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EARLY START

Questions Grow Over Payoff to Porn Star; Florida Lawmakers Pass Gun Control Bill; U.K. Police Says Ex-Russian Spy and Daughter Poisoned by Nerve Agent; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 8, 2018 - 04:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:00:13] MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: The idea that somehow President Trump didn't know anything about this, it is patently absurd.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The lawyer for Stormy Daniels says the president must have known about the hush payment to the porn star. The White House now trying to keep this side show from becoming the main event.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Major confusion this morning surrounding the president's plan for tariffs. Today's rollout of those tariffs called off. A top adviser contradicting his own words and now staffers working through the night in a situation one aide calls absurd.

BRIGGS: And in defiance to the NRA, Florida lawmakers passed new legislation to curb gun violence. But will the governor sign off on the full plan? Some big steps taken.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: Down there in Florida.

Good morning, everybody. Welcome to EARLY START. After a snowy day on the East Coast.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. Hopefully you're digging up this morning.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: It's Thursday, March 8th. International Women's Day, by the way. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. Let's begin here in Washington with President Trump. He'll have his first chance to publicly answer questions about Stormy Daniels this morning. He'll face cameras at least for a moment before his 11:30 Cabinet meeting. And whether he does or does not speak is another matter.

Controversy growing over a hush money payment to the adult film star days before the 2016 election. Stormy Daniels' attorney says the president's personal lawyer Michael Cohen secured an arbitrator's restraining order against her and he says Cohen is keeping up the pressure on Daniels to stay silent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AVENATTI: These threats continued until in fact only a few hours ago when Mr. Rosen -- Lawrence Rosen, the attorney who now purports to represent Mr. Cohen and the entity EC LLC, sent e-mail correspondence to me threatening if Miss Daniels continues to talk, she may be subjected to significant additional damages.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The White House doing its best to downplay the story. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders saying, quote, "The arbitration has won -- was won in the president's favor," to which Daniels' lawyer says, yes, and he also won the popular vote. Daniels' lawyer may be on to something. A copy of the restraining order obtained by CNN clearly states it is an interim order that can be modified.

For more on the controversy here's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the White House is dealing with a series of questions about Stormy Daniels, the adult actress and porn star, and her potential relationship with President Trump before the presidential campaign in 2016. And was there hush money that was paid to her?

Now that has been unfolding for the last several days. But at the White House press briefing on Wednesday, I asked Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, if President Trump knew exactly about that payment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: Did he know about that payment at the time, though?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I addressed this as far as I can go.

ZELENY: Did he know about the payment at the time?

SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of. There was no knowledge of any payments from the president. And he's denied all of these allegations. I believe I've addressed this question pretty extensively.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So while Sarah Sanders tried to say she's answered all the questions and referred the other questions to the president's outside lawyer. The fact is that questions still remain. The White House says it's been asked and answered before the election. But the reality is these are new questions because of new legal information.

Certainly a busy week for the White House and it's only Thursday -- Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, that's right. And now it's only 4:00 a.m. and there's a lot of confusion this morning over the timing and details of President Trump's new trade announcement. He was set to sign tariffs on steel and aluminum imports today. But then as of last night the event was not on the White House schedule. Aides still working overnight on the plan. Why? It hasn't been -- the policy hasn't been finalized including the fate of two of our biggest trading partners, Canada and Mexico.

Here is trade adviser Peter Navarro last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: The proclamation will have a clause that does not impose these tariffs immediately on Canada and Mexico.

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ROMANS: That is different than what Peter Navarro said last weekend. He said no countries would be excluded from these tariffs. He added that it gives the U.S. time to negotiate NAFTA. The president also tied exemptions to NAFTA earlier this week. Navarro also reinforces what Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: There are potential carve-outs for Mexico and Canada based on national security and possibly other countries as well.

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ROMANS: Sanders' statements helped U.S. stocks rebound. The S&P 500 flat after falling 1 percent earlier in the day. Wall Street of course fears of trade war. But it's not just investors. Trump's tariff plans faces opposition from allies, aides, fellow Republicans.

[04:05:04] And it's part of the reason Gary Cohn resigned as economic director. Many are concerned that these tariffs could hurt other U.S. industries like manufacturing and agriculture, and that other countries will retaliate. In fact, China warns it will make a necessary response in the event of a trade war.

BRIGGS: "The New York Times" reporting President Trump took a personal interest in conversations two of his aides had with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators. Now the president reportedly asked former chief of staff Reince Priebus if prosecutors had been nice to him. And he told White House counsel Don McGahn to publicly deny reports the president told him to fire Mueller. Something McGahn later had to remind the president he had in fact done.

