Return to Transcripts main page


Trump to Pick Supreme Court Justice to Replace Anthony Kennedy; Trump-Putin Summit in the Works; North Korea Upgrading Nuclear Facility. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired June 28, 2018 - 04:30   ET




[04:32:11] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Justice Kennedy's retirement makes the issue of Senate control one of the vital issues of our time.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The bitter fight over the next Supreme Court justice already under way. The vacancy with big legal ramifications, including for a woman's right to choose.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Eleven long hours before Congress for FBI agent Peter Strzok. What sources say he told lawmakers about texts that have the president claiming bias at the Justice Department.

ROMANS: And a California man sacrifices himself to save his nephew. He jumped into a river, even though he unfortunately did not know how to swim.

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

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. 4:32 Eastern Time.

We start with the upcoming battle over the Supreme Court. President Trump relishing a chance to fill another seat on the U.S. Supreme Court as Anthony Kennedy announces he'll step down. All signs say the president will replace the court's swing vote with a staunch conservative. A man or woman could change the makeup of the high court and the crucial decisions it makes for generations.

BRIGGS: The president met with Justice Kennedy then later in the day went on the road to North Dakota. He reminded supporters he intends to put a lasting stamp on the court.


TRUMP: The travel ban ruling underscores just how critical it is to confirm judges who will support our Constitution. And remember this, so we have a pick to come up, we have to pick a great one. We have to pick one that's going to be there for 40 years, 45 years.


ROMANS: To get a justice confirmed, the president will have to navigate with a very slim majority in the Senate.

Senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny has more from Fargo.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, President Trump making clear that the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy is now a midterm election issue.

We know that he will pick the replacement for Justice Kennedy from a list of some 25 well respected conservative judges largely from the Federal Appeals Court. He has had that list. It in fact is a public list.

We do not know of course who he will select. But the White House Counsel's Office going through the list of judges. Now the president at a rally on Wednesday night in Fargo made clear politics are at play as well.


TRUMP: Justice Kennedy's retirement makes the issue of Senate control one of the vital issues of our time. And I'm very honored that he chose to do it during my term in office because he felt confident in me to make the right choice and carry on his great legacy. That's why he did it.


ZELENY: The president caught off guard by this as much as anyone in Washington was. He did spend about 30 minutes one-on-one in private conversation with Justice Kennedy who came to the White House to deliver his resignation letter by hand.

[04:35:01] Now the president also was talking specifically to Justice Kennedy about who replacements could be. So this certainly will be dominating forces at the White House as the midterm election campaign of course in full swing.

There is nothing that galvanizes conservative voters more than a vacancy on the Supreme Court. The White House believes this could help the president and help Republicans hold the Senate and the House -- Dave and Christine.

BRIGGS: Very true, Jeff Zeleny.

Justice Kennedy's stunning retirement announcement could have a major effect on cases that come before the Supreme Court. The president and Senate Republicans plan to move quickly on replacing Kennedy and that has Democrats crying foul. They want to wait until after the midterms using the same argument Senate Republicans made when they blocked President Obama's nominee in 2016.

More now from CNN's Jessica Schneider in Washington. JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, it

is the retirement announcement that had sent shockwaves through Washington, and now Republicans say they plan to confirm Justice Kennedy's replacement before the midterm elections this November. That's just about four months away.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: The Senate stands ready to fulfill its constitutional role by offering advice and consent on President Trump's nominee to fill this vacancy. We will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy's successor this fall.


SCHNEIDER: Democrats, of course, they're pushing back because they say hey, remember President Obama's pick of Merrick Garland? Well, that wasn't taken up in 2016 precisely because it was an election year.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Millions of people are just months away from determining the senators who should vote to confirm or reject the president's nominee and their voices deserve to be heard now as Leader McConnell thought they should deserve to be heard then. Anything but that would be the absolute height of hypocrisy.


