Return to Transcripts main page


Google, Walmart Take on Amazon; Trump Delivers Angry Speech in Phoenix; Clapper Questions Trump's Fitness for Office; Navy Removes Commander of 7th Fleet. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 23, 2017 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Walmart will start offering hundreds of thousands of products on Google platforms including voice ordering through Google Assistant. This is the first time Walmart is selling its products not on its own website, proof of the mutual threat both Google and Walmart face from Amazon.

A team-up does not ensure success over Amazon. Amazon is still the primary stop for most online shoppers. But just about every retailer, if it wants to stay in business, has an Amazon strategy.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Even the president has one. He's gone after them repeatedly on Twitter. OK. EARLY START continues right now with the latest from the Phoenix rally.


TRUMP: I hit them with neo-Nazi. I hit them with everything. I got the white supremacists, the neo-Nazi. I got them all in there. Let's say it, yes. KKK, we have KKK. I got them all.


BRIGGS (voice-over): Goodbye, teleprompter Trump. The president off prompter, off course, playing directly to his base. The president defending his Charlottesville response but apparently forgot what angered critics in the first place. It was campaign Donald Trump airing of the grievances.

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, August 23rd. It is 5:00 am in the East. It is 2:00 right now in Phoenix.

First, a night after preaching to the nation about healing, President Trump does a 180 with a campaign-style speech at a rally in Phoenix. The president again defending his response to the violence in Charlottesville. He spent nearly 15 minutes recounting his words but with an omission.

BRIGGS: Mr. Trump neglected to mention he initially blamed the clashes "on many sides" and there was no mention of the "very fine people" who marched with torches on that fateful Friday in Charlottesville.

For some context, here's what the president said last night and what he said 10 days earlier.


TRUMP: Here's what I said on Saturday. "We're closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia." This is me speaking. "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred bigotry and violence." That's me on Saturday.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It's been going on for a long time in our country.


BRIGGS: That was just one moment. The speech that has some, including the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, a career military man, questioning his fitness to hold the office. We'll have more on that just ahead.

ROMANS: The protests turned ugly outside the Phoenix Convention Center after President Trump's speech. Three people were arrested. Police using tear gas and pepper spray to try to break up the crowd of protesters in what was triple-digit heat.

BRIGGS: Police say people threw rocks and bottles at officers and dispersed gas in the area. Phoenix police were on high alert, as they kept Trump supporters and protesters behind barricades and on separate sides of the street.

ROMANS: Let's bring in Zachary Wolf, CNN Politics digital director.

Your takeaway from that, Zach, a campaign-style speech?

I mean, the president seems to be so energized by these types of events. It couldn't be a more different tone than the night before, when he announced more troops to Afghanistan.

ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL, MANAGING EDITOR: That's right. Not just a campaign-style speech, a campaign speech. It was for his re-election campaign, which most presidents haven't, you know, officially kicked that off yet but Trump is literally campaigning for re-election.

But so much different than his speech the night before, when he seemed to be trying to heal wounds.

Here he was picking at scabs. He was lashing out at members of his own party, at senators, who he needs to get just about anything done on Capitol Hill, and really kind of thumbing at this backlash against him, not only from the media but also from Republicans about his response to the Charlottesville violence a week ago and causing new violence, I think you could arguably say, in Phoenix last night.

BRIGGS: Why though?

Why return to the Charlottesville response?

It's clearly an applause line.

But is it an effective strategy or need we not consider strategy?

WOLF: I don't -- I'm not going to be the one who says this is a -- this is a strategy at all. I'm not sure what it is. It certainly stokes the base. But from a longer point of view, I don't know that we can ascribe, you know, some sort of plodding thoughtfulness, some sort of three-dimensional chess. I don't know that that's there with this president.

Our colleague, Chris Cillizza, argued the other day that he takes it one day at a time. He wakes up and he decides what he's going to do. And if that's the case, I think that's sort of what we saw last night.

