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The President's Shifting Tone; Sources: Trump Campaign Aide Emailed About Effort to Meet Putin; Kislyak Downplays Trump Campaign Contacts; We Have a Powerball Jackpot Winner. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 24, 2017 - 05:00   ET



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.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The same President Trump less than 24 hours after an angry rant in Arizona, back on prompter and on message. Is there any chance he'll stay there?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: If the president wants to heal wounds, he might start with his Senate majority leader. Discord with Mitch McConnell threatened to derail the Republican agenda. Can they get on the same page or in the same room? Still about ten days left in the congressional recess. Time to talk.

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, August 24th, 5:00 a.m. in the East, noon in Moscow and Jerusalem.

President Trump affecting a new and drastic shift in tone after a rally Tuesday that many say incited conflict.

[05:00:03] The president issued a call for national unity less than 24 hours later at the American Legion Convention in Reno.


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.


BRIGGS: The president sticking closely to the script there on the teleprompter, choosing not to attack Republican foes in Nevada. After slamming two GOP senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, during his Arizona rally and tweeting about Jeff Flake the following morning.

Today, the president back at the White House with no public events scheduled.

ROMANS: Joining us this morning to discuss, CNN contributor Salena Zito, reporter for "The Washington Examiner", columnist for "The New York Post".

BRIGGS: Good morning!

ROMANS: Good to see you from Pittsburgh. Bright and early, 5:00 a.m.

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good morning! Go, Pirates!

ROMANS: Yay, you're a happy girl.

Let's talk about what the "Washington Post" calls Trump's whiplash, three kinds of presidential personas in three days. But it is all still the same president. Yesterday in Reno, we saw him sticking to the script, sticking to the teleprompter, talking about unity.

You know, what do you make of these three different appearances by this president? What it says about what kind of leader he is?

ZITO: Well, what I tried to do is look at it through the lens of people that support him because ultimately I think that's the thing that -- that we as journalists struggle sometimes to understand. So, you know, I watched his speech in Arizona with Trump supporters and people also that didn't vote for either candidate last year. And, you know, for them, that moment was, you know, like fun and exciting. That was -- that was campaign Trump.

The speech the night before when he talked about Afghanistan, they were also very satisfied and, you know, appreciative of the tone that he took when he did the speech about what goes forward in Afghanistan. Same with -- in Nevada.

So, from their point of view, they have the expectation, yes, when he's governing, he's going to be more serious. When he's campaigning, he's going to be vintage. There was nothing that he did in Arizona that most journalists didn't see if they weren't on the campaign bus last year, right?

ROMANS: Right.

ZITO: That was so vintage Trump. You go after the media, you defend whatever you're in trouble with for that week. You talk about -- you get this those issues that are important to the base, and you play around with the crowd. It's a formula -- each time they're different, but they're all the same sort of thing.

BRIGGS: Yes, but -- Salena, what's different is the president's fire and fury, if you will, is focused on Republicans.

ROMANS: Yes. BRIGGS: We could talk about John McCain and Jeff Flake, who he went

after the rally and tweeted about Flake the next morning. Mitch McConnell said he should do away with the filibuster, said they should shut down the government if he doesn't get wall funding. And Paul Ryan said, no, we have no interest in doing that.

How does that strategy work with his base? We know it doesn't help the agenda. Why does his base like that message?

ZITO: We have to remember, he has a very interesting coalition that put him into office. They're not all Republicans. He pretty much didn't run as a Republican. If you look back at his campaign speeches, he had no problem going after Republicans, establishment Republicans, during the campaign process.

You know, he -- voters don't have a great love for the establishment Republicans or Democrats in Washington. And so, they don't mind that he mixes up.

Now, some -- not some, probably the true blue conservatives are like, geez, I wish he wouldn't do that. I think they have bought into there personality long before he ran for president. They knew they -- the guy that they were putting into office. While it is disruptive to establishment Washington and really become sort of difficult as a reporter to unpack all of this, for the people who voted for him, they're OK with this for the most part.

ROMANS: I think you're right. And I also think that in many cases, they don't see a bully, where someone else might watch some of the behavior and see a bully.

[05:05:02] They see someone who's sticking up for them. And that's not bullying behavior. That's someone sticking up for them, for that base, those people who voted for him.

And when he attacks the media as he did in Arizona, I want to listen to this little bit, when he attacks the media, in a way he's attacking the media and saying I'm sticking up for you by attacking them. Listen.


TRUMP: The media can attack me, but where I draw the line is when they attack you, which is what they do -- when they attack the decency of our supporters.