SCHNEIDER: Justice Anthony Kennedy, he is 81 years old. He has served on the Supreme Court for 30 years. And when he officially retires July 31st, the court will lose its moderate voice. The swing vote as Justice Kennedy is known. And while he has sided with conservatives on issues like gun control and voting rights and campaign spending, Justice Kennedy of course has voted with the liberal side on other issues like abortion rights, affirmative action and the death penalty.

And most notably, Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion that cleared the way for same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015. Now if President Trump, if he nominates someone who is confirmed, it will solidify a 5-4 vote in favor of conservatives on the court. And of course stemming from that, the big question is what will that mean for abortion rights? Could "Roe v. Wade" potentially be overturned in the near future? All those questions that are lingering -- Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Jessica Schneider, thank you so much for that.

The president was in North Dakota campaigning for Senate candidate Kevin Cramer who's taking on Democrat Heidi Heitkamp in the fall. The president has praised Heitkamp in the past and twice after she considered joining the GOP. But last night the president cast Heitkamp as a liberal Democrat who plans to block his agenda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Heidi will vote no to any pick we make for the Supreme Court. She will be told to do so. Now maybe because of this. She will be forced to vote yes. Who knows? But I will tell you she'll vote no the day after the election.


ROMANS: The president failed to mention Senator Heitkamp was one of only three Democrats who broke ranks and voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Heitkamp also believes the Senate should not wait until after the midterm elections to fill the upcoming Supreme Court vacancy. Overnight Heitkamp said she's always willing to work with the president, quote, "if he is willing to help North Dakota."

BRIGGS: She also caught a ride on Air Force One with the president last time they went there.

ROMANS: That's right.

BRIGGS: The president also touting his poll numbers at the Fargo rally, even ones he's not quite sure are real.


TRUMP: You saw the polls that come out. I don't know if this is true. You know, a year and a half ago, they said I was an interloper. How bad is that? An interloper. And now they say and you will admit, a thing comes out -- a big poll and a couple of polls, a number of polls that he is the most powerful, most popular Republican in the history of the party. And a little while ago I was an interloper.


BRIGGS: According to recent polls, President Trump's approval among Republicans is at or near 90 percent.

ROMANS: FBI Director, Chris Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified before the House Judiciary Committee today. Expect a good grilling on FBI and Justice Department actions during the 2016 campaign. It follows a very long day on Capitol Hill yesterday for Peter Strzok. The senior FBI agent spoke to the panel for more than 11 hours including classified and unclassified sessions.

BRIGGS: Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page are exhibit A for Republicans who argue the anti-Trump text messages they exchanged while Strzok was part of Mueller probe prove FBI bias against the president.

[04:40:10] Four sources from both parties tell CNN that Strzok told the House panel Special Counsel Mueller did not press him about the texts when they came to light. Mueller did immediately remove him, though, from the investigation.

ROMANS: Page and Strzok were having an affair during the campaign. And he told lawmakers the texts were part of an intimate conversation. Committee members say Strzok told them he did not intend to act on them. Predictably the reaction to Strzok's interview was along party lines.


REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE FREEDOM CAUCUS: Still a lot of unanswered questions on who knew what when. And as it relates to this particular investigation, you know, what was the genesis of the Russia collusion investigation. I don't know how any reasonable person reads the texts and would suggest that there was no bias.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: He was cleared from the questions the Republicans were asking. What was clear before this is that the Republicans want to use Mr. Strzok and his texts as evidence to sabotage or discredit the Mueller investigation. I mean, that was clear.


BRIGGS: The House is set to vote today on a resolution by Republican Congressman Mark Meadows calling on the Justice Department to provide Russia and Clinton records by July 6th. Meadows says if Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein does not comply, he should be impeached.

The former co-chief of FOX News is the newest member of President Trump's inner circle. According to a source, Bill Shine has accepted a top position in the administration and is expected to become deputy chief of staff in charge of communications.

We're told Shine and the president are not personally close, but do know each other well. Sean Hannity is a close friend of Shine's and has been pushing him to become White House communications director for months. Shine stepped down from FOX under fire last year for the way he handled sexual harassment claims at the network.

