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Merkel Prevents Breakup of German Government; Trump Has Interviewed Four High Court Candidates; Efforts to Rescue Soccer Team from Thai Cave; Is North Korea Willing to Denuclearize?; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 3, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:14] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The latest sign decades long alliances are crumbling. The president warning he'll pull American military might if NATO allies don't increase defense spending.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Our first look at the short list for the Supreme Court. The president conducts his first interview and is said to want a woman for the job.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many of you?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thirteen. Brilliant.


BRIGGS: A huge sigh of relief as a youth soccer team is found alive in a cave but a daunting task for rescuers in Thailand -- getting everyone out. We have reports this morning from Thailand. As well as Germany, China and Washington. What a tremendous story that was. One the world needed.

Good morning, everyone. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, July 3rd. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. Let's begin, though, in Washington.

President Trump dealing another damaging blow to post-war alliances. In letters to the leaders of America's longstanding NATO allies, the president demanding they increase defense spending and he's threatening to alter America's global military presence if they don't.

The letters first reported by the "New York Times," were sent to countries including Belgium, Norway, Canada and Germany. They were sent last month. According to the "Times," the president was especially critical in a letter to his -- to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

BRIGGS: He writes, quote, "Continued German underspending on defense undermines the security of the alliance and provides validation for other allies that also do not plan to meet their military spending commitments because others see you as a role model." The letter fits a pattern of Trump critiques of NATO particularly over

defense spending. NATO members did increase overall defense spending for a second straight year in 2017, but the U.S. still paid about 70 percent.

The president travels to Belgium next week for the NATO summit.

ROMANS: Chancellor Merkel also facing a domestic problem with global consequences. She just avoided a breakup of the German government over immigration. In a major reversal, Merkel agreed to conservative demands to build camps for asylum seekers.

We get more from Atika Shubert live in Berlin -- Atika.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, it was a late-night agreement. This has been a standoff between her and her Interior minister, Horst Seehofer, for the last two weeks. They finally came to an agreement last night close to midnight to put in what they call transit centers near the border. And this should theoretically speed up the processing of asylum seekers when they come into the country. They'll either be accepted or deported.

Now that's ostensibly what this was about, but in reality, this was a political challenge. Especially because voters were very unhappy with her migration policy. And they -- she lost about a million votes in the last election. So what we're seeing here is a challenge to her leadership. She has survived this time but she is likely to get more challenges in the future, especially with the conservative wing of her party.

ROMANS: All right. Atika Shubert, thank you so much for that, live in Berlin this morning.

BRIGGS: All right. New clarity this morning on who might be topping President Trump's list for the Supreme Court . Sources tell CNN the president has so far interviewed four people for the job. Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, Raymond Kethledge and Amul Thapar. All of them federal appeals court judges. The president met with each on Monday for 45 minutes.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I interviewed and met with four potential justices of our great Supreme Court. They are outstanding people. They are really incredible people in so many different ways, academically and every other way.


BRIGGS: With abortion a major focus of concern, sources tell us the president is zoning in on a particular type of nominee.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny with more from the White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, we're learning the president is increasingly intrigued at the idea of selecting a woman candidate. He believes that this female justice would be the first truly conservative female Supreme Court justice course. Of course Sandra Day O'Connor was on the bench appointed by President Ronald Reagan. Many conservatives did not see her as the champion of their causes.

So the president, of course, looking at about a half dozen or so finalists. We believe two of them are women. The White House is saying the president is not specifically asking candidates about specific cases like "Roe v. Wade" or other hot button issues. One of the reasons, of course, they do not want to make this confirmation process any more difficult but the reality is, all of these finalists on the list, this list of some 25 people or so, have been vetted and have the stamp of approval from the Federalist Society.

[04:05:03] That's the conservative judicial group here in Washington. All of them certainly are suitable to conservatives. The question is, are they suitable to more moderates? Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, those are two Republicans who support abortion rights. I am told one of the reasons the president intrigued about picking a woman, he believes that would be the conservative answer to what liberals are already calling the year of the woman in this midterm election season -- Christine and Dave.

