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President Trump Declines to Call Out White Nationalists; Federal Civil Rights Investigation in Deadly Charlottesville Crash; Gen. Dunford Meets South Korean President; Syrian Government Steps Up Offensive Against ISIS; Russia's War Games. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 14, 2017 - 04:00   ET




MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We condemn them in the strongest possible terms.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Vice President Pence firmly denouncing white supremacist groups following violent weekend rallies in Virginia. Lawmakers asking why won't the president do the same.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, the 20-year-old suspect in court today, accused of ramming his car into anti-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville, killing one person, new details this morning on the federal investigation into that crash.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs, back from a little break. It's Monday, August 14th, 4:00 A.M. in the east. We begin with President Trump's deafening silence, if you will.

The fallout from his failure to clearly and explicitly denounce the white nationalists, the neo-Nazis behind the weekend rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that rally spark violence that left three people dead. Vice President Mike Pence traveling in Latin America Sunday, speaking out, saying what the president did not.


PENCE: We have no tolerance for hate and violence from white supremacists, neo-Nazis or the KKK. These dangerous fringe groups have no place in American public life and in the American debate, and we condemn them from the strongest possible terms.

The president's call for unity yesterday, though, was from the heart. It was a sincere call in these too divided times in our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: President Trump hit with strong bipartisan criticism for his initial response to the deadly race-fueled clashes in Charlottesville when he said this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry in violence on many sides -- on many sides.


ROMANS: On many sides. .This could forever be known as the on many sides speech fro President Trump. Trump ignored reporters asking if he condemned white nationalists groups or considered the death of a woman in Charlottesville in act of terrorism. The vice president also addressing that, slamming the media.


PENCE: I take issue with the fact that many in the national media spend more time criticizing the president's words than they did criticizing those who perpetrated the violence to begin with.

We should be putting the attention where it belongs. And that is on these extremist groups that need to be pushed out of the public debate entirely.


ROMANS: We get more now on White House reaction from CNN Athena Jones in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. A White House official who asked not be named, put out a statement that did go further than what we heard from the president in his brief remarks to the press about this on Saturday.

This is what that official statement said. It said, the president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred. And of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi, and all extremist groups.

He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together. That, of course is a statement we got on Sunday from a White House official.

But again, a lot of folks, not just Democrats but also Republicans, and a growing list of Republicans, want to see the president himself explicitly denounce these white nationalist groups.

And one reason is that President Trump and candidate Trump before that has never been shy about repeatedly criticizing a long list of people.

Whether it's Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama or fellow Republicans like Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the list goes on and on. He also has, of course, called the media the enemy of the people.

But not on that list of organizations and individuals that president has criticized are neo-Nazis or the KKK, or white supremacists, or white nationalists.

To be fair, soon after the election in an interview with The New York Times he did say that he didn't want to energize the alt-right movement, another word for the white nationalist movement.

But a lot of folks want to see him repeat that statement and go further, be more explicit, they want to see him use the moral authority of the bully-pulpit of the presidency to denounce these hate groups by name. So far, we haven't seen him do that. Christine, Dave.

ROMANS: All right, Athena Jones, for us in New Jersey. Members of the president's own party are pleading with him -- pleading with him to speak out forcefully and directly against white nationalist groups, calling the killing in Charlottesville more than just murder.

[04:05:00] Senator Susan Collins of Maine tweeting, quote, the violence in Charlottesville is domestic terrorism. Hatred, racism, and bigotry have no place in our country.

This from Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, we should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.

BRIGGS: GOP leaders not only calling on the president to condemn white supremacy groups by name, they're pressing him to do it now so those groups don't become emboldened.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I would urge the president to dissuade them of the fact that their -- that he's sympathetic to their cause because their cause is hate.

It is un-American. They are domestic terrorists. And we need more from our president on this issue.

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: This president needs to do exactly that today. Call this white supremicism, this white nationalism evil, and let the country here -- let the world hear it. It's something that needs to come from the Oval Office and this White House needs to do it today.


BRIGGS: The Department of Justice and FBI launching a civil rights investigation into that deadly events at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.

Twenty-year-old James Alex Field is accused of driving his car into a crowd of counter protesters killing one person. He's now custody facing multiple charges including second-degree murder and is expected to make his first court appearance today. CNN's Brian Todd with more on the suspect and the investigation.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, we've got some important new information about the suspect accused in the car strike which killed that young woman on Saturday here in Charlottesville.

According to our justice producer, Mary Kay Mallonee, she got this information from a Justice Department official familiar with the investigation.

Federal investigators have enough evidence to be suspicious that the suspect, James Fields Jr., intended to send a message not just harm the immediate victims. And they're looking into that.

