Return to Transcripts main page


Defending Trump's Foreign Diplomacy; Russia Probe Deepens; Afghanistan Attack; U.S. Successfully Intercepts Mock ICBM. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 31, 2017 - 04:30   ET



[04:30:56] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House trying to map out a foreign policy blueprint. The president sees the world not as a global community but an arena of competitors. A world view bound to rattle America's allies.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House remains tight lipped on reports of backchannel overtures to the Kremlin. But the president's former national security adviser is ready to respond to subpoenas on the Russia probe.

BRIGGS: And the deadly attack in Kabul's diplomatic quarter. Nearly a hundred dead. Hundreds more hurt. It comes as the president weighs more troops in Afghanistan.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour and if there's one thing you read today, folks, "Wall Street Journal", editorial America first doesn't mean America alone by H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn. It is the world view of this White House.

BRIGGS: People have been searching for a Trump foreign policy. This is essentially it. And we'll break it down for you.

ROMANS: White House taking new steps to reclaim narrative on these two big stories. The president's foreign trip and the Russian investigation. First on the foreign trip, two top aides look puncture the idea that the president left foreign leaders nervous. National security advice H.R. McMaster, the economic adviser Gary Cohn out with that Wall Street Journal" this morning, and title again, "America first doesn't mean America alone."

BRIGGS: Yes, both were on the overseas trip with the president and they offer a staunch defense his global vision and now we're figuring out what that is. They say in part: The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a clear-eyed outlook that the world is not a global community but an arena where nations nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage. ROMANS: They go on: We bring to this forum unmatched military,

political, economic, cultural and moral strength. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it. Their clear message, American strength will keep American first.

They're very clear in here. No more leading from behind. Remember, that was the criticism of the Obama administration.

BRIGGS: But they did suggest that President Trump reaffirmed Article 5 which is essentially we have your back, you have ours. Most say that did not happen anywhere on this foreign trip.

ROMANS: Yes. As an aside they say and, of course, after affirming, you know, our commitment to Article 5.

BRIGGS: Which many wonder if that actually happened. But this comes hours after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer gave this take on the president's nine-day trip.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was an unprecedented first trip abroad, just four months into this administration, and it shows how quickly and decisively the president is acting to strengthen alliances to form new partnerships and to rebuild America's standing in the world. We've never seen before at this point in the presidency such sweeping reassurance of American interest and inauguration of a foreign policy strategy designed to bring back the world from growing dangers and perpetual disasters brought on by years of failed leadership.


BRIGGS: All this comes amid what looks like a diplomatic feud between the president and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Whether there's a rift between the U.S. and Germany, that seems to depend on whom you ask. For the third day in a row, Chancellor Merkel hammered her view Europe must as she put it take our fate into our own hands.

ROMANS: The president back in the Oval Office after his European trip escalating the rhetoric with a tweet. He wrote this: We have a massive trade deficit with Germany plus they pay far less than they should on NATO and military. Very bad for U.S. This will change.

BRIGGS: Adding a third view, Press Secretary Sean Spicer then downplayed any clash between the two leaders.


SPICER: I think the relationship that the president has had with Merkel he would describe as fairly unbelievable. They get along very well. He has a lot of respect for her. They continue to grow the bond that they had during their talks at the G7.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: For the latest how this is going over with European allies, let's bring in senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen live for us this morning in London.

[04:35:01] Great to have you on, Fred.

We talk a lot about this "Wall Street Journal" piece because we're trying to figure out what the Trump foreign policy is. Among the things that stand out they say he did affirm Article 5 of NATO and essentially that we will treat other countries as they treat us. How it is playing overseas?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think you're absolutely right. And that's one of the big questions, Dave, that many European leaders are asking. First and foremost, it seems the Germans at this point is where exactly he did reaffirm Article 5 because one of the things that was -- many European leaders felt lacking in the speech that President Trump gave in among old that criticism of a lot of the European countries was a firm commitment to Article 5 and to saying, look, we have your back as far as security is concerned especially in this very difficult time right now where you have a sort of Russia really on the eastern fringe of Europe.

So, that's something a lot of European leaders were lacking. One of the other things that was also in this article by H.R. McMaster, in this op-ed by H.R. McMaster is there really wasn't any sort of affirmation that the U.S. believes the European Union is very important and very critical to relations between the U.S. and Europe, and I think that's something that many Europeans were looking for, because there has been so much criticism by the Trump administration, by the president himself of the E.U. And at the same time, these European leaders really for the past couple of months were trying to hold the E.U. together and now feel the E.U. is a little bit stronger.

