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Did Trump Dictate Meeting Response?; Kelly Ousts Scaramucci; Venezuela Crisis Intensifies After Vote; North Korea Submarine Activity Detected. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 1, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:09] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Did President Trump dictate the initial response to his son's meeting with a Russian lawyer? A major new report this morning that could spell further trouble for the commander-in-chief.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it didn't take long for the new chief of staff to make his mark. Anthony Scaramucci is out as communications chief, and John Kelly putting a quick end to a whirlwind 11 days.

Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik. I'm sitting in for Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It's been an extraordinary day in news, and it's only Tuesday, August 1st. It's 4:00 a.m. in the East.

We begin with new reporting that suggests President Trump himself personally dictated the initial misleading statement about Don Jr.'s meeting with the Russian lawyer during the campaign.

According to the "Washington Post," the president insisted on a change in strategy after advisers planned to issue a truthful statement to get ahead of the original story before it broke in "The New York Times." "The Post" citing people with knowledge of the deliberations say the president dictate a statement saying his son and the Russian lawyer discussed the program about the adoption of Russian children. The statement was worked out on Air Force One, on the flight home from the G20 summit in Germany where, mind you, the president just met with Vladimir Putin for several hours.

KOSIK: So, the adoption claims were later shown to be misleading, and Trump Jr. eventually acknowledged he took the meeting because he was promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. President Trump's lawyer already on the record denying the president had anything to do with crafting the statement.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, he didn't have anything to do with the statement that Don Jr. put out, that was being worked on with his team?

JAY SEKULOW, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: That's -- no. The statement that Don Jr. put out -- you talking about yesterday's, Chris? CUOMO: The one over the weekend that the president's team was helping


SEKULOW: That was written -- no, that was written by Donald Trump Jr. and I'm sure in consultation with his lawyer.

CUOMO: Because "The New York Times" is reporting that the president OK'd the statement.

SEKULOW: Well, they're incorrect.

CUOMO: "The New York Times" is wrong?

SEKULOW: Yes, I know. Is that shocking that sometimes they make a mistake?


BRIGGS: The extent of the president's personal intervention adding to a series of actions Trump has taken that advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy. There's concern that his direct involvement leaves him vulnerable to allegations of a cover-up. We should also note here, CNN was first to report concern that White House aides involved in the Trump Jr. response may have exposed themselves to special counsel scrutiny.

KOSIK: The president's son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, offering up a new defense to knock down claims that members of the Trump election team colluded with Russia. On Monday, Kushner spoke privately to a group of congressional interns and told them collusion could not have occurred because Trump campaign staffers were barely talking to each other.

They thought we colluded, Kushner told the interns. But we couldn't even collude with our local offices.

BRIGGS: We know what Kushner told the interns because a source provided a copy of his written notes to the publication "Foreign Policy." Kushner also downplayed his failure to report more than 100 instances of travel and contacts with foreign officials on a security clearance form which he had to update twice to include meetings with Russian officials. Now Kushner claims he didn't track those meetings because he didn't expect to get into politics.

KOSIK: The days of tolerating B.S. in the White House are over, that from a source close to the Trump White House. If you don't believe it, just ask Anthony Scaramucci. His tenure as communications director ending before it really ever began. Scaramucci lasting exactly 11 days.

A White House statement saying Mr. Scaramucci felt it was best to give chief of staff John Kelly a clean slate and the ability to build his own team.

BRIGGS: Sources say Kelly delivered the news in a face-to-face meeting with Scaramucci after being sworn in. They say the retired marine general thought Scaramucci lacked discipline and severely damaged his credibility after a profanity-laced tirade in "The New Yorker."

President Trump apparently agreed.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, the president certainly felt that Anthony's comments were inappropriate for a person in that position. I don't think that it's complicated to understand that the president felt the comments were inappropriate. I can't really explain it any further. I'm not sure what the conflicts are.


KOSIK: Sarah Huckabee Sanders also telling reporters that all White House staff will now report to Kelly. The president had no official comment on Scaramucci's departure. But here's what he tweeted last night: A great day at the White House. Earlier Mr. Trump tweeted: no chaos at the White House.


KOSIK: Funny.


KOSIK: In the morning -- and by the evening, everything had changed.

[04:05:01] BRIGGS: Smooth sailing, my friend.

All right. New chief of staff John Kelly so upset with how President Trump handled the firing of FBI Director James Comey in May, he called Comey afterward and told him he, too, was considering resigning. That's according to two sources familiar with the conversation between the two men. They tell CNN it's not clear how serious Kelly was about stepping down from his post as secretary of homeland security. He's described, though, as, quote, angry and hurt by the way Comey was treated.

KOSIK: The former FBI director learned he was fired from TV new reports as he was addressing staffers at the Los Angeles -- the agency's Los Angeles office. Comey took a call from Kelly while he was traveling back to Washington and told him not to step down. Comey has declined to comment.

