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The Return of Teleprompter Trump; Sources: Trump Campaign Aide Emailed About Effort to Meet Putin; Kislyak Downplays Trump Campaign Contacts; Kushner Tries to Revive Mideast Peace Talks. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 24, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:10] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is time to heal the wounds that divide us and to seek a new unity based on the common values that unite us.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Trump. Less than 24 hours after an angry rant in Arizona, back on prompter, on message. Is there any chance he'll stay there?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: If the president wants to heal wounds, he could start with his Senate majority leader. The discord with Mitch McConnell is threatening to derail the Republican agendas. Can they get on the same page or in the same room? Maybe a telephone call, start with a telephone call, maybe just a sandwich for lunch.

BRIGGS: I like that idea. Little sandwich.

ROMANS: Yes, yes, just bring sandwiches.

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

BRIGGS: No beers for President Trump. He's not a drinker.


BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. I'm not $700 million richer unfortunately, but somebody is. We'll tell you who.

Thursday, August 24th, 4:00 a.m. in the East, 11:00 a.m. in Moscow and Jerusalem.

We start with President Trump affecting a new and drastic shift in tone. After a divisive rally Tuesday, the president issued a call for national unity, less than 24 hours later, at the American Legion Convention in Reno, Nevada.

ROMANS: The president sticking closely to the prepared script in his teleprompter, choosing not to attack Republican foes in Nevada after he slammed two GOP senators -- John McCain and Jeff Flake -- during his Arizona earlier rally. Today, the president is back at the White House with no public events scheduled.

Our Jason Carroll has more from Reno.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the president is back in Washington, D.C., and he's left a lot of that fiery rhetoric and that awkward defense, inaccurate defense, of his response to Charlottesville back in Phoenix. Here in Reno, the talk was all about unifying the country as he addressed the American Legion Convention. The president was scripted. He read from prepared remarks. He was tied to the prompter.

And certainly a number of people wanted to see him focused just on the script of the day. Many of the veterans that we spoke to basically telling us that they thought the speech was well delivered. Some of them calling it measured and focused.

Here's a listen to part of what the president had to say --

TRUMP: It is time to heal the wounds that divide us and to seek a new unity based on the common values that unite us. We are one people with one home and one great flag.

We are not defined by the color of our skin, the figure on our paycheck, or the party of our politics. We are defined by our shared humanity.

CARROLL: There have been many critics of this president who say what they were constantly seeing is one step forward, two steps back. Step forward when the president delivers his speech like we saw in Reno. Two steps back when he delivers a speech like what was seen in Phoenix.

But there are also some of those in the administration who recognize that that speech in Phoenix was not meant for the press, it was not meant for his critics. It was meant for his base -- Christine, Dave.


BRIGGS: Jason Carroll in Reno, thank you.

Still no plans for a face-to-face meeting between President Trump and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, but a White House official says aides are working to get the two together. Perhaps for a Diet Coke, possibly as soon as Congress returns from recess after Labor Day. In the meantime, there aren't any phone calls set, though the official says it's possible they might talk, Christine.

ROMANS: Bitter tension has been growing between Trump and McConnell, including a heated phone call that shouted into an expletive-laden shouting match we're told. Both the White House and the majority leader issuing statements, trying to smooth over this rift, the talk of a shared agenda, including tax reform and infrastructure.

One Republican senator tells CNN's Manu Raju the president's attacks on Senators Flake, McCain, and McConnell are not helpful and had the effect of rallying Republican senators behind the majority leader.

BRIGGS: House Speaker Paul Ryan warning the president not to shut down the government in order to force Congress to fund a border wall with Mexico. The president threatened to do just that during his speech in phoenix on Tuesday. But Speaker Ryan rejecting the notion outright.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I don't think a government shutdown is necessary, and I don't think most people want to see a government shutdown, ourselves included. I don't think it's in our interests to do so while we work on doing what we actually said we would do, what we've done already in the House and need to do was to control our borders. So, I don't think he had to choose between the two.


