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Backlash Against President Trump for Not Calling Out White Nationalists; Charlottesville Suspect Faces Second Degree Murder Charges; Special Counsel Reaching Out to White House; Trump Team Begins NAFTA Talks; U.S. Pursuing Diplomacy with North Korea; Syrian Offensive Against ISIS; Health Care Cost Increase. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired August 14, 2017 - 04:30   ET




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


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The Vice President Mike Pence, administration officials, and lawmakers all denouncing white supremacist groups after weekend rallies in Virginia turned violent. Critics in both parties asking what why won't the president do the same.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Plus the 20-year-old accused of slamming his car on purpose into a crowd. New details on the federal investigation into the crash that killed a woman protesting white supremacy.

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour.

Welcome to the program in this busy Monday morning. President Trump is under fire this morning not for something he said but for something he didn't say. His failure to clearly and explicitly denounce the white nationalist and now-Nazis behind that weekend rally Charlottesville, Virginia that sparked the violence that left three people dead. Vice President Pence traveling in Latin America Sunday, he spoke out saying what the president failed to.


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 in 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) BRIGGS: President Trump facing 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, and violence on many sides -- on many sides.


BRIGGS: Trump ignored reporters asking if he condemned white nationalist groups or considered the death of a woman in Charlottesville an act of terrorism. The vice president also addressing that while 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.


BRIGGS: Perhaps the president should be focused on those white extremist groups. We get more now on White House reaction from CNN's Ahena Jones in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Christine and Dave. A White House official who asked not to 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 the 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 right 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 and the bully pulpit of the presidency to denounce these hate groups by name.

[04:35:00] So far we haven't seen him do that, Christine, Dave.

BRIGS: Athena Jones, thanks. Members of the president's own party are pleading with him to speak out forcefully and directly against white nationalist groups, calling the killing in Charlottesville more than just murder. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida tweeting, very important for the nation to hear the president describe events in Charlottesville for what they are -- a terror attack by white supremacists.

And this from senior 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.

ROMANS: GOP leaders are not only calling the president to condemn white supremacist 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 he's sympathetic to their cause because their cause is hate. It is un-American. They are a domestic terrorist 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 supremacism, this white nationalism evil and let the country hear it and 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.


ROMANS: Meantime, Ivanka Trump tweeting a more pointed statement than her father. This is what she said -- there should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy, and neo-Nazis. We must all come together as Americans and be one country united.

BRIGGS: The Department of Justice and the FBI launching a civil rights investigation into the deadly events at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Twenty year-old James Alex Fields accused of driving his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one person. He's now in custody facing multiple charges including second- degree murder and is expected to make his first court appearance today.

CNN's Brian Todd has 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 Maloney, 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're 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 the suspect according to a teacher who taught him history in the last two years of high school. This teacher's name is Derek Weimer who taught him at a high school in northern Kentucky. He said the suspect, James Fields, had some very disturbing views about Nazis, that he had an infatuation with Nazis.

Now, this all comes as we come up at 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 fell 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 protesters here angry that these white supremacists have hung around, at least one of these 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: All right, Brian Todd, thank you for that. We're learning more about the three people who died in the violence in Charlottesville this weekend. Heather Heyer was killed when that car plowed into a group of people. She was at the group of people protesting the white nationalist rally on Saturday. She was a paralegal who assisted clients through bankruptcy. She was with another group of paralegals. Heather's mother says she had passionate beliefs and was a champion for others.


SUSAN BRO, MOTHER OF HEATHER HEYER: It was important to 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 many of her African-American friends particularly and her gay friends that equal rights were not being given.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Two Virginia State Troopers are also being remembered this morning. Police say Lieutenant H.J. Cullen and Trooper Pilot Burke M. M. Bates were killed when their helicopter crashed while assisting public safety resources with the situation in Charlottesville.

BRIGGS: Right now to the other dark cloud hanging over the Trump administration, the Russia investigation. Special Counsel Robert Mueller reaching out to the

[04:40:00] White House to secure interviews with current and former officials including ex-chief of staff Reince Priebus. As according to the "New York Times" which says Mueller has asked for details about 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 is, quote, fully cooperating with the special counsel.

ROMANS: All right, time for an EARLY START on your money. President Trump's team begins NAFTA talks on Wednesday. Trump calls NAFTA the worst trade agreement in American history. Now, he wants to fulfill one of his core campaign promises to make a better deal, he says, for American workers. About 14 million American jobs depend on trade with Canada and Mexico.

