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First Lady in the Hospital; How Hard Is It To Apologize; Deadly Day in Gaza. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 15, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:14] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The first lady at Walter Reed Medical Center this morning after a procedure on her kidney. She is expected to stay there the rest of the week. More details in a moment.


RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: It's going to be dealt with and has been dealt with internally. This is an internal matter. It's being addressed internally.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House unable to put the brakes on the story that could have been resolved last week. Now, pressure is building from John McCain's colleagues to apologize for mocking the senator's cancer bout.

ROMANS: And more protests expected this morning in Gaza after the deadliest day on the border with Israel in years. We have reporting this morning from Gaza, Beijing, Tehran, Hawaii and England.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is Tuesday, May 15th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Yes, some royal wedding drama and also the volcano, a continued concern there in Hawaii.

But we start with the first lady. Melania Trump recovering this hour at Walter Reed Medical Center after going undergoing a procedure to threat a benign kidney condition. The White House reporting all went well with no complications. Mrs. Trump is expected to spend the rest of the week, though, in the hospital.

Our chief correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta finds that unusual. He says patients who undergo this type of procedure typically hospitalized just one night.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPODENT: Embolization procedure. It's not really surgery. It's basically threading this catheter near this -- near the kidney and injecting a glue type substance to try and stop blood flow, to an area of the kidney where this abnormality is.

Benign obviously is good. We don't want to be anything other than benign. But what exactly is it that was treated here? Some of the benign things that happened to a kidney are things like cysts. But those are not treated using embolization.

So, what was it? Was it some sort of mass? Was it something else?


ROMANS: The first lady's hospitalization caught everyone off guard. She's been out in public more frequently lately, attending a state dinner for the French president and greeting three U.S. detainees from North Korea last week with her husband. President tweeting yesterday, heading over to Walter Reed Medical Center to see our great First Lady Melania. Successful procedure. She is in good spirits. Thank you to all of the well-wishers.

We would like to wish the first lady a speedy recovery and privacy, quite frankly, as she goes home later this week to recover.

BRIGGS: Yes, indeed.

It's now been five days and the White House still refusing to apologize due for the aide who dismissed the influence of Senator John McCain because, quote, he's dying anyway. The silence from the administration on aide Kelly Sandler only inflaming the controversy. The White House focusing instead on the leak that brought Sadler's remark to light.

The president calling the story an over-exaggeration, even referring to members of his staff as, quote, traitors for leaking.

ROMANS: White House counselor Kellyanne Conway selling the same message. She expects changes because of the leaks.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: Some leaks exist to hurt I guess colleagues. Some leaks exist because they disagree with the policies that are being forth. But none of them are helpful. It's not so much leaking as using the media to sieve each other.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you expect personnel changes as a result?

CONWAY: I do. Actually, I do.


ROMANS: Sources tell CNN that Kelly Sadler's job is safe. White House spokesperson Raj Shah really reluctant to say much more than that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SHAH: I understand the focus on this issue, but it's going to be dealt with and has been dealt with internally. The matter has been internally. It is being addressed internally. And I don't have anything further to add.

REPORTER: Is she being reprimanded?

REPORTER: Can you explain how it's being addressed internally?

SHAH: Obviously, if I explain all that, it won't remain internal.



BRIGGS: Pardon me.

The administration's stunning refusal to offer an apology and its constant focus on deflection of leakers even has Republican lawmakers frustrated. Here is Louisiana Senator John Kennedy.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I don't know Ms. Sadler. So, I don't know whether she is stupid or not. But she sure made a bad decision.


BRIGGS: Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a member of leadership, also demanding an apology. When asked who should apologize, he replied, quote, the person who said that really dumb thing.

ROMANS: Peace seems more improbable than ever in the Middle East. Just as the U.S. was opening its new embassy in Israel in Jerusalem, protests along the Gaza border turned deadly. Israeli defense forces opening fire on the Palestinian protesters, killing 59 and wounding thousands.