ROMANS: Salena, no surprise, that got a lot of very vigorous response from that 29,000-strong crowd.

ZITO: Absolutely. And also on Twitter -- on that night, I tweeted, I said, that's the line of the night. That is all they heard because they have believed for so long, whether they're Republican, or independent or agnostic or Democrat, that nobody has been sticking up for them. That is not only -- not only aspirational but something they have been longing to hear.

And I thought that was the key line of the evening. That right there. That defines that relationship between his voters and him.

BRIGGS: There's one sound bite that is tough to reconcile why it resonates with the crowd. It is when he talked about elites at the Phoenix rally. Listen.


TRUMP: I always hear about the elite. You know, the elite, they're elite. I went to better schools than they did. I was a better student than they were.

I live in a bigger, more beautiful apartment -- and I live in the White House, too, which is really great.

I think -- you know what? I think we're the elites. They're not the elites.


BRIGGS: Salena, can you explain the notion of we? The people that fueled Trump's rise, put him into the Oval Office, many can't afford their mortgage. Many of them did not go to college. Why does that message work?

ZITO: It's funny, right? I remembering think, you know, all my career sort of have been waiting for this great populist election to see how it would play out in -- you know, in our country, because we've never really supported a populist candidate. I never in a million years imagined that the populist would be someone whose name is in gold over their building, you know, is a billionaire who flies in a plane.

He has a way of connecting with them that is something that is really -- it's an interesting fabric in that he is one of them even though he's --


ZITO: That as aspirational thing that I think we tend to miss, right?


ZITO: We want to be part of something bigger. We admire -- Americans admire people who make it, who are successful, who, you know, who are able to achieve the American dream. While he started out with a lot more than 90 percent of us, he still was able to take what he had and made it something bigger. And people love that.

BRIGGS: Fascinating analysis. That's why we love having you here.

Salena Zito, we'll check back with you in about 20 minutes. Thanks.

ROMANS: We love that she's an early bird, gets up for us. Thanks, Salena.

All right. A lot of work to do in Washington. The debt ceiling deadline is almost here. New analysis out today will show exactly when the government runs out of money and what payments could be missed as a result. And to avoid that, lawmakers must raise or suspend the country's debt limit, ensuring the U.S. ask pay its bills in full and on time, avoiding basically shutting the government down.

Treasury Secretary 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 until mid-October. Either way, will Washington raise the ceiling in time? The president is complicating the issue. You know, he threatened a shutdown if the U.S. doesn't fund his border wall.


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


ROMANS: So, threatening a shutdown contradicts what Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted earlier this week. He said there's zero chance the Congress not raising the debt limit, which would have, of course, economic consequence if they don't. For example, U.S. credit could be downgraded, federal employees and contractors wouldn't get paid, world markets could tank. You know, you see -- when we've done this before, you see -- you know, these moments when all of these federal money for science and the like just freezes up.

You know, they've got to pass a government spending bill. There's two -- these are two separate but very related things: government shutdown, raising the debt ceiling.

[05:10:02] BRIGGS: And you always wonder with the president, those threats, is there strategy behind them with the Republican-controlled Senate, house, and Republican president, the blame would all go to the Republican Party. So, how is this part of a strategy to perhaps shut down the government --

ROMANS: Might be the way he negotiates, you know? Takes an extreme position first --

BRIGGS: The bluff.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: He's written an entire book on just that.

The White House is expected to send guidance to the Pentagon in coming guys on President Trump's transgender military service ban. That's 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 procedures.

ROMANS: It is unclear 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, firing off a string of tweets reinstating the transgender ban without a plan in place for implementation. CNN has reached out to the Defense Department and the White House for comment on this.

All right. Eleven minutes past the hour.

Two CNN exclusives on the Russia investigation. An e-mail from a Trump campaign aide suggests efforts to meet with Vladimir Putin and the former Russian ambassador to the U.S. faces 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?



[05:15:43] ROMANS: Now, a CNN exclusive: new information suggests 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 or 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.


BRIGGS: All right. Manu Raju, thank you.

Dearborn's name has not been mentioned previously as part of this Russia investigation. He served as chief of staff for then-Senator Jeff Sessions. And investigators have questions about his potential involvement in two meetings that took place between Sessions and Sergey Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador to the United States.

CNN spoke exclusively to Kislyak on a rare interview on Wednesday. Boy, was it interesting.

Fred Pleitgen, he joins us live from Moscow with the latest.

Good morning to you.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're absolutely right, Dave. And CNN managed to track down Sergey Kislyak in a town called Saransk, which is about a 12-hour drive outside of Moscow, where he's actually running for a seat in Russia's version of their senate.

