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EARLY START

Is Trump's Pardon a Message to Former Aides?; U.S. Allies Hit Back At Metal Tariffs; Samantha Bee Apologizes For Ugly Ivanka Trump Joke; Former North Korean Spy Chief To Meet President Trump Today; Cavs Last Second Error Proves Costly. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired June 1, 2018 - 05:00   ET

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


[05:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: They were all prosecuted by Donald Trump adversaries and they're now on the president's list for clemency.

President Trump announced he is granting a full pardon to Dinesh D'Souza, the conservative author who pleaded guilty in 2014 for violating campaign finance laws. D'Souza also has a story of racially charged comments about former President Obama, including this one. 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.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The president's move raising eyebrows of many, including the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, who tweeted: Imagine if Nixon had been waiting with a stack of pardons for his plumbers to return for the Watergate break in. A president may not be above the law, but he has the power to put the henchmen above the law. That's what Trump is telling Manafort and others with this D'Souza pardon.

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the White House is defending the president's use of his pardon powers, saying he is not only considering granting pardons with celebrities, the president granted a pardon to conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza and then told reporters he is considering a pardon for Martha Stewart and commuting the present sentence for former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Both Stewart and Blagojevich starred on Mr. Trump's TV 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 is what deputy press secretary Raj Shah told reporters.

RAJ SHAH, DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: He's worked this process to the White House counsel and felt that it was appropriate to pardon Dinesh D'Souza.

REPORTER: Is he sending a message to any of his allies wrapped up in the Russia investigation with pardon?

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

ACOSTA: The president has shown a willingness of pardons to controversial figures, including former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio who was convicted in court of ignoring a judge's order to stop racially profiling Latinos -- Christine and Dave.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Thanks for that, Jim.

Joining us this morning, CNN political analyst, Julian Zelizer, historian and professor at Princeton University, a guy know a thing or two about pardons.

We tend to look at presidencies and see what message they are sending by who they pardon. Jack Johnson, that was righting a wrong, right?

BRIGGS: No question about it. It should have been done long ago.

ROMANS: Dinesh D'Souza, potentially Rod Blagojevich. We know Scooter Libby, Joe Arpaio.

What do these pardons say about this president?

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the biggest them is that law enforcement is unfair. It's not doing the right thing and this is the president standing up for the legally oppressed. And in this case, it has to do with prosecutors who have been problems for the president.

So, I think he is sending a message to the prosecutors. I think he is sending a message to people like Mike Flynn that I have the power to pardon you. And with D'Souza, I think he is sending a message to conservatives going into the midterms that I'm still with you.

BRIGGS: He loves to troll that base. Here is who Dinesh D'Souza is in a couple of tweets. One about Obama. You can take the boy out the ghetto, watch this vulgar man show his stuff while America cowers in embarrassment.

Here is one on Rosa Parks. Overrated Democrats departments so Rosa Parks wouldn't sit in the back of the bus. That's all she did. So what's the big fuss?

What's the wrong that the president is righting with this pardon?

ZELIZER: Well, this is -- it's about campaign finance violation. But this is about --

BRIGGS: He pled guilty. ZELIZER: He pled guilty and so many people are scratching their heads

why this would be the case. This is sending a message again to the prosecutor.

BRIGGS: Let me interrupt you there. What stands in the way of the president pardoning Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen?

ZELIZER: Not much, not much.

BRIGGS: Would the Republicans stand in his way?

ZELIZER: I don't think they would. The pardon power is very broad. President Trump is showing you can use it aggressively. I can't imagine Republicans would do anything. At this point, that kind of speculation is misplaced.

ROMANS: This is what "The New York Times" says on this. One thing is becoming clear. President Trump use whatever power he has to attack the people he feels have wronged him, and he will do what he feels he must to protect himself. For him, pardons are a means of vengeance. Those he's issued to date are only a small hint of what could be coming as the Russia investigation heats up.

Do you think he is looking at the Russia investigation and saying I'm going to send signals to the players?

ZELIZER: Absolutely. The Russia investigation is always on his mind. Look at his Twitter feed. So, if he we use that as a diary, we know he is thinking about it. So, it is hard to think this is disconnected from the issue that is on the front of his mind on a daily basis.

BRIGGS: OK, the president and White House outraged by the remark by Samantha Bee on TBS who made a vile statement on Ivanka Trump. She apologized. She will, of course, keep her show. The narrative is a double standard between conservatives and liberals.

[05:05:01] And here is what Ari Fleischer tweeted, the former White House press secretary. Roseanne Barr had -- excuse me, compare ABC's reaction to Roseanne Barr's tweet with TBS's non reaction to Samantha Bee and you'll see a double standard in action. There's no uprising against Bee. Why? Because she is a liberal.

