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Chief Economic Adviser Gary Cohn Resigning; Stormy Sues Trump; Northeast Braces for Big Snowstorm; North Korea Willing to Talk to U.S. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 7, 2018 - 05:00   ET



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like conflict. I like having two people with different points of view. I like watching it. I like seeing it.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: I like it. I get it.

[05:00:00] Now, the chaos and conflict, the cage fight, though, has now cost the president his top economic adviser. Gary Cohn is out after getting overruled on the battle over new tariffs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Stormy Daniels is ready to talk. She's suing the president over their nondisclosure agreement. She claims it's void since he never signed it.

BRIGGS: And nor'easter number two. Major snowfall coming to the northeast today. Tens of millions facing dangerous conditions. The full forecast is moments away. We will also answer the burning question this morning -- who is, Christine, who is David Dennison? That is a question on the minds of many millions of Americans.

ROMANS: I can't wait.

BRIGGS: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm just Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: I'm just Christine Romans.

It is Wednesday, March 7th, 5:00 a.m. in the East. Good morning, everyone.

Would anyone think there's chaos in the White House? Just hours after President Trump tweeted out this claim, "there is no chaos, only great energy," there was word of another crucial departure. The top economic adviser Gary Cohn will leave in a couple of weeks following a fierce disagreement with the president over his decision to impose those import tariffs on steel and aluminum.

BRIGGS: So, for the top aide who agonized but stayed after the president defended white supremacists in Charlottesville, tariffs were the final straw. A senior administration official says Cohen had no choice but to leave having lost the internal fight on tariffs.

A Republican congressman involved in trade policies says Cohn's absence will mean, quote, more instability in the West Wing.

ROMANS: The announcement Cohn is leaving came shortly after an afternoon news conference with the Swedish prime minister, where Cohn failed to fill a sit with his name on it, and the president's I guess probably knowing his top economic adviser was resigning said this --


TRUMP: Many, many people want every single job. You know, I read, gee, maybe people don't want to work for Trump -- believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House. They all want a piece of that Oval Office, the West Wing.

I have a choice of anybody. I could take any position in the White House, and I'll have a choice of the ten top people having to do that position. Everybody wants to be there.


ROMANS: And again, knowing Cohn was quitting over tariffs, the president stood firmly by them.


TRUMP: We'll do it in a very loving way. It will be a loving, loving way. They'll like us better, and they will respect us much more.


BRIGGS: Republican opposition to the tariff plan growing by the day. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finally breaking his silence Tuesday saying he has, quote, genuine concerns the new tariffs could spark a trade war.

ROMANS: Gary Cohn's sudden departure already rattling Wall Street. Dow futures falling as much as 400 points overnight. S&P 500 sliding more than 1 percent.

You know, the tone spread around the world. Asia fell, Europe opened lower.

Cohn's presence reassured investors. The former Goldman Sachs executive was pro-business, instrumental in the tax cuts that juiced corporate profits. He's a pro-free trade. A moderate, globalist voice to President Trump's nationalist instincts like Trump's plan to slap tariffs on aluminum and steel imports, Cohn opposed them and was working to soften the final product, even orchestrated a meeting with companies hurt by higher steel prices and aluminum prices.

Now that Cohn is gone, the fear is even worse for a trade war. The president's protectionism freaks out Wall Street. Not only could that protectionism undo his pro-business work like tax cuts and deregulation but it threatens the global economy that could lead to more inflation, sparking faster interest rate hikes.

BRIGGS: OK, folks. Porn star, adult entertainer Stephanie Clifford, call her whatever you will, Stormy Daniels is suing President Trump. She wants a judge to rule the nondisclosure agreement she signed is void because then-candidate Trump did not sign it. The deal, of course, regards an alleged sexual encounter between the two.

The suit filed in a California court says Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, signed the document on the president's behalf. A person familiar with the agreement tells the "Washington Post" it required the signature of Cohen or Trump, but not both. The lawsuit also claims that after Cohen tried to stop Daniels from coming forward before the election.

ROMANS: Cohen has kept trying to silence Daniels even as recently as last week, filing what the suit calls a bogus arbitration proceeding. No comment from Cohen on that claim. Cohen has admitted making $130,000 payment to Daniels before the election but he denies the Trump administration or the campaign was involved or that the payment violated campaign finance law.

He also says the president vehemently denies any encounter with Daniels.

BRIGGS: A lawsuit in hand right now. I said we'd tell you who David Dennison is. This lawsuit from Stormy Daniels says Donald J. Trump, aka David Dennison.

That's who he is referred to, Zach Wolf, in this lawsuit. Zach, is that your real name, Zach Wolf?

ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL DIRECTOR: It's the name I use on television, yes.

BRIGGS: Wolf is a strong name, much better than Briggs.

[05:05:02] Let's talk about the chaos or conflict that the president talked about, the conflict that he likes -- having people battle against one another. But when it comes to the word "chaos," you really did your homework here and you found what's going on inside the White House fits perfectly, why?

