown a willingness to grant pardons to controversial figures including Former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaiom, who is convicted in court of ignoring a judge's order to stop racially profiling Latinos. Christine and Dave?

BRIGGS: Jim, thanks. A White House official admitted to Jim that, you can't ignore Trumps connections to his clemency considerations.

Consider this, Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, now CNN legal analyst and a big critic of the President prosecuted D'Souza. Fired FBI Director James Comey prosecuted Martha Stewart when he was U.S. Attorney for Manhattan. And Former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is now a member of Comey's legal team. Back in 2011, Fitzgerald won the conviction of then Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges. ROMANS: President Trump hitting U.S. allies with tariffs and they are hitting back after months of uncertainty. The U.S. slaps tariffs on the E.U., Mexico and Canada, a 25 percent on steel, 10 percent on aluminum. You know, the three head temporary exemptions. But the White House let those waivers expire after it did not get what it wanted from negotiations.

The President called this, fair trade. The goal is to help U.S. steel worker. But metal tariffs could raise prices for consumers on cars, appliances, food cans. It also puts the U.S. in another trade dispute just as it targets $50 billion in Chinese goods. Now, these three countries U.S. allies actually quickly struck back both the E.U. and Mexico threatened billions in tariffs on U.S. goods.

[04:35:01] Canada plans to tax U.S. steel and aluminum in equal amount. The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls the U.S. tariffs an affront. And that they won't just hurt Canada.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANDIAN PRIME MINISTER: Unfortunately, we all know that this is going to lead to harm for American workers and American industries. Our economies are too interlinked to not have significant disruption in American families and American communities south of the border.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The Chamber of Commerce says, this move risks 2.6 million U.S. jobs, especially if it causes NAFTA to fall apart. NAFTA alone, more than 1.5 million jobs tied to NAFTA will be lost if the U.S. leaves NAFTA according to the Chamber.

President Trump responded to Trudeau saying, he wanted a fair deal on NAFTA or none at all. The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, wow, slamming Trump's needless trade war that will hurt the U.S. economy, his own foreign policy and perhaps Republicans in November.

Republicans are fuming, Senator Ben Sasse said, it's dumb to treat allies just the way you treat opponent. Speaker Paul Ryan says, the U.S. should be working with allies on unfair trade practices instead of targeting them. And that Wall Street Journal Editorial, I encourage everyone to read it. It says the President thinks he's being Ronald Reagan. But could be --

BRIGGS: But it's tearfully echoes of Herbert Hoover. That is the closing line. Yet, the sunset clause in particular is one that is baffling. Certainty is what is needed with markets.

ROMANS: Right. Better to nonstarter, it looks like the White House wanted with a five years --

BRIGGS: Five years.

ROMANS: -- sunset clause on any new NAFTA negotiation. And Trudeau, Justin Trudeau didn't even come to the meeting in Washington after that. That was non-start.

BRIGGS: G7 a week away, they'll be face-to-face.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: Comedian Samantha Bee apologizing for an ugly crack about Ivanka Trump, this crossed insult on her TBS show "Full Frontal" came out for Ivanka post -- posted a picture of her and her son amid reports undocumented children are being separated from their parents at the boarder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEE: Ivanka Trump who works at the White House chose to post the second most oblivious tweet we've seen this week. You know, Ivanka, that's a beautiful photo of you and your child. But let me just say one mother to another. Do something about your dad's immigration practices, you feckless --. He listens to you. Put on something tight and low cut and tell your father to -- stop it. Tell him it was an Obama thing and see how it goes, OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The slam comes the same week Roseanne was fired for a racist tweet with conservatives yelling about a double standard. This insult was not smart or funny which she quickly realized she twitted, I would like to sincerely apologize to Ivanka Trump and to my viewers. I crossed a line. And I deeply regret it.

ROMANS: TBS which is like CNN is owned by Time Warner adjoined Bee seeking forgiveness. Samantha Bee has taken the right action in apologizing. Those words should not have been aired. And we regret it.

At least two sponsors Autotrader and State Farm are pulling their ads from Bee's show. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders called this language vile and vicious. Now that's much further than the White House or the President went denouncing Roseanne comments which were followed by the president demanding an apology for his treatment by ABC.

BRIGGS: All right imagine this, the former spy chief and top aide to a dictator of a country that threatened to nuke the United States face-to-face with the commander in chief. That will actually play out in Washington today. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirming the top North Korean official, he just met with Kim Yong-chol will hand- deliver a letter to the President from Kim Jong-un.

CNN's Nic Robertson live in Seoul with all the latest developments on this. Good morning, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. Good morning Dave. That's right, North Korea's former spy chief, a man under sanctions who was only given a dispensation to travel to United States just for the New York area has got a waiver to go all the way to D.C., all the way to the White House and hand that letter to President Trump.

What's inside it? We don't know. President Trump has listened to what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was told him about the talks. Pompeo had with Chol so far very clear, Pompeo believes that there's been progress made in the past 72 hours, he said that. But also he made it very clear that the moment they don't seem to have anything completely concrete that the North Koreans are ready to do what it takes to get to that summit in Singapore.