Is there really a double standard? Are these things even close? Are they apples and bananas? Or are they similar? Is there a double standard?

ZELIZER: No, I think these are different issues. One is a comedian using vile language to attack the president's daughter for not standing up to her father on punitive policies. The other was a comedian using really historically racist language right out in the public. And it wasn't simply about Valerie Jarrett. It was about using the racial imagery of an ape. It was simply beyond the pale.

So, I think these are two issues. But obviously, in the world of politics, they will be combined. ROMANS: The apologies are different. The Roseanne apology was a non-

apology. Right away, you had Samantha Bee saying, look, I went too far. I just -- I went too far. She did.

ZELIZER: The president had tougher words right away for her as opposed to Roseanne.

ROMANS: I would like to apologize to Ivanka Trump and to my viewers for using expletive on my show to describe her last night. It was inappropriate and inexcusable.

BRIGGS: Let us know what you think. Is there a double standard? @earlystart on Twitter.

Julian, we will ask about interesting remarks about Boehner in just a bit. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump hitting U.S. allies with tariffs and they are hitting back. After months of uncertainty, the U.S. slapped tariffs on E.U., Mexico and Canada. Twenty-five percent on steel, 10 percent on aluminum. Now, these three had temporary exemptions, but the White House let their waivers expire after it didn't get what it wanted from negotiations.

The president calls this fair trade. The goal is to help U.S. steel workers. But metal tariffs could raise prices for consumers, for cars, appliances, food cans.

It also puts the U.S. in another trade dispute just as it targets $50 billion in Chinese goods. The three U.S. allies quickly struck back. Both the E.U. and Mexico, they threatened billions in tariffs on U.S. goods. Canada plans to tax U.S. steel and aluminum in equal amount. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls the U.S. tariffs an affront and says it won't just hurt Canada.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN 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 American jobs, especially if it causes NAFTA to fall apart. If the U.S. leaves NAFTA, that could be 1.8 million American jobs lost.

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

And Republicans are fuming. Senator Ben Sasse says it's dumb to treat allies the way you treat opponents. Speaker Paul Ryan says the U.S. should work with allies on unfair trade practices instead of targeting them.

BRIGGS: All right. "The Washington Post" reporting former FBI Director James Comey was interviewed by the U.S. office as part of a probe into whether his deputy, Andrew McCabe, broke the law. McCabe was fired after an internal report found he misled investigators about authorizing disclosure to the media. The Comey interview a sign the office is seriously considering whether McCabe should be charged with a crime is not though definitive indication.

ROMANS: President Trump's pressure on Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself on the Russia investigation was not 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, of course, recused himself after conversations emerged with the A.G. and 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: Ahead, a week after the president's letter to Kim Jong-un canceled their summit, North Korea's former spy chief will be in Washington to return a favor, carrying a letter from Kim Jong-un. What will it mean for a possible meeting in just 11 days?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Imagine this: the former spy chief and top aide to a dictator of a country that has threatened to nuke the U.S. sitting face-to-face with the commander in chief. That will actually play out in Washington today. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirming the top official 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 in Seoul, South Korea, with reaction from there -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, cautiously is how the South Korean officials are describing how they are watching it. They are encouraged how Secretary Pompeo's talks went the last couple days. President Trump, for his part, has said that everything is going well. Secretary Pompeo describes good progress in the past 72 hours.

But when you listen his language, Secretary Pompeo's language, it is still heavily caveated. What is it that he thinks, that President Trump thinks which gives them reason to believe that North Korea's Kim Jong-un is actually shifting his position? The language is heavily caveated. Pompeo saying, we believe that the North Koreans are contemplating a different path that can, can lead to a strategic shift.

[05:15:01] There is still a lot of question marks there with Secretary Pompeo's mind about whether the North Koreans really are going to make the compromises necessary. For that reason, it seems that he said he is not sure if the summit will go ahead. So, maybe that letter that Kim Yong-chol will deliver to President Trump today, maybe that will hold the key, Christine.

ROMANS: Maybe. All right. Thanks so much for that, Nic Robertson, in Seoul for us.

BRIGGS: Breaking news for anyone with plans to head to Las Vegas. Casino workers may be nearing a strike at 34 casino resorts on the Vegas Strip and downtown. Fifty thousand bartenders, food and cocktail servers, porters, bellmen and cooks and others working without a contract as of a few hours ago. The strike authorization vote last week earned 99 percent approval. But negotiations are ongoing and the union has not called for a walkout. They'll host the Stanley Cup game one week from yesterday.

ROMANS: New mandatory evacuation orders in Hawaii's Leilani estates as the threat from Kilauea grows. Residents have until noon local time to leave at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. Anybody who refuses could be arrested.