BRIGGS: The Israelis blame the Palestinian militant group Hamas for inciting terror attacks. Ian Lee live from Gaza where protests are expected to day.

Ian, it looks quiet thus far behind you.

[04:05:01] What's expected today?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave, we're expecting these protests to kick up around afternoon local time. There are a lot of funerals taking place today. And that's where a lot of these people are going to be at those 59 funerals for those people who are killed. You know, including in those 59 people dead are eight children, including one infant who died in one of these camps that are behind me. There are hundreds of meters from the border, but the baby died from asphyxiation due to tear gas. And there is a lot of anger here today about these deaths. And we've

also heard a lot of international condemnation from the United Nations, from Doctors Without Borders about the level of violence that we saw yesterday and it's easy to see why we saw that.

Here, there were just thousands of people up and down this border. Their goal was to try to cross over. You ask why, why they are out here. And they tell us there's frustration, there's frustration with their current situation. Gaza has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt for over a decade.

And then also you have the embassy move. There's a lot of anger about the United States declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel. And so, you do have this anger being vented in that direction, towards that border fence. And we saw thousands of people trying to go there.

Israel says that is their red line. They're not going to allow anyone to cross over. They use tear gas but also then, they use live ammunition. And that is where we saw those 59 people killed.

You know, today, again, we are expecting more people to come out here. Today is what the Palestinians called the Nakba. This is when they remember the 1948 war where many Palestinians left their lands and became refugees. And this is the called march of return because the Palestinians say they want to return to their lands that were lost during that war. But Israel says, you know, no one is getting cross that border -- Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. Ian Lee live for us in Gaza -- we will check in with you next half hour -- thanks.

ROMANS: President Trump is defending his decision to save a Chinese company. He says smartphone makers ZTE is a big buyer for U.S. companies. Just last month, Trump's Commerce Department crippled ZTE by cutting it off from the U.S. suppliers, punishment for violating U.S. sanctions and lying about it, lying about disciplining the employees involved. Its behavior Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross called egregious.

Now, Ross says the company did some inappropriate things.


WILBUR ROSS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: The question is, there are alternative remedies to the ones that we put forward. And that's the area we will be exploring very, very promptly.


ROMANS: The Commerce Department exploring alternative punishments to a supplier ban. ZTE says it paid U.S. exporters $3.2 billion last year. The president threw ZTE a lifeline Sunday, saying he's working to get it back into business. And now, he is linking ZTE's fate to broader trade talks, calling it, quote, reflective of the larger trade deal we're negotiating with China. The U.S. and China gearing up for another road of high stakes trade talks that Chinese delegation heads to Washington today.

It is a reversal from this administration. The Commerce Department essentially punished this company for twice, twice violating U.S. rules. You know, they were doing business with Iran and North Korea and Sudan against U.S. sanctions and then lying about it. If they give them another chance, it would be the third time this company has been given a chance.

BRIGGS: Why? Why are they helping this Chinese company making China great? Is it because of the farm belt? They want to --

ROMANS: It could be.

BRIGGS: Is it politics at play here?

ROMANS: It could very well be. It could very well be.

BRIGGS: All right. What's the view from China on President Trump's sudden about face?

CNN's Matt Rivers live for us in Beijing this morning.

Matt, good morning.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave and Christine.

Well, the Chinese are very, very happy about this unexpected tweet from the president. Perhaps it wasn't unexpected at the high levels of the Chinese government, but it sure took us by surprise given how strongly the U.S. has moved against ZTE, as you guys just laid out over the past year or so. This reversal basically saving, assuming a deal is struck, about 75,000 Chinese jobs. That is how many employees work for ZTE worldwide.

The Chinese basically saying that they are happy with the United States' decision here. But I think it's worth noting this is all happening in the framework of a broader deal that's currently trying to be worked out between the United States and China. You have tens of billions of dollars of looming tariffs threats that could be issued from either side. You had in the last two weeks, U.S. negotiators led by Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin here in Beijing, that Chinese delegation is on its way to Washington for several days of talks now.

