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White House Grapples with Michael Cohen's Guilty Plea; John Bolton Meets with Russian Counterpart in Geneva; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 23, 2018 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:12] AINSLEY EARHARDT, CO-HOST, "FOX AND FRIENDS": Did you know about the payments?


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But he's on tape discussing how to make one of the payments with Michael Cohen.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president did nothing wrong.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The contradictions are clear. The White House offering few answers on the Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort convictions.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Could taxpayer dollars be used to arm teachers? The Education secretary reportedly eyeing a way to make that happen.

BRIGGS: A Hurricane Lane on final approach to Hawaii. A category four storm packing damaging winds. People being warned to stock up for weeks.

Good evening to all of you in Hawaii. Just 10:00 p.m. there. Good morning to the rest of you. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's nice to see you all this morning. It is Thursday, August 23rd in the East. Here in the East it is 4:00 a.m. so let's get started.

The White House struggles to contain the fallout from Michael Cohen's guilty plea. President Trump is turning to a familiar tactic -- personal attacks. On Tuesday Cohen implicated Trump for coordinating hush payments to a porn star to sway an election. Yesterday in an interview with FOX News the president tried to minimize Cohen's role in his life and business.


TRUMP: Yes, he was a lawyer for me for -- one of many, you know, those who say the lawyer, and then they'd like to add the fixer. Well, I don't know if he was a fixer. I don't know where that term came from. But he's been a lawyer for me. Didn't do big deals. Small deals. Not somebody that was with me that much. You know, they make it sound like I didn't live without him. I understood Michael Cohen very well. He -- well, it turned out he wasn't a very good lawyer, frankly.


BRIGGS: He did represent the president for 10 years. Just to remind you, here is what Trump said about Cohen over last few months before turning on his old boss.


TRUMP: One of my personal attorneys, good man. I can tell you, he's a good guy. I always liked Michael. I haven't spoken to Michael in a long time.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is he still your lawyer?

TRUMP: No, he's not my lawyer. But --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Your personal lawyer --

TRUMP: But I've always liked Michael.


TRUMP: And he's a good person.


BRIGGS: Now the White House is short on answers as the contradictions mount. The president himself seems unfazed. Even at 1:10 a.m. tweeting, "No collusion. Rigged witch hunt."

White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins with more.

COLLINS: Christine and Dave, the president is now facing enormous political and potentially legal pressure. And in the middle of that, he is trying to change his story on what he knew about the payments that Michael Cohen made to those two women who allege they had an affair with Trump. What he knew and when.

The president saying in an interview with FOX News that he did not know about the payments until later on. Though he didn't specify a date.


EARHARDT: Did you know about the payments?

TRUMP: Later on I knew. Later on. But you have to understand, Ainsley, what he did and they were not taken out of campaign finance. That's a big thing. That's a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign? They didn't come out of the campaign. They came from me.


COLLINS: That would seem to contradict a tape released by Michael Cohen last month that shows him discussing with the president how to make a payment to one of the women before that payment was made.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: When it comes time for the financing which will be --

TRUMP: What financing?

COHEN: We'll have to pay --

TRUMP: Pay with cash?

COHEN: No, no, no. I got it. No, no, no.


COLLINS: Now as these questions come, the White House is struggling to mount a defense here.


COLLINS: The president said he found out about those payments that Michael Cohen made later on. But he's on tape discussing how to make one of the payments with Michael Cohen. So before the payment was made. So how do you explain that?

SANDERS: Once again, I've commented on this pretty extensively. What I can tell you about this is that the president did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him. There is no collusion.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You stand here and say the president has never lied to the American people?

SANDERS: I think that's a ridiculous accusation.


SANDERS: What we will see play out over the next few days is them trying to discredit Michael Cohen, paint him as a liar, someone who isn't a credible figure in this situation. So that is likely to only raise even more questions about why the president surrounded himself with Cohen in the first place -- Christine and Dave.