ROMANS: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House. Thanks, Jeff.

With conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett on President Trump's short list, the Senate Democratic leader has launched an unusual preemptive strike against her. Chuck Schumer posting a series of tweets pointing to her legal opinions. He writes, "The bottom line, Judge Barrett has given every indication that she will be an activist judge on the court. If chosen as the nomine she will be the deciding vote to overturn "Roe v. Wade" and to strike down preexisting conditions protections in the ACA, #whatsatstake.

BRIGGS: We should note, while Barrett has written that she wants space for re-argument on cases the court has decided she has quoted in 2013 as saying she think it is, quote, "very unlikely" at this point that the court is going to overturn "Roe v. Wade."

ROMANS: All right. A whistleblower says EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and his aides have kept a special calendar to hide controversial meetings or calls. Kevin Chmielewski, Pruitt's former deputy chief of staff is expected to testify before Congress. And he tells CNN EPA staffers met routinely in Pruitt's office to scrub, alter or remove records because they might, quote, "look bad." He says it often occurred at Pruitt's direction.

BRIGGS: A CNN preview of EPA documents found discrepancies between Pruitt's official calendar and other records. Legal experts say altering or deleting such records could be a violation of federal law. Pruitt already faces at least 14 federal probes regarding his spending, management and ethics. Chmielewski says he was forced to leave the EPA in February after raising concerns about Pruitt's actions. ROMANS: All right. The Trump administration has one week to meet a

court order deadline for reuniting children under 5 and their parents who were separated at the border. The Department of Health and Human Services is refusing to discuss how many families have already been reunified or even how the process is going. The total number of children in the agency's care unchanged since Friday.

BRIGGS: Wow. On Monday, 11 Democratic senators including Elizabeth warren sent a letter to HHS and the Department of Homeland Security demanding weekly updates and briefings. Not long after that request, the official White House Twitter account took a partisan turn targeting Warren and Senator Kamala Harris for their recent comments about abolishing or reforming ICE. Those posts were retweeted by the president's official account.

ROMANS: Wow. In another blow to the administration's crackdown at the border, a federal judge in Washington ordering the government to release or grant hearings to more than 1,000 asylum seekers who have been jailed for months or in some cases years.

BRIGGS: The ACLU and other groups sued in March after finding immigrant detention rate shot up more than 900 percent in the first eight months of Donald Trump's presidency.

The attorney for embattled FBI agent Peter Strzok slamming House Republicans for selectively leaking portions of his closed door testimony last week. (INAUDIBLE) sending the House Judiciary Committee a blistering letter questioning their motives. He writes, quote, "Having sharpened their knives behind closed doors, the committee would now like to drag back Special Agent Strzok and have him testify in public. A request that we originally made and the committee denied. What's being asked of Special Agent Strzok is to participate in what anyone can recognize as a trap."

Strzok's attorney also demanding the transcript of last week's 11-hour interview be made public. Strzok worked on the early stages in the Mueller probe and has been vilified by Republicans for anti-Trump text messages to FBI lawyer Lisa Page during the campaign.

And therein lies the question for House Republicans. Why not make it public?

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: If he was trying to undermine the Trump presidency, let the testimony stand and let the public decide.

ROMANS: All right. Nine minutes past the hour, they are alive, these boys, but their ordeal is not over yet.

BRIGGS: Rescuers working out a plan to get a youth soccer team out of a cave in Thailand. We're live in Thailand, next.


[04:13:38] ROMANS: Just an incredible story. Enormous relief in Thailand as rescue teams found that youth soccer team alive in a cave nearly 10 days after the group went missing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many of you?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thirteen. Brilliant.


ROMANS: The rescue mission, though, is far from over. They still must find a way to get the kids and their coach out from underground.

CNN's Anna Coren is live there for us in Thailand with the latest.

