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White House Orders Review of Iran Nuke Deal; Bill O'Reilly Out at Fox News. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired April 20, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:00] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Facing a slew of adversaries, the Trump administration is standing firm. Iran, North Korea, Russia all on notice. We'll have the latest on this diplomatic stare-down.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: And the king of cable news dethroned. Bill O'Reilly out at FOX. We have his reaction and what's next following another black eye for the network.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. It is Thursday, April 20, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Certainly a changing of the guard at FOX News, but we start this morning with the Trump administration not backing off. The tough talking several fights it's waging around the world with Iran, North Korea, and, of course, with Russia.

On the Iran nuclear deal, President Trump has asked for a multi-agency review to determine whether lifting sanctions in exchange for Tehran curbing its nuclear program is really in the national interest.

KOSIK: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the deal forged by the Obama administration and U.S. allies, quote, "completely ignored all the other serious threats that Iran poses." Listen.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The world's leader state sponsor of terrorism and is responsible for intensifying multiple conflicts and undermining U.S. interests, in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, and continuing to support attacks against Israel. An unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it.


KOSIK: Tillerson's comments coming a day after he certified Congress that Iran is complying with the deal, but questions whether sanctions shouldn't be re-imposed because of Iran's alleged sponsorship of terrorism.

BRIGGS: And you heard there, Secretary Tillerson mentioning North Korea, which already has sky high tensions with its neighbors and with the U.S. Well, today, American and South Korean forces are conducting their annual Max Thunder Drill. That's the second largest military aviation exercise on the Korean peninsula.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is at the Kunsan Air Base in Seoul with an up close look.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Alison, this is Max Thunder. This is a massive air operation between the United States and South Korea here in South Korea. There is more than 80 aircrafts involved in this. That's more than 1,500 people.

We know that it's routine. We know that it's annual. We are told by the lieutenant colonel in charge that they weren't actually carrying out these drills, they don't have a specific enemy in mind. But, of course, given the tensions on the Korean Peninsula, this is inevitably going to be more in the spotlight.

This kind of massive firepower being seen by North Korea as well. It is not what North Korea likes to see. Every single year when these drills happen, they become angry, infuriated. They believe that this is actually a dress rehearsal for an invasion, even though the United States say that they are defensive in nature.

But just bear in mind what's happening on the peninsula at this point. North Korea have said that the U.S. pushed the situation to a point where a nuclear war can break out at any time. China as well suggests these military drills should not be happening, saying that if the U.S. halts these military drills, potentially, North Korea could suspend the nuclear and missile program.

It's not a new situation. It's not a new suggestion and it's not one the U.S. welcomes.

Dave and Alison, back to you.


KOSIK: Great perspective from Paula Hancocks there.

The White House is denying it misled the public when it announced last week the USS Vinson was heading to the Korean Peninsula when it was actually sailing in the opposite direction. It was President Trump who informed the nation a powerful armada was on the way. But the aircraft carrier group was actually thousands of miles to the southwest in the Indian Ocean at the time.

I want you to listen to White House spokesman Sean Spicer disputing the notion that the American people were misled.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The statement that was put out was that the Carl Vinson group was headed to the Korean Peninsula and it is headed to the Korean Peninsula. It will arrive there.

REPORTER: It's headed there now. It wasn't headed there last week.

SPICER: Sure. No, no, but that's not what we ever said. We said it was heading there. It was heading there. It is heading there.

REPORTER: The president believed he might have spoken too quickly on this location of the vessel.

SPICER: The president said that we have an armada going towards the peninsula. That's a fact. It has happened, it is happening, rather.


KOSIK: The Pentagon has not explained a clear location for failing to correct the actual location of the USS Vinson for at least a week.

BRIGGS: Meanwhile, Russia has derailed the United States' proposal to condemn North Korea for its latest nuclear missile test. A no vote from the Kremlin killing the motion even though the other 14 Security Council members were all onboard, including China. The statement called on North Korea to immediately halt the nuclear tests.

[04:05:00] The rogue nation has already conducted at least five nuclear tests in defiance of the U.N.

KOSIK: The White House still hoping against the odds to get a health care deal done during President Trump's first 100 days in office.

Two factions of the Republican Party are in talks right now. Mark Meadows of the Conservative House Freedom Caucus and Tom MacArthur of the more moderate Tuesday group tried to find common ground of repealing Obamacare. The Freedom Caucus wants to gut it. The Tuesday group favors keeping key elements.

BRIGGS: A senior Republican official tells CNN reaching a consensus will be, quote, "a long shot." Vice President Pence, though, on board the USS Ronald Reagan telling CNN's Dana Bash he is confident an agreement will be reached potentially by next week and that the president is determined to keep his promise on health care reform.

Congressman Jason Chaffetz, meanwhile, the powerful chairman of the House Oversight Committee, announcing he will not seek reelection in 2018. The Utah Republican insisting he has no ulterior motives and simply wants to return to the private sector back home in Utah. Chaffetz is best known for heading up the investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server as secretary of state. He has in the past expressed an interest in becoming the governor of Utah.