The White House and the Department of Homeland Security have not responded to CNN's request for a comment.

BRIGGS: And just when you thought it couldn't get more bizarre, there's this -- CNN has learned a prankster in the United Kingdom tricked several White House officials into e-mail exchanges with the prankster posing as other top aides to the president of the United States. Among the highlights, the prankster convinced a White House Homeland Security official tasked with cybersecurity that he was Jared Kushner. That conversation started with the fake Kushner inviting Tom Bossert to a party with the real Bossert responding he'd be there and offering up his private e-mail address unsolicited.

KOSIK: OK. Then there's the prankster masquerading as Reince Priebus, getting into a tense exchange with the real Anthony Scaramucci the day after Priebus' resignation was announced.

The fake Priebus wrote this: At no stage have you acted in a way that's even remotely classy. General Kelly will do a fine job. I'll even admit he will do a better job than me. The way in which that transition has come with about has diabolical and hurtful. I don't expect a reply.

BRIGGS: The real Mooch did reply, saying: You know what you did. We all do. Even today. But rest assured, we were prepared. A man would apologize."

KOSIK: Then the fake Priebus responds: I can't believe you are questioning my ethics. The so-called Mooch who can't even manage his first week in the White House without leaving upset in his wake. I have nothing to apologize from.

BRIGGS: And finally this from Scaramucci: Read Shakespeare. Particularly Othello. You are right there. My family is fine by the way and will thrive. I know what you did. No more replies from me.

Now, White House officials acknowledged the incidents and say they're taking the matter seriously. The prankster has fooled execs from Goldman Sachs and Citigroup.

All of us are subject to cyber hacking this way. But these are top White House officials. One would think -- especially those in charge of cybersecurity -- you would be a little more on it. #greatdayatthewhitehouse.

KOSIK: All right. A troubling pattern overnight in Venezuela. Several opposition leaders taken from their homes in the dark of night. Is an emboldened Nicolas Maduro responsible? We're live in Caracas.


[04:12:14] BRIGGS: Breaking news overnight out of Venezuela. Two leading opposition figures who had been under house arrest taken from their homes. It follows the controversial vote this weekend that handed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro even more power.

CNN's Leyla Santiago live in Caracas with the latest.

Good morning to you, Leyla.

What do we know about this opposition leader taken from his home?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, we're still waiting to find out exactly where Leopoldo Lopez is, why he was taken into custody, what the reason is behind his detention. Those things remain unanswered. Most of the information right now coming out comes from the family, tweeting about this news that happened overnight.

We have reached out to government officials. We're still waiting to find out what their response will be. You know, not only Leopoldo Lopez, the opposition leader that was released from prison, taken for house arrest, the government citing health reasons last month. We're still waiting to find out why he was taken back in.

But he is one of two taken in overnight. The former mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, was also taken into custody. So we're starting to see perhaps the beginning of a pattern of the opposition leaders being taken into custody overnight.

But still, so many questions as to where they may be, which will add to the uncertainty that his come after the election this week -- excuse me, on Sunday, of a new assembly that could really take over quite a bit of power of the government here and give President Maduro even more power than he already has.

So, on the streets of Caracas yesterday, as many talked about what will happen next after this new constituent assembly that was established, many people are talking about the uncertainty, waiting to find out when exactly the government will move forward with rewriting this new constitution, what the impact will be to the opposition. All of that still in the air at this moment as people wait to just find out how this will impact their daily lives.

BRIGGS: Maduro moving closer to dictatorship by the moment.

Leyla Santiago live for us in Caracas, thanks.

KOSIK: The U.S. is slapping sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicola Maduro, demonstrating the Trump administration's opposition to his regime.


STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: Yesterday's illegitimate elections confirm that Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people.


KOSIK: That's Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin yesterday.

The U.S. is freezing all of Maduro's U.S. assets in response to a vote that allows him to further consolidate his power. Now it's unclear what U.S. assets Maduro actually owns. But the Treasury says what this will do is impose real costs. U.S. sanctions often prohibit international business deals. Maduro joins a handful of world leaders sanctioned by the U.S. including Syria's Bashar al Assad, North Korea's Kim Jong-un, and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

But these sanctions aren't the ones as severe as the ones officials previously hinted at. Many expected sanctions on Venezuela's oil industry. That's what everybody thought would happen. Oil exports are the country's primary source of income, and the U.S. is a top customer. Mnuchin didn't say if the U.S. is considering further sanctions but he did say that all options are still on the table.

BRIGGS: The U.S. military picking up, quote, highly unusual and unprecedented levels of submarine activities being conducted by North Korea, also detected evidence of an ejection test. These activities coming just days after North Korea's second intercontinental ballistic missile launch this month. And if the Trump administration is counting on China to rein in Kim Jong-un, it's not happening anytime soon. China's officials now suggesting the burden for finding a peaceful solution to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula is now on the U.S. and South Korea.

Let's bring in CNN's Alexandra Field who is live with us from Seoul.

