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Trump Weighed in on Son's Misleading Statement; Rex Tillerson Open to Talk with North Korea. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 2, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:03] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president weighed in, as any father would, based on the limited information that he had.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House forced to admit the president did have a hand in crafting the response to the Don Jr. meeting with a Russian lawyer. But how far did his involvement go?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: The Justice Department is set to investigation discrimination in college admissions against white applicants. A new report this morning raising concerns about the future of Affirmative Action policies.

BRIGGS: And, Republicans are starting to defy President Trump on health care and a few other issues. The GOP now pushing back against his call for Obamacare cuts that could hurt millions.

Interesting press conference from Mitch McConnell yesterday with some subtle pushback.

KOSIK: It was.

BRIGGS: For the president. Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

KOSIK: Good morning. I'm Alison Kosik sitting in for Christine Romans. It's Wednesday, August 2nd. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

And we begin with a direct contradiction between President Trump's personal lawyer and the White House over the president's role responding to his son's meeting with a Russian lawyer. The White House now conceding the president did weigh in without getting into any further specifics. No matter how far weighed in goes, it flies in the face of what Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow has said that he had no involvement.

BRIGGS: This just the latest instance of Trump aides and officials shifting this Russian narrative only after published reports forced them to acknowledge problems. In a lack of clarity not inspiring confidence on Capitol Hill.

We get more from CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Alison, we're learning for the first time that President Trump was involved in helping to shape the narrative about that meeting back at Trump Tower on June 9th, 2016.

The White House acknowledged on Tuesday, for the very first time, the president, in their words, weighed in on that statement saying that that meeting was about a discussion about Russian adoptions. It was not about anything else.

Well, as we learned of course, it was about a Russian operative trying to give dirt on the Hillary Clinton campaign.

But we learned on Tuesday with White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying that yes, the president added his voice to that first statement. This is what she said.


SANDERS: The statement that Don, Jr. issued is true. There's no inaccuracy in the statement. The president weighed in, as any father would, based on the limited information that he had. He certainly didn't dictate but, you know, he -- like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do.


ZELENY: Now that would all be fine except it flies in the face of what the president's own lawyer, Jay Sekulow, has said repeated times. He went on television last month saying the president was not involved in the crafting of that statement, saying the meeting was about Russian adoptions.

Now the reason it matters is this. As they talk about this investigation, as the investigators look into whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia -- we still don't know that yet but they are investigating that -- they will look at this meeting.

Was there a cover-up of any kind? Was he trying to obstruct justice in any way? We don't know the answers to that yet, important to keep that in mind. But for the first time on Tuesday, the White House contradicting what the president's own lawyer said -- Dave and Alison.

KOSIK: All right, Jeff.

Still no further comment from the president's lawyer who has said something different than what the White House has said.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle now publicly casting doubt on the credibility of the White House. Listen to this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If that's true, then that was a bad decision by the president, which will make us ask more questions. When you get caught in a lie about one thing, it makes it hard to just say let the other stuff go.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: This administration continues to say, particularly vis-a-vis, there's nothing there. Yet they don't act that way at all.


KOSIK: Now Warner, who you heard from there, is the leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He says he wants more information from Donald Trump Jr. before the committee asks him to testify. But CNN has learned the president's son and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort are expected to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee next month.

BRIGGS: The Trump administration preparing to challenge affirmative action policies that it believes discriminate against white people in the college admission process. That's according to a report in "The New York Times."

The newspaper obtained an internal document from the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department seeking staff lawyers interested in working on a new project involving, quote, "intentional race-based discrimination." The project appears to target school admission policies that prioritize minority students. The administration reportedly plans to redirect Justice Department resources to investigate and sue what it considers offending universities.

KOSIK: A bipartisan push to pump new life into health care reform is beginning to take shape. Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, they say they're holding hearings in the Senate Health Committee next month and that stabilizing the Obamacare health insurance markets.

[04:05:12] Alexander is urging President Trump not to stop paying Obamacare's cost-sharing subsidies despite his threat to cut back funding.


SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R) CHAIRMAN, COMMITTEE ON HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR, AND PENSIONS: I have urged again that President Trump temporarily continue the cost reduction payments through September so that Congress can work on short-term solution for stabilizing the individual markets in 2018.


BRIGGS: As the first tangible signs Republicans are moving away from Trump's demands to take another shot at repeal after efforts fell apart last week. At least two Republicans are teaming up with Democrats for more legislation to fund cost sharing subsidies which allow insurers to cut costs for millions of low-income Americans.

KOSIK: The Senate giving overwhelming approval to Christopher Wray as the next FBI director. He was confirmed by a 92-5 vote to fill the post vacated by James Comey and when he was fired by President Trump over the Russia investigation.