BRIGGS: Ryan argues the House has already passed funding for border security. But the divide in Senate needs more time to act.

ROMANS: The debt ceiling deadline is almost here. Aren't you excited? A new analysis out today will show exactly when the government runs out of money and what payments could be missed as a result.

To avoid that, lawmakers must raise or suspend the country's debt limit, ensuring the U.S. can pay its bills in full and on time, avoiding a government shutdown.

[04:05:08] Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has used special accounting tricks to stay under the limit since March. But he says those measures will tap out September 29th. Others estimate the treasury has until mid-October.

Either way, will Washington raise the ceiling in time? The president is complicating the issue with this threat if the U.S. doesn't fund his border wall.


TRUMP: We have to close down our government, we're building that wall.


ROMANS: Threatening a shutdown contradicts what Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted earlier this week that there's zero chance of Congress not raising that debt limit which would be big consequences if it didn't. For example, the U.S. credit could be downgraded. Federal employs and contractors wouldn't get paid. World markets could tank.

It's just never a good idea to be messing around with the full faith and credit of the United States government. We've been here before. This brinksmanship has been not good for -- really not for anyone. I think it's going to be a really interesting month. There's a lot of work to be done in Washington when they come. There's a lot of work to be done including how we're going to fund the government.

And that all is one big -- one big, murky soup right now --

BRIGGS: Yes, forget tax reform. You've got basic fundamental deals to handle right now.

OK. The White House expected to send guidance to the Pentagon in coming days on President Trump's transgender military service ban. That is according to the "Wall Street Journal," citing U.S. officials familiar with the matter. The memo reportedly directs the military to stop admitting transgender people for current transgender troops. The Pentagon is supposed to consider a service member's ability to deploy when deciding whether to expel them. The memo says the Pentagon should stop paying for troops' transgender-related medical payment.

ROMANS: It's unclear right now whether the memo has been finalized. Officials tell the "Wall Street Journal" the guidance would give Defense Secretary James Mattis six months to put the new rules into effect. The president surprised the Pentagon late last month with a spring of tweets. He fired off a string of tweets, reinstating the transgender ban without a place for implementation, without really consulting the rest of the government. CNN has reached out to the Defense Department and White House for comment.

BRIGGS: Cal Berkeley energy professor stepping down from his post as a science envoy for the State Department on Wednesday. And he embedded a not-so-subtle message to the president in his resignation letter. Take a look. Professor Daniel Kammen spelled out the word impeach with the first letter of even paragraph.

ROMANS: Kammen who is married to a Nigerian woman goes on to criticize the president for his response to the Charlottesville tragedy, accusing him of enabling racism and sexism. The professor tells CNN he is also frustrated with the president's environmental policies, as well as his decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement.

BRIGGS: If you're going to resign, do it with a little flair.

ROMANS: A little flair.

BRIGGS: So, good effort.

ROMANS: Next, two CNN exclusives on the Russian investigation for you, next. An e-mail from a Trump campaign aide suggests efforts to meet with Vladimir Putin.

And the former Russian ambassador to the U.S. facing tough questions from CNN back home.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: When you met Donald Trump, the president, were you surprised when he disclosed secret information to you about Syria?



[04:12:34] BRIGGS: Now to a CNN exclusive: new information suggesting a previously unreported attempt to arrange a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russian Leader Vladimir Putin. It stems from an e-mail from campaign aide Rick Dearborn. Now, the president's deputy chief of staff. It dates back to the summer of 2016.

ROMANS: Around the time of that now-infamous meeting between top Trump campaign aides and Russians with Kremlin ties.