I can only imagine the parents and families of these boys are so relieved. But, Anna, there's so much work to do, and the boys are starving. They haven't had anything to eat. They've been in the dark for almost 10 days.

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. It is now day 10. Look, Navy SEALs, they have managed to get to these boys and deliver food supplies. They've been having these power gels. They've also delivered some pork and rice and milk that was requested. So they obviously are getting their appetite back. But they're very weak. You know, they are malnourished. So it is going to take a lot to get them back to full strength which is what they will need to be, Christine, because what the military is talking about is getting these 12 boys, age 11 to 16, and a 25-year-old coach to scuba dive out of this cave which in itself is a logistical nightmare.

[04:15:07] We know the problems, the challenges that professional divers, military divers have faced over the last couple of days. Obviously water is being pumped from this cave 24/7 around the clock. 150,000 liters an hour. But it's not enough. It's not enough to recede the water. And this is monsoon season in Thailand. So we are expecting more rain which is why they are talking about scuba diving. Getting these kids to learn how to scuba dive so it's basically getting them to feel confident enough to navigate this cave system which as we know is the same, will be a logistical nightmare.

ROMANS: Wow. They'll have to get strong enough first and then one by one dive out of that cave.

Thank you so much, Anna. We'll be back -- ping us if there are any developments this morning. Thank you.

BRIGGS: Remarkable. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo headed back to North Korea this week to meet face-to-face with Kim Jong-un. The Trump administration pushing for a deal to dismantle the regime's nuclear program as doubts swirl in the U.S. intelligence community about Kim's commitment to denuclearize.

Will Ripley is live for us in Beijing this afternoon, 4:16 p.m. there. Will, what's the latest? WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is going to

be Secretary Pompeo's third trip to Pyongyang and arguably the most difficult trip diplomatically for the secretary and his delegation because they have a lot of things they need to talk about with the North Koreans. The United States is expected to provide a detailed list of tasks and a time line for what -- when they want to see those tasks accomplished.

So basically what the United States wants is a full inventory of North Korea's nuclear arsenal. Exactly how may warheads they have, their nuclear facilities, their missile production facilities. They want full transparency. They want access by inspectors and they want the denuclearization and disarmament process to begin as soon as possible. That could be vastly different from what the North Koreans are prepared to give, given the fact that they have never agreed to disarm and denuclearization for them might mean the United States giving up all of its nuclear weapons before North Korea does the same.

And so these discussions could be very difficult especially given all of this leaked intelligence outside of the United States including CNN's learning from the Defense Intelligence Agency that they believe North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is not prepared to denuclearize. At least not right now. That intelligence is being shared with other U.S. agencies. If they all concur then that would be a complete intelligence assessment passed along to the Trump administration. But the question is, will the president believe the intel, given that he is still skeptical about some of their work especially on the Russian investigation.

After Pyongyang, Pompeo will travel to Tokyo to brief his counterparts in South Korea and Japan. Then he'll head to Brussels for the NATO summit where he'll speak with President Trump.

What we don't know, Dave, is then with President Trump, after learning what happens in Pyongyang, invite Kim Jong-un to the United States for a summit later this year.

BRIGGS: Yes, some reporting from Axios that perhaps Kim Jong-un could be headed to New York City for round two.

Will Ripley live for us in Beijing, thank you.

ROMANS: Well, President Trump has a warning for the World Trade Organization.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They have been treating us very badly for many, many years and that's why we were at a big disadvantage with the WTO. And we're not planning anything now, but if they don't treat us properly, we will be doing something.


ROMANS: Now Trump denies he will leave the WTO. But the administration drafted a bill allowing him to abandon key principles like stopping different tariff rates on trading partners. Instead raising them at will.

Trump met with the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte just hours after the EU threatened tariffs on nearly $300 billion in U.S. exports. That would be retaliation if Trump imposes tariffs on auto imports, something the White House is considering. The president wants to work out a trade deal with the EU but Rutte contradicted Trump about the possible outcome.