The vote was very bipartisan by today's standards but the five Democrats who opposed are far and away the most to ever vote against an FBI director. Only one senator has ever voted against one before when Rand Paul opposed James Comey over use of surveillance drones on American soil.

BRIGGS: Fascinating.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions assuring the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives he will hold officers accountable if they violate the law. His comments coming on the heels of President Trump's remarks suggesting cops should be rougher on suspects when they're arresting them. Sessions tried to make the case the president was just joking, but conceded the comments do have an impact.

KOSIK: CNN has also learned Chuck Rosenberg, the acting head of the Drug Enforcement Agency, sent all of his employees an e-mail denouncing the president's comments suggesting they ignore him. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissing the criticism insisting the president was kidding. She accuses the media of trying to make something out of nothing.

BRIGGS: The White House is waiving environmental laws that would be interfere with the first phase of construction on the Mexico border wall. The waiver overrides natural resource and land management regulations in the San Diego sector, one of the most heavily crossed parts of the border.

This could become a tactic the White House uses to build additional sections of the wall. Construction will not begin for months because federal officials are investigating a protest by a company that competed for a building contract and was later denied.

KOSIK: In an effort to cut costs the U.S. is considering buying planes originally built for a bankrupt Russian airline to be the new Air Force One. Officials say they're looking to reconfigure a pair of Boeing 747 aircraft that were flight-tested but never delivered to Trans Aero Airlines which went bankrupt in 2015.

BRIGGS: The planes were sitting in storage. One source and a U.S. official stressing the deal is not final but could happen within days. A Boeing spokesperson telling CNN, quote, "We're still working on a deal focused on providing a great value for the Air Force and the best price for the taxpayer.

KOSIK: Senate Democrats laying out conditions for working with the GOP on tax reform but many demands, they're going to be hard for Republicans to meet. In a letter 45 Senate Democrats outlined three priorities for tax reform. One, no tax cuts for the 1 percent. Two, it won't add to the deficit, and lastly, it won't use the fast track process known as reconciliation.


SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Democrats are open to a bipartisan discussion on tax reform but it has to be truly bipartisan. Not under reconciliation.


KOSIK: Unlike the health care bill, that means input from both parties but Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell says Republicans have to use the fast track process.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), SENATE MAJORITY: We will need to use reconciliation because we have been informed by a majority of the Democrats in a letter I just received today that most of the principles that would get the country growing again they're not interested in addressing.


KOSIK: Tax experts say that reform works best when negotiated in a bipartisan way. To include Republicans and Democrats. But it looks like finding agreements is going to be difficult especially over how to pay for it. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin says any cuts will pay for themselves with 4 percent economic growth. However, many experts are skeptical of that rate.

You know, we're yet to get that growth. How do you pass legislation based on something that --

BRIGGS: Well, the GDP had a nice quarter, right?

KOSIK: Yes, but that's a quarter. I don't -- is the president talking about 4 percent growth in annual growth or is he talking about quarterly growth?

BRIGGS: Yes. Yes.

[04:10:03] KOSIK: I don't think he's been clear about that.

BRIGGS: Well, 1986 it is not. We are not going to see that kind of bipartisan work done any time soon.

Coming up, the Secretary of State says he's open to diplomatic talks with North Korea.


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Seek peaceful pressure on the regime in North Korea to have them develop a willingness to sit and talk with us, a condition of those talks is --


BRIGGS: So what's Rex Tillerson's big condition? We're live in Seoul with the latest.



GRAHAM: There will be a war with North Korea over their missile program if they continue to try to hit America with an ICBM.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every military expert says there is no good military option.

GRAHAM: They're wrong.


GRAHAM: There is a good military option, to destroy North Korea's program and North Korea itself.


BRIGGS: To say the least, a blunt assessment from Senator Lindsey Graham on the widening North Korea crisis. The White House refusing to reveal whether it has a plan to destroy North Korea's nuclear program.

[04:15:05] But the administration is reiterating all options are on the table. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson taking a shot at diplomacy. He says the U.S. is willing to sit down for talks with North Korea if the regime halts its pursuit of nuclear weapons.


TILLERSON: This is going to be a continued effort to put ever greater pressure on the North Korean regime because our other options obviously are not particularly attractive.


BRIGGS: Indeed. Let's go live to Seoul and bring in CNN's Alexandra Field for the latest developments.

Good morning to you, Alex. What's the reaction there?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. Stunning words really from Senator Graham, that's how they're received here in South Korea. This is a metropolitan area of more than 20 million people. We're just about 35 miles away from the heavily fortified border that divides South Korea from North Korea. That puts all of these people within rocket range of North Korea.