They are also looking into whether he had any accomplices, anybody who might have helped him in the attack.

Some other information that we're getting about this suspect, according to a teacher who taught him history in the last two years of high school, this teacher is Derek Weimer who taught him at a high school in Northern Kentucky.

He said that this suspect, James Fields, had some very disturbing views about Nazis, that he had an infatuation with Nazis. Now this all comes as we call off another day of high tension here in Charlottesville.

Because the organizer of that Saturday rally -- the white supremacist organizer, Jason Kessler, showed up here on Sunday intending to hold a news conference.

He spoke for several minutes at this outdoor news conference but really didn't get much of a word in edgewise because a crowd of counter protesters were shouting him down, making all sorts of noise, some people converged on him slowly.

At some point, he went down to the ground, he either feel or was pushed. The police swooped in, got him out of there, got him around the side of the building and then into this building behind me, the Charlottesville police department where they held him for his own safety.

And then they whisked him away, a lot of the protesters here angry that these white supremacists have hung around. At least one of the leaders, Jason Kessler, hung around to again try to espouse his message.

He later tweeted that his free speech was being tamped down, but again, none of that suppressing the anger and the frustration here in Charlottesville. Christine and Dave.

ROMANS: Anger, frustration, very ugly weekend, no question. We are learning more about the three people who died in the Charlottesville violence.

Heather Heyer was killed when the car plowed into a group of people protesting the white nationalists rally on Saturday. She was a paralegal who assistant claims with bankruptcy. Heather's mother said she had passionate beliefs and was a champion for others.


SUSAN BRO, HEATHER HEYER'S MOTHER: It was important for her to speak up for people that she felt were not being heard, to speak up when injustices were happening.

And she saw in the lives of her many African-American friends particularly and gay rights that equal rights were not being given.


ROMANS: Two Virginia state troopers are also being remembered this morning. Police say Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and trooper pilot Berke M.M. Bates were killed when their helicopter crashed while assisting public safety resources with situation in Charlottesville.

BRIGGS: Now to the other dark cloud hanging over to the Trump administration, the Russia investigation, Special Counsel Robert Mueller reaching out to the White House to secure interviews with current and former officials including ex-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

That's according to "The New York Times", which says Mueller has asked for details about, quote, specific meetings.

Mueller also said to be looking into President Trump's decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey. The White House says it's fully cooperating with the special prosecutor.

ROMANS: All right, Monday morning, nine minutes past the hour, time for an Early Start on your money. President Trump plans to get tougher on trade with China.

Today, the president is expected to direct the U.S. trade representative to look into alleged Chinese violations of trade with the U.S. including things like patent thefts, and forced intellectual property transfers.

[04:10:00] This won't be an official investigation. But it could led the groundwork for one, if any wrong doing is found, President Trump could impose terror against Chinese imports.

An editorial published today in a Chinese State newspaper says the investigation will quote, poison the overall U.S.-China relationship.

Although trade tensions between Washington and Beijing are ramping up, corporate America is happy with China. U.S. companies have reported stronger second quarter earnings and revenue from their Chinese operations in recent weeks. Eighty-two percent of U.S. companies in China expect revenue to increase this year, up from a 76 percent a year ago. That's according to the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. They're benefiting from a Chinese economy growing at almost 7 percent, a Chinese housing boom and a slide in the U.S. dollar, which makes American exports more competitive. BRIGGS: Also aimed at China, some words in the Wall Street Journal

this morning from Rex Tillerson and James Mattis regarding the situation in North Korea.

That could be interesting when they read that today. Speaking of America's highest ranking military officer, the chairman of the joint chiefs, meeting with South Korea's president as North Korea threatens to target U.S. territory. We're live in Seoul ahead on Early Start.


BRIGGS: America's top general, Joint Chiefs Chairman Joe Dunford in Seoul right now for talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

We expect to hear from the general in the next hour. Dunford says he's committed to making sure President Trump has a code viable military option to combat the nuclear crisis in North Korea. But he wants to make sure diplomacy gets a chance.

CNN has learned American diplomats have been in touch with their counterparts in Pyongyang since at least February led by the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy.

Let's go live to Seoul and bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks. Good morning to you, Paula, what's the latest?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Dave. Well, at this point we understand that General Dunford is meeting the South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, discussing how they can counter this North Korean threat that's looming over them at this point.

Now we know that General Dunford met with the defense minister and also his Korean joint chiefs of staff counterpart a little earlier in the day, and the Korean joint chiefs chief said that he was talking about the diplomatic and economic countermeasures to put pressure on North Korea, focusing on whether or not sanctions could work, how do they make sanctions work.

