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EARLY START

Washington Awaits Mueller Probe Arrests. Puerto Rico Set to Cancel Power Contract. Two Navy SEALs Under Investigation. Top Administrative Officials Talk Military Authority. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired October 30, 2017 - 05:00   ET

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


DAVID BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: It's been an incredible series. But we start this morning with Washington on edge, waiting for possible arrest and special council Robert Mueller's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

CNN was first to report on Friday that a federal grand jury has approved the first charges in the Russia investigation, but that indictment is still sealed. We don't know what the charges are, or who they target, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The special council's team has examined foreign lobbying by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and former national security advisor Michael Flynn. They're also looking at whether the president's firing of FBI director James Comey amounted to obstruction of justice.

BRIGGS: Many are wondering whether the president might pardon some or all of Mueller's targets, or whether he might fire Mueller himself. This, as the Wall Street Journal editorial board calls on Mueller to resign.

ROMANS: All right, meantime some Republican leaders say the Trump administration should let the Mueller probe take its course, and those targeted by the special council should take it seriously.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-N.J.: I think anybody who's been advised by the special council's office that they're a target in the investigation, which I'm sure he has done to those people who are, should be concerned.

TREY GOWDY, REPUBLICAN HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I would encourage my Republican friends, give the guy a chance to do his job. The result will be known by the fact, by what he uncovers. The personalities involved are much less important to me than the underlying facts, so I would -- I would say give the guy a chance to do his job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: All right, the latest now from CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz. SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Dave and Christine, we expect to learn later today what charges were filed in connection with the special council investigation, once a federal judge unseals the indictment. A federal grand jury, as we reported on Friday, has approved these charges, and special council Robert Mueller's probe, but the charges are sealed, so we don't yet know who will be charged.

We've been told that the expectation is that it was going to happen Monday. Now anyone who is facing the charges will be arrested and taken into custody by FBI agents, and at some point will face a judge here in Washington D.C.

Now this indictment, once it's unsealed, will give us a window into some of what the special council has been looking at, and how it potentially relates to the Russia investigation. Dave, Christine.

BRIGGS: Shimon, thanks. President Trump apparently frustrated by the news about the Russia probe looming over the whole weekend. No surprise, he's been pushing back hard, taking aim at Hillary Clinton on Twitter.

ROMANS: Here's what he said, or wrote, or tweeted. "Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier (now $12,000,000?),...." That's a reference to speculation, wild actually speculation, on the cost of the dossier.

"...the Uranium to Russia deal, the 33,000 plus deleted Emails, the Comey fix and so much more. Instead they look at phony Trump/Russia "collusion," which doesn't exist. The Dems are using this terrible (and bad for our country) Witch Hunt for evil politics, but the R's" -- Republicans -- "are now fighting back like never before. There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!"

Joining us here, CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein, a senior editor at the Atlantic. Good morning, it is 5 AM in the East. Do something about Hillary Clinton, says the Trump president. This is the Trump presidency, the Trump administration, it's not the Clinton administration.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. No, look --

ROMANS: He won.

BROWNSTEIN: He won, he is president, and of course telling the Republican congress, this is where you should be investigating, and largely then echoing back, you know, kind of moving in this direction. Look, this feels much more like talking points to kind of mobilize their core supporters, which has been the essence of their communication strategy I think, at least the communication strategy involving the president from the beginning, than it is kind of a serious attempt to deal with what's coming.

I paraphrase Churchill, it is not the beginning of the end, but it's probably at least the end of the beginning when we see the first indictments coming through, if in fact it happens today. And you know, this story will move into a new direction, to a new stage.

BRIGGS: We don't know anything at this point, other than the first charges have been filed. We don't know who or what. What will, in your opinion, will it reveal, what will it give a sense of where we're headed?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, well, I think the big question we don't know, you're right, is how close to the core issue these indictments will be -- will be connected, and whether this is behavior that is related but not in the main line of the question of collusion in 2016.