ROMANS: Some of the news from last night, not surprising, an attack on the media. But so much of it spent attacking the media, half of the entire speech. He talked about Kim Jong-un. He talked about NAFTA and how he thinks it should --


ROMANS: -- be killed. Could just be a negotiating ploy but he also talked about shutting down the government. He said he was ready to shut down the government. Listen to this.


TRUMP: The obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it but, believe me, we have to close down our government. We're building that wall.

Let me be very clear to Democrats in Congress, who oppose a border wall and stand in the way of border security, you are putting all of America's safety at risk. You're doing that. You're doing that.


ROMANS: What did you make, Zach, of that threat?

WOLF: Well, you know, he's made a lot of threats about a lot of things. This is one he can actually carry through on. He has the ability to veto any spending bill, he could shut down the government if he wants to.

Mitch McConnell, who he's not speaking to, by the way, according to our reporting, would tell him that Republicans have tried that before. It didn't work very well for them. It caused a huge backlash. But I think if we saw anything last night, he's not really afraid of backlashes at the moment.

BRIGGS: Maybe somewhat he was afraid of backlash; he didn't invite Joe Arpaio to the speech and pardon him. But he clearly hinted that that is coming, maybe even in the days ahead. And he didn't mention by name the two Republican Arizona senators, John McCain or Jeff Flake. But he went after them nonetheless. Listen.


TRUMP: We were just one vote away from victory after seven years of everybody proclaiming repeal and replace, one vote away.

But you know, they all said, Mr. President, your speech was so good last night, please, please, Mr. President, don't mention any names.

So I won't. I won't. No, I won't vote -- one vote away, I will not mention any names.

Very presidential, isn't it?

The very president. And nobody wants me to talk about your other senator, who's weak on borders, weak on crime. So I won't talk about him.


BRIGGS: Presumably he's talking about his own chief of staff, John Kelly, a former four-star Marine general, who didn't want him to do the very things he just did.

But, Zach, there are 10 Democratic senators up for re-election in states Donald Trump won. He's name-checking Republicans consistently, with no mention of the Democrats that presumably he hopes to defeat. Steve Bannon's gone from the administration.

But is he still part of the conversation?

Is he driving it?

WOLF: I don't know that we can ascribe what Trump does to Steve Bannon to the extent that we initially could; I don't think we can do that anymore. Trump has taken, you know, Steve Bannon's id and it is Trump now.

He has embraced those positions, untethered from Steve Bannon now for a couple of days. He goes and he espouses them. Trump, those are his views now. It's not a Steve Bannon thing. It's a Trump thing.

ROMANS: Donald Trump, even just a few hours ago, presumably before he went to bed after that speech, was tweeting, "Make America great again," and some of the things you would expect.

BRIGGS: "Drain the swamp."

ROMANS: "Drain the swamp."

What happens next?

Isn't this -- this isn't even a theme week. I can't even remember what the theme is here.

But what do you see as the next thing for President Trump here when he comes home?

WOLF: Well, I mean, he totally reopened the whole Charlottesville controversy yesterday.

Is this something that's going to pass him by at some point?

Is it going to fester even more?

I'm not sure about that.

He will have to find a way to work with Congress. There's a lot of stuff coming up, not the least of which is the debt ceiling. He's going to have to work with these people to actually do things to help the country, to make sure that it's solvent, that bills can be paid, things like that.

He has to work with these people so that's going to be number one. He needs to take Mitch McConnell out to lunch or something and make nice.

BRIGGS: Give another speech today, I think it's in Reno, Nevada, if memory serves me.

So will he return to the teleprompter?

Time will tell.

Zach Wolf, thank you, sir. See you in a bit.

ROMANS: The president is not optimistic about renegotiating NAFTA with Canada and Mexico.


TRUMP: Because we have been so badly taken advantage of, they have made such great deals, both of the countries, but in particular Mexico, that I don't think we can make a deal. So I think we'll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point.


ROMANS: "Probably terminating NAFTA." The first round of NAFTA talks just wrapped up. Negotiations got off to a tense start. The U.S. blasted NAFTA as a job-killing, factory-closing deal. This administration taking a tough stance on many complex issues.


