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EARLY START

Trump: No Regrets; Emotional Vigil on UVA Campus; World Leaders Reject Trump's Charlottesville Remarks. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 17, 2017 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[04:00:09] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump defiant in the face of growing criticism for his defense of white supremacists. New friction with his party, his military, world leaders -- yes, and the business community jumping ship.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And a vigil on the University of Virginia campus, site of an ugly, violent march last week, transformed into an emotional moment of hope. We have all the elements of the story covered around the worlds this morning.

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, August 17th. It's 4:00 a.m. in the east, 11:00 a.m. in Jerusalem, 9:00 a.m. in London. Welcome to all.

Up first, the widening fallout from President Trump's defense of white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville. Some of the president's advisers now concede all the pushback is hurting chances to advance an agenda once the president returns to Washington next week.

Now, within his own party, a growing number of Republicans are forced to decide whether to stand by this president. Many GOP lawmakers appear to believe deserting the president now could only harm their political fortunes, but others are going public, calling out the president by name.

BRIGGS: Senator Lindsey Graham saying his words are dividing, not healing Americans, adding, quote: Many Americans do not agree and will fight back against the idea that the Party of Lincoln has a welcome mat out for the David Dukes of the world.

Ohio Governor John Kasich had this to say:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Pathetic, isn't it? Just pathetic listening to this and hearing these marchers. The president has to totally condemn this. And this is not about winning an argument. This is about the fact that now these folks apparently are going to go other places and they think that they had some sort of a victory. There is no moral equivalency between the KKK, the neo-Nazis, and anybody else.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: In a rare move by military leaders, all five U.S. Joint Chiefs issuing public condemnations of white supremacist groups in the wake of the racial unrest in Charlottesville. And perhaps most striking, the president being abandoned by the business community.

BRIGGS: The president forced to dissolve two business advisory councils as the CEOs fled following his comments. Through it all, Mr. Trump remains defiant even as he stays out of public view. Nothing in front of the public today.

We get more from CNN's Jim Acosta, near the president's golf club in New Jersey.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, a day after his incendiary comments on race, President Trump was laying low, steering clear of the cameras, and the White House was trying to stay on message, insisting the president had no regrets about his comments. Still, we're told some White House officials were upset by the president's remarks. But one adviser said his comments are not, quote, disqualifying.

That may explain why Vice President Mike Pence was still backing the president as he explained to reporters down in South America. Here's what he had to say:

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happened in Charlottesville was a tragedy, and the president has been clear on this tragedy, and so have I. I spoke at length about in heartbreaking situation on Sunday night in Colombia, and I stand with the president and I stand by those words.

ACOSTA: In the words of one White House official, quote: Nothing surprises me. There are many people around the White House who saw the president survive the "Access Hollywood" video scandal during the campaign and they believe he will survive this firestorm, as well -- Dave and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Jim Acosta, thank you, Jim.

America's CEOs are abandoning the CEO president. At least eight executives quit Trump's Manufacturing Council, a response, of course, to his remarks on Charlottesville. And just as a second Economic Strategy Council was about to dissolve itself, the president tweeted that he disbanded both of the groups.

Look, this was running for the exits by America's CEO, the biggest names in business who sat on the strategy council including the heads of Blackstone, JPMorgan, Pepsi, GM, Wal-Mart. They employ hundreds of thousands of Americans. Its collapse is an unprecedented rebuke. It is a rebuke to the business, frankly, of the president.

Despite disagreeing with Trump on climate change and immigration, most CEOs were willing to work with him until his insistence that both sides were to blame in Charlottesville, spurring customers and activists to pressure to cut ties. And many did in statements, calling out a sitting president. You have never seen something like this before. Big CEOs calling out a sitting president like JPMorgan chief Jamie Dimon. He criticized the president for equivocating when denouncing racism.

And the break with business doesn't bode well for Trump's economic agenda.

[04:05:01] He's relying on the biz community to push lawmakers on things like tax reform. But many CEOs may think twice before working with Trump in the future.

The bottom line is their employees and brand recognition were two big problems. It's been an uncomfortable relationship from the beginning with the business leaders and the president. Some, frankly, were sitting there at the table with him for those photo-ops because they didn't want their -- you know, their PR departments, they didn't want a tweet storm from him.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: And they wanted a voice at the table. But a couple of these folks saying that they weren't really doing anything anyway.

BRIGGS: That's -- you say photo ops. Is there anything -- is there any impact of these councils being dissolved besides the appearance of it all?

ROMANS: I mean, look, one had had a couple of meetings, but not everybody had been at both. Bob Iger, the Disney CEO, had dropped out before because he disagreed with the president on another issue.

BRIGGS: Right, right.

ROMANS: Either immigration or climate change. I think it was climate change.

The Tesla CEO, he had dropped out over the travel ban. Some of these big-name CEOs, some of them said we've never been to a meeting, we don't know what the agenda was. This president doesn't fit with our brand. An inclusive brand is what these companies have.

BRIGGS: Usually trying to stay out of politics now, having to weigh in.