KOSIK: The Environmental Protection Agency plans to reduce its workforce, according to an internal memo. It shows the EPA will offer buyouts and an early retirement program to some workers. The agency will also maintain a hiring freeze with very limited exceptions, even as the government-wide ban expires. Three hundred fifty jobs went unfilled at the EPA under the Trump administration's hiring freeze and no new positions could be created.

The union that represents the EPA employees says the administration wants to cut between 3,000 and 4,000 full time positions, that would be more than 25 percent of its workforce. The EPA has not responded to a CNN request for comment. The big deal here is that the core missions of the EPA is to protect human health, the environment and everybody wanting to know, how are you going to do this? No one is working at the agency.

BRIGGS: It told us a lot when Scott Pruitt was appointed at the top of the EPA, the direction of that group. So, we shall see where it goes from here and clean water in this country an important issue.

Meanwhile, a changing of the guard at FOX News, ad boycotts, harassment allegations, which was it that proved too much to keep Bill O'Reilly the king of cable news? What's next for him and FOX News?


[04:11:44] KOSIK: In a decision that is rocking the world of cable news, Bill O'Reilly, the longtime host of FOX News flagship show "The O'Reilly Factor", is out. The network is finally yielding to public pressure as years of sexual harassment claims piled up.

BRIGGS: Joining us this morning, Joe Concha, a former FOX News writer and now a media reporter for the Capital Hill journal "The Hill." And from Los Angeles, CNN legal analyst and civil rights attorney, Areva Martin.

Good morning to both of you. Thanks for being up so early for us.

Joe, we'll start with you. Look, this was about three weeks ago since this "New York Times" piece came out. And no executive at FOX was surprised by that FOX News piece. They knew it was coming.

Bill O'Reilly is out of a job today because what?

JOE CONCHA, MEDIA REPORTER, THE HILL: Because every advertiser going forward, every company that went to the "O'Reilly Factor", to FOX, and says, we want to advertise on that show, even if it's weeks, months later. In 2017, because of Twitter, you can shame any company out of ever doing that, and there are people invested in making sure Bill O'Reilly and FOX News don't succeed, like Media Matters, for instance. So, that's what I think.

I think they saw also more people coming forward, more women. This is a news cycle that will never end, let's end this now.

BRIGGS: You said more women. Do you think this investigation turned up more women?

CONCHA: Absolutely. Yes. And we've seen two women come forward since the "New York Times" story. So, you add all that up and they said, this is a PR headache and they saw the Megyn Kelly situation, Dave and Alison, in January. They saw her get so easily replaced, this big star, they offered her $100 million. Tucker Carlson who worked on "Fox and Friends" weekend just a couple months before.

BRIGGS: Hey, don't knock that show.

CONCHA: You're familiar with the show.

BRIGGS: I've heard of it.

CONCHA: He steps in, the ratings improve. They see themselves as a formula, as a place where people will come regardless of who is sitting in the anchor host seats, because it's FOX News. They know how to talk to certain viewers out there.

KOSIK: OK. So, let's bring in Areva here, because according to a lot of people who work at FOX News, apparently, this has been going on for years and years, not a shocker. This is a culture at the network. How do you change a culture? You can kick out the people who are causing it, but that culture, that underlying culture can still exist, can it?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely, Alison, and it starts with more than words. So, what we heard from FOX is that when Roger Ailes was terminated from the company, we heard them say we have a zero tolerance for sexual harassment or hostile work environment. But we've later learned that two of the settlements involving Bill O'Reilly happened after Roger Ailes left the company.

So, you can't say you have a zero tolerance but at the same time be aware of Bill O'Reilly and the conduct he was engaged in and have your employees trust what you are saying. So, you change the culture by taking seriously the words that you have of zero tolerance. If there are any other employees who are engaged in this conduct, they need to be disciplined, including being terminated, today, or else these words will just ring hollow for the FOX employees.

KOSIK: Now, Bill O'Reilly did put out a statement, though, denying this, basically, if we can go to that.

BRIGGS: Yes, we'll read it. "Over the past 20 years at FOX News, I have been extremely proud to launch and lead one of the most successful news programs in history.

[04:15:00] Tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims, but that is the unfortunate reality many of us have and the public must live with today."

Joe, what is Bill O'Reilly's legacy? What's his future?

CONCHA: His legacy is being the face of not only FOX News but of cable news. For 15, 16 consecutive years, he is number one. And he has created a loyalty like we have never seen before.

What's his next move? His legacy, unfortunately, is kind of like a Bill Cosby, or maybe a Joe Paterno, where you use a sports analogy, where you are remembered for what you did last, unfortunately, right? But he will be remembered also for his successes. Where does he go from here? KOSIK: Is there a way for him to come back from this? We have seen

other, you know -- of course, political leaders come back from really egregious things. Is it possible for him to come back? Maybe not in a position he's at FOX. But in some other shape or form to feed that ego?

