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EARLY START

Trump Dodges Birther Question; Clinton Blasting Trump's Minority Outreach; Deadly Airstrikes Rock Syria. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired September 16, 2016 - 04:30   ET

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


GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, the Trump campaign trying to set the record straight, saying President Obama was born in the United States. The only problem is the candidate himself has not said those words directly. So, the question now, will he say it at a big party meeting later today?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Hillary Clinton responding to the drama as she gets back on the trail after battling pneumonia. How will she try to stop her slide in the polls in these key battle ground states?

Welcome back, everybody, to EARLY START this Friday morning. I'm Christine Romans.

HOWELL: I'm George Howell. Twenty-nine minutes past the hour.

And breaking overnight, Donald Trump's campaign says for the first time unequivocally that Trump believes President Barack Obama was born in the United States. This would be a major reversal for the candidate who rode the birther controversy to political prominence starting five years ago.

Just yesterday, Trump told "The Washington Post", quote, "I'll answer that question at the right time. I just don't want to answer it yet." Then, hours later, Trump' campaign was crediting him for ending the controversy years ago, while also blaming Hillary Clinton for bringing it up, there's question about that during the 2008 primary race.

[04:30:03] A Trump campaign statement says, quote, "In 2011, Mr. Trump was finally able to bring this ugly incident to its conclusion by successfully compelling President Obama to release his birth certificate. Mr. Trump did a great service to the president and the country by bringing closure to the issue that Hillary Clinton and her team first raised."

Now there are two noteworthy things about that statement. First, it's just factually untrue that Hillary Clinton raised doubts about whether Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. That never happened. Second, the statement came from the campaign, not from Donald Trump himself.

So, what will we hear from Trump later this morning? Will he actually say those words himself with an upcoming visit to the Republican headquarters later today? That is the question. But as for Hillary Clinton, she back on the campaign trail trying to stop the back slide she experienced in the polls while sidelined with pneumonia. CNN's Brianna Keilar has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and George.

A spokesman for the Trump campaign released a statement that says, in part, "Having successfully obtained President Obama's birth certificate when others could not, Mr. Trump believes that President Obama was born in the United States."

Now, this is something that we have heard from top campaign officials before. We have not heard this from Donald Trump himself. And the statement we're not. This is a spokesman.

For years, of course, Donald Trump has either openly questioned President Obama's birth place or his dodged when asked to give a definitive answer on the topic. So, that's what we'll be waiting for. Does the candidate repeat what his campaign is saying?

And the timing here is significant. This statement from a spokesman came just hours after Trump's comments to "The Washington Post" were published. "The Post" asked him if Obama was born in the U.S. and he said, "I'll answer that question at the right time. I just don't want to answer it yet." And still, he has not.

Hillary Clinton then jumped on what he said. She said this while addressing the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute at their annual gala.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Today, he did it again. He was asked one more time, where was President Obama born? And he still wouldn't say Hawaii. He still wouldn't say America. This man wants to be our next president? When will he stop this ugliness? This bigotry?

KEILAR: This playing out as Trump is making a play for African- American voters or some see at least a play for voters who turned off by what they believe is a very belated and thus far ineffective attempt to reach out to the black community. This is a key Democratic voting bloc.

Hillary Clinton has been losing some ground here, not to Donald Trump but to third party candidates. And so, she was very quick to seize on Trump's misstep with this constituency. These birther comments, yes, particularly off-putting to black voters because they're seen as an effort to delegitimize the first African-American president.

But also, she seized on Donald Trump insulting the pastor of a black church in Flint, Michigan, who he called a nervous mess the day after she pretty calmly and briefly interrupted his address to her congregation once he started criticizing Hillary Clinton. She asked him, saying basically as they have previously agreed to keep his comments apolitical -- George and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right, Brianna. Thank you, Brianna.