If he's indicting Paul Manafort or Michael Flynn for example potentially, for behavior, activity that predates the election, or is about their work as a foreign lobbyist. I think most people interpret that as an attempt to increase the pressure on them for information that's relevant to the -- to the central issue.

So we really don't know. I felt all along, it is very hard, and I think you will agree, to handicap, or analyze a criminal investigation the way you do a legislative fight or a political campaign, because it's an iceberg. Most of what's happening is happening outside of our view. They know a lot that we don't know, and today maybe we'll get the beginning of a window into what they believe they know.

ROMANS: It's interesting, the former U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara, fired by the president by the way, talked a little bit yesterday about how we should watch his reaction, his reaction will be telling. Let's listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: So I would look for a couple things. One, whether or not Donald Trump has some reaction and talks in a way that could be used against him in the future, because Bob Mueller would do that. And the second thing I would look at is to see if the president of the United States is sending some kind of message to the potential defendant or other witnesses.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Some kind of message, or even reassurance, like he's done in the past to Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

BROWNSTEIN: Right, look, that -- right, that point, you know, when the president the other day, when it came out about the offer to pay legal fees for -- I mean that raises those same questions, for people who are going to be potentially testifying.

Look, I think if Republicans on Capitol Hill do not want to be, in the 2018 election, defending a firing of the special council, they have to make very clear that is unacceptable, especially if we get a strong reaction from the president.

Because there is nothing that has happened so far that gives you the sense that he accepts the normal boundaries, or the informal kind of boundaries that limit President Trump's power. For example, directly interviewing potential U.S. attorneys, which is a change, including for Mr. Bharara's job.

So if that is something they do not want to have to go into the election defending, I think they have to be very clear in saying that is unacceptable. And it was kind of a mixed message yesterday from them on that front, as it has been all the way through.

BRIGGS: Yes, but Trey Gowdy was very --

BROWNSTEIN: Trey Gowdy was.

BRIGGS: -- give the guy a chance to do his job. What if he does want to fire Bob Mueller? What can Congress do other than give lip service to it? How can they protect?

BROWNSTEIN: Well they have the -- they have the -- they could certainly pass legislation, you know, reauthorizing the independent council statute, or simply this independent council, and dare the president to veto it, or pass it by a veto-proof majority.

We don't know, I mean I don't think we know. I think that is a -- that is a critical question, right. I mean certainly you have seen in the last week or so Republicans kind of really -- more Republicans rally to the side, yeah, well we should be really investigating Hillary Clinton.

And they are in a very difficult position, because you know, as we have seen, we have seen the last three Republican presidential nominees, Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, publicly criticize the president for his behavior at home and abroad. We see this series of senators.

On the other hand, they are linked to him, and maybe 60 percent of their agenda does overlap. I mean you know, there are things that they both want to do. Not everything, I mean not on trade, as you know. There's a lot of difference.

There's some difference on immigration, on farm policy, other areas. But on a big tax cut, they all want to do that. And so, you know, you see even Susan Collins saying look, he's the president. What are we going to do?

I do think though that as I said, if they do not -- if they do not believe that whether it is good for the country or good for them, either one, if they don't want to be in a position fall 2018 having to explain to voters why they stood by while the president dismissed the special council, not that he will certainly, but they need to send a very clear message that if he does that, they will simply find a way to continue the investigations.

ROMANS: It is a big week, you've got tax reform rolls out on Wednesday, maybe tax cuts, not tax reforms.

BROWNSTEIN: Tax cuts, not tax reform, right.

ROMANS: Tax cuts? Not tax reform?

BROWNSTEIN: Very different beast.

ROMANS: It really is. And but still there will be a lot of fighting over that.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

ROMANS: You've got the president's going to name a new -- who his new Fed chief will be most likely. And he goes to Asia on Friday.

BROWNSTEIN: Where, in the midst of the crisis with North Korea, you know, he has been talking about ripping up the trade agreement with South Korea, as one of the areas where he departs from the -- look, the funny thing about this is I have felt increasingly over the last several months that the president's communication strategy exists almost in a completely different plane than the policy agenda.