So, they believe that America should make a commitment to a unified Europe and something that many of them were missing. Then finally, you know, one of the things H.R. McMaster also wrote in that article and I think Sean Spicer said something similar as well, he said America first signals the restoration of American leadership. And yet after this president's first trip to Europe, you have a lot of leaders in Europe questioning America's leadership and whether they can rely on it from Angela Merkel to the prime minister of Italy to a certain extent also the French president as well. So, really, it doesn't seem as though a lot of European countries and the U.S. really see eye to eye on this trip.

BRIGGS: And to your point earlier, no mention of the Paris climate agreement or climate change.


BRIGGS: And yesterday, Sean Spicer said he doesn't know if the president believes in global warming.

All right. Fred Pleitgen, thanks so much. We'll continue to parse this throughout the program. ROMANS: And Dave, I'm just looking at, you know, the president said there's a massive trade deficit with Germany. It's $67 billion trade deficit.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: So, that means U.S. does import more from Germany than it exports. Apparently, driving that literally are cars -- German cars, Americans like German cars and buy them. But it's not as simple as a one to one here because also, Germany has plants in the United States that build German cars, German companies have plants in the United States and that supports, you know, 100,000 workers at least. American workers are paid to build German cars here and export them.

BRIGGS: Right. BMW, our largest exporter of cars as well. But this foreign policy you can tell is transactional in nature. That's how the president views things. And that's why Gary Cohen involved when it comes to our foreign policy and economic adviser.

ROMANS: President Trump trying hard to change the narrative but seemed to run into a glitch finding his own.

Look at this tweet from just after midnight. The president writing: despite the constant negative press covfefe -- now, that appears to be an unfinished tweet with a typo. We don't know for sure. I think he may be trying to write coverage. But who knows?

If it's a mistake, no one seems to be noticing at the White House. This is still up on the president's @RealDonaldTrump feed. By the way, covfefe is trending number one on Twitter overnight.

BRIGGS: It's been retweeted more than 110,000 times. And if you go to Urban Dictionary, they define covfefe as when you say coverage but your hands are too small to hit all the letters on your keyboard.



BRIGGS: That's what urban dictionary says. Not us.

Now to the Russian investigation. As you saw Press Secretary Sean Spicer back behind the podium but he was short on answers about the latest developments. He would not confirm whether top Trump adviser Jared Kushner tried to set up a back channel to the Kremlin during transition. Spicer would also not confirm whether the president knew about Kushner doing so, but he did endorse a recent comment by top administration officials that supported the notion of back channels.


SPICER: I think Secretary Kelly and General McMaster both discussed that in general terms, backchannels are appropriate part of diplomacy.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Former national security adviser Michael Flynn says he will provide documents. They were subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee. A source close to Flynn says he will deliver the first batch by June 6th. Flynn had refused to comply with an earlier broader subpoena that included more of his personal documents.

More on that and what's ahead for the president today, I want to bring in White House correspondent Sara Murray.


[04:40:03] SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave and Christine.

Well, another relatively light day at least on President Trump's public schedule. He'll be meeting with his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then he's slated to hold a bilateral meeting with the prime minister of Vietnam. But so far, that bilateral meeting will not come with a press conference. And as for White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, he's not expected to brief reporters on camera today.

This weariness around the media comes as the Russia probe appears to be expanding. A source close to Michael Flynn, the ousted national security adviser says Flynn will provide documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee related to their Russian investigation, and now, the probe appears to be touching two other aides close to the president. One is his personal lawyer Michael Cohen and another, a surrogate for the campaign, Boris Epshteyn. Both of them have been contacted by investigators on Capitol Hill who want to know more about them in relation to their Russia investigations. Just another indication that this cloud, this controversy about Russia just is not leaving this White House any time soon.

Back to you, guys.


BRIGGS: Sara, thank you.

Trump Attorney Michael Cohen says he's not been subpoenaed by Congress but if he is, he will gladly testify. Cohen telling CNN he has nothing to hide and that there is, quote, no shred of evidence that implicates him. As for spokesman Sean Spicer not holding a briefing today, instead the White House is offering up a briefing with veterans affairs secretary, David Shulkin. It's not clear what Shulkin will be discussing however.