ROMANS: All right. After the North Korea summit allies are concerned the president is being too kind to Western adversaries. Can we expect more of the same when the president meets with Vladimir Putin? We're going to go live to Moscow.



[04:46:44] TRUMP: I've said it from day one. Getting along with Russia and with China and with everybody is a very good thing. It's good for the world. It's good for us. It's good for everybody.


ROMANS: President Trump on the verge of finalizing plans to hold a summit with Vladimir Putin. Details of his meeting with the Russian president are expected to be announced today. The president already revealing it is likely to take place after the NATO summit in Brussels in July.

Let's go live to Moscow and bring in CNN's Frederik Pleitgen -- Fred. FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine,

yes, so it seems as though we're looking at the middle of July because at that time the president will be in Europe anyway. Vladimir Putin has to be here in Moscow on July 15th because he has the end of the soccer World Cup happening then. As far as the location is concerned, with sources are telling us that it's probably going to be Helsinki. But apparently Vienna and Austria is also one possible location as well.

It's interesting to see, though, yesterday when the National Security adviser John Bolton was here in Moscow you could tell both sides really wanted to make this meeting happen. It was very, very quickly at the top-level meeting with Vladimir Putin where they then said the summit is going to take place. Now as far as the topics of that summit are concerned, which of course, the president was saying that Syria and Ukraine most likely on the table. And John Bolton was saying he believes election meddling in the 2016 election will also be a topic as well.

Of course, you're absolutely right. Some of America's closest allies looking at this with some concern as it seems as though Western alliances, alliances between some of America's oldest allies and the U.S. seems to be fracturing while the president seems to be embracing adversaries of the past like for instance Kim Jong-un, like Vladimir Putin and like China as well. So some interesting things that's happening causing some concern among America's allies -- Christine.

ROMANS: Absolutely. All right, Fred Pleitgen for us this morning in Moscow. Thank you, Fred.

BRIGGS: New satellite images show North Korea has made rapid improvements at the infrastructure at its Yongbyon nuclear research facility. Images captured last week reveal planned upgrades that were already underway before the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore but seemed to cast out on North Koreans' commitment to denuclearization.

Will Ripley live for us in Beijing.

Will, is there another excuse for potentially upgrading this facility other than its nuclear weapons program?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, it's the only known nuclear reactor in North Korea that produces plutonium that North Korea uses to make warheads. So it really doesn't serve any other purpose at this point, which raises the question, why would North Korea keep investing scarce resources in a facility that it had said it will eventually do away with, with the complete denuclearization in the Korean peninsula.

However, analysts at 38 North saying maybe we shouldn't read too much into this. This work may have been done before the summit in Singapore. The modifications made to the cooling tower of the plutonium production reactor. But they've also put up some buildings on site, it could maybe be observation post for inspectors or other VIPs. It's all speculation right now because the United States still has yet

to sit down and negotiation and verifiable nuclear deal with the North Koreans. Something that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has now said there is no timeline for, indicating that the United States believes this could take quite some time.

He also is saying just this week that he does believe North Korea is still a nuclear threat. Contradicting what President Trump has said earlier but he said the nuclear threat is now reduced.

[04:50:03] Meanwhile, the U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis arriving in South Korea overnight, meeting with his counterpart there. He is waiting for word now on the return of the U.S. service member remains and also saying that he supports President Trump's move to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea, saying he hopes it will create a peaceful atmosphere on the Korean peninsula -- Dave.

BRIGGS: So still waiting for signs of North Korea working toward denuclearization as the agreement states.

Will Ripley, live for us. Thanks.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump softening his tough talk on China. Deciding against outright limits on Chinese investment into the U.S. The U.S. has long accused China of stealing U.S. technology. So in May the White House proposed clean plant, new restrictions on Chinese investment and tech, and tougher export controls.

Both were supposed to be unveiled this week. Instead, senior administration officials say the U.S. will rely on Congress to strengthen an existing panel. CFIUS, or the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., that's a body which screens foreign investments for national security threats.