The Clinton campaign seems determined to make it as hard as possible for Trump to walk away from birtherism. Clinton's chief spokesman tweeting overnight, "Trump needs to say it himself on camera and admit he was wrong for trying to delegitimize the country's first African- American president."

Clinton herself back on the campaign trail. She stepped out on stage in North Carolina to the one and only James Brown's "I Feel Good". Clinton acknowledged her headline-grabbing brush with pneumonia, but painted it as not all bad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: It's great to be back on the campaign trail. But it turns out having a few days to myself was actually a gift. You know, the campaign trail doesn't really encourage reflection and it is important to sit with your thoughts every now and then and that did help me reconnect with what this whole campaign is about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: She also, George, used her sick days -- her sick days as a, I guess, kind of launch pad for talking about what we should give in this country for sick days. Working parents can't take a day off sick. They don't have that safety net. So, she used it as a launching pad for programs that she would like to do.

HOWELL: Focus in on those.

Well, in the meantime, on the Republican side, Donald Trump held a rally in New Hampshire, that is the state where he won the nation's first primary. But the traveling press corps almost missed the whole even and all of this to Donald Trump's delight.

[04:35:03] Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I have really good news for you. I just heard that the press is stuck on their airplane. They can't get here. I love it.

So, they're trying to get here now. They're going to be about 30 minutes late. They called us and said, "Could you wait?" I said, "Absolutely not. Let's get going." Right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Donald Trump making major changes to his tax plan. In that big economy speech yesterday, he said the new plan will cut taxes by $4.4 trillion over ten years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: By lowering rates, stream lining deductions and simplifying the process, we will add millions and millions of new jobs in addition, because we have strongly capped deductions for the wealthy and closed special interest loophole, the tax relief will be concentrated on the working and middle class taxpayer. They will receive the biggest benefit and it won't even be close.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: It is a plan that he has revised here to be looking more like Paul Ryan and House Republicans' plan.

This is what it looks like. He would cut the current seven tax brackets to three. Houses earning less 75 grand will pay 12 percent. Seventy-five to $225,000 would pay 25 percent. Households making more than $225,000, 33 percent.

He promises millions more low and middle income Americans would have no tax burden at all. He would limit itemized deductions. He would raise the standard deductions. The child care deductions and savings accounts for dependent care.

Companies could write off the entire expense of factories and manufacturing. Trump says all this would unleash an economy now held back by bureaucracy, high taxes and too much regulation. The big claim here from team Trump is this is deficit neutral.

Tax cuts, more defense spending and don't touch the safety net, all of that doesn't cost anything? How? Well, it will cost $2.6 trillion over ten years, the campaign claims, $1.8 trillion paid for by growth- induced savings.

Translation, the economy would grow so fast, people and businesses would make more money and may more taxes. $800 billion pay for with what he calls the penny plan. The idea is to cut 1 percent from all non-safety net and non-military spending.

The problem is, those programs are just 19 percent of the U.S. budget. Entitlements like Social Security and Medicare are more far expensive. So, he is putting budget cuts on the part of the economy, part of the budget rather that is the smallest part that at least needs to be trimmed. Economists take issue with that kind of spending reduction, focusing again on areas that don't need to be cut, or cut there have less effect. Proponents say it's just 1 percent a year and not a big deal.

So, a lot to talk about on the tax front. There is so much in there. But you're finally getting some meat on the bones from team Trump about what his plan will look like.

HOWELL: But really based in ideals here. Not as --

ROMANS: You know, I say all budget and all tax plans are obviously aspirational. You need Congress to get through. It shows you where the candidate is. HOWELL: Well, overnight, he did not say his name, but President Obama

took unmistakable aim at Trump's immigration rhetoric while speaking at the dinner for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. The president warming up the crowd for Hillary Clinton said the bitterness of the campaign threatens to alienate voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But if we're truly going to fix this broken system, then we're going to have to push back against bluster and falsehoods and promises of higher walls. And, look, throughout this political season, the talk around these issues is cut deeper than in years past. It's a little more personal. It's a little meaner, a little uglier.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWELL: President Obama there also telling the crowd that his successor will need the support of Congress to get meaningful immigration reform passed no matter how tough she is, the president said.

