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White House: Trump Certainly Didn't Dictate Statement; GOP to Trump: Don't Cut Subsidies; Tillerson to North Korea: "We Are Not Your Enemy"; A Catch for the Ages. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 2, 2017 - 05:00   ET



[05:00:06] 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 of the Don Jr. meeting with a Russian lawyer. But how far did his involvement go?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: And Republicans are beginning to defy President Trump on health care and more. The GOP now pushing back against Mr. Trump's call for Obamacare cut that could hurt millions of Americans.

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

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is Wednesday, August 2nd. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

We begin with a direct contradiction between President Trump's personal lawyer and the White House. The White House now concedes Mr. Trump did weigh in on the response to revelations his son met with a Russian lawyer. That flies in the face of what Trump's lawyer has said that the president had no involvement.

KOSIK: This just the latest example of Trump aides and officials forced to shift their Russia narrative and the lack of clarity isn't inspiring confidence on Capitol Hill. We get more now 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 a Russian adoption. It was not about anything else. 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.


BRIGGS: Great stuff there from Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

So, let's bring in Chris Deaton from "The Weekly Standard". He's in our Washington bureau.

He's thrilled the calendar has turned to August. That means we're closer to Mayweather and McGregor. I know you're psyche for that one, my friend.


KOSIK: Good morning.

DEATON: What is it, $500 down the sink hole for pay-per-view cost for that one?

BRIGGS: You know you're going to order it, Chris. Come on.

DEATON: Yes. Me and 15 people, yes.

BRIGGS: I'm coming over, buddy. I'm coming over, by the way. You order it. I'll bring chips.

But let's talk about this dispute between the House and, well, "The Washington Post" and it clears -- a clear distinction is being drawn because Jay Sekulow said the president had nothing to do with that statement. Then you heard Sarah Huckabee Sanders in that one piece, one say Don Jr. There was nothing about the inaccurate about the statement, that it was true, but also that the president weighed in like any father would do.

Did Sarah Huckabee Sanders help her boss's case here?

DEATON: Well, if you take a look at kind of the way this has all played out, Dave, from the start, there's been a lot of tweaking of narratives as new revelations have been made particularly with respect to Don Jr. So, I kind of think it's a continuation of a White House policy of trying to make the narrative, you know, bend five degrees which way, five degrees the other way as this thing has gone on to try to make it seem like they haven't been fibbing and I think this is simply a continuation of that.

You know, the whole idea of bringing the president and the paternal relationship into this is certainly an interesting spin to put on it. The fact of the matter is that if you actually look at the statement and like you said, the lawyer, Sekulow, what he said, the big contention here continues to be the actual intent of this meeting that appeared to be the case based on the e-mail chain and the fact that if the president on a jet plane weighed in by telephone, which was the details revealed by "The Post" and the particular word used here, dictated a statement. So, that, you know, seems like it could be more than weighing in. It seems like it could be trying to protect the family.

[05:05:01] So, you don't know what the motive is from all of this, but I think you can kind of divine from what Sarah Sanders said yesterday. There's a lot of paternal stuff going on here and that's kind of a narrative they're trying to drive.

BRIGGS: That's clearly what they're trying to drive.

KOSIK: Yes, but taking this one step further. I mean, if there was nothing that was done that was wrong, why even, you know, be involved in any way, I'm talking about the president, even a little bit in crafting a misleading statement?

A couple of senators talked about it. Let's talk on the other side.


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: OK. So you've got Jay Sekulow saying one thing, you've got Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying another. So, it just opens up this can of worms. It just opens up more and more questions and once again puts the credibility of the administration on the line one more time.

DEATON: Right. And I think what Lindsey Graham also said in those same comments from that clip is that look, this is the kind of stuff that sort of necessitates the need for a continued investigation. I mean, when you continue to make these statements and really make these bold pronouncements like the administration has done, they have not, you know, soft walked all this at all. This has been very forthright statements, very forthright defense of Don Jr.

And when the White House is making those kinds of bold pronouncements and they continue to be proved partially incorrect, more that we move along with this narrative, you know, Graham's argument is that it makes the appearance and certainly the actual legitimate need of an investigation to continue, it just raises more questions.

BRIGGS: Yes. Look, we teach our children, if you haven't lied, if you've done nothing wrong, why continue to lie? For the American public that is skeptical of this story, just come out, be clean with it, reveal everything and be open and honest.

But let's talk about health care as that battle continues to brew. Although it's far more subtle than the Mayweather/McGregor battle we talked about, there appears to be a battle setting up between Senate Republicans and the president who was told them to go back and vote on repeal and replace and they are suddenly saying no thanks, Mr. President. Lamar Alexander, Patty Murray, working on ways to fix the exchanges.

