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EARLY START

Southeast Texas Church Damaged By Package Explosion; White House Staffer On Sen. John McCain: "He's Dying Anyway"; Trump Announces North Korea Summit Will Be In Singapore; President Trump Hoping For Better Iran Nuclear Deal. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired May 11, 2018 - 05:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:30:31] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: This despicable remark from inside the White House. "Don't worry about John McCain. He's dying anyway." That from a White House aide in the latest embarrassing leak.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And on June 12th, in Singapore, I'll be meeting with Kim Jong Un.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The summit is set. President Trump will meet with Kim Jong Un next month in Singapore. Can the president get Kim Jong Un to give up his nukes?

ROMANS: And, Iran condemns the Israeli strikes inside Syria but all signs point to the hardliners taking charge in Iran. We're live in Jerusalem.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody, this Friday morning. I'm Christine Romans. It's Friday.

BRIGGS: Ah, just nice words to hear --

ROMANS: It's Friday.

BRIGGS: -- it's Friday morning. I'm Dave Briggs. Five thirty-one eastern time.

All those stories in just a moment. But first, some breaking news.

The Feds are investigating after a Texas church is damaged by a package bomb. This, the second explosive device to target the city of Beaumont in two weeks.

Police, called to St. Stephen's Episcopal Church Thursday, found an already exploded package which caused minor damage to the church.

ROMANS: The FBI, along with the ATF, are assisting local police. The rector of the church, Rev. Steven Balke, saying "We're very blessed no one was injured" adding "It has everyone very nervous here."

Two weeks ago, a package found at a Starbucks in Beaumont was found to be an explosive device as well.

Beaumont, about 250 miles east of Austin where a serial bomber targeted homes and businesses in March.

BRIGGS: All right. Now, to national politics.

Senator John McCain's opposition to Gina Haspel becoming CIA director met with a rather despicable response from inside the White House. An official telling CNN that at a meeting, staffer Kelly Sadler said of McCain, quote, "He's dying anyway."

The Arizona senator is battling brain cancer, as you know. The official says Sadler meant it as a joke but the official says the joke fell flat.

Sadler runs surrogate communications at the White House.

ROMANS: As for a response, the White House had a more respectful response.

"We respect Sen. McCain's service to our nation, and he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time."

A source says Sadler called the senator's daughter, Meghan McCain, to apologize. It is unclear how McCain responded.

The senator's wife, Cindy McCain, posted this. "May I remind you my husband has a family, seven children, and five grandchildren."

BRIGGS: John McCain, on Wednesday, urged his fellow senators to reject Gina Haspel for CIA director after she declined to say torture is immoral.

McCain's move prompted this ugly response from Fox Business commentator, retired Air Force Lt. Thomas McInerney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLES PAYNE, FOX BUSINESS NETWORK CONTRIBUTOR, HOST, FOX "MAKING MONEY WITH CHARLES PAYNE": John McCain has said he's not going to endorse Haspel also, in part because she believes in torture -- that she thinks it works.

LT. GEN. TOM MCINERNEY (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: John McCain -- it worked on John. That's why they call him "Songbird John."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Side note -- that's fake news. No evidence torture ever got McCain to betray the country.

Host Charles Payne later tweeted an apology to McCain, saying he missed the remark in the moment but would have challenged it. ROMANS: A spokeswoman for Fox tells CNN that Gen. McInerney will no longer be invited on Fox Business or Fox News.

Meghan McCain will address the remarks from McInerney and Sadler on "THE VIEW" today.

On a more positive note, Sen. Lindsey Graham visited McCain this week in Arizona. He says McCain is getting stronger.

Joe Biden, a former Senate colleague of McCain, was there the week before and spent some time with him. And, John McCain, himself, has read parts of his book that's coming out. You know, it talked about his -- reflecting on his life. So it's a --

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: It's a tough moment for that family. But there is no question that John McCain is an American hero.

BRIGGS: And back to being the maverick that we remember.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: Joining us this morning to discuss this, CNN White House reporter Sarah Westwood, live for us --

ROMANS: Morning.

BRIGGS: -- in D.C. Good to see you, Sarah.

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Good morning.

BRIGGS: It's odd. John McCain, as he prepares to say goodbye, has become arguably the most divisive issue in the Republican Party.

I just want to show you a tweet from Jonah Goldberg, a very prominent conservative columnist and author. He tweeted this just a few days ago.

"I have political disagreements, from quibbles to more significant, with John McCain. But all of these self-described conservatives using the man's funeral wishes to piss on his whole life just to prove their love of Trump are debasing themselves. It's grotesque."

If you're on social media, he has become, as I've said, I think one of the most divisive issues in the Republican Party.

[05:35:04] What does it say about the state of the Trump Republican Party today?