ROMANS: Kaitlan Collins, some fantastic work at that press conference yesterday at the briefing rough. Tough crowd.

One of the jurors in Paul Manafort's bank and tax fraud trial says a lone holdout prevented them from convicting the former Trump campaign chairman on all 18 counts. Paula Duncan tells FOX News jurors agreed to disregard the testimony of Manafort's former right hand man Rick Gates because he took a plea deal. Instead they relied on documents to reach eight guilty verdicts.

BRIGGS: When the president was asked about a pardon for Manafort, he side-stepped the question.


[04:05:01] TRUMP: I have great respect for what he's done in terms of what he's gone through. You know, he worked for Ronald Reagan for years. He worked for Bob Dole. He worked -- I guess his firm worked for McCain. He worked for many, many people, many, many years. And I would say, what he did, some of the charges they threw against him, every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does.


BRIGGS: "The New York Times" reports the president and his attorney Rudy Giuliani have discussed the potential political repercussions of pardoning Manafort. Giuliani claims Mr. Trump is not considering it.

ROMANS: Republicans are reluctant to talk about the Cohen plea and the Manafort verdict. Those who are willing to discuss it are shrugging it off. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell refusing to comment at all. House Speaker Paul Ryan claims he needs more information, and top Republican senators are trying to downplay the matter entirely.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Naturally it makes us very concerned. But, you know, the president shouldn't be held responsible for the actions of people that he's trusted.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I'm sorry, I don't see any deeper meaning in this other than you have to pay your taxes and you can't lie on a loan application.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's just drama. Away from the agenda that most of us have signed up for and we are actually executing.


BRIGGS: "The New York Times" reports senior Republicans are urging their most vulnerable incumbents to speak out about the wrongdoing surrounding President Trump in an effort to keep control of the House. At least Democratic congressman think it's time for Robert Mueller to reveal what he has.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: I do think that it's important for us to have all of the facts in front of us. And I think Mueller, frankly, Chris, has to think at this point about giving us some preliminary findings. I mean, there is nothing that stops Mueller from saying here's what I know right now, and I'm going to continue to work on other things. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Democrats also trying to use the Cohen and Manafort cases to stall Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination. They say Kavanaugh could end up sitting in judgment of the man who appointed him. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer calling on Republicans to suspend the confirmation hearing, but a spokesman for Judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley says the hearing will start on September 4th as scheduled.

ROMANS: National Security adviser John Bolton is meeting with his Russian counterpart this morning in Geneva. The meeting, a follow-up to the recent Helsinki summit.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is live in Moscow with the latest. Hi, Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, good morning, Christine. And one of the things that apparently is going to be on the agenda according to John Bolton, he said this at a press conference yesterday in Israel, is going to be election meddling.

It's interesting because we've been sort of monitoring what the Russian side is saying about all this. So far all we're hearing from the Kremlin is they're saying that several irritant in the relations between the U.S. and Russia are going to be on the table. Obviously possibly sanctions and election meddling will be some of the topics that will be discussed.

Of course one of the things that the Russians really are taking a lot of interest, too, Christine, is the president having said just a few days ago that he would be willing to discuss sanctions relief for Russia if Russia works together with the U.S. in places like Ukraine and Syria.

Now the Russians say they certainly want more concrete information as to what exactly the president means, but Syria of course is going to be one of those major topics that's going to be very important at these talks.

One of the things John Bolton said yesterday as well he said that he thinks the Russians are kind of stuck in Syria. The Russians are taking issue with that. Certainly it seems that that's going to be one of the major topics they'll be talking about -- Christine.

ROMANS: Of course, all right. We know you'll be following that for us. Thank you so much, Fred Pleitgen.

"The New York Times" reports the Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is considering an unprecedented move. She is considering allowing states to use federal funds to buy firearms for teachers. Taxpayer dollars to arm teachers. It would reverse a longstanding government policy not to pay to outfit schools with weapons. DeVos is said to be eyeing a loophole in a law intended to increase academic opportunities. The law does not bar weapons purchases.