They know that the threat is real. So certainly there's a surprised response when you hear a U.S. senator talking about the possibility of thousands of deaths here versus thousands of deaths back in the U.S. But you're hearing from the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who seems to be trying to calm tensions to a certain extent, saying again that the U.S. prefers a diplomatic option and raising the possibility of talks with North Korea, but not without a precondition. The precondition being that North Korea would first have to agree to denuclearization. This is not an idea that was invented by the Trump administration by

any stretch. You heard the same lines repeated by the Obama administration and by the Bush administration. But we haven't seen official talks between the North -- between North Korea and the U.S. since six-party talks broke down back in 2008 but again it does seem at this point that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is trying to calm the situation to some extent while the White House says that all options are on the table.

The secretary of state making it clear that the U.S. is not looking for a regime change in North Korea and not looking for a reason to send its troops north of that 38th parallel -- Dave.

BRIGGS: No resolution in sight. Alexandra Field, live for us in Seoul, thank you.

KOSIK: President Trump condemning the actions of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro after two opposition leaders were taken from their homes following Sunday's vote. The president says Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma are political prisoners being held illegally and the U.S. holds Maduro personally responsible for their health and safety.

BRIGGS: Venezuela's Supreme Court revoked their house arrest privileges after intelligence officials determined they were planning to flee and now a high-ranking member of the Venezuelan Electoral Council says he cannot endorse the vote because the electoral practices were relaxed and in some cases nonexistent.

KOSIK: Britain's Prince Philip flying solo one last time. He's going to meet the Royal Marines today in his final public engagement before retiring from royal duty. The 96-year-old Duke of Edinburgh attending a parade to mark the finale of 1,664 miles strength and endurance challenge undertaken by servicemen to raise money for charity. Buckingham Palace says the Duke may still decide to attend certain events alongside the Queen in the future.

BRIGGS: A 1600 miles test of endurance?

KOSIK: Wait, you can't do that? Come on.

BRIGGS: Six miles is about the extent of my exercise.

KOSIK: One mile for me.

BRIGGS: All right. Video you have to see from Texas. A police officer hit head on by a driver police say was drunk. We'll tell you what the officer managed to do after he was hit. Ahead on EARLY START.


[04:23:13] BRIGGS: The one remaining inmate who is still at large after escaping from an Alabama jail Sunday now back behind bars. Authorities say the 12th escapee Brady Andrew Kilpatrick was found 600 miles away in south Florida. We're also now learning how the prisoners busted out of the Walker

County Jail. Peanut butter. Officials say they used good old peanut butter to change the number above a cell to a number that identified to a door leading to the outside.

KOSIK: Who knew that peanut butter had that much power?

BRIGGS: And you know, the power of PB. And they tricked the new inexperienced jailer in opening the door and made their escape. Most of the inmates were caught quickly then someone pulled the mask off and said, you rascal kids. It was a Scooby Doo episode but that truly happened.

KOSIK: Was there any jelly used in it as well?

BRIGGS: I know. No jelly. It was absent from the escaper.



BRIGGS: Some incredible video in sports. First let's go to what happened, though, in Fort Worth, Texas, as a police officer pulls a car over for a traffic stop.

KOSIK: As you see here, it suddenly crashes into him, the car that he pulled over. Somehow the officer was able to walk away from the violent collision and detain the person who plowed into him.


KOSIK: Until backup units arrived on the scene. Fort Worth Police are saying that the driver was arrested and charged with intoxicated assault.

You know, just seeing that video shows you the dangers that the police officers --

BRIGGS: These police officers take every day.

KOSIK: Every day.

BRIGGS: But he walked away. Remarkable.

Some more incredible video. Now to the sports video, far less painful. Indians center fielder, Austin Jackson, what could be baseball's defensive play of the year. Check this out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Sox have gotten into the bull pen.

[04:25:02] It's a high fly right center hit well. Jackson back, triangle. He's there. Reaching, he goes over. He went over and he holds on to the baseball.


BRIGGS: Jackson air born over the wall at Fenway Park to rob Boston's (INAUDIBLE) of a homerun. The Red Sox challenged the catch. It was upheld because Jackson's feet were over the field of play when he caught the ball. Amazing grab but a losing effort. The Sox get a three-run walk-off homerun with two outs in the ninth.

Still I dispute this for you baseball fans out there. I know that's the rule, but if the ball goes over the wall with the outfielder shouldn't it be a homerun?

KOSIK: I'm with you on that.

BRIGGS: And I know it's a rule. That's the correct ruling and a remarkable play, but we'll debate it on Twitter.

All right. How do you reconcile this?


JAY SEKULOW, MEMBER, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LEGAL TEAM: I wasn't involved in the statement drafts at all nor was the president. To put this on the president I think is just absolutely incorrect.

SANDERS: The president weighed in as any father would based on the limited information that he had.


BRIGGS: The White House and the president's own lawyer can't exactly agree on key details about the response in the Don Jr. meeting. More next.