WESTWOOD: Well, obviously, the state of the Trump Republican Party today was already chaotic, in disarray, full of rivaling factions. But clearly, this entire episode about John McCain -- who he wants to attend his funeral has sort of exposed just how nasty politics can get in the age of Trump. McCain has become sort of a bipartisan figure here at the end of his life. One of his final moments in the Senate, obviously, was to sink Republicans' efforts to repeal Obamacare. That endeared him to the left in new ways.

And certainly, there's no disputing that he is an American hero and that he is someone who has contributed enormously to American political life over the past several decades.

So, for a White House staffer to attack McCain this way, it not only revives memories of when President Trump, himself, was attacking McCain -- and that was a very controversial moment for Trump -- but it also sort of just exposes how when the tone is set at the top of being so critical of someone like McCain and of being so able to say offensive things and get away with it, this is what happens in the rank and file in a White House like that.

ROMANS: Yes, and you remember that Trump said I like people who weren't captured, and that was what he said on the campaign trail.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: It's sort of continuing that up is down, day is night, real news-fake news world that we live in.

BRIGGS: It's a tribalism of today. Disagreements used to be welcomed but --

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- no longer.

ROMANS: Let's listen to Mike Pence -- and Mike Pence, the vice president, out there saying it's time to -- it's time to end this Mueller investigation. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's been about a year since this investigation began. Our administration's provided over a million documents. We've fully cooperated in it.

And in the interest of the country, I think it's time to wrap it up, and I would very respectfully encourage the special counsel and his team to bring their work to completion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: As Lindsey Graham said on CNN, "That's not his call to make." I mean, this is an investigation that is going to be wrapped up when it is wrapped up. This is -- this is -- this is Mueller's deal.

WESTWOOD: Exactly. It shows you how effective President Trump's campaign and the campaign of some of his allies to undermine the credibility of Mueller has become. Someone like Vice President Pence, who usually floats above the Russia

controversy -- he's not been implicated in any way or dragged into the scandal -- can be saying things that you -- that might be more suited to President Trump's Twitter feed in the past.

It shows you how far the administration has gone from being deferential to Mueller, refusing to name him in public, saying that they welcome the investigation, to going more on offense trying to dictate the terms of an interview, for example, and pushing back on the need for a special counsel in the first place.

As President Trump's rhetoric has gotten more aggressive towards Mueller that has filtered down, obviously, to the rest of the administration.

BRIGGS: Indeed.

The president, for the most part, stayed away from the Mueller investigation last night in Elkhart, Indiana, the R.V. capital of the world.

ROMANS: Have you ever been -- have you ever been to Elkhart, Indiana?

BRIGGS: I have not.

ROMANS: There are a lot of R.V.s.

BRIGGS: Eighty percent of the --

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- global R.V. production --

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- out of Elkhart.

ROMANS: Acres of R.V.s.

BRIGGS: But he turned really -- to a really political rally for 2018.

Here's what the president said last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The Democrats, they fight against the borders. They fight to raise your taxes. They want to raise your taxes. They fight for all of the things that we don't stand for.

And we're going to have a great victory in '18 -- you watch. We're going have a great victory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The president also coined a new nickname last light -- "Sleepy Joe Donnelly," the Democrat senator of Indiana. But, what's the central issue for Republicans ahead of this 2018 midterms and what does the president want it to be?

WESTWOOD: Well, it's not exactly clear what the president wants the central issue to be.

At one point, you might think it's immigration. He's increasingly frustrated that his administration and Republicans in Congress haven't done enough to make progress towards fulfilling that campaign promise of building the border wall and imposing stricter immigration laws.

On the other hand, Republicans want the focus to be on tax cuts.

And at the same time, President Trump is focusing more and more of his administration's attention on foreign policy because he's seen the fact that extending the olive branch to Kim Jong Un in North Korea, gunning for that summit, ripping up the Iran nuclear deal just recently -- those are things that have boosted his approval ratings. That's something that President Trump obviously cares about a great deal.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: All right.

BRIGGS: He's a brander, he's a marketer. He looks frustrated that Republicans can't sell his accomplishments.

Sarah Westwood, great stuff -- appreciate it.

ROMANS: We'll see how the accomplishments of the tax cut will work when you've got rising gas prices heading into the midterms, too. That could be an interesting play.

BRIGGS: They'll make -- they'll make Nancy Pelosi a central issue.

ROMANS: Yes, they will.

BRIGGS: Trust me on that. All right.

DHS flatly denying a "New York Times" report Homeland Security Sec. Kirstjen Neilsen considered resigning after an explosive argument with President Trump during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

[05:40:04] A source with knowledge of the incident says the president erupted over immigration, berating Nielsen for not doing enough to secure the border. The secretary standing her ground, citing the law to the president more than once.