He seemed a bit unsettled when CNN confronted him. He vehemently denied being what U.S. officials say is a spy master in the United States. And he also denied that there were any efforts at trying to get back-channel meetings between the Trump campaign and the Trump administration and Russia going.

Here's what he had to say.


CHANCE: Did you 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: That was our Matthew Chance there who managed to track Kislyak down in the town of Saransk. Certainly, quite a testy interview that we saw there, but with some interesting perspective there also from Sergey Kislyak, which, of course, such an important figure now in the Russia investigation, Dave.

BRIGGS: Certainly a fascinating interview. All right. Fred Pleitgen live for us in Moscow, thank you.

All right. What a night, folks, for Los Angeles Dodgers' pitcher Rich Hill. Nine innings, no hits. Normally that's history. Not last night.

Andy Scholes with the Hollywood ending that was not in this morning's "Bleacher Report."


[05:24:10] BRIGGS: Boy, is it a good morning for somebody in Watertown, Massachusetts. Looks like somebody beat the one in 292 million odds to win the Powerball lottery jackpot. Massachusetts officials say a ticket sold at the Handy Variety store in Watertown, the lone winner of $758.7 million. That's the largest lottery prize with a single winner ever in North America.


ROMANS: The winning numbers -- what were they? Not mine.

BRIGGS: Here they are, my friend. You didn't have them because you didn't play, 6-7-16-23-26 and 4. I did, I did not have them either. Unfortunately.

ROMANS: I am a lottery buzz kill, party pooper. That's me.

All right. The streets outside the NFL offices in New York were filled with people protesting in support of Colin Kaepernick.

BRIGGS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Hey, buddy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, guys. The NFL season kicks off two weeks from today.

[05:25:01] And Colin Kaepernick remains without an NFL team. Because of that, civil rights groups organized a rally outside of the NFL offices. A good number of people were wearing Kaepernick jerseys and shirts with Kaepernick face on them. Many believe Kaepernick is being blackballed by teams because of his social activism.


SHRAVA MOHAMED, COLIN KAEPERNICK SUPPORTER: The NFL is 70 percent people of color. They need the black and brown community. So to blackball Colin Kaepernick, that's not in their best interests. At the same time, it's absolutely wrong.

KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN, JR., COLIN KAEPERNICK SUPPORTER: Obviously, the NFL thinks he's bad for business. We all know the NFL is an $11 billion organization.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not yelling or screaming or being disrespectful. He's bringing attention to a very important issue. They have a problem with that.


SCHOLES: Organizers from United We Stand requested a meeting with the NFL by September 7th to discuss methods to support and protect players who are socially active. If they don't get a meeting, they plan on boycotting the league and its sponsors.

All right. After a promotional tour that was considered by many to be offensive and racist, Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather were much more subdued before the fight yesterday. Mayweather remains a huge favorite for Saturday.

And CNN's Don Riddell spoke with both fighters yesterday and he asked McGregor about the fact that most say he has no chance.


CONOR MCGREGOR, UFC CHAMPION: You know, I'm a multiple time, multiple weight fighting world champion. I come from a ruthless game, a ruthless, ruthless business. Not only do I come from it, I own it.

So, they can say what they want and speak what they want. But it is a disrespect. You know, boxing will look amazing with its new king.

FLOYD MAYWEATHER, PROFESSIONAL BOXER: I've been here before with many different fighters, many different styles. There's been plenty of guys who talked a lot of trash. When all is said and done, I came out victorious.


SCHOLES: Finally, it was a rough night for the Dodgers' Rich Hill. He had a perfect game through eight innings. He had not allowed even one base runner. But an error by Logan Forsythe in the ninth lost the perfect game. There was still a chance for the no-hitter. He pitched into the 10th inning going for it. Josh Harrison crushed this for the game-winning home run. So, the Dodgers lose 1-0. And Hill is the first pitcher in Major League Baseball history to lose a no-hit or a walk-off home run in extra innings.

I think all of his Dodgers teammates owe him a few steak dinners or something. Give him one run. Come on. He went nine innings, no-hit ball. Perfect -- one of the best offenses in baseball.

BRIGGS: Wasn't Rich Hill pulled in the middle of a no-hitter a year ago or so, too? Isn't that the same guy?

SCHOLES: Yes. He was. You're right. He's going -- maybe he'll get it one day.

BRIGGS: Rich Hill, are you overdue, my friend.

ROMANS: How do you remember stuff like that? Sports brain.

BRIGGS: A lot of step up there.

Congrats to the Pirates, though, nonetheless.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Andy. Nice to see you this morning.

BRIGGS: All right.

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