ROMANS: This a day after the announcement the White House communications director Mike Dubke is out. Dubke was brought in by Spicer as an outside voice. His departure, a sign of how difficult it is to penetrate the president's inner circle. As for Spicer's job security, a White House official says staffers have been told he isn't going anywhere.

BRIGGS: All right. Breaking news: a huge explosion rocking Kabul's diplomatic quarter. An Afghan official describing it as a suicide attack near the German embassy.

CNN's Ian Lee has the latest from Istanbul.

Good morning, Ian.

IAN LEE, CNN REPORTER: Good morning, Dave.

This attack took place at the height of rush hour traffic when people were going to work. A large truck we're told packed with explosives detonated, killing over 80 people and we've been watching that number rise quite rapidly over the course of the morning, hundreds of people injured in this attack, the explosion taking place just hundreds of yards from the German embassy. No word on the damage to that embassy. We're hearing, though, that the French embassy was injured but chaos in the aftermath, carnage every where, burnt out cars, people bloody, walking away. It's one of the largest attacks in about a year to take place in Kabul.

This also comes as President Trump considers one of the most major foreign policy decisions of his presidency, whether to spend more blood and treasure inside Afghanistan by ramping up the number of troops there. Some reports that it could be up to 5,000 troops, increasing the air strikes against the Taliban are also just more financial assistance to the Afghan government.

So, a major decision there at the heels of this massive explosion. We're also hearing from a U.S. watchdog, government watchdog saying that the Taliban and other insurgents at this point control or contest 40 percent of the country, Dave.

BRIGGS: Ian Lee live for us in Istanbul, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. A significant advance in U.S. efforts to counter nuclear threat from North Korea. The Pentagon announcing it successfully shot down a mock intercontinental ballistic missile. The test using an upgraded ground-based interceptor system. It was conducted over the Pacific Ocean.

Now, defense officials expressing confidence the U.S. now has a capable credible deterrent against a very real threat.

Let's get more from CNN's Paula Hancocks. She joins us live from Seoul.

Some observers, though, saying it's not 100 percent here. There had been some of these tests before that have failed.

Good morning.


Well, that's right. The last two have been successful, according to the Pentagon. This is a massive program, $40 billion. I know U.S. officials have said it's effectively a high-speed effort to try to hit one bullet with another bullet, trying to specifying just how difficult it is to take out an ICBM, a intercontinental ballistic missile as it's heading towards the U.S.

Now, the Pentagon specified it's not only about North Korea, but the fact is North Korea is the country that is verbally threatening the United States at this point. Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, just at the beginning of this year, saying he's close to test launching an ICBM. He's made it clear he wants to hit mainland United States with an ICBM that has a nuclear warhead on it. So, clearly a big concern.

Now, North Korea has not reacted to that interceptor missile at this point.

[04:45:01] We have heard, though, from KCNA, the state-run media a message towards the U.S. President Donald Trump in just the last hour or so. This is from one of the commentaries saying, the Trump administration would be well-advised to choose the right option, mindful that it's standing at the crossroads of life and death.

Now, this is the sort of language that we have become accustomed to from North Korea, particularly when talking about the United States, saying because the United States is hostile towards North Korea, that is why they are continuing with their nuclear and missile program.

Back to you, guys.

ROMANS: Paula, thank you so much for that. Forty-five minutes past the hour. Thanks.

All right. A mea culpa from comedian Kathy Griffin.


KATHY GRIFFIN, COMEDIAN: I beg for your forgiveness. I went too far. I made a mistake and I was wrong.


ROMANS: That apology follows just an outrageous photo shoot that appeared to get attention even from the Secret Service.


[04:50:07] ROMANS: All right. Good news, homeowners. Home prices rose at the strongest pace in three years, Dave Briggs, another sign of tougher season in a decade for home buyers but great to sellers. That's according to the S&P Case-Shiller national index. It's the biggest yearly increase since 2014.

Prices are up because demand is up. Steady job and income growth is creating a wave of new buyers. But inventory is at a 20-year low. New construction is not keeping up with demand and rising mortgage rates are deterring sellers from putting their homes on the market.

Economists say the combo of high prices, tight inventory, rising rates make it a little harder to purchase a home. In fact, sales of both existing and new home sales fell in April. So, let me get this straight. Prices are up but sales are down. New home sales down 11.4 percent.

You got a house on the market, do you?

BRIGGS: I believe so, but there's a CNN viewer, full closure, who is interested.

ROMANS: Really?