So, could this ZTE move be a concession from the United States? Perhaps it is , and the question then turns to, well, what is the Chinese going to give up in return. That is the big question for round two of these trade negotiations this week.

[04:10:04] BRIGGS: All right. Matt Rivers live for us, 4:09 p.m. there.

This is an intriguing about face.

ROMANS: It really is.

BRIGGS: Stunned the administration, Republican members of Congress. And we are still without answers, really.

ROMANS: And will the Chinese bend on intellectual property theft? Will they stop subsidizing their advanced technology industry? These are the things the United States wants and doesn't appear they are moving in that direction yet.

Right. Who can forget the chemistry between Superman and Lois LKane?


MARGOT KIDDER AS LOIS LANE: Just don't fly away, all right?


ROMANS: Remembering actress Margot Kidder, next.


BRIGGS: Eleven-fourteen p.m. in Hawaii.

Civil defense officials issuing a condition red health alert day due to high levels of sulfur dioxide being released from the erupting Kilauea volcano.

[04:15:05] Officials say it poses an immediate danger to anyone nearby. The eruptions have opened nearly two dozen fissures, spewing lava and toxic gases into residential areas. Two-thirds of the Hawaii's Volcano National Park remains closed amid concerns of an explanation at the summit that could send huge rocks and ash flying.

More now from CNN's Scott McLean in Hawaii.


SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, there have been 20 fissures opening up on the bottom side of the Kilauea volcano. They are spewing lava and destroying everything in their path.

You can see, this used to be a house. It is unrecognizable. You see the gas spewing. That is sulfur dioxide. In low concentrations, it can be an irritant. In higher concentrations, it can be downright dangerous.

A lot of people are trying to get their hands on face masks or gas masks. But officials say the best thing to do is simply stay inside of your home with the windows shut. The most recent fissures were active overnight. They continue to spew lava high in the air.

The other problem for officials is that a lot of people don't want to leave their homes. They want to stick it out and see what happens. Well, police say that if the escape routes get blocked, they will simply be trapped and then they are on their own.

The other big threat is the top of the Kilauea volcano and the potential for explosion. Officials are worried about big boulders that are falling into that main crater there, creating pressure and a potential for a larger release of lava.

Well, the U.S. Geological Survey now says that they have not seen a lot of pressure building up. So, that is good news for Kilauea at least for now -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that.

A New York congressional candidate calls her landmark bid to use her campaign funds for child care a game changer in politics. Democrat Liuba Grechen Shirley successfully petitioned the Federal Election Commission and is now the first woman to get federal approval to use campaign funds to pay for a babysitter for her two young kids. She says the decision will help more average Americans and more women run for office.


LIUBA GRECHEN SHIRLEY (D), NY CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: We need more parents and we need more people from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to run for office. And this breaks down barriers to have a more representative government of our society. We make decisions every day how we allocate our resources. And this is just one more decision. Our babysitter, she is just as integral to our team as my campaign manager.


ROMANS: Grechen Shirley is running against Peter King in New York second district on Long Island.

BRIGGS: Well, if you are planning to bring bugs, goats or hedgehogs along to comfort you on the next American Airlines flight -- tough luck. The airline expanding its no fly list to now conclude those very creatures, saying in a statement, quote, we support the rights of customers with legitimate needs of trained service or support animals. Unfortunately, untrained animals can lead to safety issues for our team. Use of such animals on flights have ballooned years. Americans says between 2016 and 2017, the number of customers transporting service or support animals aboard their planes rose by more than 40 percent.

Romans, an emotional support hedgehog, no more.

ROMANS: No more emotional support tarantulas. Not invited anymore.

BRIGGS: Let us know @earlystart on Twitter. What is the most ridiculous emotional support animal you've seen? You've see the hedgehog? We need to hear from you.

ROMANS: There was a peacock recently at JFK.

BRIGGS: There was a peacock. I think that was a publicity.