ROMANS: According to the "Times," Nielsen later drafted a resignation letter but a Homeland Security spokesman denies she threatened to step down. And, Nielsen now says that she shares the president's frustration with border security, blaming the problem partly on congressional inaction.

BRIGGS: President Trump in Indiana, as we mentioned, taking a victory lap following the release of three prisoners held by North Korea.

At a rally last night in Vice President Pence's home state just hours after greeting the detainees in person, President Trump said his efforts are ensuring America is respected again.

A location and a date are now set for President Trump's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

For the latest now, we turn to CNN's Paula Hancocks who is live for us in Seoul. Hi there, Paula.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Dave.

We know it's going to be June 12th now. We know it's going to be Singapore. And the reason we're hearing that Singapore was the location that they landed on was for security reasons and also for neutrality reasons.

U.S. officials and those really in the close circle around the U.S. president, Donald Trump, wanted to make sure that it wasn't going to be the DMZ, as Mr. Trump had tweeted potentially he would like to go there, because it seemed the optics of the North-South Korean summit saying that that would be a conciliatory gesture towards the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un -- Trump going to his doorstep.

So we're seeing it is going to be Singapore. It is a close ally of the United States.

And from the North Korean point of view, as well, they appear happy with it because they have an embassy there, so they have a connection with this country as well.

And certainly, we're hearing very different rhetoric from both sides -- from Donald Trump and also through North Korean media, KCNA. Very warm terms about the Trump administration.

BRIGGS: All right, Paula Hancocks live for us. Six forty-two p.m. there. Thank you, Paula.

ROMANS: All right. Ten-ton boulders flying as far as half a mile, rain laced with toxins. Some serious warnings about what could be on the horizon for the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:47:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Among the many grave national security blunders of the previous administration, one of the world's worst was the disastrous Iran nuclear deal. We're putting the harshest, strongest, most stringent sanctions on Iran.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The president says he's hopeful a better deal can be negotiated with the Iranians. No escalation, meanwhile, in the violence overnight but the situation

remains volatile. Iran is now condemning Israel's strikes on Syria. The Israelis say it was retaliation.

International diplomatic editor Nic Robertson has some context, live from Jerusalem.

Nic, you wrote a great piece on all of this. Good morning to you.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, good morning, Dave.

And what people are asking right now is has Iran -- has Iran suspended its strategic patience -- its strategic desire not to strike back at Israel because if you look at it the past few months, Israel has struck Iranian military assets inside Syria that it has believed are threatening the sovereignty and the security inside Israel. It has killed Iranian forces inside Syria.

But until now -- until just after President Trump withdrew from the JCPOA, Iran hadn't struck back at Israel. Then they did.

So what does this mean? Does it mean that the hardliners on the ground inside Syria -- the Iranian hardliners there are in the ascendancy now?

Does it mean President Rouhani in Tehran, who is more of a moderate who has said the European countries -- Germany, France, Britain -- who helped negotiate the JCPOA has said that they have a short time frame now to show that the JCPOA can work. European diplomats are feeling, at the moment, that's very unlikely.

We just heard from President Trump there talking about strong sanctions on Iran which is likely to damage European companies' ability to do business in Iran, which is what President Rouhani needs to show Iranians that the economy can benefit -- that the JCPOA can keep going, and that would keep him in the ascendancy over the hardliners.

So right now, everyone looking to see who's going to win -- the hardliners, the moderates. Is that strategic resistance -- is that strategic patience, if you will, is that gone? Because it if has, that makes a bigger conflict here much more likely right now.

BRIGGS: Indeed. For now, a quite Jerusalem.

Nic Robertson live for us. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on "CNN Money" this Friday morning.

Bye, bye net neutrality. The FCC set an official date to end it -- June 11th -- repealing what FCC chair Ajit Pai calls unnecessary and harmful Internet regulations introduced in 2015. The FCC voted to repeal net neutrality in December. The Obama-era rules, they were designed to ensure a free and open

Internet, preventing providers from blocking or slowing down your Internet access or charging consumers more for certain content.

[05:50:00] Tech companies like Facebook and Apple oppose these revised rules.

But they're a win for Internet providers who say the strict regulations stifled investment. They pledge not to block access after the rules expire but many advocates are really concerned here.

More than 20 states have filed a lawsuit to stop the repeal and Senate Democrats are pushing for a vote on a bill to overturn the decision as soon as next week.

Global stocks mixed right now after Wall Street closed higher. A subdued inflation report for April eased fears of faster interest rate hikes this year.

Look at Apple. Apple hit a record high, closer now to being the first company worth a trillion bucks. Apple's market value about $958 billion. That has been quite a winner -- wow.