TRUMP: If we do work it out, that will be positive. And if we don't, it will be positive, also, because --


TRUMP: We're just thinking about those cars brought in here. And we'll do something.

RUTTE: It's not positive.


ROMANS: Not positive. It's not just the EU worried about car tariffs. So are U.S. automakers. Every car sold in the U.S. is partly imported, mainly because of parts. This is a global supply chain. Car makers say they don't have the capacity to build all car parts domestically so tariffs will cost them an extra $35 billion a year forcing companies to absorb the costs or pass it along the consumers. For example, the price of a car with 35 percent imported parts would increase by $2,000.

BRIGGS: And then right there, that number, that some Republicans are saying this wipes out the tax cut.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: If an American has to pay a couple thousand dollars more for a car, that exceeds the benefit they got most from the tax cut plan.

All right. Dangerous heat could make it feel as hot as 110 degrees in the East today.

[04:20:06] The heat wave now turning deadly. We'll have a full forecast next.


BRIGGS: 4:24 Eastern Time. A Cleveland man facing terror charges this morning. Officials say Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts made plans to bomb the city's downtown Fourth of July parade. The FBI put Pitts under surveillance last year after he said on social media he hated the U.S. and wanted to join al Qaeda. Pitts told an undercover agent last month he would case downtown Cleveland for potential targets.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [04:25:01] JUSTIN HERDMAN, U.S. ATTORNEY: He looked for locations to park a van that would be packed with explosives. He talked about taking targets like St. John's Cathedral off the map. And just yesterday, he discussed giving remote control cars packed with explosives and shrapnel to the children of our military uniform members.


BRIGGS: No comment yet from Pitts' attorney. He's due back in court on Thursday.

ROMANS: Police say the man charged with killing five people at the "Capital Gazette" in Maryland sent three letters, detailing his intentions in the hours before the rampage. The letters outlined the shooter's intention to kill, quote, "every person present." One letter went to the paper's former attorney. The others were sent to two Baltimore courthouses. A memorial service was held last night for one of the victims, the paper's assistant editor, Rob Hiaasen.

BRIGGS: A heat wave blanketing the East Coast has turned deadly. The coroner's office in Blair County, Pennsylvania, telling CNN a woman died after going into cardiac arrest on Saturday working in her garden.

Two other possibly heat-related deaths are being investigated in the Kansas City area. The heat and humidity helped intensify storms in Pennsylvania that created flash floods on Monday. Today, nearly 60 million Americans are under heat alert.

Meteorologist Ivan Cabrera is in the Weather Center.

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, guys. Again, another hot day today. I think, though, if we get through today we'll be in much better shape heading into Independence Day, Thursday and Friday. We'll get temperatures back to where they should be for this time of year. But look at all the heat warnings. Millions upon millions of us still under either heat advisory, right, or a heat warning across Philly and into New York as well.

Oh, and by the way, we're sharing the love or pain with the midsection and in Cincinnati as well. We have a heat watch, just a tick down from the heat advisory or warning. But still, no matter how you slice it, it's just going to be hot. We're talking temperatures into the 90s and 100s. I'll show you those in a second.

But while we're here take a look at, once again, large hail, damaging wind potential. Some strong thunderstorms are from Rapid City to Lincoln and down towards Yuma as well. Here are the numbers. Highs in the 90s. You factor in the humidity because that's what's been the killer, really, the last few days, right, and it makes it feel like about 100 to 110 for later this afternoon.

But by tomorrow temperatures will come down. Look at this. Highs -- oh, this is going to feel like winter now. Temperatures in the mid- 80s from Wednesday heading into Friday and into next weekend -- guys. BRIGGS: All right. Sounds pleasant. Thank you, sir.

Ahead, these alliances that have kept the West united since the end of World War II. Signs of fracture keep growing. The president now threatening to shift U.S. troops if the rest of NATO won't increase defense spending.