He said he still doesn't know if it's going to be on. He said he has called this an historic moment, a pivotal moment. It will be a shame to throw it away. But it does now depend on the analysis that he has. And President Trump seems to have that the North Korean leadership is contemplating, these are his words, contemplating a change of path, a strategic shift away from the way that they've acted before.

So when that letter is delivered to President Trump, will it unlock the doors essentially to that summit in Singapore? Unclear. Certainly, Pompeo not willing to make that commitment when he spoke yesterday. Dave?

[04:40:12] BRIGGS: Just a rapidly evolving story Nic Robertson live for us in Seoul. Thank you.

Meanwhile "The Washington Post" reporting former FBI Director James Comey was interviewed by the D.C. U.S. Attorney's Office as part of a probe into whether his Deputy Andrew McCabe broke the law. McCabe was fired earlier this year after an internal report found he misled investigators about authorizing a disclosure to the media. Now, Comey interview as a sign the office is seriously considering whether McCabe should be charged with a crime, but not definitive indication.

ROMANS: President Trump pressure on Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself in the Russia investigation wasn't limited to just one conversation. CNN has confirmed the President tried at least four times in the last 14 months to get his attorney general to change his mind. Sessions recused himself after conversations emerged between the AG and the Russian ambassador during the campaign. The President's frustration with Sessions has grown since the recusal which left Trump without a loyalist overseeing the Russia investigation.

BRIGGS: For the first time, we are hearing Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen on tape making threats against a reporter. The reporter Tim Mak now works for NPR. He was the "Daily Beast" in July 2015 that's when he reached out to Cohen on a story involving a rape accusation. Ivana Trump made against Donald Trump decades ago during their divorce. The claim Ivana later retracted, here's what took place.

(BEGIN AUDIO TAPE)

MICHAEL COHEN, TRUMP PERSONAL ATTORNEY: You're talking about Donald Trump. You're talking about the front-runner for the GOP. Presidential candidate, as well as private individual, who never raped anybody and of course understand that the -- by the very definition you can't rape your spouse. If you write a story that has Mr. Trump's name in it with the word rape and I'll mess your life up, for the rest -- for as long as you're on this friggin' planet.

I'm going to turn around, you're going to have judgments against you for so much money you'll never know how to get from underneath me. I'm warning you, tread very -- lightly because what I'm going to do to you is going to be -- disgusting. Do you understand me? Don't think you're going to hide behind your pen because it's not going to happen.

(END AUDIO TAPE)

ROMANS: Michael Cohen was wrong. Of course spousal rape is a crime. But he did later apologize for the remark in a new comment following the audio release Cohen says quote, as I said in a previous statement I made an inarticulate statement based upon the horrific question posed by the reporter.

BRIGGS: Wow. OK. You could hear the fans in Cleveland screaming as well as LeBron James pleading. Shoot the ball J.R. Smith in a massive blunder. That's an NBA finals game at O.T. and how it turned out next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:47:10] BRIGGS: Some fascinating new details as the Russian journalists explains how he played dead in order to avoid an alleged assassination plot. That journalist also defending his actions after some reporters questioned whether he went too far.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen live in Moscow with this fascinating story. Good morning Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Fascinating and the details, Dave, just keep getting more crazy. So Arkady babchenko he came out yesterday had a little press conference. And basically he gave details as to how everything went down. He said essentially on the day that his assassination was staged, a makeup artist came to his house and covered him in pig's blood and also gave him a shirt that already had bullet holes in it.

Then it was staged that he'd been shot outside the apartment block that he lived in. A real ambulance was called which had a real doctor in it. And on the way to the hospital, they called and said that he had already died. They then went to the morgue where a real mortician actually declared him dead, signing the waiver. And he said, only after the doors of the morgue were closed, as he calls it, resurrected, so essentially got up, was brought to a safe location because journalist were also showing at the morgue as well.

And then later it came out that all of this was staged in order to as he calls it, save his life because there was a plot to assassinate him as well. Now, as you guys mentioned, he has come under criticism from some journalist who said, look, this undermines the credibility of journalists if you're going to stage your death to do this. He said he's absolutely unapologetic. He said, he was presented with evidence that he was going to be killed. He said, in the end for him, it was a decision about either staying alive or upholding journalistic values. He said, he decided, he ended trying to stay alive. Dave. BRIGGS: We don't make that same decision. Fred Pleitgen live for us in Moscow. Thanks.

ROMANS: Former House Speaker John Boehner, bemoaning the takeover of the Republican Party he once led, a takeover by Donald Trump at a policy conference on Mackinac Island, Michigan. Boehner said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOEHNER (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: There is no Republican Party. There's a Trump Party. A Republican Party is taking a nap somewhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Boehner said, American voters were not the only ones surprised by the election results.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: The two most surprised people in the entire world that night were Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. And I think Donald Trump promised Melania that he would not win. And she never have to worry about ever living in the White House. That's probably why she doesn't look real happy every day. Well, maybe one of the reason.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: So that will take a bloody -- is that a Bloody Mary?