We get more this morning from CNN's Manu Raju in Washington.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Good morning, Christine and Dave. Now, congressional investigators have unearthed a new e- mail from a top Trump aide that referenced an effort not reported before, an effort to arrange this meeting between Trump officials and the Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Now, the aide is Rick Dearborn. We are told that he sent a brief e- mail to campaign officials last year, relaying information about an individual who was seeking to connect top Trump officials with Putin. Now the person that Dearborn, now the president's deputy chief of staff, that person who was identified in Dearborn's e-mail was only identified as being from, quote, "WV," which one source told us clear reference to the state of West Virginia.

Now, it's unclear who that person is, what exactly they wanted, whether or not Dearborn even acted on the request. Dearborn would not response to our request for comment. The White House refused to comment. But one source did say that the individual, WV, had political connections in West Virginia.

That same source said Dearborn in the email appeared skeptical of the meeting. This appears to intelligence experts to fit a pattern of Russians trying to find entry points into the Trump campaign. A big question going forward, whether or not this Dearborn e-mail fits that pattern, expected to be called to Capitol Hill to testify -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: All right. Manu, thanks for that.

Rick Dearborn's name has not been mentioned previously as part of the Russia investigation. He served as chief of staff for then Senator Jeff Sessions. And investigators have questions about his potential involvement in two meetings. They took place between Sessions and Sergei Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador to the United States. Now, CNN spoke exclusively to Kislyak in a rare interview on Wednesday. Frederik Pleitgen joins us live from Moscow with the very latest.

Fred, bring us up to speed.


Yes, it was our senior correspondent Matthew Chance here who managed to track Sergey Kislyak in Saransk, which is about a 12-hour train ride outside of Moscow. So, certainly, hats off to Matthew for making that happened.

[04:15:03] There were some really interesting things that Sergey Kislyak had to say, especially when Matthew asked him whether there had been any contact between himself and members of the Trump campaign and then later the Trump administration and whether there had been efforts to try and set up secret meetings. Here's what he had to say --


CHANCE: Did he discuss opening secret channels with the Kremlin, with Jared Kushner, for instance?

SERGEY KISLYAK, FORMER RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: I've said many times that we do not discuss our discussions with our American interlocutors, out of respect to our partners.

CHANCE: Fair enough. But when you met Donald Trump, the president, were you surprised when he disclosed secret information to you about Syria?

KISLYAK: I'm not sure I heard anything that would be secret. But it was a good meeting, and we were discussing things that were important to your country and to mine.


PLEITGEN: He also said, Christine, that he doesn't believe that relations between Russia and the United States are going to improve any time soon. And the other thing that he also said is that he vehemently denied ever being what people call a spy master for Russia in the United States. So, certainly, very interesting to track him down, see what he has to say -- Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, great work from Matthew Chance, who is a dogged reporter, of course, as are you.

You know, Kislyak has said again and again he's not some kind of a spy master. And again and again, intelligence officials in the United States have -- have suggested otherwise. So, I get everyone can agree to disagree to that one.

Fred Pleitgen, thank you very much.

BRIGGS: Not many take full credit for being a spymaster, for context there.

The Armed Services Committee will investigate two deadly collisions involving the Navy 7th Fleet at a hearing on September 7th. The review comes after the USS John S. McCain collided with a merchant ship near Singapore on Monday, leaving 10 people missing and feared dead. In June, seven people were killed when the USS Fitzgerald and cargo ship collided off the coast of Japan.

ROMANS: CNN can now confirm the identities of five of the ten missing sailors from the John McCain. The Seventh Fleet says its search is expanding as they search for more remains. A shame.

BRIGGS: Yes. Those ten families deserve some answers, indeed.

This would be a good day to call old friends in Watertown, Massachusetts. Why? Because someone there is $759 million richer before taxes.

I'm sure Romans is going to tell me how much taxes are taken out when we come back.


[04:21:59] BRIGGS: Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, is in Israel today, leading the U.S. effort to revive long-stalled Middle East peace talks. Kushner set to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. On Wednesday, he met with the president of Egypt as a new sore spot in U.S./Cairo relations emerge.