What is the path forward now on health care and how is this setting the stage for pushback from Senate Republicans to their president?

DEATON: Yes, this is the type of event that James Madison would pay- per-view for, not you or me.


KOSIK: The theme that you guys got going here.

DEATON: Yes, yes. That's right.

You know, the path forward on health care, look, it's been murky all along. I think, you know, just to say this quickly and get it out of the way as a starting point, when looking at all this, it's useful to remember that Republicans, Senate more than the House, never really agreed on a general frame work of what a health insurance system in which there was government involvement should look like moving forward. So, because of that, you have tons of different ideas, tons of different plans. You can agree on one, and now, that necessitates this more piecemeal approach of fixing and not necessarily replacing or even repealing Obamacare up front.

What the Senate Health Education Labor Committee chaired by Alexander, Patty Murray is a ranking member, what they're trying to do as you said, Dave, these cost-saving reduction payments aren't just necessarily supposed to go to premiums about reducing out of pocket costs with respect to deductibles, co-insurance, that type of stuff, if you remove those, there's a lot of concern that insurers are going to be, you know, encouraged to increase premiums, pull out of the market. That's the exact type of Obamacare set up to fail type of thing from political standpoint you would expect the Trump administration to back. It doesn't sound so good when it's affecting people who might be inclined to vote for Trump in an election.

KOSIK: You know, talking broadly about the relationship between President Trump and Senate Republicans, you know, you sort of saw this crash and burn thing happen with health care legislation. But looking forward, you know, Trump still has an agenda he wants to push forward. You know, let's talk about taxes for one.

If he's not playing nice in the sand box with Senate Republicans, they're not going to put their neck out for the president and there's already some cracks in the surface showing.

DEATON: That's a terrific point and it's a huge issue, because you think about all the major legislative initiatives that the administration wanted to take care of the first time that a Republican president has been able to work with a fully Republican Congress in a decade plus, Obamacare, tax reform, infrastructure, all of these things on the back burner, if you don't have buy in from Capitol Hill, and you have soured relationships there, you're already dealing with bare majorities in the Senate related to this.

[05:10:01] The president keeps talking about how he wants to do away completely with the legislative filibuster that's totally a nonstarter for Mitch McConnell and other Republican institutionalists on Capitol Hill. There's not going to be any sort of buy in for that whatsoever.

We saw a similar problem, although it was of a president of a different party, a lot of complaints from members of Congress and their staff about the relationship, strained relationship that President Obama had with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. And when you don't have those open channels of communication, a good working relationship, really kind of highlights the importance of a person like Mike Pence, who does have the relationships there from his previous service in Congress, that type of stuff is going to be really important as they try to get some stuff done moving forward.

BRIGGS: Yes, and to your point, Mitch McConnell very clearly, there are not the votes to change the rules of the Senate. Mitch McConnell saying yesterday to this president.

Chris Deaton, thanks, sir. We'll see you in about 20 minutes.

KOSIK: We'll see you in a bit.

DEATON: Thanks, guys.

KOSIK: Senate Democrats laying out conditions for working with the GOP on tax reform, but many demands will be hard for Republicans to meet. In a letter, 45 Senate Democrats outlined three priorities for tax reform. For 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. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (D-NY), 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-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: 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. But finding agreement will be difficult especially over how to pay for it. Common ground especially on such a complex topic anyway as tax reform. Good luck with that.

BRIGGS: Yes. And what you just asked Chris about. You know, you have to have those relationships to make this deal work. Tax reform is not easy. That's why it's not been done since '86.

Ahead, 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, next.



[05:16:55] 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. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the good --

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


KOSIK: A stunning 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 or its nuclear program, 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.


KOSIK: All right. Let's go to Seoul and bring in CNN's Alexandra Field for the latest development.

So, we're hearing kind of conflicting messaging here. We're hearing war and we're hearing diplomacy. How is all that being received where you are?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, when you hear Secretary of State Rex Tillerson say not a particularly attractive option, that would certainly hit home here where the threat is most pressing, the threat is most real, just about 30 or so miles south of the DMZ.

There are so many words coming from Washington right now and so many people who are asking, but what is the plan? And now you've got the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as he prepares to make a trip out here to the region later this week, drowning out some of that noise or at least trying to with his own message with is diplomacy first.

He's speaking out, saying that the U.S. is not seeking regime change in North Korea. They're not looking for the accelerated reunification of the Koreas and that they're not looking to send military troops north of the 38th parallel, none of that. Instead he says that the U.S. is looking to deal with the situation through diplomacy and looking for dialogue with North Korea.