BRIGGS: In March, Congress passed a school safety bill that allocated $50 million a year to local school districts, but expressly prohibited the use of the money for firearms. An Education Department spokesperson says they are constantly considering and evaluating policy issues.

ROMANS: All right. Top of the hour, China and the U.S. resuming trade talks but it did not prevent a round of new tariffs. Officials met in Washington for the first time in months. Expectations, I got to tell you, are low here. Previous rounds made little progress. And President Trump told Reuters he does not expect anything to come of it. Others who work in the administration are echoing that same kind of low bar.

At midnight, the U.S. began collecting 25 percent tariffs on another $16 billion in Chinese goods. So about four hours now, they've been collecting those tariffs. It's on things like motorcycles, semiconductors, plastics, chemicals, railway equipment.

[04:10:04] Those targets China's "Made in 2025" plan. That's Beijing's initiative to dominate high tech industries. Beijing immediately struck back dollar-for-dollar hitting products like American coal and steel. Adding that it plans to file a complaint with the WTO.

Now the U.S. already targeted $34 billion in Chinese goods, with another possible $200 billion more by the end of September. In total that's half of what the U.S. buys from China. Most U.S. companies do not like Trump's tariffs. They raise costs for them and their customers. But those tariffs also provide a lifeline for some struggling industries like aluminum. The Commerce secretary was in Kentucky yesterday commemorating the restart of a (INAUDIBLE) at Century Aluminum.


WILBUR ROSS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: Days like this that I hoped would happen when I took the job going to Washington because this is what it's all about.


ROMANS: And that's the optic that the administration wants you to focus on for tariffs and their trade plan. Century Aluminum plans to invest $150 million and create 275 to 300 new jobs.

BRIGGS: Hurricane Lane barreling toward Hawaii. The category four storm packing sustained winds of 150 miles per hour. The storm's center could make landfall as it moves past the islands today through Saturday. But even if the eye does not cross land, it should draw close enough to the islands to bring destructive winds and rain.

Hurricane warning issued for the island of Oahu, Hawaii and Maui already under warnings. The state's governor David Ige urging residents to stock up.


DAVID IGE, HAWAII GOVERNOR: Be prepared to shelter in place, 14 days of food and supplies and water, medicine, other necessities that they would have.


BRIGGS: And people are heeding the warning. As you can see bread and water aisles at this supermarket are bare.

ROMANS: Hawaii officials urging people to shelter in place. Right now no evacuation orders have been issued. Hawaii's 15 airports will remain open barring any damage or unsafe debris. Government offices will be closed today and tomorrow. All public and charter schools will also be closed. President Trump has approved the governor's request for a presidential disaster declaration. That move puts federal help in place to protect property and public health.

Tracking the storm for us this morning CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Christine and Dave, good morning to you both. Very impressive set up here and depiction on satellite imagery with Hurricane Lane. A menacing storm certainly as you can see it from space and then you look at the satellite imagery, a number associated with this feature just as impressive.

Still a category four, still very symmetrical, very organized. Pushing in just a few hundred miles south of the big island. And the track of the system still migrating to the north and eventually a northwest turn. But just looking at this in the sheer numbers of this, only two hurricanes have made landfall on Hawaii since 1959, Iniki in '92 and Dot in '59, and they were both on the island of Kauai, and this system itself models right now, take it to the north by Friday afternoon.

A westerly shift, hopefully that pushes it away from areas around Honolulu. But you notice the cone still brings in Oahu into this and certainly when you break down the model-by-model guidance, we do see a lot of variability in this. So certainly a lot can and will change with this forecast. But we do know what will not change is the amount of rainfall that is slated here that will easily exceed 15 to 20 inches in a few spots and that cell is going to be very dangerous over the next couple of days.

ROMANS: All right. The view from space. That was scary looking.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, some major news in college sports. Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer will keep his job, but he'll miss some time over how he handled abuse claims against an assistant. What Meyer has to say next.