ROMANS: The White House wants to require a substantial portion of auto parts be made in the U.S. Millions of jobs, thousands of companies rely on NAFTA. Renegotiating it was a core campaign promise for this president. He blames it for the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs. So as talks resume next week, negotiators expect "a great deal of

effort will be required" -- their words -- especially since they aim to rewrite NAFTA by the end of this year. That is a blinding pace for trade negotiations.

This original deal took years to complete. I mean, it started in the Bush administration, the first Bush administration, signed under Bill Clinton and it's been the law for a generation.

BRIGGS: Interesting applause line last night.

All right. The former Director of National Intelligence says he's concerned about the president having access to the nuclear codes.


GEN. JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I really question his ability to -- his fitness to be in this office.


BRIGGS: More of what James Clapper, a career military man, told CNN last night. Next on EARLY START.





ROMANS: A blunt, sobering assessment of the president from the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, calling the president's speech in Phoenix, "downright scary and disturbing," openly questioning whether Donald Trump is fit to remain in office. Here's what Clapper told CNN overnight.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: What did you think of tonight's performance by President Trump?

CLAPPER: Well, Don, it's hard to know where to start. It's just so objectionable on so many levels.

You know, I toiled in one capacity or another for every president since and including John F. Kennedy through President Obama. And I don't know when I've listened and watched something like this from a president that I found more disturbing.

Having some understanding of the levers of power that are available to a president, if he chooses to exercise them, I found this downright scary and disturbing.

I think Bakari (ph) is right on the money, though, that this is not a surprise; it's interesting to contrast last night's teleprompter Trump performance versus tonight, which is, of course, the real Trump, just as it was in the unglued impromptu press conference at Trump Tower. So I just find this extremely disturbing.

LEMON: Are you questioning his fitness?

CLAPPER: Yes, I do. I really question his ability to -- his fitness to be in this office. And I also am beginning to wonder about his motivation for it. Maybe he is looking for a way out. I do wonder as well about the people that -- attracted to this rally as others.

You know, what are they thinking?

Or why am I so far out -- off base?

Because I don't understand the adulation and, of course, that's why I think he gravitated to having this rally, as ill-timed as it is. He should have quit while he was ahead after last night.

But, again, I think the real Trump came through and, again, as Bakari (ph) said, shouldn't be a big surprise to anyone.

LEMON: What should we do?

What should Washington do at this point?

You said you're questioning his fitness. There are many people who are saying it. They won't say it publicly; they don't have the courage that you do. Maybe after this speech they will now. It will become painfully obvious to -- as it is to most Americans.

What should we do?

CLAPPER: Well, I think, you know, the key thing here is, where is he with Republicans?

And I was quite struck by Senator Corker's remarks, very thoughtful and very, very measured. And I've -- I know Senator Corker; I've dealt with him. And he is a very thoughtful senator and he wouldn't say that lightly and without forethought.

And I'm hopeful that other similarly thoughtful Republicans will reach the point where enough is enough.

LEMON: Enough is enough.

And what do you -- what do you mean?

Be plain for us.

CLAPPER: Well, that this behavior and this divisiveness and the complete intellectual, moral and ethical void that the President of the United States exhibits.

And how much longer does the country have to -- to borrow a phrase -- endure this nightmare? LEMON: "The New York Times" is reporting tonight about the falling out between the president and Mitch McConnell over the investigations of Russia's interference in the 2016 election. There you see the headline up on the screen.

The report says the president was furious that McConnell failed to protect him.

You call the accusations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia "worse than Watergate."

What do you think is going on with the president?

Why is this such a hot button for him?

CLAPPER: Well, first, to be clear --


CLAPPER: -- I -- when I left, certainly on the 20th of January, I had not seen any evidence of direct collusion between the Trump campaign, the Trump camp and the Russians. There may have been collusion but I didn't have any evidence of it.

So I don't understand, frankly, the president's fascination and solicitation of solicitousness of Russia -- and Putin particularly -- unless he feels he's a kindred soul, perhaps. So it is -- it is very strange to me.

And I don't have an explanation for it. I don't know if it's collusion or something else.