CONCHA: CNN, no way. MSNBC, Megyn Kelly reunion, no way. Where he used to work, ABC. CBS doesn't have cable news arms. They don't need opinion people, no way.

So, what does that leave? My bet Glenn Beck and Blaze. Beck and O'Reilly exchanged e-mails yesterday as O'Reilly was coming back from Italy. It's not a publicly held company. Therefore, you don't have to answer to shareholders. Corporations, maybe the protests aren't as strong.

I can see him going there as a discounted rate because he gets paid $20 million. It's a mutually beneficial situation because Beck lost Tomi Lahren. He gets the biggest name in cable and "The Blaze" is a player again.

BRIGGS: And Bill O'Reilly does not need money. Look, he's a publishing stimulus in and of itself.

Let's get again the legal aspects here. "This is a seismic cultural shift when a corporation puts a woman's rights above the bottom line," said Wendy Walsh. "Today, we have entered a new era in workplace politics."

Is this, Areva, a watershed moment for sexual harassment in the work place?

MARTIN: I think we are giving FOX too much credit here. I don't think FOX is putting women's rights above their profits. I think their profits drove them to make this decision. Because without the public pressure, without the advertisers pulling out, without the other women coming forward, these settlements would not have been the subject of major news stories.

If "The New York Times" did not run that piece on April 1st, we would not see Bill O'Reilly being outed from FOX. What's clear here is the money. And companies follow the money and when the money spoke, i.e., the advertisers, that's when action was taken.

It remains to be seen, in my opinion, whether the culture at FOX will change as a result of one person or two people being ousted from the top.

CONCHA: Not just seven people.

KOSIK: That's very disheartening. You think not just FOX but other networks that maybe are --

BRIGGS: Well, corporate culture as a whole could take a big step forward today.

Joe Concha, Areva Martin, we'll both be back in about 30 minutes. Great to have your insight.

KOSIK: Thanks, very much.

Syria is taking steps to protect its air fleet following the recent U.S. missile strike on an airbase. More from the Pentagon, next.


[04:22:30] BRIGGS: Developing this morning, massive protests have overtaken Venezuela and new, a Venezuela national guard sergeant killed during one of these anti-government protests. A second guardsman hit by a bullet.

The demonstration billed as the mother of all protests broke out just south of the nation's capital. Protesters clashing with police who used tear gas to disperse the crowds. Hundreds of people were arrested. The public prosecutor's office calling for an investigation into the fatal shooting.

KOSIK: The Syrian government now seeking shelter for its combat claims of a missile strike earlier there month. That strike in retaliation for the chemical weapons attack the U.S. says Syria launched on its own people.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has details.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Dave, Alison, the U.S. missile strike in Syria now reverberating across the Syrian military.

That missile strike took out about 20 percent of Syria's operational fighter jets. And now, the Syrians have apparently moved most of the rest of their inventory to a base along the coast, quite close to the Russians, looking for that Russian umbrella of protection with Russian anti-air systems, Russian missiles. And they keep the Syrian aircraft safe. But they can still launch additional attacks using their helicopters, artillery and rockets.

So, while the Syrians may think that they have solved their problem, there's no indication, yet, that the Trump administration is calling it a day on any future attacks against the Syrians if they use chemical weapons again -- Alison, Dave.


BRIGGS: Barbara Starr, thank you.

The U.S.-led coalition reporting a dramatic increase in ISIS' use of chemical weapons in Iraq. According to U.S. defense official, there have been at least four incidents in the last week of ISIS fighters using chemical weapons, including mustard gas in Mosul. No deaths or coalition casualties have resulted from the attacks. A senior coalition commander confirms the presence of chemical weapons but would not give specifics. KOSIK: New military conduct regulations ban Navy and Marine personnel

from distributing new photos without the permission of the person depicted. The new rule effectively makes any violation a crime. That can be enforced by a military court.

It comes on the heels of a nude photo sharing scandal that has rocked all four branches of the military with photos of naked female service members being posted on Marines United and other private Facebook sites.

[04:25:05] BRIGGS: An attorney hired by the family of Aaron Hernandez says he will investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of the disgraced former NFL star. Corrections officials say Hernandez was found hanged in his prison cell in an apparent suicide. His death coming just days after he was acquitted in a double murder case.

Hernandez, of course, was already serving a life sentence without parole for the killing of Odon Lloyd. The Massachusetts chief medical examiner conducting an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death.

KOSIK: OK. Following two big stories this morning: the U.S. not backing away from diplomatic standoff with big adversaries and Bill O'Reilly ousted at FOX.

The latest on both of these when we come back.


KOSIK: The Trump administration says it will not blink in the face of threats from global adversaries, Iran, North Korea and Russia all in focus today. We have the latest.