ROMANS: Right there and then.

BRIGGS: All right, the driver, police say, ran over and killed a woman during last weekend's protests had a history of military service, so did many other white supremacists at the Friday night's rally. That's part of the reason the nation's top military officials are breaking with a longstanding tradition of staying out of politics, like the CEOs Christine has mentioned. Overnight, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Joseph Dunford, told

"Reuters" there's absolutely an unambiguously no place for bigotry in the United States military. The chiefs who report to Dunford have also weighed in without directly commenting on the president.

We get more from CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Christine, Dave, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are some of the most senior military advisers in any administration. And they like to say that they do not get involved in politics -- especially in the Trump administration. They're all about making sure a military force is trained, equipped and ready to face any threat.

But all of them, all five, have now stepped into the national conversation following the events in Charlottesville. In the last couple of days, all of the chiefs, the head of the National Guard, the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines, and the Army, all of these generals and admirals have tweeted, reminding people if they need reminding that the U.S. military does not tolerate racism, bigotry, or violence in its ranks. That there is -- this is completely unacceptable social behavior, and people will be booted out if they engage in it.

So, you might wonder why they are doing this if they say they're not involved in politics. Well, they have all indicated through their aides that they're weighing in on Charlottesville because it is part of the national conversation. And they want to remind their own troops, military families, and Americans that this is not what the U.S. military is about -- Dave, Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Barbara Starr, fascinating. Thanks, Barbara.

You might think this would change President Trump's plans for a rally in Phoenix. That would be wrong. The president tweeting confirmation last night about the campaign-style rally next Tuesday at the Phoenix Convention Center. The news not sitting well with the city's mayor who has his own message for the president. He says, stay away.

BRIGGS: That's right. Mayor Greg Stanton issuing a statement before the president's tweet, that said in part I am disappointed that President Trump has chosen to hold a campaign rally as our nation is still healing from the tragic events in Charlottesville. If President Trump is coming to Phoenix to announce a pardon for former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, then it will be clear that his true intent is to enflame emotions and further divide our nation.

Last weekend, President Trump seemed to hint he might pardon Arpaio, who is convicted of refusing to follow a judge's order barring him from racially profiling Latinos.

ROMANS: All right. You might be surprised to find out who else is condemning white supremacists -- Steve Bannon. The president's chief strategist calling them a collection of clowns -- a collection of clowns and losers. This was in an interview with the progressive magazine "American Prospect." He also refers to them as a fringe element.

Bannon is the former editor of the far-right news Website, Breitbart, has links to the alt-right. Some say he's sort of given it oxygen and given it a platform. A source says he did not believe he was being interviewed on the record when he spoke to the magazine's co-founder, Robert Kuttner, this week. But Kuttner said Bannon never asked to be off the record. So, all of that conversation is there for you to see.

What's interesting, the Website crashed yesterday. So many people were trying to read that interview with Bannon and/or tweet being it, and talking about it online, that actually the face -- you couldn't get to it for a while.

[04:10:00] BRIGGS: Let's dismiss the notion that Steve Bannon, what once ran Breitbart, doesn't know when he's on and off the record. That's utterly ridiculous. We shouldn't give that any oxygen.

But this article was eye-opening in how he basically dared the president to fire him, undermining in the State Department, Treasury, Defense, you name it.

ROMANS: And he seemed to relish in, as he said, Democrats talking about race and identity issues, because he said as long as they are doing that, he can beat them.

BRIGGS: Yes, he relishes --

ROMANS: Distract them, and he can beat them.

BRIGGS: All right. Charlottesville still grieving, but trying to heal.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

BRIGG: A candlelight vigil and march held Wednesday night on the University of Virginia campus. Hundreds of people taking part in the vigil against hate and violence in what organizers said was an effort to, quote, take back the lawn. Marchers covering the same ground that torch-carrying white nationalists had taken last Friday. Last night's vigil was not advertised on social media out of the fear that white supremacist groups might try and disrupt.

ROMANS: All right. Frustrations with President Trump not limited to our shores. World leaders are speaking out. Will the president's comments make diplomacy harder on the world stage?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:15:28] THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I absolutely abhor the racism, the hatred and the violence that we've seen portrayed by these groups. I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them. And I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far-right views wherever we hear them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: British Prime Minister Theresa May joining leaders expressing anger over President Trump's refusal to condemn white supremacists. Officials from Europe to the Middle East all weighing in, raising new questions about this president's ability to perform his duties on the world stage.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen joining us with more on the fallout in Europe.

Good morning to you, Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Dave. You know, this is really becoming a diplomatic problem for a lot of European leaders, as well. And I think Theresa May certainly is a case in point there, the British prime minister. She at the very beginning of this new term wanted better relations with the United States and especially with the Trump administration. And that certainly isn't going down well with voters in the United Kingdom.

As you mentioned, she now had to come out and at the beginning, she said, look, these are President Trump's own views. But now, she had to come out and really all but condemn these views. We have similar things that we're hearing out of Ireland there with the Irish foreign minister, also saying that there is no equivalent between the far right and the sort of leftist groups who are protesting against it.