ROMANS: All right. Plenty of political headlines. We have not gotten to Trump on "The Tonight Show." We're going to have that and more when Brian Stelter joins us. He's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:43:27] ROMANS: All right. A packed day in politics. Donald Trump first refusing to say President Obama was born in the U.S., only to have this campaign reverse that. Hours later, ditching his traveling press, then bragging about ditching the press. The whole series of viral moments of Trump on TV. So much to get to.

Let's bring in senior media correspondent Brian Stelter, host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."

So, I think 52 days until the election. Ten days until the debate.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: So, who's counting?

ROMANS: But who is counting here. And now, finally, you have from the campaign, this official statement that the president of the United States is actually an American born in the United States. It brings back the whole birther movement again.

And I want to read this statement because, I'm going to be honest. Journalists were laughing out loud when they were reading, when it came across last night. "In 2011, Mr. Trump was able to bring this ugly incident to its conclusion by successfully compelling President Obama to release his birth certificate. Mr. Trump did a great service to the president and country by bringing closure to the issue that Hillary Clinton and her team first raised."

Brian, I'm going to let you tell me what that statement says. BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Birtherism was the

original sin of the Trump campaign. Five years ago before he was actually campaigning for president, he rose to political fame by bringing up this discredited notion of the president not being an American citizen.

ROMANS: Spreading conspiracy theories, but saying --

STELTER: This is really a conspiracy theory election partly because of birtherism. You know, we've heard Trump bring up other ideas. But this was the first one. This was the foundation.

The fact it is September and we're still talking about whether Trump believes our current president is an American citizen speaks volumes about the corrosive nature of this campaign.

[04:45:09] ROMANS: Yesterday morning, he told "The Washington Post", you know, I'm not going to talk about. I mean, that's the question to be answered another time, I don't want to talk about. He didn't want to talk about birtherism yesterday.

STELTER: That's what he's been saying all year long by the way. In June, when I asked him, he said, oh, I don't talk about that anymore. I would love to, but if I talk about that, that's all the press is going to cover.

HOWELL: And now the press anxiously awaiting to see what Trump says today about birtherism. So, that will be the topic.

STELTER: Right. I think there's curiosity partly because so many African-Americans have been offended by this notion. Many others in the country as well, but especially in the African-American community. Where President Obama is a special beloved, even in historic figure and to have his existence, his credibility questioned so extremely. It's really been a problem for years.

ROMANS: Well, the suggestion that it's racist, the reason it's trying to delegitimize the first black president of the United States by saying he's not really an American.

HOWELL: It'd also be interesting to see, as that statement read, as Christine read it, you know, that is the framework that Trump will be putting before African-American voters. That is a main focus for him right now, reaching out to African-Americans. He will need those voters to win.

STELTER: Right now, we know Trump is going to have an event later today. It was originally billed as a press conference. Now, it's being called a campaign event. So, we'll see if he actually takes questions or not, and whether he engages on this topic or not.

We know some of his aides have been wanting him to speak out about this subject, try to put it to rest. Kellyanne Conway and Mike Pence and others have all said, Trump believes the president is an American. This statement overnight from Jason Miller once going a step further, but it's not in Trump's own name. But I think until we hear it out of Trump's out, there's going to be

doubts.

ROMANS: It still throws bombs, though. It says he put this to rest, so he did a great service to the country by putting to rest, and then blaming Hillary Clinton, saying that she was the one who first accused the president.

HOWELL: Which is not true.

STELTER: Yes, but the truth there is that some people is back in 2004, well before Clinton and Obama were running against each other for office, this idea spread early on in Illinois. This discredited idea spread online in 2004. In 2008, some Hillary Clinton supporters did seize on this idea and promoted this idea. But there's no evidence that Clinton herself was promoting or suggesting.