What the president has shown is that he can dominate the news cycle with an endless succession of personal conflicts and cultural conflicts that he -- that he inspires on Twitter. He hasn't shown he can move public opinion on the issues we care about.

At the end of the ACA repeal, what was the -- what was the approval of the bill, 20 to 25 percent? Sixty percent of American still oppose building the wall, and the tax cut is starting underwater in public opinion. He can generate a lot of controversy, he can keep us all running around the axle, he hasn't shown he can move public opinion on the issues that matter, and that's what Congress wants most from a sitting president.

BRIGGS: Ron Brownstein, fresh off of five hours and 17 minutes of baseball --

BROWNSTEIN: Oh man, baseball. Yes.

BRIGGS: -- still informative and educational. We appreciate the insight.

BROWNSTEIN: Is the ball juiced? That is the question.

BRIGGS: The ball is without a doubt juiced.

BROWNSTEIN: Hanging over the World Series, as great as it is.

ROMANS: All right, Ron.

BRIGGS: Twenty-two home runs, Ron.

ROMANS: Come back in a few minutes. Thanks, Ron.

BRIGGS: All right. Questions mounting in Puerto Rico, where 70 percent of the island is still without power. Questions though, over this $300 million contract made with the small Montana energy company. We'll have the latest on that. Trump's San Juan, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROMANS: All right, this morning Puerto Rico's electric company is set to cancel its huge power restoration contract with the Montana-based utility company. This at the request of the island's governor. There have been questions about the hiring of Whitefish Energy.

The company is just two years old, had only two employees on the day the contract was signed. Many of the questions relate to the fact that Whitefish is based in the small hometown of U.S. interior secretary Ryan Zinke. CNN's Leyla Santiago is in San Juan with the latest.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, Puerto Rico's power authority has said that it wants to cancel the controversial contracts with Montana-based utility company Whitefish Energy.

And this comes on the same day that the governor of Puerto Rico has not only said that this contract should be canceled, but he also said that there should be a full investigation into the $300 million deal, the contracting process behind it, and the details that led to where we are today.

Remember, this is a controversial contract that many believed was a big task for a company that just perhaps wasn't ready to take it on, to restore Puerto Rico's very vulnerable power grid, a company that's only 2 years old, and with very few employees.

Now the contract is not canceled just yet, but Puerto Rico has already said that it plans to exercise that cancellation clause in the contract. It will let Whitefish carry out its work here in the meantime. And as I've been on the streets just to date, talking to Puerto Ricans, there is a sense of frustration that is just palpable.

It is more than a month since Hurricane Maria, and many are still without power, frustrated because many have lost their jobs because of businesses that cannot open at this time. On a day when only 29.7 percent of the power generating capability is up and running, Puerto Rico -- Puertoricans rather, continue their frustration with the power system. Christine, Dave.

BRIGGS: Leyla Santiago for us in San Juan. Two members of the Navy's famed SEAL team six are under investigation in the killing of an Army Green Beret in Mali. A Navy spokesman has confirmed to CNN and NCIS investigation is underway in the June death of army staff sergeant Logan Melgar.

The New York Times was first to report a military examiner ruled Melgar's death by homicide by strangulation. The Times reports the two SEAL's were flown out of Mali after the death, and put on administrative leave.

ROMANS: Melgar was a special forces engineer sergeant with the 3rd Special Forces group. That's the primary unit responsible for army special ops in northwest Africa, including Mali and Niger. The four American soldiers killed in Niger earlier this month were part of the same group. BRIGGS: Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson set to testify today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Lawmakers are looking at whether there's a need for new, possibly more specific authorization for the use of military force. This hearing comes amid mounting questions about the extent of military operations in Niger following the ambush that left four American soldiers dead.