Roughly 800,000 jobs were lost to Mexico between 1997 and 2013. It's not clear exactly how Trump plans to get that better deal. One of his biggest challenges, how he gets companies to make more things in the U.S. without having Americans pay more for those products. And time is short. Mexican officials say they want a deal done by the end of the year. NAFTA took years and multiple presidencies to negotiate.

BRIGGS: OK, General Joseph Dunford, the military's highest military officer in South Korea right now, facing North Korea's threat to fire missiles at U.S. territory. We're live from Seoul, South Korea, next.


ROMANS: America's top general, Joint Chiefs Chairman Joe Dunford, is 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 is committed to making sure President Trump has a viable military option to combat that 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 Joseph Yun.

Let's go live to Seoul and bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks. Paula, bring us up to speed.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, General Dunford, as you say, is expected to speak shortly, hoping within the next 20 minutes or so we'll get a readout of what exactly he said to the South Korean President Moon Jae-in. He did meet with his Korean counterpart a little earlier in the day. The Korean joint chiefs of staff chief saying that he was really focusing on the political, the diplomatic, the economic policies that could really put pressure on North Korea, saying that he wanted to see how they could fully implement sanctions against North Korea.

Presumably they would have talked about the military option, as well. That hasn't been said publicly. But it does appear to be somewhat of a pullback to show that the diplomatic issue is really the one they're focusing on at this point after you have those very strong remarks on the U.S. President, Donald Trump, last week of the military options being locked and loaded.

It's similar to what we saw in an op-ed today as well in the "Wall Street Journal" from the Defense Secretary and the Secretary of State saying they're not looking for regime change in North Korea. They're not looking for an accelerated reunification of the Korean Peninsula. Let me read you a little bit of what they said. The Trump administration with the support of the international community is applying diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to achieve the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the dismantling of the regime's ballistic missile programs. We're replacing the failed policy of strategic patience with a new policy of strategic accountability.

So we really are hearing a more measured response from the Trump administration at this point and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of course, being here, as well, joining in with that and really playing into that focus on the diplomacy. Christine?

ROMANS: All right. Paula Hancocks for us keep us up to date. And when you hear from General Dunford and get a readout of what he said to the South Korean president, come back and tell us, thank you.

BRIGGS: An investigation underway in Texas after 17 undocumented immigrants were found locked inside a tractor-trailer. 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 a truck stop in Edinburgh, Texas.

The victims are from a range of countries including Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Romania. Two people in charge of the trailer have been detained. U.S. Customs and border protection is investigating. That, of course, comes on the heels of that awful San Antonio story late last month.

ROMANS: Absolutely. And it's something that people bring up when they talk about the border wall to keep immigrants out. There's like, you know, I think 60 percent of illegal immigration and drug -- and actually the drug trade in the United States goes through legal commercial traffic.

BRIGGS: Right. Have no impact on that.

ROMANS: Legal commercial traffic. All right, do you plan on watching the solar eclipse next week? Make sure your glasses aren't fake. All right --

BRIGGS: Yes. ROMANS: We're going to go check on things --

BRIGGS: I've been told all about this. This is a big deal.

ROMANS: -- fake glasses.


BRIGGS: ISIS on its heels in Syria as the U.S.-led coalition battles the terror group in its self-declared capital of Raqqah. 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. Our Fred Pleitgen live in Lattakia where the Assad regime and Russia hold control.

Good morning to you, Fred. What are you seeing there?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi Dave, and you're absolutely right. It's one of the key front lines, one of the newer front lines in the fight against ISIS. One of the things the U.S. has been saying in the past, is it's been accusing both Russia and the Syrian government of fighting moderate rebel groups but not really fighting against ISIS.

But now the Syrian military tells us they are doing exactly that. And as you mentioned, they gave us access to one of the front lines where there is some very, very heavy, active fighting going on. When we were out there on the front line, we witnessed about a dozen air strikes on ISIS positions in villages that were around us. And you mentioned that there was that massacre in that region. Well that happened on a couple of months ago when ISIS fighters invaded a local village and killed more than 50 civilians.