That, of course, does not come without preconditions, the big one being the agreement with denuclearization. This is not an idea that is new from the Trump administration. This is something that they've talked about before. But it's certainly also something that you have heard from previous U.S. administrations.

The problem, North Korea has shown no signs that they have any interest on giving up on their nuclear program, they see it as key to regime preservation. They see it as the only potential deterrent they have in order to protect their regime -- Alison.

KOSIK: So much uncertainty about what a solution there can be leaving many people there unsettled I'm sure.

All right. CNN's Alexandra Field, live from Seoul, thanks very much.

BRIGGS: Britain's Prince Phillip flying solo one last time. He'll meet the Royal Marines today in his final public engagement before retiring from royal duties. The 96-year-old duke of Edinburgh attending a parade to mark the finale of a 1,664-mile 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.

[05:20:04] KOSIK: That's an impressive challenge.

BRIGGS: And quite a run.

KOSIK: From a girl who couldn't maybe a run a mile.

BRIGGS: One thousand six hundred sixty-four miles. It is indeed.

And this is impressive as well. Did you see the catch from Austin Jackson of the Cleveland Indians? Over the fence at Fenway.

Coy Wire has more on how this story ended, next in "The Bleacher Report".


BRIGGS: All right. An NFL rookie speaks out again a day after saying that the football field is actually a, quote, perfect place to die.

ROMANS: Coy Wire has more on this morning's "Bleacher Report".

[05:25:01] He made quite the statement yesterday. That's for sure.

BRIGGS: Yes, he did.


Good morning, Alison and Dave. Good to see you.

Jet safety Jamal Adams made that controversial statement at a fan forum when he was asked about the degenerative brain disease CTE. And after the backlash, Adam spoke with his dad and also head coach Todd Bowles. Now, his dad George actually had his own NFL career cut short by a hip injury.

So, as a result of these conversations he thought it was necessary to clarify what he meant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAMAL ADAMS, JETS SAFETY: I really did not see it, you know, getting that far. You know, again, I was speaking about, you know, being passionate about the game that I love. And you know, I understand that you know, some families were affected by this disease, and, you know, I definitely didn't mean it any type of way.


WIRE: Some family members of players who passed spoke out in reaction to Adam's comments and just last week, research study was published showing CTE had been found in the brains of 110 of 111 former NFL players.

Listen to this -- two time Super Bowl champion Ray Lewis has advice for Colin Kaepernick. Many feel that teams are not signing Kaepernick because of his political stance that he's taking. He took a knee during national anthems last season in protest of social injustice and police brutality.

Here's Lewis.


RAY LEWIS, FORMER RAVENS LINEBACKER: The football field is our sanctuary. If you do nothing else, young man, get back on the football field and let your play speak for itself and what you do off the field, don't let too many people know because they're going to judge you anyway, no matter what you do, no matter if it's good or bad.


WIRE: Of course, Lewis was a star for the Ravens and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti says Lewis is one of the former and current players with whom the team has consulted about signing Kaepernick.

Here is the highlight turning number one on Watch this. Austin Jackson, got to be the catch of the year. The 30-year- old Indians outfielder robbing Red Sox Stanley Ramirez of a home run at Fenway Park. My goodness, up and over into the bull pen. Even though the pitching coach had to run over and make sure he was all right.

People couldn't believe this. But this is a guy who made the roster during spring training and he didn't know if he would make it because he was on a comeback after a knee surgery he had last year. Thirty years old, this is about the time on your career when you're trying to protect yourself, trying to elongate your career. He was going all out to make a play for his team. In the end they didn't get the win, but that guy, Austin Jackson, he's winning in my book. I'll tell you that.

KOSIK: He did it so gracefully, too.

BRIGGS: It's so great we can't show you the walk off home run in the bottom of the ninth by Red Sox. KOSIK: That's how good it was.

BRIGGS: That's how good it was. I still think it should have been home run, Coy. If you fall over the wall, the ball went over the wall.

KOSIK: Then again I meant what I said before. He caught it before he went over.

BRIGGS: The great catch, just interesting rule.

WIRE: I'm with you, Alison, on this one. You know your stuff.


KOSIK: Thanks, Coy.

BRIGGS: Yes, all right. Coy Wire, thank you, my friend.

All right. So how do you reconcile this?


JAY SEKULOW, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: 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.

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


KOSIK: The White House and the president's own lawyer can't exactly agree on key details about the response to that Don Jr. meeting with the Russians. More next.