[04:17:53] BRIGGS: Ohio State University suspending football coach Urban Meyer for three games without pay. The school investigated Meyer's response to spousal abuse allegations against former assistant coach Zach Smith. It now says Meyer did not cover up the alleged domestic abuse but did fail to take sufficient management action. Meyer offered a public apology yesterday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

URBAN MEYER, OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL COACH: I'm fully aware that I'm ultimately responsibility for the situation that has harmed the university as a whole and our Department Athletic Center and football program.

I want to apologize to Buckeye Nation. I followed my heart and not my head. I fell short in pursuing full information because at each juncture I gave Zach Smith the benefit of the doubt.


ROMANS: Athletic director Gene Smith suspended without pay from August 31st until September 16th. Zach Smith's ex-wife Courtney Smith accused him of abuse including domestic violence in 2009 and 2015. He was fired July 23rd.

BRIGGS: The Iowa dairy farm that employed the suspect in Mollie Tibbetts' killing says he got the job using a false ID. Officials say in fact 24-year-old Cristhian Rivera came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico. Officials at Yarrabee Farm say Rivera worked there for years after they performed their standard hiring procedure which required a photo ID and a Social Security card. But they say they made a mistake in the process, thinking that Social Security employment verification and Homeland Security's e-Verify system are one and the same. They are not.


DANE LANG, CO-OWNER AND MANAGER OF YARRABEE FARMS: All of us are saddened by the tragic death of Mollie and the realization that one of our coworkers was involved.


ROMANS: Just an hour earlier, Rivera was arraigned for first-degree murder in Tibbetts' death. His bond set at $5 million. Last night members of the University of Iowa community gathered for a vigil to remember her. Her family released a statement to supporters. "Thank you for the outpouring of love and support that has been shared in Mollie's name. We remain forever grateful."

[04:20:00] This is one of the big problems in illegal immigration.


ROMANS: Is that it is easy in many cases for someone with a fake ID or to actually rent someone else's Green Card or Social Security number to be able to get a job. So you heard this outcry of build the wall from the right, but the fact that there is a job when somebody gets here is a real kind of fundamental driver of illegal immigration.

BRIGGS: And do employers want to know, if they truly want to know, they should know what e-Verify is and it's clearly a different system.

ROMANS: Yes. It was -- it was the farm that brought up that he was there at e-Verify.

BRIGGS: Yes. Yes.

ROMANS: And that turned out not to be true. So -- anyway, our thoughts and prayers are with her family. They just want to grieve.


ROMANS: They don't want to be part of a political story.


ROMANS: All right. A U.S. airman posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. He's the first airman recognized for actions since Vietnam.


[04:25:15] BRIGGS: For the first time in almost a year, ISIS has released what it says is a new audio message from its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. ISIS territory in Syria continues to shrink. And a man on the recording admits ISIS groups are losing saying this is a test from Allah and urging them to stick together. This would be first audio message from al-Baghdadi since the fall of Raqqa in October 2017.

ROMANS: President Trump awarding the Medal of Honor to fallen airman John Chapman. The Air Force says the technical sergeant sacrificed his life during one of the most brutal battles at the war in Afghanistan in 2002.


TRUMP: Despite facing overwhelming force, John bravely and fiercely battled on for over an hour. As another American with the Quick Reaction Helicopter Force approached, John engaged the enemy and provided cover fire in an attempt to prevent the enemy from shooting down our soldiers, our airmen, and that helicopter.


ROMANS: Trump said Chapman's actions helped saved the lives of more than 20 service members. Many of whom were there at yesterday's ceremony. Chapman's widow Valerie Nessel accepted the honor on his behalf.

We want to thank her and her family for their sacrifice.

BRIGGS: A nice moment there.

All right. First, the president didn't know about the Stormy Daniels payoff, now he says he knew, but only after the fact. Well, a recording would suggest otherwise. Another evolution of who knew what and when in the wake of Michael Cohen's guilty plea.