ROMANS: All right. Eighteen minutes past the hour. Actress Margot Kidder has died. Her career has spanned decades. But

she's famous for playing Lois Lane opposite Christopher Reeves in the 1978 launch of his "Superman" franchise.



KIDDER: You got me, who's got you?


ROMANS: Kidder appeared in three "Superman" sequels. She also struggled with addiction and bipolar disorder. She became an advocate for mental health awareness. The cause of her death has not been made public. She was 69 years old.

BRIGGS: Who could forget those scenes when she is flying with Superman? I admit to be Lois Lane for a moment.

ROMANS: A very talented woman.

BRIGGS: Indeed.

ROMANS: All right. A bizarre drama before the royal wedding. Meghan Markle's father apparently says he won't be attending. We are live in the U.K. to explain why.


[04:23:49] BRIGGS: All right. It's a critical day for Iran if it hopes to salvage the nuclear deal without the United States. Iran's foreign minister in Brussels hoping to convince European leaders to honor the agreement if it means facing sanctions from the White House and the wrath of President Trump.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen live in Tehran for us -- Fred.


Yes, it certainly really is the money day for Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. He is trying to convince the Europeans to essentially try to go up against the United States. The Iranians are saying, look, they're willing to give this nuclear agreement another chance minus the U.S. in it, but there has to be a situation where Iranian interests are preserved. And what he's saying is Europeans companies need to be able to invest in Iran without facing retribution from the U.S.

Now, of course, that is an extremely tall order for European countries. It's no secret they were not happy about President Trump pulling out of the nuclear agreement. But at the same time, of course, the U.S. is Europe's oldest ally and most important ally, and quite frankly, a lot of these companies are transnational actors who have big investment in the U.S. They would have a lot of trouble not investing or getting issues with the Americans.

At the same time, the Iranians are also facing a lot of pressure here at home.

[04:25:02] Some hard-liners are already asking President Rouhani to apologize for putting the deal in place in the first place -- Dave.

BRIGGS: All right. Fred Pleitgen, live for us before 1:00 p.m. there in Tehran -- thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Their royal wedding now is just four days away and there's already some unwanted drama. Meghan Markle's father telling TMZ he will not be attending the ceremony.

CNN's Anna Stewart live in Windsor with all the details.

I mean, the original plan was for her father to walk her down the aisle, but looks like there is a wrinkle here.

ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it seems so. I have to say, Kensington Palace hasn't confirmed whether or not he's really attending. We are only getting this from TMZ.

And yesterday, Kensington Palace released a statement saying they really wanted respect and understanding to be extended to Mr. Markle at this really difficult time. However, that obviously hasn't stopped this from becoming a tabloid story in all the tabloids today in the U.K., from "The Daily Express" to "The Sun" and "Daily Mirror." It's all saying that Meghan's father is not coming.

We do know CNN has understood that Meghan Markle, despite all these stories around (INAUDIBLE) really still wanted her father to come and walk her down the aisle. So, this really has come as a huge disappointed. But it has not confirmed. Perhaps a conversation is going on behind the scenes and perhaps, you know, he can be brought back in the fold and persuaded to come after all.

ROMANS: So interesting. So, what do you -- what is -- what is the best guess that this is going to go off without a hitch? That her dad will walk her down the aisle here and she still wants him to, right?

STEWART: She still wants him to. And we're only getting this from TMZ. We have heard from Samantha, her half sister. We have not heard from Thomas Markle. Until we have real confirmation, I am holding out hope that he will arrive, because, you know, it's so nice to have the father of the bride on the big day despite the media storm that has happened. It would seem like a great shame if he really felt like he couldn't come.

ROMANS: Absolutely. All right. Thank you so much for walking us through that, Anna. And I know it's going to be a lot of fun for the next few days. Thank you.

BRIGGS: At the heart of it, it's just a girl wants her dad to walk her down the aisle.


BRIGGS: A lot of fuss there though.

Ahead, the first lady recovering after a kidney procedure. She is expected to stay at the hospital the rest of the week.