And for Trump to take credit for putting it to rest is laughable, because it was the White House that chose to release the long form birth certificate and have the president talk out it. And it was actually President Obama sort of attacking Trump at the White House correspondents dinner on this issue that was noteworthy back in 2011.

HOWELL: It's a very risky for the Trump campaign. But again, it will be interesting to see what he says and if he actually says it.

STELTER: If he actually says it. I don't think this is a made up press issue. I think this is a real issue. It was a foundation issue for Trump's campaign, for his rise to political prominence. And because we are talking about something that's so basic, so elemental. If we can't agree on the fact like on where the president was born, then we can't really have a political debate.

ROMANS: Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail yesterday, you say the most notable thing is what didn't happen.

STELTER: No stumble. No cough. No drama about her health, right? She was showing and telling that she is feeling better after this bout of pneumonia.

Certainly, she did not seem 100 percent. You can tell, she is still recovering. But if she had stumbled, if she had in trouble, that's all we'd be talking about today. I think it's noteworthy that she seemed to have a fine day on the campaign trail and she's back at work.

HOWELL: Came out on the stage to James Brown's "I Feel Good". At the same time, Brian, though, seizing on this whole birther issue, and keep in mind, Clinton is backsliding in the polls. So, this almost seen as an opening for her to return.

STELTER: One of the rules is whoever we're talking about is losing. Whoever we're not talking about is winning.

So, when Clinton tried to put it back on Trump and seized on it. When Trump said to "The Washington Post" said he would not talk about it, Clinton quickly in public last night at that event talked about Trump's refusal to discuss the issue.

She's trying to put the pressure back on Trump and that's really what we see in the polls as well. Whoever is the focus of attention, media and pubic attention, is the person that slips in the polls.

ROMANS: What was your favorite moment from "The Tonight Show", Donald Trump on "The Tonight Show" last night? Do you have a favorite? I like the hair. Tell me whatever your favorite is.

STELTER: The hair was wonderful. I also think it's notable, Fallon said what's changed in this election for you. He said, well, the press has become more and more vicious. So, Trump always the media critic on the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

JIMMY FALLON, THE TONIGHT SHOW: You said on our show before that you never really apologized until -- unless you feel the need to apologize.

TRUMP: I don't love apologizing. I'm not thrilled about apologizing, but I'll apologize if I'm wrong something, sure.

FALLON: Have you played the board game sorry?

TRUMP: No, I sort of like Monopoly better --

FALLON: The next time I see you, you could be the president of the United States. I wonder if we could do something that is not presidential really, or something that we can do now that we're just both civilians like --

[04:50:01] TRUMP: Like what? This is -- I'm not liking the sound of it. Go ahead.

FALLON: Can I mess your hair up?

(CHEERS)

TRUMP: Go ahead.

FALLON: Yes!

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

STELTER: I tell you, this is the Donald Trump the Hillary Clinton has to fear at the debates. This is the Donald Trump that is compelling on television. He seems almost, dare I say, a little bit humble sometimes? Between Dr. Oz this week and Jimmy Fallon, Donald Trump is showing he truly is a master of television. And I think Clinton needs to watch these clips as she prepares for the debate.

HOWELL: And that's the question. You know, Clinton has been criticized for being wonkish. Putting facts out. But the question is, do facts matter here or is it about feelings? STELTER: There's a playfulness right here, isn't there? There's like

ability to this candidate. We heard of the caricatures at this point of Trump and Clinton. We can almost imagine, you know, the "SNL" versions of them. But when you see Donald Trump just being playful, being human with someone like Fallon, it actually cuts through a lot of the clutter of the campaign and that's why I think it's so compelling.

ROMANS: He really is a master performer. I mean, you can see that in those clips. He is a master performer, he knows how to play to the camera and he knows --

STELTER: That's why Clinton said yesterday, I'm never going to be as great as showman as Donald Trump. She's starting to warn. She knows she can't play the game quite as well.