The White House also punted on tougher export controls for industrially significant technology. Instead, the Commerce Department will study the issue. On Monday, tech stocks, remember, they fell when the news broke of plans for these broad limits on Chinese investment. So yesterday Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said China was not the focus.


STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: We will have the necessary tools to protect investments, whether it's China or anybody else. We are not singling out China. But we will protect technology transfer to China as we will to other important areas.


ROMANS: That gave U.S. stocks a boost. But then investor optimism evaporated after economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Trump is not softening his stance on China.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: It's going to be very comprehensive and very effective at protecting our technological family jewels in the United States.


ROMANS: Welcome back, Larry. He had a --

BRIGGS: Yes. It's great.

ROMANS: He had heart attack. We're glad to see him back and vibrant and vivid with language --

BRIGGS: Technological family jewels.

ROMANS: Family jewels.

Wall Street closed lower than led by decline in tech stocks. So I was just going to tell you, there's a lot of confusion about what is the U.S. strategy with China and is this sort of a negotiation overall.

BRIGGS: Let's hope.

OK. Beer shortage, folks. Beer shortage. The United Kingdom now rationing beer during the World Cup. Why and how long it will last.


[04:57:12] ROMANS: A California man who could not swim sacrificed his own life to save his five-year-old nephew from drowning. Twenty-two- year-old Victor Mozqueda was on a family trip to Sequoia National Park on Saturday when his nephew slipped and fell into a raging river.


IVAN GONZALEZ, SAVED FIVE-YEAR-OLD NEPHEW: As Victor saw that he jumped in without hesitation. He did not know how to swim. He went under for two or three seconds with the child, he never let him go. The last thing he did was to throw him at my brother to pull him out. My brother barely grabbed him and tossed him to his wife and Victor went under and they couldn't chase him.


ROMANS: The boy was airlifted to a hospital and is now recovering. Victor's body was found two hours later after he was swept away.

BRIGGS: Well, they're crying in their beer in the UK. If they can find one. Right now, beer is being rationed in England due to a carbon dioxide shortage. Booker, a major UK wholesaler, limiting bars and grocery stores to 10 cases per day per brand. The carbon dioxide that gives beer its fizz a byproduct of ammonia and several large ammonia plants in Europe have been closed for maintenance, leading to a CO2 shortage.

That shortage is expected to last at least a few more weeks. UK plays today against Belgium at 2:00 Eastern Time.

ROMANS: All right. Let's get a check on CNN money this morning. Global stocks lower right now on renewed fears over trade following the lead from Wall Street. You know, the Trump administration giving mixed signals about China confusing investors. First the White House scrapped plans for new restrictions on Chinese investment in U.S. tech. But then economic adviser Larry Kudlow told FOX Business President Trump is not softening his stance on China. That said tech stocks and Wall Street lower again. But tech having Nasdaq closing down 1.5 percent.

Disney clearing another hurdle to buy 21st Century FOX. The Justice Department approved Disney's $71 billion bid to buy FOX Entertainment Companies. One caveat. It will have to sell off FOX's regional sports networks. Earlier this month, Comcast tried to crash Disney's deal for FOX, prompting a high stakes bidding war but FOX says Disney's offer was superior and the two companies entered a merger agreement. Comcast has not said whether it will try to counter again.

Do you have $10,000 and want to be your own boss? Then Amazon has a deal for you. It plans to help launch small businesses that will deliver Amazon Prime packages. Providing incentives like uniforms, fueling plans, even classes on taxes ad payroll. This plan helps solve Amazon's challenge of getting packages to customers. It shipped one billion packages last year. That's too much even for UPS, FedEx and the Postal Service to handle. This also follows criticism by President Trump over Amazon deal with the Post Office. He calls it a bad deal. The Post Office is losing money, but its parcel actually is still making a profit.


ROMANS: So $10,000, be your own boss. Amazon will help you.

BRIGGS: That is a fascinating experience. I don't want my package to be the one that they're experimenting, however, but it sounds fascinating.

EARLY START continues right now with the upcoming battle over --