WOLF: Well, you know, he denies so fervently that there is chaos. It feels so chaotic, we called a professor at the University of Maryland who applied the word chaos to mathematics and asked him about the Trump White House. He said it's not chaos at the Trump White House, it's hyper chaos. It's like trying to predict the weather because it exists on so many plains simultaneously, you can't say because one thing has happened, another thing is going to happen, the chaos is flying around at so many -- in so many ways.

There's staffing chaos, there's the chaos of Trump himself, what's he going to do on policy? You know, this, that, and the other thing. They all kind of mash together to make it completely unpredictable.

ROMANS: Let's talk about the chaos of Gary Cohn leaving. Markets don't like it. No surprise there. He was a moderating influence on the nationalist president.

There are -- many people credit him with the fact that there haven't been tariffs until now. The president's extreme trade policy measures have taken 14 months before they've come to the fore. The "Wall Street Journal" editorial board says that the tariff mess has cost the president an important ally, recovering from it will be a significant challenge.

Gary Cohn, hard to overstate how important he was to, you know, from the outside looking in on this White House.

WOLF: Yes. And it -- it's impossible for us to know exactly what's going on there. Gary Cohn was seen whispering to the president's ear in a more moderate way than the nationalist out there who -- the America-first crowd. That didn't seem to be his portfolio. He really helped when it came to this president's one policy victory which was tax reform.

He was there on Capitol Hill talking to lawmakers, getting this thing done. You know, the other policy goals, things like infrastructure reform that the president has long promised, you could see Gary Cohn being the kind of guy who could help get that done. But now, the tariffs issue, something frightening to people not only in the U.S. but worldwide, how this would affect this will have, you know, not having him in the room is certainly something that kind of increases the chaos a little bit.

BRIGGS: Yes. So, when put up the graphic of all the departures, it's hard to keep track of it at this point. We're talking about a 43 percent turnover rate in the Trump administration. A chief of staff, press secretary, handful of communications directors, chief strategist, health secretary, and now a chief economic adviser. What's the impact of all those departures here in year two, Zach?

WOLF: I mean, the impact I think is just complete and total uncertainty about what's coming. It's an inability to find a straight policy narrative from the president and confusion from my perspective.

ROMANS: Hope Hicks and Gary Cohn I think are two important moves so quickly together. It will be interesting to see how the president's demeanor and attitude changes over the next days.

BRIGGS: No question. Especially with Rob Porter out. Who is allowed inside the White House? John Kelly's job becomes that much tougher.

Zach Wolf, thanks so much. We'll see you again in about 20 minutes.

WOLF: Thanks.

BRIGGS: All right. We talked about stormy. Now, to a different kind of stormy. For the second time in a week, powerful nor'easter threatening more than 50 million people from Philadelphia to Maine, all of them facing winter storm watches or warnings.

And remember, crews are still working to restore power to more than 100,000 customers after last weekend's storm. More than 1,900 flights already canceled. So, if you're traveling today, check with your airline before leaving home.

ROMANS: All right. You see the radar there. For the latest on the storm, we'll turn to meteorologist Chad Myers. He is in Lower Manhattan.

Good morning, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Christine, and good morning, Dave.

We will see it snow here, but we expected it to rain because it is just 36 degrees. Look at the ground, it is just wet, just shiny wet. Look at the lamppost here, we're starting to see a changeover from rain to snow, because the atmosphere is cooling aloft.

The atmosphere above me where the snow is being formed is 20 degrees. When the snow gets down here, it's melting because it's 36 degrees. That will change and get colder throughout the day down here. That's when the snow will begin to stick.

And as you said, the radar shows a lot of blue this morning, but that blue is water. It is liquid rain. Think about when you go to the doctor to get a shot and the doctor puts a little bit of alcohol on your arm. It's cold because the alcohol is evaporating.

[05:10:00] Well, this rain is evaporating on the way down, too, that is cooling down the atmosphere. So the forecast does have it turning over to mostly snow, especially interior New Jersey, interior New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, parts of Rhode Island, too, will pick up more than a foot of snow. This is the rub down here along I-95, the rain/snow mix.

It will snow all day here, but it will never get below 34. So, it's one of those snowball, snowman-making storms here. When it piles up, it will start melting as it hits. Yesterday we were 44 right where I'm standing. That is the problem, that's why we don't have ice here and now. That's the good news for the morning commute.

The bad news for the evening commute, it will snow so hard, there may even be thunder snow in our forecast. So, snow will be piling up in places where you don't expect it, especially bridges and overpasses first, easy commute to get downtown tonight -- this morning, but not for tonight. It will be a much more difficult way home. The train is the way to go.

ROMANS: Yes. A lot of people choosing to work from home. Kids are off school in so many suburbs. So, got to stay home and work from home with the kiddos.

All right. Nice to see you. Thanks, Chad. Keep us post.

BRIGGS: Cancelled in my neck of the woods.

All right. Some breaking news overnight, three police officers shot in Missouri. One has died. Investigators are looking for answers. The latest next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


[05:15:26] TRUMP: I think that they are sincere, but I think they're sincere also because the sanctions and what we're doing with respect to North Korea including, you know, the great help that we've been given from China. I really believe they are sincere. I hope they're sincere. We're going to soon find out.