HOWELL: Interesting. Brian Stelter, thank you so much.

ROMANS: Come back. Get a cup of coffee. Come back.

HOWELL: Following the situation in Syria's civil war. It is one of the most devastated areas there where thousands in Aleppo desperately wait for humanitarian aid. How can officials can get it there before the fragile cease-fire runs out.

CNN is inside Aleppo, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:56:00] HOWELL: Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm George Howell.

The United States and Russia accusing each other of violating a shaky cease-fire in Syria. The violence there continuing in pockets, 23 civilians have killed by airstrikes Thursday in a province not covered by the current truce. Nine of those victims, children.

Human rights observers say there is still uncertainty as to who was behind those attacks. In the meantime, the four-day old cease-fire is holding in Aleppo, but humanitarian aid has still yet to arrive there.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen reports the only way the aid can get to the towns that need it is by navigating what locals called "death road", and that is where Fred picks up the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, George and Christine.

You know, it was a fairly quiet night here in Aleppo. The ceasefire seems to be pretty much holding, although we did hear some airplanes circling over the sky, we also heard occasional artillery shell being fired and what appeared to us to be mortars being fired as well. Now, the big question on this Friday is going to be, is aid finally going to reach the besieged eastern parts of the city? It's something, of course, that United Nations has been working on.

But at this point, their trucks are still stuck on the border between Turkey and Syria. What we're hearing here on the ground is that there is a chance that it could happen today, but, of course, there are still administrative hurdles. On the one hand, permissions from the Syrian government, on the other hand, safety guarantees of free passage by a lot of rebel organizations as well to actually make it to that area.

So, the U.N. says that it's doing its best. The route that aid is going to take is called the Castillo road. I was actually able to go there yesterday and it seems as though there are preparations under way there try and allow that aid to get through.

But again, very difficult in this very complex battle field to really put a timeframe of when that's' going to be. We've also been traveling around the city, and I can tell you that the destruction here in Aleppo is really epic.

We went and visited some families in a frontline district and many of them were actually living in the ruins of their destroyed houses. But for them, of course, after so many years of war, they say just having that calm for a couple of days, having the ceasefire in place is something that they truly cherish -- George and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Fred Pleitgen, thank you for that, Fred.

Let's get an early start in your money this morning. Investors still unsure about when the Fed will raise interest rates and it's causing a see-saw effect on the stock market. Stock futures edging lower this morning, but all three major averages rallied yesterday. Stock markets in Europe are mixed, shares in Asia finished higher, oil down.

Here's what those swings looked like. This is the Dow over the past five sessions. Lost Friday, nearly 400 points remember. And this week has been back and forth.

The Fed meets next week and could give the market some stability depending on what it decides to do.

Donald Trump slamming Ford saying it will cut jobs when it moves small car production to Mexico. Now, Ford's CEO is saying Trump is dead wrong. He tells Poppy Harlow his company is committed to making cars in the U.S.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK FIELDS, CEO, FORD MOTOR COMPANY: What we'll be doing is we'll be replacing those products with two very exciting new products. So, not one job will be lost. Most of our investment is here in the U.S. and that's the way it's going to continue to be.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: So, Mr. Trump is wrong, is that correct, mark? FIELDS: That is correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Remarkable. A company fact-checking a presidential candidate.

Earlier in the day, Ford put a statement out saying it would be in the U.S., quote, "forever". And the point here that Ford was making, it's got 80,000-some employees in the U.S., 8,000 in Mexico. It is moving production of small cars over the next couple of years entirely to Mexico.

But that Wayne, Michigan, plant, Ford says, where those small car jobs were will be retooled and they will make two bigger, better selling cars there. So, you know, this is what a globalized North American market looks like. And Trump is dead wrong, according to Ford.

HOWELL: I think it's so interesting. As you pointed out, it takes a company now to fact check a presidential candidate.

EARLY START continues right now.