This is interesting because obviously they will be talking about the military option. That always has to be considered. But it does seem more of a pullback in line with what we've seen from this op-ed in the Washington -- Wall Street Journal this morning.

Also here saying that General Mattis, the defense secretary, and also Tillerson, the U.S. Secretary of State, are focusing on the diplomatic and economic issues, saying that they want a peaceful solution to this issue.

Now, this does feel certainly here in Korea like a pullback from this -- the very fiery rhetoric we heard from the U.S. President Donald Trump just last week talking about these military options being locked and loaded.

So certainly there seems to be some sense of relief here in Korea at least that there now is more of a focus on the diplomacy. Now we know that that diplomacy has been going -- actually say since

February on an official level between the U.S. and North Korea when it comes to, for example, trying to talk about Americans detained in North Korea and also at an unofficial level. Dave.

Yeah. You mentioned that op-ed in Wall Street Journal. Mattis and Tillerson really taking aim at China saying the region and world need and expect China to do more. Paula Hancocks live for us in Seoul. Thanks.

ROMANS: All right, an investigation underway in Texas after 17 undocumented immigrants were found locked inside a tractor-trailer.


ROMANS: Authorities were tipped off from someone in Mexico who reported a relative trapped with other immigrants inside a hot trailer. Officers found 14 men and three women when they arrived at this truck stop in Edinburgh, Texas.

The victims are from a range of countries including Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Romania. Two people in-charged of the trailer have been detained. U.S. customs and border protection is investigating.


BRIGGS: All right ahead, while the U.S.-led coalition takes on the capital of ISIS, Syria's army is picking up their fight against the terror group. We're live near the front lines next.



ROMANS: ISIS on its heels in Syria as the U.S.-led coalition battles the terror group in its self-declared capital of Raqqa. Syrian government forces are engaged in heavy fighting to the east.

CNN was given access to the Syrian army's front line near the site of a recent ISIS massacre.


ROMANS: Our Fred Pleitgen is live from Lattakia where the Assad regime and Russia holds control. Fred, tell us what are you seeing there?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, you know, one of the big criticisms that the U.S. has levied at Russia and of course the Syrian government as well is they said look, you guys are focusing on fighting moderate rebel groups and fighting against ISIS.

Well now the Syrian government tells us that they're doing exactly that. They're shifting their focus and are now taking on ISIS. One of the reasons they're actually doing that, Christine, is because

they say as the U.S. and its partners are closing in on ISIS and in Raqqa, many of the ISIS fighters are escaping and attacking their positions further to the south.

Now as you mentioned, we were on the front line there. And in the time that we were there, it was about 30 minutes, we saw about a dozen air strikes hitting a lot of villages around there that were ISIS controlled.

The fighters were also saying what ISIS is trying to do now is more sort of hit-and-run tactics. They recently went into a village in the area that we were in and conducted a massacre, killing more than 50 civilians.

And the Syrian military had to go in there and get them out. But the Syrian government now does confirm they have a big offensive that they're trying to try to win back some key towns down in that area. They say now fighting ISIS has become their main priority. Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Fred Pleitgen for us in Lattakia, Syria. Thank you so much for that, Fred.

BRIGGS: It's an annual showcase of Russia's military might but this year, their international war games involving China, Iran, and other non-NATO countries taking on added significance with North Korea tensions running high and U.S.-Russia relations at the lowest point since the Cold War.

Let's bring in CNN's Oren Liebermann live in Moscow with more. Good morning, Oren. How significant is this particular show of strength?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, from one perspective, this is a war games, a spectator sport. Many families come out and view it like that.

They come on to cheer their country. And of course on the home turf here, in most cases that's Russia.

[04:25:00] But from a different perspective, there war games seem to be sending a clear message to the world, that Russia has its own allies.

And that is largely from the competitor list, as you pointed out, it's mostly non-NATO countries. Russia showing off that it has its own countries, its own allies, and its own militaries that it can work with.

What's worth pointing out is that among the competitors seems to be a who's who of countries President Trump has threatened in recent weeks and months, and that includes China, Iran and Venezuela. One of the other messages Russia's clearly sending here is that Russia's army is ready to face whatever threat is out there. There are 28 different competitions. The highlight is effectively the tank biathlon and that has the biggest crowds. Russia won that as well as 18 or 19 of the other 28 different competitions. So Russia's sending a clear message that it has its own allies, and its army and its military is ready. It was interesting to watch. And from that perspective it was a spectator sport but also a clear message here, Dave.

BRIGGS: A very unique spectator sport indeed. Oren Liebermann live for us in Moscow. Thanks.

ROMANS: All right, 26 minutes past the hour. The White House defending President Trump, facing accusations he did not denounce white supremacy specifically in the wakes of violent rallies in Virginia. Were his words enough?