Good morning to you, Alex.


Everyone seems to be, of course, pointing fingers at one another. But what we're seeing most recently is the increased submarine activity and the ejection test. What does that mean? Well, U.S. intelligence says that the development of the missile program aboard North Korea's submarines is still in its early stages.

But this test does represent an effort to further develop a piece of the system that is critical to launching those missiles. That, of course, would be a component of North Korea's strategy to threaten not only regional but global security. And it comes on the heels of not one but two ICBM tests in the month of July, raising global alarm, frankly.

You heard from President Donald Trump that the U.S. will handle it. We'll handle it, that's what he's saying. But he isn't saying how.

Does that mean that the U.S. will move away from its position that has so closely relied on China to rein in the North Korean regime? Of course, the Trump administration believes that with China's economic leverage over North Korea, they have the power to stop this program.

The question now, though, is whether China is willing to do that or whether they even want to. We are seeing pushback from China to Donald Trump's statements that China has failed to do more, that they haven't done enough. The ministry of foreign affairs saying China didn't create this problem. And now China's ambassador to the U.N. saying that both the U.S. and North Korea can be doing more to deescalate the tension on the peninsula.

There have been condemnations of the ICBM test from North Korea. The Chinese are also saying that the U.S. needs to stop raising the level of tension on the Korean peninsula with responses that threaten things like all options are on the table -- Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. Indeed. Alexandra Field live for us in Seoul, it's just 35 miles from the border of North Korea. Thanks, Alex.

KOSIK: All right. The Olympics are coming back to the U.S. but where and when? We're going to tell you after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)+

[04:22:42] BRIGGS: Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the Arizona lawman who once proclaimed himself America's toughest sheriff, is now facing up to six months in jail for criminal contempt. A federal judge found Arpaio guilty Monday for defying an order back in 2011 to refrain from continuing patrols targeting immigrants. Arpaio was voted out of office last November after six terms as Maricopa County sheriff. He'll be sentenced in October.

KOSIK: HBO investigating a cyberattack that targeted its TV shows, including the monster hit "Game of Thrones." The network's chairman in an e-mail to employees saying the hack resulted in the theft of proprietary information, and some of their programming. It's unclear exactly what hacker stole and potentially leaked. But according to "Entertainment Weekly," hackers pushed one episode each of the HBO shows "Ballers" and "Room 104" as well as the reported script for the next episode of "Game of Thrones." HBO, like CNN, is owned by Time Warner.

BRIGGS: New Jersey state assembly passing a bill to prevent the governor from using a state-owned beach house during any government shutdown. Two guesses why. Well, you might remember Chris Christie faced major backlash during the July 4th holiday after he and his family were spotted sunning on a public beach closed during a state shutdown. The bill still needs to be debated in the state Senate and would not need the stamp of approval from the governor himself. So, don't hold your breath.

KOSIK: Yes, what do you think?

BRIGGS: I think not.

KOSIK: Los Angeles is going to be hosting the Summer Olympics again in 2028. The announcement clearing the way for Paris to get the 2024 games. Earlier this month, the IOC broke with tradition by awarding two summer games at once.

But members did not announce which city would host which year. Details will be finalized next month. This is the first time an American city will host a summer Olympics since Atlanta in 1996. The Los Angeles planning committee estimates the event will cost $5.3 billion. Historically, those estimates wind up being low. L.A. last hosted the Summer Games in 1984.

BRIGGS: Get going that mass transit, L.A.

A special gesture from the Chicago Cubs. The team's most infamous and vilified fan.

[04:25:00] Who could forget Steve Bartman? The young fan who tipped the foul ball in the 2003 playoffs crushing the Cubs' post-season hopes. Well, actually, it was their play that crushed their hopes. But tad revisionist history. Also extended the World Series curse.

But after winning the series last year for the first time in 108 years, the Cubs are trying to make amends for all the anguish Bartman has endured, by giving him his own personalized World Series ring. The team says it hopes the ring brings closure to an unfortunate chapter in its history.

KOSIK: Bartman's been in hiding for most of the last 14 years. He put out a statement saying this: Although I do not consider myself worthy of such an honor, I am deeply moved and sincerely grateful. I am fully aware of the historical significance and appreciate the symbolism the ring represents on multiple levels. My family and I will cherish it for generations.

Bartman added he still will not be conducting interviews. I know you wanted an interview with him.

BRIGGS: Well, look, I mean, a World Series ring seems -- Theo Epstein, the greatest leader in the world according to "Fortune," I would not disagree with that. But a World Series ring -- Bill Buckner did not get a ring. He played baseball. But we digress.

KOSIK: OK. Let's digress to the next thing. The president's lawyer was crystal clear --


SEKULOW: I wasn't involved in the statement drafting at all. Nor was the president. To put this on the president I think is just absolutely incorrect.


KOSIK: But did the president change the response when it was revealed his son met with a Russian lawyer? And could doing so land the president in trouble?