BRIGGS: Really. They like the show.


BRIGGS: Kathy Griffin meanwhile apologizing this morning after facing major backlash for taking part in a photo shoot that showed her holding up a bloody head resembling that of President Trump.


GRIFFIN: I sincerely apologize. I've just now seen the reaction of these images. I'm a comic. I crossed the line, I moved the line and then I crossed it. I went way too far.

The image is too disturbing. I understand how it offends people. It wasn't funny. I get it. I made a lot of mistakes in my career. I will continue. I ask for your forgiveness.


BRIGGS: Griffin asked the photographer to take down the picture which has already spread virally online.

ROMANS: We're not going to show this image. I mean, it's gruesome. It's inappropriate.

You know, trying to get publicity I guess but going way too far.

We should note, Griffin has partnered with CNN for a New Year's Eve special for several years. CNN found that photo disturbing, disgusting and offensive, that it is pleased the photo has been taken down and CNN, the network, is evaluating New Year's Eve coverage.

All right. Fifty-two minutes past the hour.

Now, another day, another bad headline for Uber, the company firing an executive in a legal battle with Google. We're going to tell you the details on "CNN Money Stream", next.


[04:56:29] ROMANS: The Department of Homeland Security signaling it is open to alternatives to expanding an electronics ban on commercial flights. Airline industry sources telling CNN random passenger screening is one measure that could be considered. They say talks with European officials may have given the Trump administration pause about a proposed ban on laptops from the cabins of flight between the U.S. and Europe but officials say the move remains on the table as they examine intelligence about terror threats.

BRIGGS: Ariana Grande returning to Manchester. The pop star whose concert was target in a terror attack will headline a star-studded benefit concert on Sunday. The "One Love Manchester" show will raise money for victims and those affected by the bombing in which 22 people were killed. Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Coldplay all performing, Ariana Grande offering free tickets to fans who were at the May 22nd Manchester show.

What a great move by her.

ROMANS: All right. It's that time in the morning. Let's get a check on "CNN Money Stream", shall we?

Global markets and U.S. futures mixed. Wall Street closed lower, ending a seven day winning streak for the NASDAQ and S&P. However, Dow didn't stop -- the drop didn't stop a few tech companies from hitting new highs. Here they are: Google parent Alphabet, Microsoft, Tesla all at records.

Also hitting a record Amazon, it hit $1,000 a share during trading. It closed a bit below that milestone. Tech has been on fire this year. Tech up 20 percent.

Overall, the stock market has remain unusually calm this year. The first 100 trading days of 2017 were the least volatile since 1970.

Another day, another charisma for Uber. The company has fired the executive at the center of its legal battle with Google. Anthony Lewandowski formerly worked for Google. Then he ran Uber's self- driving division. Waymo, Google's self-driving car company, claims Lewandowski stole technology and brought it to Uber. Uber denies that, but the suit threatens to derail its self-driving project. The company says self-driving cars is the future of its business.

Has your child ever bought something on Amazon without your permission? Raise your hand, Dave Briggs, because this happened to me.


ROMANS: You may get your money back. Amazon is refunding up to $70 million to parents whose children made in app purchase. A court found Amazon didn't have enough protection to stop children buying items on its site. Amazon said eligible consumers an e-mail to seek a refund.

My kids had bought stuff in app until I figured out how to shut that off. But my 6-year-old actually bought 45 little miniature machine guns one time.

BRIGGS: And who wouldn't need that?

ROMANS: And they came box after box after box.

BRIGGS: You don't want a refund on that.

ROMANS: No, I sent it back but it was --

BRIGGS: It's very easy to make purchases on Amazon. It's a joy.

ROMANS: I know, I turn off the one click. Ooh, but anyway --

BRIGGS: But therein lies the downside.

EARLY START continues right now.


BRIGGS: The White House tried to lay out a foreign policy vision. The president sees the world not at the global community, but an arena of competitors. The world view bound to rattle America's allies.

ROMANS: Michael Flynn ready to cooperate with subpoenas in the Russian investigation. But White House tight lipped on back channel overtures to the Kremlin.

BRIGGS: And a huge explosion in Kabul's diplomatic corridor killing nearly 100 people. Hundreds more injured. It comes as the president weighs deeper troop deployment in Afghanistan.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is the last day of May, everybody. Wednesday, May 31.

That went fast, didn't it?

BRIGGS: It did indeed.

ROMANS: Five a.m. in the East.