BRIGGS: Cautiously optimistic. President Trump after South Korea announced North Korea is willing to talk to the United States about giving up its nuclear arsenal. The stunning development coming after historic negotiations between the two Koreas in Pyongyang. Kim Jong- un also saying he won't conduct nuclear or missile tests while those talks are ongoing.

Andrew Stevens tracking the latest live from Seoul.

So many questions here. What do we feel South Korea -- excuse me, North Korea wants in exchange?

ANDREW STEVENS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's an interesting question. What North Korea supports an absolute ironclad guarantee that their security is safe, that the military threat is resolved. We don't know what they specifically mean by what security guarantee they want. If you think about it, here in Seoul, this is the base for U.S. troops. In fact, more than 20,000 U.S. troops across Korea which the North sees as a military provocation.

This has been a long-term issue with North Korea to have the U.S. military here, Dave. But apart from that, we don't know at this stage.

But I would caution there is a degree of skepticism. We saw Donald Trump being cautiously optimistic. That's certainly being reflected here in the South Korean capital, as well. In fact, the president, President Moon, saying it's far too early to be optimistic. We are just at the very beginning of this.

He said quite clearly, too, that this is not about sort of getting rid of the nuclear proliferation, this is not about a nuclear moratorium. This is about denuclearization, baby steps at the moment. This is going to be a very, very long process. So far, it is a process which -- where diplomacy is finally being put ahead of the strident threats and challenges of the last year.

BRIGGS: It would be a monumental win for president Trump. Fool me once, fool me twice, that has long come and gone with Kim Jong-un's father and grandfather. Certainly some skepticism.

Andrew Stevens live for us -- thank you.

ROMANS: About 18 minutes past the hour. Britain's top diplomat, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, says the U.K.

would respond robustly if it discovered Russia was behind the suspected poisoning of a former double agent. And Britain's home secretary expected to chair an emergency meeting this morning to discuss this investigation.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin live in Salisbury, England, with more of the mysterious story about a former spy and his daughter apparently poisoned.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine. We still don't know what happened to 66-year-old Sergei Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia.

What we do know is that on Sunday, they were found on the park bench just behind me. You see over there, now covered by a police tent. This entire area has been cordoned off, subject to a really intense investigation being led by British counterterrorism authorities.

At this point, they say they do not believe that this was the result of terrorism, but that they are taking the helm because of the unusual circumstances surrounding what happened to them. Circumstances which are now being scrutinized by the highest levels of British government.

And Russia is a focus here because of who Sergei Skripal is. He's a former Russian intelligence operative who was convicted in Russia in 2006, of being a British spy, released in 2010. Now lying in a hospital here in the U.K. in critical condition alongside his daughter -- Christine.

ROMANS: Just a real mystery.

All right. Thank you so much, Erin McLaughlin.

BRIGGS: The Texas primary is done, and Ted Cruz looking ahead to the fall election.


TED CRUZ CAMPAIGN AD: If you're going to run in Texas, you can't be a liberal man, because liberal thought is not the spirit of a lone star man --


BRIGGS: It's not a terrible Alabama impression. Wait until you hear the trick Ted Cruz pulled from the Trump playbook, next.


[05:24:21] BRIGGS: Breaking news overnight. A police officer killed and two other officers injured at a shoot-out at a home in Clinton, Missouri, about 75 miles southeast of Kansas City. The officers came under fire while responding to a 911 call.

The state highway patrol says the suspect barricaded himself inside but was later found dead when the SWAT team entered. Last night's shoot-out happening exactly seven months after another Clinton officer was shot and killed during a traffic stop.

The Texas primary had barely finished when Ted Cruz took an opening shot at his Democratic opponent in the Senate race, Congressman Beto O'Rourke, and it was straight from the Trump playbook.


TED CRUZ CAMPAIGN AD: Liberal Robert wanted to fit in, so he changed his name to Beto and hid it with a grin --


[05:25:06] BRIGGS: A little riff there of the Alabama classic "If You're Gonna Play in Texas."

Those lyrics, though, liberal Robert wanted to fit in seemingly a play on Little Marco or Lyin' Ted Cruz. And Cruz pointed out Beto's real name is Robert, but if you're wondering Ted Cruz's real name is Rafael.

ROMANS: Cruz and O'Rourke won their respective primaries and will square off in November. Democrats are headed to runoffs in three races for Republican-held House seats in districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Democratic voter turnout the highest in Texas for a non- presidential primary since 2002.

BRIGGS: The great escape this was not. A police chase in Fairfax County, Virginia, ending when a drunk driving suspect gets out of his car, tries to make a run for it -- but the man forgot the car was still in drive and ended up running himself over. Police say the guy is fine physically but certainly has other problems. This was his third DWI, and he faces a long list of other charges. Other issues, would use that mildly there.

No chaos says the president. The results might say otherwise. A top moderating force is leaving as economic adviser Gary Cohn heads for the exits.

ROMANS: And if you are just waking up in Northeast, get ready for a brutal day, 50 million people under winter weather advisories from New Jersey to Maine.