BRIGGS: Yes. That's a Bloody Mary, very perceptive. I think every interview should be done with the Bloody Mary. Can I institute that here?

ROMANS: Yes. I would love it. You mix them. All right, 49 minutes past the hour. This baby -- this story is so amazing, quite a story to tell. Read the shirt. Why her father is her hero and why she is surrounded by all these soldiers.

[04:50:00] That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: New mandatory evacuation orders in Hawaii, Leilani Estates as the threat from Kilauea grows this morning. Residents have until noon local time to leave. That's 6:00 p.m. Eastern. Anybody who refuses could be arrested. Fissure number eight is on the verge of overflowing into those affected areas breaches in the lava channel can, they can happen without notice resulting in fast moving lava flow. The U.S. geological survey says, lava temperatures now reaching above 2,000 degrees.

[04:55:11] BRIGGS: Today also marks the official start of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season. And there is concern that Puerto Rico may not be able to weather another storm. Nine months after Hurricane Maria hit, 20,000 homes on the island are still without power. Official feared even a small storm will plunge them back into darkness and start the crisis all over again. According to a Harvard study released this week, at least 4,645 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria, more than dwarfs the original estimate.

ROMANS: All right, do you know how to spell Koinonia? The new national champion bee -- spelling bee did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARTHIK NEMMANI, NATIONAL SPELLING BEE CHAMPION: Koinonia, K-O-I-N-O- N-I-A. Koinonia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Karthik Nemmani an 8th grader from McKinne, Texas is the new national champion. He edged out 12-year-old Naysa Modi in a final that went 18 rounds. The greek word Koinonia is an intimate spiritual communion and sharing in a common religious commitment but, Dave, already knew that. Karthik wins more than $40,000 in cash and prizes.

BRIGGS: Of course I did my friend I would have nailed that one.

OK. Poised under pressure we saw there but we did not see it in the NBA finals last night. LeBron James though, 51 points in Game 1. But Lebron was left exasperated by what happened here.

George Hill misses a free throw that would have given the Cavs a one point lead in the final seconds. J.R. Smith Grabs a rebound and essentially dribbles out the clock. It appeared he didn't know the game was tied. After the game he said he thought they were going to call a time out. Warriors put this game away in overtime 124-114 despite one of the best performances in NBA finals history by LeBron. Game 2 Sunday night in Oakland.

This is a photo shoot you'll never forget. Two-month-old Christian Harris got to meet some very special people. The soldiers who served alongside her late father, Specialist Christopher Harris was killed in action in Afghanistan in August, just one week after his wife told him she was pregnant.

While Britt Harris was pregnant she received support of the men and women of the 82nd Airborne Division who were deployed with her husband. When Harris gave birth in March, she gathered the soldiers including some who survived the explosion that killed her husband. In the photos, Christian wears her father's dog tags along with that onesie that reads "My Daddy is My Hero."

ROMANS: What a beautiful little baby girl. All right 37 minutes past the hour. Rain continues in the East today, with a severe storm threat developing on the plains.

Meteorologist Derek Van Dam has a look at your bright weather.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning Dave and Christine. Keep an eye to the sky if you're located across the place today. We have the potential for severe weather in fact the storm prediction center has an enhanced risk of sever storms across the Dakotas and to Nebraska damaging winds, large hale and that isolated tornado not umbrella possibilities.

It's all thanks to a low pressure system that's moving eastward cross the region, otherwise our other weather headlines we're following fire risk continues across the four corners, hot temperatures across the deep south and our flood threat continues across the mid Atlantic.

We have a series of disturbances that will help initiate thunderstorm activity across this region with some of our greatest rainfall totals upwards of 4 to 5 inches by the end of the weekend. We also have a storm system that's going to allow for cooler temperatures to settle in across the Northeast you'll see that in the next four days with our temperature outlook. Check out New York City, 82 degrees today. But we'll start off the work week next week in the upper 50s back to you.

ROMANS: All right Derek thank you for that.

BRIGGS: OK. EARLY START continues right now with the fascinating days the Trump White House. Who the President is pardoning?

The President's pardon of a conservative firebrand setting off a wave of criticism, why are celebrities getting priority and could this be a signal for aides caught up in the Russia investigation?

ROMANS: Fierce blow back from allies and the President's party over new tariffs from the Trump administration. Two million American jobs could be on the line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEE: Do something about your dad's immigration practices you feckless --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Samantha Bee now apologizing for that vulgar crack about Ivanka Trump. But she gets to keep her job. Is there a double standard for liberal comedians? We will discuss this in just a moment.

Good morning everyone and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs. Happy Friday my friend.

ROMANS: Friday Edition. I'm Christine Romans. It is June 1st, first day of June, new month here. 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's begin with the pardon. Dinesh D'Souza, Rod Blagojevich, and Martha Stewart, what do these high profile names have in common? They were all prosecuted by Trump adversaries and they're now on the President's list for clemency.

[05:00:10]