Fissure number eight is on the verge of overflowing in those affected areas. Breaches in the lava channel formed by the fissure can happen without notice, resulting in fast-moving lava flow. The U.S. Geological Survey says lava temperatures now reaching above 2,000 degrees.

BRIGGS: Do you know how to spell Koinonia?

Well, the new National Spelling Bee champion certainly did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARTHIK NEMMANI, NATIONAL SPELLING BEE CHAMPION: Koinonia, k-o- i-n-o-n-i-a.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is correct.

(CHEERS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Karthik Nemmani, an eighth grader from McKinney, 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. Karthik wins more than $40,000 in cash and prices.

Now, use it in a sentence, Romans?

ROMANS: I can't.

BRIGGS: OK, good try though.

ROMANS: I know the next story is remarkable. This picture is unbelievable. This is a photo shoot you will never forget. Look at this little baby. Two months old Christian Harris got to meet 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 very explosion that killed her husband. In fact the photos, Christian wears his father's dog tags along with a onesie that reads "my daddy is my hero".

BRIGGS: Thanks to all of you that served our country, and we don't thank the spouses enough.

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

BRIGGS: For the sacrifice they make for this country, just an incredible --

ROMANS: What a beautiful baby.

BRIGGS: All right. A brain freeze in the final seconds may have cost the Cavs a chance to steal game one from Golden State. Lindsay Czarniak will somehow explain what in the world J.R. Smith was thinking, next in the "Bleacher Report."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:22:39] BRIGGS: A costly last-second error will haunt the Cavs for a long time and might go down in NBA finals history and overshadow one of the greatest games in NBA finals history by LeBron.

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

Hey, Lindsay.

LINDSAY CZARNIAK, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: You know, if they lose this series, everyone is going to always remember this, right? This was the game the Cavaliers had in their hands. The takeaway is LeBron James was sensational. They proved they can hang with the Warriors in the series. But Cleveland blew a golden opportunity because of one mistake that is so perplexing, this is going to be talked about for years to come.

But, first, we'll show you the good. LeBron James putting in a final performance for the ages, he scored 51 points. He truly had them in a position to win. But 36 seconds left, LeBron steps in front of Kevin Durant preparing to take a charge in order to draw an offensive foul, right? It was called a charge, but then reversed to a blocking call on LeBron. So, that gave Kevin Durant two free throws.

LeBron and his team irate because of the reversal at the end of the game like that is unprecedented. But this was the shocking play of the night, a major lapse in judgment. J.R. Smith secures the rebound, dribbles to half-court as the game was tied. So, everyone is thinking he must think they were up by one and

winning. Look how upset LeBron is. I mean, that says it all, right? That forces overtime. But the Cavs still fuming after what went down in the final minute of regulation.

Coach Ty Lue specifically about that reversal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TY LUE, CAVS COACH: It has never been done ever in the history of the game. And it's tonight in the finals on the biggest stage. Our team played there, played well, played their (EXPLETIVE DELETED) off.

REPORTER: Did you think you guys had it one or did he think he was trying to make a play?

LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: I'm not sure. I'm not sure. I don't know his state of mind.

REPORTER: Did you know if he knew the score?

JAMES: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CZARNIAK: Awkward.

LeBron being asked about J.R. Smith and that pretty much sums it up.

In overtime, Warriors took advantage, they scored the first nine points and they never looked back. Draymond Green knocking down that three-pointer. But as the game was winding down, more chaos, Tristan Thompson, shoving Draymond Green in the face. Thompson would be ejected.

[05:25:00] The Warriors win a wild game one, 124-114 in overtime.

But, you know, you've got to think, if there's anyone in any team that might find a way around this, LeBron has proven he can do things like that.

BRIGGS: Yes.

CZARNIAK: We're going to have an all access look at the NBA finals. You can see host Allie LaForce and former NBA champion Steve Smith for CNN "Bleacher Report" special, Saturday afternoon at 2:30.

BRIGGS: But he scored 51 points. I mean, one of the top five or six games in NBA finals history.

What was J.R. thinking? He didn't know the score or time on the clock?

CZARNIAK: I don't think it was J.R. I don't know. I don't know. I find myself feeling badly for him and I know that's so soft. But it's like this poor guy. BRIGGS: Yes, you shouldn't.

CZARNIAK: You got to, you know, it's like wow.

BRIGGS: No one knows the situation better than LeBron, and nobody is less aware of J.R. Smith.

ROMANS: All right, Lindsay, thank you so much.

CZARNIAK: Thanks, guys.

ROMANS: All right. Twenty-five minutes past the hour.

President Trump and Rod Blagojevich have met before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER REALITY TV STAR: You're fired.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: He fired him. But now, he may pardon him. Why is the president only helping people with connections to his adversaries?