LEMON: You have -- you said you question his fitness.

Is he a threat to national security, the president?

CLAPPER: Well, he certainly could be. Again, having some understanding of the levers that a president can exercise, I worry about, frankly, you know, the access to the nuclear codes. If he, in a fit of pique, he decides to do something about Kim Jong-un, there's actually very little to stop him.

The whole system is built to ensure a rapid response if necessary. So there are very little in the way of controls over, you know, exercising a nuclear option, which is pretty damn scary.

LEMON: Do you see this as a crisis, Mr. Clapper?

CLAPPER: Well, I'm not sure what the definition of a crisis is. If it is, we've been in it for quite a while, certainly since the election.

I have to say, Don, I was -- I couldn't help but think, in the course of the Charlottesville, his statements about Charlottesville, when he was so quick to characterize the intelligence community as Nazis, liken us to Nazis, on the 10th of January, yet seemed reluctant to call out the real or the wannabe Nazis in this case.

And maybe that's -- I'm being a little parochial here and defensive about the intelligence community. But that's one thought I had. So I think if it is a crisis, we've been in it for quite a while.

LEMON: What do you think other intelligence officials now and people who have some sway in Washington, what are the conversations they're having tonight?

And what will they be having tomorrow, you think, after the speech?

CLAPPER: I think many people in the intelligence community, certainly the rank and file, are worried, are concerned about this. They -- in their -- and it's a tradition in the intelligence community to carry on with a mission and provide the intelligence that our decision- makers so desperately need. And they'll continue to do that.

But I think, in moments of personal reflection, I suspect they are greatly concerned about the divisiveness that is taking hold of this country.


BRIGGS: Stark words there from James Clapper.

Context now; Trump supporters say, well, James Clapper lied to Congress and they're talking about NSA surveillance. For his part in that, he said, I made a small mistake, I did not lie. But this is a career military man, intelligence community man, not a career politician.

Folks in the intelligence community saying and analysts are saying it's hard to overstate how monumental that is, that he made those remarks there, that eight minutes of remarks you heard.

But, again, Trump supporters using social media otherwise just completely disregarding.

BRIGGS: He served in several different presidents, including George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush --


BRIGGS: -- so it goes on.

All right. Ahead, the Navy making a big change after another accident in Asian waters. The top Naval commander relieved of duty. We're live in Singapore with the latest, next.




(MUSIC PLAYING) BRIGGS: The Navy has now officially removed the commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet after the guided missile destroyer, U.S.S. John S. McCain, collided with a commercial tanker Monday off the coast of Singapore.

CNN's Matt Rivers live for us in Singapore with the latest details.

Good morning to you, Matt.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Yes, that's the latest news after this deadly accident that took place early Monday morning.

The commander of the 7th Fleet, his name is Vice Admiral Joe Aucoin, was relieved of his command by his boss, the commander of the entire Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift, with Admiral Swift saying that he no longer had confidence in Aucoin's ability to command his troops.

It's really the first domino to fall after what has been a very difficult year for the 7th Fleet. There have been four different incidents involving U.S. Navy warships deployed to this part of the world. Three of those incidents have involved ships from the 7th Fleet, including these last two incidents, both of which are deadly incidents.

So they're clearly looking in the Navy at a leadership problem here. But they're also going to look at a broader comprehensive review that's going to be undertaken over the next several days, fleet-wide, across the entire Navy, command by command.

They're going to each command in a different way, stand down operationally for one day at a time, to really take a deep dive, a deep look at what's going on here.

Are there systemic safety issues that need to be addressed?

Clearly there is problems that need to be addressed and the Navy is doing so. But a immediate priority here in Singapore, there remains missing sailors. We know that remains have been found of some of the missing sailors aboard the U.S.S. John McCain, inside damaged portions of the hull.

But those search efforts continue today to see if there's any hope of finding any survivors.

BRIGGS: Yes, those 10 families certainly want answers. Matt Rivers live for us; 5:30 pm there in Singapore, thank you, Matt.

EARLY START continues right now with the latest from a fiery Phoenix rally.