Let's bring in CNN's Oren Liebermann. He's live in Jerusalem.

Oren, good morning to you. A little bit of a hiccup as far as those meetings on Wednesday.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There could have been very awkward moments there. This after the U.S. just got $100 million in aid from the Egyptians. So, it would have been fascinating to be in the meeting.

But it wasn't the aide that was the center of the meeting. It was the U.S. attempt to revive peace talks. And that's why Jared Kushner and his delegation made a tour of Gulf leaders. That's a smart move if you're going for a regional peace initiative and trying to get all the players on board here.

But now that Kushner is here and ready to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he faces a different set of challenges that will make his job very difficult. Netanyahu is under criminal investigations, and in response to that, he has shifted sharply to the right to shore up his own support amongst his own base. Netanyahu has attacked previously Israeli/Palestinian accords and basically left himself little flexibility to make concessions to the Palestinians. That will make progress on the Israeli side very difficult. On the Palestinian side, the Palestinians are waiting for the Trump

administration to commit openly to a two-state solution, which is the international consensus on the future of the region -- the state of Israel and the state of Palestine. There's been no clear guidance from the Trump administration on what their vision is and what they're working toward. Meanwhile, Abbas faces his own internal fighting that makes it difficult for him to make concessions.

So, what can we expect here? Well, the fact that Kushner's here means the Trump is still very interested in making progress here. He still has the time and he still has the moves, but is Kushner willing to make a big enough statement and willing to commit the Trump administration to a vision to make progress here? Dave?

BRIGGS: All right. It should be a fascinating day there. Oren Liebermann live for us, thank you, sir.

ROMANS: All right. The white supremacist who organized the Charlottesville rally earlier this month has turned himself in to University of Virginia police. Chris Cantwell facing arrest warrants on two counts of illegal use of teargas and one count of malicious bodily injury. He's being held, awaiting transport to Charlottesville.

Meantime, monuments of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson have been covered up in Charlottesville. A city official tells us the tarps will remain on the statues until further notice.

BRIGGS: It's safe to go back into the water at a Cape Cod beach this morning after a paddle boarder had a close call with a shark. Look at this photo. Tooth marks clearly visible on the paddle board.

Cleveland Bigelow was not seriously hurt. But he recalls the sudden bump he felt when the five to six-foot shark hit and eventually bit his paddle board.

[04:25:02] The close encounter with what scientists think is a great white shark happened about 30 feet from the shore at Marconi Beach in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. The beach was closed to swimmers for a few hours as part of its standard shark-sighting protocol.

ROMANS: There's something here about your chances, your odds of being eaten by a shark and your odds of winning the lottery, right?

BRIGGS: Yes. There's a thing there.

ROMANS: Somebody did -- somebody did beat the 292 million today win the Powerball jackpot. Massachusetts lottery officials say a ticket sold at the handy variety store in Watertown is the lone winner of the $758.7 million Powerball jackpot. Let me say that again -- $758 million. That's the largest lottery prize with a single winner ever in North America.

The winning numbers, by the way, 6-7-16-23-26, and Powerball 4.

BRIGGS: You didn't play, though? ROMANS: I mean, maybe you should -- I never play. I think it is such

a waste of money. I understand it's aspirational, I get it. But if you -- people who spent $20 a week on lottery tickets, that's about $1,000 a year. If you put that money it into a 529, savings, look, you probably won't win. You should use the money for something else.

You're more likely to give birth to quadruplets, be killed by an asteroid strike, or struck by lightning while you're drowning.

BRIGGS: I pay 5 bucks for that five mental minute, you know, vacation, where I get to envision my yacht.

ROMANS: OK. How about you give me the 5 bucks, and I'll talk about the yacht you're not going to win.

BRIGGS: You can invest it.


BRIGGS: OK. Ahead, President Trump dials down the rhetoric and pushes a unifying message. Can he stay that way long enough to jump- start his stalled agenda?