The president's conversations with witnesses is significant because it demonstrates Mr. Trump ignored legal advice to avoid the appearance of interfering with the special counsel's investigation. The "Times" reports the president's follow-up was not illegal but would typically be handled by attorneys.

ROMANS: The "Washington Post" reporting this morning the special counsel has new evidence of efforts to set up a backchannel between the Trump administration and the Kremlin. The information comes from Lebanese American businessman George Nader who is cooperating with Mueller. The "Post" says Nader has testified he helped set up a secret meeting in the Seychelles off the African Coast days before the inauguration to discuss future relations between Russia and the U.S.

BRIGGS: Now it apparently contradicts statements to the House Intelligence Committee by a participant in the meeting, Blackwater founder and Trump associate Erik Prince. In fact congressional Democrats believe Prince may have deliberately misled them by not mentioning George Nader's attendance at that meeting. During testimony to the House Intel Committee last November, Prince furiously denied the Seychelles meeting was an effort to set up communications between the White House and the Kremlin.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump will hold a video game summit at the White House today. Meeting with industry representatives and critics who believe the games have made kids more violent. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, the president has suggested violence in video games is at least partly to blame for real-life violence.

BRIGGS: The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hearing next week with the focus on Parkland and preventing more school shootings, and just ahead of the close of their legislative sessions Florida lawmakers have passed new gun violence measures defying a big push from the NRA.

More now from Athena Jones in Florida.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave.

The Florida House passed the school safety bill so now it is headed to Governor Rick Scott's desk. The bill would do a number of things. It would raise the age to purchase a firearm to 21 years old from 18 years old, and it would establish a three-day waiting period to buy a firearm, with some exceptions.

The bill would also ban the sale of bump-fire stocks. That's the accessory that allows a semiautomatic weapon to fire more like an automatic weapon. It would give law enforcement more power to seize weapons and ammunition from those deemed mentally unfit or otherwise a threat. And it would provide additional funding for armed school resource officers and for mental health services in districts across the state.

The most controversial provision in the bill would allow some teachers and other school staff to be armed as long as they go through 144 hours of training and meet other criteria. That is a provision that has gotten a lot of criticism from students and teachers from across the state, as well as from Governor Scott. He has said he is opposed to arming teachers. His office says he's

also opposed to the three-day waiting period this bill establishes. One thing that isn't clear is whether the governor would veto the bill because it includes those two provisions.

Governor Scott said on Wednesday that once he receives the bill he's going to review it line-by-line and talk about it with the families of Parkland victims.

I should -- I should note that the governor, once he receives the bill, has 15 days to decide whether to sign it or to veto it, otherwise it automatically goes into effect -- Christine, Dave.

BRIGGS: Athena Jones there in Florida. Thank you.

And Alabama High School will be open after an on-campus shooting left one student dead and another hospitalized in critical condition. Birmingham Police say the shooting at Huffman High was accidental, though. No word yet on the exact circumstances, though we do know school was placed briefly on lockdown after the gunfire. Huffman has metal detectors and school resource police officers, they were on site at the time. The girl who was killed about to turn 18. The wounded male student also 17 years old.

ROMANS: Has Amelia Earhart finally been identified? And American professor thinks he's cracked the mystery by challenging an 80-year- old theory.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:13:46] BRIGGS: 4:13 Eastern Time. Millions of people in the northeast preparing to dig themselves out from the second nor'easter to hit the region in less than a week. Still seeing near blizzard conditions in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire. Wet, heavy snow in Bridgewater, New Jersey, taking down power lines and starting a fire near several homes. Expect more power outages as this scene repeats across the northeast.

ROMANS: Good luck digging your car out today. In Morristown, New Jersey, up to 2 feet of snow fell in some areas. The storm paralyzing the I-95 Corridor. Amtrak service is suspended between Boston and New York until we're told 10:00 a.m. this morning. Snow showers and gusty winds could affect air travel again today.

Let's get the latest from meteorologist Derek Van Dam.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Impressive snowfall totals just west of I-95, Dave and Christine. Some locations receiving over two feet of fresh snow. But look at the difference for some of the larger city locations like Central Park. Only 3.2 inches of snow from this latest nor'easter.

Now the storm is quickly pulling off to the north and east. We still have snowfall through midday for places like Massachusetts, Maine, into New Hampshire and Vermont. In fact, we have winter storm warnings in effect for these locations. That will expire roughly about 1:00 p.m. with an additional six to 12 inches of snow for Maine. But perhaps only another two to four inches of snowfall expected near Boston.

[04:15:13] Now, in terms of temperatures, really cooling things off for the East Coast, but warm enough to actually melt some of the fresh fallen snow. Forty-one degrees in the Big Apple today, 45 for Washington, Boston, you'll top 40 degrees.