All right. Is $100 oil on its way back? Bank of America thinks so, forecasting world oil prices to hit $100 per barrel next year -- U.S. oil, $94.

New Iran sanctions could cut off some exports just at the very moment major oil producers are slowing production to nudge prices higher.

And as oil prices climb, you pay more at the pump. Gas prices are up 21 percent over the past year and rising. A typical family can expect to spend $200 more on gas this summer.

That higher gas bill will but into the extra cash in your pocket because of the new tax law. Morgan Stanley says Americans will pay $38 billion more to fill up their tanks this year. That wipes out about a third of the direct savings from tax cuts.

BRIGGS: All right.

Ahead, in the catalog of bad ceremonial pitches, we may have a new winner. A former NFL player and the host of "AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR," he -- we'll show you how that ended, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:56:13] BRIGGS: All right.

As it approaches midnight in Hawaii, scientists are renewing dire warnings about the threat of explosive, almost biblical eruptions. They say the violent eruptions could fling 10-ton boulders as far as a half-mile and send columns of choking ash miles into the sky. The last time that happened was nearly a century ago.

This prompted Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park to close indefinitely. Toxic gases released in the Kilauea eruption also raising fears about

acid rain and volcanic smog which can induce asthma attacks and other respiratory problems.

ROMANS: More than two-thirds of all flight attendants say that they have been sexually harassed by passengers.

In a survey of flight attendants conducted by the flight attendants union, 68 percent claim they have experienced verbal sexual harassment in their careers. More than a third of those incidents occurred in the past year in the midst of the #MeToo movement.

Eighteen percent of the flight attendants say they have been victims of physical sexual harassment in the last year. They described physical sexual harassment like groping, grabbing, slapping.

The head of the union says the airline industry is quote "steeped in a sexist past."

BRIGGS: "Town & Country" magazine apologizing to Monica Lewinsky after she was disinvited from their annual philanthropy summit because Bill Clinton was attending.

Lewinsky called out the publisher on Twitter for throwing her under the proverbial bus.

ROMANS: Yes.

She wrote, "Dear world, please don't invite me to an event, especially one about social change, and then after I have accepted, uninvite me because Bill Clinton then decided to attend/was invited. It's 2018. Emily Post would def not approve."

No, she wouldn't.

On Thursday, "Town & Country" responded by tweeting, "We apologize to Ms. Lewinsky and regret the way the situation was handled."

It was handled badly.

BRIGGS: It was, indeed.

Speaking of bad handling, you're about to witness what could be the worst ceremonial first pitch ever thrown at a professional baseball game.

Former NFL linebacker and co-host of "AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR" Akbar Gbaja-Biamila at yesterday's Phillies game -- oh, just spikes that thing straight into the ground, renewing the question who has thrown the worst pitch of all time?

ROMANS: That's pretty bad.

BRIGGS: Is it Akbar or is it rapper 50 Cent, who threw an all-time gem you might remember --

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- at a Mets game a few years ago.

Also a lefty and nearly took out the guy with the camera.

Romans, you are the judge and jury. Which is worse?

ROMANS: 50 Cent.

BRIGGS: 50 Cent? Is that right?

I've got to say Akbar. He didn't even make it halfway to the plate, but you ruled.

ROMANS: I know, but Akbar had --

BRIGGS: You determined.

ROMANS: -- more style on the throw, like the leg out. I mean, it looks like it -- it tricked you for a minute like he was going to be able to do but -- and then this.

BRIGGS: And if you fail, fail with style is the lesson from Christine Romans on a Friday morning.

ROMANS: Thanks for joining us. So long, it is Friday. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Join Lindsay Czarniak and I on Instagram, live right now.

"NEW DAY" starts now. Have a great weekend and happy early Mother's Day --

ROMANS: Well, thank you.

BRIGGS: -- to you and all you moms.

ROMANS: Thank you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He's not a war hero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a war hero.

TRUMP: I like people that weren't captured.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sadler said McCain's opposition doesn't matter because he's going to die anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole thing is disgusting and the idea that this didn't come from the top is absurd.

TRUMP: We have to do something strong. We are going to build the wall. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president just erupted and much of his anger was directed at Kirstjen Neilsen.

CHRIS WHIPPLE, WRITER, FILMMAKER, AUTHOR, "THE GATEKEEPERS: HOW THE WHITE HOUSE CHIEFS OF STATT DEFINE EVERY PRESIDENCY": Donald Trump loves ritual humiliation. This is the price of admission.

TRUMP: On June 12th, in Singapore, I'll be meeting with Kim Jong Un.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This has been a bit unorthodox. We're in a better place. The temperature's been turned down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is going to have to do two things -- prepare and listen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)