Now of course, the pro-government fighters that we spoke to were very angry abut that. On the ground, many of them fought in the battle. They say they've now started a major offensive to try and route

[04:55:00] ISIS from any of its strongholds that it still has in the eastern Syrian Desert. So we are seeing them certainly pick up the pace of those operations against ISIS as of course, the U.S. and its allies is squeezing ISIS out of Raqqa, as you mentioned, Dave.

BRIGGS: An extraordinary look inside Syria. Fred, Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, there's an annual showcase of Russia's military might, but this year, Russia's 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 their lowest point since the Cold War.

Let's bring in CNN's Oren Liebermann live in Moscow with more. Good morning Oren.

OREN LIEBERMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Christine. From one perspective, these international army games which have been held the last few years are simply a spectator sport as different militaries compete in different events. And there are stands, and there are thousands who come out to see these and cheer on the crowds or cheer on the Armies that are competing here. The crowd obviously leaning heavily towards the home team, the Russian team. But this also seems a way for Russia and the Kremlin to send a couple of different messages here.

First, that Russia has its own strategic allies. And that's timely especially now as the U.S. gets ready to conduct its own military exercises with South Korea which start in about a week. So this is Russia saying, look, here are our allies. Most of these countries are non-NATO countries and that of course is also significant. But this is a competition in 28 different events. And the highlight of which is called the tank biathlon.

And that is where Russia shines. In talking to the people, you get a sense of that. The crowd there is very happy to see Russia on top and Russia winning most of these events. They won 19 out of the 28 events. One more interesting point, Christine, is that the competitors list which is 28 different countries includes a who's who of countries that president Donald Trump has threatened recently including Iran, China, and Venezuela. Russia very much working with those in these army games.

ROMANS: All right. War games as a spectator sport. Thanks. Oren Liebermann for us this morning in Moscow.

Let's get a check on CNN "Money Stream" this Monday morning after months of stocks coasting to records, investors are showing some signs of caution. The Dow and the S&P 500 suffered their worst week since March as tensions with North Korea spooked the market last week. U.S. Stock Futures are higher right now. Retail earnings could shape trading. Wal-Mart, Target, and Home Depot are among the big stores reporting quarterly profits.

This is not exactly what rank-and-file employees want to hear -- you are going to pay more for health benefits next year. The total costs for employer health care benefits are expected to rise an average of five percent next year to more than $14,000 per employee. Now, companies will pick up most of the tab, but you will see some f the cost. Employees still have to pay about 30 percent of their health care costs to keep their budgets under control.

Nearly 40 percent of companies will offer only one -- only high- deductible plans next year, meaning you will have to pay even more. Employer benefits are often more generous unless cost than coverage purchased on the individual market. Many insurers are asking for double-digit premium hikes on their Obamacare policies for 2018. So, health care costs either your out-of-pocket will rise.

Amazon issuing refunds for potentially phony solar eclipse glasses. To safely view the eclipse of course you need a special pair of ultra- dark sunglasses which prevent permanent eye damage that the sun's rays can cause. The high demand for glasses has led to fake ones being sold on line. Amazon said it contacted and issued refunds to customer who's bought glasses on the site that were not safe enough. To help tamp down on fraud, the American Astronomical Society posted a list of verified glasses on its site. The American Astronomical Society, so check out their site.

BRIGGS: One week from today.

ROMANS: I think its one week from today, yes.

BRIGGS: It's a big deal. People are making a mad rush on those giving out free glasses.

ROMANS: People planning, planning their vacations around it. People planning to travel where they can see it best. Schools apparently --

BRIGGS: Schools in Colorado in fact getting out early to see that.


BRIGGS: So, we're looking forward to it. All right, "Early Start" continues right now with the latest from the Charlottesville.


PENCE: We condemn them in the strongest possible terms.


ROMANS: Vice President Mike Pence firmly denouncing white supremacist groups following violent weekend rallies in Virginia. Lawmakers are asking why won't the president do the same.

BRIGGS: 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 on the federal investigation into this crash.

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

ROMANS: Nice to have you back. It seems a week off.

BRIGGS: Good to be back, my friend.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Monday, August 14th. It is 5:00 a.m. exactly in the East.

We'll be live from South Korea and Syria later in the hour. But first, President Trump under fire for failing to explicitly denounce the role of white nationalist and neo-Nazis in clashes with counter-protesters that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was left to Vice President Mike Pence, who is traveling in Latin America, to say what the president did not.


[05:00:05] PENCE: We have no tolerance for hate and violence, to white supremacists, neo-Nazis or the KKK.