Back to you.

BRIGGS: Another snow day for lots of kids in this region.

Meanwhile, the trump administration and California officials escalating their immigration battle. Governor Jerry Brown firing back at Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the president after the Justice Department sued the state over its immigration laws. Brown slamming Sessions' visit to California as a political stunt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: We know the Trump administration is full of liars. This is basically going to war against the state of California, the engine of the American economy.

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ROMANS: The lawsuit against California challenges its so-called sanctuary policies that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Sessions really had strong words for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf who recently gave residents advanced warning of a federal immigration crackdown.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of our law enforcement officers to promote a radical open- borders agenda?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Next week, President Trump makes his first visit to California since taking office.

BRIGGS: Today is International Women's Day. McDonald's is celebrating with a big golden W. For the first time in its history -- there it is -- the iconic giant Golden Arches have been physically flipped at one California restaurant. McDonald's mark the occasion at another 100 U.S. locations with employees wearing special hats and shirts. Upside arches will be featured McDonald's digital channels as well. Like that.

ROMANS: New light is being shed on the mystery of what happened to Amelia Earhart. Bones were found in 1940 on a Pacific Island near the projected flight path of Earhart's doomed trip around the world. Analysis from that period concluded they belonged to a man. But using new science, a University of Tennessee anthropology professor says they belong to a woman about Earhart's size.

Based on the remains' stature, he says he is 99 percent sure they are Earhart's. The remains were also found with several possessions that could have belonged to her.

What a mystery. This has been a mystery that have endured.

BRIGGS: Right?

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: Fascinating.

Officials say it was a nerve agent that sickened a former Russian spy and his daughter in the UK. Who did it and where did the poison come from? We are live with the latest in England.

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[04:22:09] ROMANS: Investigators in the U.K. say a nerve agent was used to poison a former Russian spy and his daughter. They say it was a deliberate act and they're treating the incident as attempted murder. The big question now, where did the poison come from?

Let's get to CNN's Erin McLaughlin live in Salisbury, England with the very latest on this, what is still a mystery -- Erin.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine. A mystery indeed. And the fact that a nerve agent was used in this attack really critical at this point to the investigation. Authorities say they have been able to determine the type of nerve agent used. But they're not giving that detail out at the moment. That detail really critical to determining the source.

But the nerve agent in general is very difficult to create. Very difficult to use. Rarely seen off of the battle field. And so experts are saying that the fact that a nerve agent was used will help investigators narrow down that field of suspects significantly.

Also significant to this investigation the fact that both 66-year-old former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were targeted in the attack. And what authorities are trying to do now is piece together the exact footsteps to create a timeline so to speak. The time spent at the pizza parlor just behind me, their time spent at the local (INAUDIBLE), how they ended up on that park bench unconscious.

We also received an update this morning from the British Home Secretary Amber Rudd. A police officer who first was on the scene responded was also exposed to that agent. He was in serious condition in the hospital. We understand from Amber Rudd that he is now talking and engaging. His prognosis more optimistic and Skripal and Yulia, they both remain in critical condition -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much, Erin McLaughlin for us in Salisbury, England this morning. BRIGGS: A delegation of South Korean officials will be in Washington

today to discuss their meeting earlier this week with Kim Jong-un. South Korea's head of National Security told reporters the most urgent issue right now is to make sure the U.S. and North Korea actually start talking to one another.

The North has agreed to stop nuclear and missile testing during negotiations if certain security concerns are met. And China is encouraging talks sooner rather than later.

ROMANS: Secretary of Defense James Mattis says he is cautiously optimistic about North Korea's intentions but he does point out there has been optimism before. If talks get serious the Trump administration is thinking about appointing an outside expert to deal with the North Koreans along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. This is because the lineup of diplomats who have experience dealing with North Korea is seriously depleted. Really one of our top diplomats in this arena just retired recently.

BRIGGS: Yes. And in that region, it's almost nonexistent.

[04:25:05] At this hour Syria pro-regime forces are gathering near U.S. troops advising allies against the regime. The Pentagon is monitoring the situation. Potential conflict unfolding near the scene of an unprovoked attack launched last month against U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces. One military official telling CNN coalition forces will not hesitate to protect themselves if they're threatened.

ROMANS: All right. Candidate Trump survived the "Access Hollywood" tape, but can the administration survive the Stormy Daniels saga? Questions swirl over what the president knew about a hush money and alleged efforts to keep her quiet.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:00:13] MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: The idea that somehow President Trump didn't know anything about this, it is patently absurd.

(END VIDEO CLIP)