But by far, the strongest condemnation has come from Germany. Obviously, with its Nazi past, I can tell you from having grown up in that country, there are a lot of people who when they see torch marches, when they see flags with swastikas, that certainly evokes some very, very bad memories. And it's certainly something that Germans don't take lightly.

That's why the German foreign minister came out and he said: We can see what happens when you give free reign to right-wing extremists, obviously alluding to Germany's past and, you know, Angela Merkel, who has had quite a rocky relationship with President Trump trying to remain diplomatic but at the same time, some major differences, she came out and she said it is racist, far-right violence and clear and forceful action must be taken against it regardless of where in the world this happens.

Of course, the Germans saying no matter what the president says, they are going to come out against far-right violence. And they certainly don't see any sort of equivalence between the people who are at these protests and those who are protesting against them, Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. Fred Pleitgen live for us in Lebanon -- thank you.

ROMANS: President Trump's comments are even helping Israel and Iran find common ground. Leaders of both nations scolding the president and condemning racism. But in one country, Russia, there is notable silence.

Let's go to CNN's Oren Liebermann live in Jerusalem.

And, Oren, I'm just fascinated to know what the reaction is in Israel when you watch some of the words, some of the imagery, some of the symbolism over the weekend of these neo-Nazis. And the president's response to it, what are they saying in Israel?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's an unambiguous nearly unanimous response or nearly unanimous response from across the political spectrum here. All of the politicians either denouncing President Donald Trump himself or slamming his comments, saying you cannot draw moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and white supremacists on one side and the counterprotesters on the other. They say those two are absolutely not the same and there needs to be unequivocal condemnation of white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

Notably, one of the people here who has been fairly quiet has been Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who only addressed this three days after the initial white supremacist/neo-Nazis rally, and then only in social media and only after President Trump condemned racism Nazis and white supremacists. Since Trump seemed to backtrack on that, trying to draw moral equivalency, we haven't heard more from the prime minister.

As you point out, there does seem to be common ground between Israeli politicians and Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei. He put a statement on this Website saying, the U.S. needs to deal with its own racial discrimination and its institutions. He said if the U.S. wants to be a strong country, this is a problem they need to address.

A bit of common ground there, it seems, and I never thought I'd say that on air, between Israel and Iran. Khamenei is an on-the-record Holocaust denier.

Christine, one country we haven't heard from in all of this, one of the few countries it seems, is Russia, which has stayed largely quiet or completely quiet, I should say. Not weighing in, not offering their perspective and essentially, not commenting on President Donald Trump's comments or his attempts to draw some moral equivalency here. We'll see if this changes.

ROMANS: Interesting. All right. Oren Liebermann, keep us up to speed. Thank you, sir.

BRIGGS: All right. Switching tone -- a ceremonial first pitch goes, well, very bad in Boston. We'll show you where this ended up --

[04:20:01] ROMANS: This is the worst first pitch in history.

BRIGGS: And why this hurts, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: New satellite photos may prove the -- provide the best clues yet about the location of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 that vanished back in March of 2014. Australian aviation officials say the four satellite photos were taken by the French military just over two weeks after MH370 disappeared. Two weeks after. They show 70 objects drifting on the Indian Ocean in an area to the west of the original search zone. Australia's aviation chief says the pictures should be treated with caution.

[04:25:03] BRIGGS: the driver of a truck found packed with over 100 undocumented immigrants in Texas last month could face the death penalty. A federal grand jury was indicted 60-year-old James Matthew Bradley. He's facing five criminal charges including one count of conspiracy. Ten people died in the truck.

Bradley claims he was not aware there was anybody in the back of his truck and only discovered them after parking at a San Antonio Wal-Mart to use the restroom.

ROMANS: After 31 years, a stolen William de Kooning painting worth $100 million is about to go back on display. The masterpiece was cut from the frame and taken from the University of Arizona Art Museum in 1985. Police suspect the heist was pulled off by a couple. The museum recently got a phone call from an antique dealer in New Mexico who bought the painting at an estate sale. After he researched the work of art, he realized it was de Kooning's "Woman-Ochre" and decided to return it to the museum. It's not clear how it ended up in the New Mexico home, wow.

BRIGGS: It's a ceremonial first pitch one photographer will surely never forget. Seventeen-year-old Jordan Leandre off the mound in Fenway Park last night. His pitch a bit outside. And -- well, inside the wrong part.

It was part of a pregame ceremony at Fenway out of the Sox/Cardinals game to commemorate Boston's 1967 team that lost to the Cardinals in seven. As for the photog, he's fine. He took to Twitter to share a photo of the ball just before its arrival, saying: feel free to caption this, America.

Well-played by that photographer to laugh off a painful moment.

ROMANS: Oh, wow.

BRIGGS: All right. President Trump moving forward without regret after his comments on white supremacists. Will he pay for it with a stalled agenda back in Washington?

ROMANS: And a vigil on the Virginia campus that turned so ugly nearly a week ago. Sights and sounds from UVA, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)