All right, two words, instant, classic. The Astros walk off the Dodgers in a World Series game five that is impossible to put into words. Houston native Andy Scholes will try and recap it all for us in the Bleacher Report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIGGS: All right. After one of the longest and most dramatic World Series games ever, the Houston Astros one win away from their first title.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes, did you sleep last night?

ANDY SCHOLES: One hour, guys. I got one hour of sleep.

ROMANS: That's enough.

SCHOLES: Yes, a little -- a little nap I mixed in, but I got to say, completely worth it to stay up and watch what's going to go down as one of the best games in baseball history. I mean the range of emotions that both these fan bases went through in this one was just incredible.

Both teams just trading haymakers all game long. This one went back and forth, back and forth. Maybe the baseball is juiced, but it's a great (inaudible). The Astros are becoming the first team in World Series history to have five different players hit home runs.

The Dodgers hit three themselves, and L.A. was down to their final strike when Chris Taylor came through right there with a game-tying single. We go to an extra inning, and that's when Alex Bregman would be the hero, he singled off Kenley Jansen. Derek Fisher slides into home to score the game-winning run. The Astros mob Bregman, and they win an absolute thriller, 13 to 12.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARLOS CORREA, HOUSTON ASTROS SHORTSTOP: Man, these games are hard on me, man. I feel like I'm going to have a heart attack out there every single time. You know, it's high pressure out there.

ALEX BREGMAN, HOUSTON ASTROS INFIELDER: We're going to fight til the end, and not look at us. We're one win away from being World Series champions.

CORREA: Hopefully we can win one more game, and then take a break, because this is hard on me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: The Astros now lead the series three games to two, and they can win their first ever World Series title Tuesday night as the series shifts back to L.A. for game six. All right, yesterday the majority of the Houston Texans taking a knee and linking arms during the national anthem, after a controversial comment that was made by the team's owner.

During a discussion about the recent anthem protests, Bob McNair reportedly said the league "can't have inmates running the prison". And after yesterday's game, tackle Duane Brown said that there were a lot of emotions running through the team.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DUANE BROWN, HOUSTON TEXANS TACKLE: Just a huge sense of unity I think that we all felt, you know, just coming out, you know, playing for each other. And that was it, you know, forgetting everything else, you know, once kick-off started, you know, we try to block out, you know, any other distraction that we may have had, and try to go to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: Now McNair has already issued two apologies saying in part, "I am truly sorry to the players for how this has impacted them, and the perception that it has created of me, which could not be further from the truth." McNair said he was actually referring to the relationship between the owners and the league in that controversial remark, not the players.

Now as for the Seahawks vs. Texans game, it was a thriller, and Deshaun Watson amazing again, throwing four touchdowns in this one. He now has an NFL record, 19 in his first seven games, but the Seahawks would rip out the hearts of the Texans, scoring in the final 30 seconds to win the shootout 41 to 38.

But guys, those hearts that were ripped out were quickly put back in by the Houston Astros as they won that thriller last night. I got to tell you what, you know, I've been watching baseball for you know, what 25 years. And I have to say, I mean that was probably the best game I've ever seen, and I said that after game two. This has just been an incredible World Series.

BRIGGS: But there's something with the ball, all right. I mean Dallas Keuchel said they're juiced, Justin Verlander says they're too slick, that they can't grip them well.

SCHOLES: Can't throw sliders, yes. I mean --

BRIGGS: There's clearly something going on with the baseball.

SCHOLES: There may be, Dave, and I totally subscribe to that. But still, the way the players are putting themselves in position to hit home runs in these club (ph) situations, it's still been incredible.

BRIGGS: All right, my friend. Halloween, and then game six. Enjoy it, good luck.

ROMANS: Thanks, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right, thanks.

ROMANS: All right, a major development looms in the Mueller probe, the Bob Mueller probe. The first possible arrest in the Russia investigation could come as soon as today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Happening as soon as today, the first arrest may be imminent in the Russia investigation after a federal grand jury has approved its first charges.

BRIGGS: The Trump administration bracing for the first arrest in the Mueller probe, but the president is shifting focus, where else?