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EARLY START

Trump Says He Misspoke in Helsinki; Trump Questions Defending NATO Allies; Obama Warns "Strongman Politics Are Ascendant"; American League Wins All Star Slugfest 8-6. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired July 18, 2018 - 04:30   ET

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


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[04:30:24] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.

I said it should have been, I don't see any reason why I wouldn't or why it wouldn't be Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The presidential correction, trying to end that barrage of criticism over the Helsinki summit. New question now, did he negotiate a security deal in private with Vladimir Putin?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Let's say Montenegro joined last year, was attacked, why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?

TRUMP: I understand what you're saying. I've asked the same question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: In another shot to the longstanding alliance, the president appears to be questioning the commitment to defend NATO allies.

ROMANS: And an instant classic at the major league baseball all-star game. Ten home runs, ten innings. Who came out on top?

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

We start with the art of the walkback or cleanup, if you will. More than 26 hours after President Trump sided with Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence community, Mr. Trump did something almost as astounding, he admitted he made a mistake. Influential voices were telling the president he had to do something. It became clear walking back his Helsinki remarks via Twitter would

not be enough, so he invited cameras into the cabinet room to record him backing the intel community, but even that came with a caveat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Let me be totally clear in saying that, and I've said this many times, I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. There's a lot of people out there. There was no collusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The ad-libbing that weakened the correction, just in case he forgot to say no collusion, he wrote it onto his script in black sharpie. As for why it took so long to launch any kind of damage control, one official told me the president is surrounded by aides who don't disagree with him or are simply afraid to.

So, as the White House scrambled to respond to the overwhelming criticism, President Trump decided to say he had misspoken, even though he backed up his original statement by saying Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.

More now from CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

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JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the White House still in cleanup mode and damage control mode after the Helsinki summit earlier this week. President Trump, we are told, realized that this was a massive problem after, of course, seeing many of his friendliest advisers, from "Fox & Friends" to the conservative editorial pages of the "Wall Street Journal" to many supporters on Capitol Hill saying that he had to do something to address it.

So, we saw the president yesterday here at the White House trying to clean up what he said in Helsinki.

TRUMP: I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be.

I thought it would be obvious, but I would like to clarify, just in case it wasn't. In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word would instead of wouldn't. The sentence should have been, I don't see any reason why I wouldn't or why it wouldn't be Russia.

ZELENY: I am told by some people close to this administration that the president decided to go out and talk about this because he was hearing that it was unpatriotic, that he sounded unpatriotic. That certainly got to him.

So, the White House will find out if all the fallout is over or if it lingers. So many questions here at the White House and on Capitol Hill -- Dave and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Indeed, there are. Jeff Zeleny, thanks.

Congress weighing next steps and possible responses to the Trump/Putin summit. Some Republicans saying the president's decision to walk back his Monday comment is a good first step. The big question now is whether pushback against Russia goes beyond rhetoric.

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SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: There's a possibility that we may well take up legislation related to this. In the meantime, I think the Russians need to know that there are a lot of us who fully understand what happened in 2016, and it really better not happen again in 2018.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Marco Rubio is pushing a measure to impose sanctions on any country that interferes in U.S. elections. And Senator Jeff Flake is working on a resolution reaffirming support for the intelligence community.

ROMANS: Confusion this morning after Russia announced it was ready to pursue security agreements reached in Helsinki by Presidents Putin and Trump.

[04:35:06] A Russian military spokesman said the agreements related to nuclear arms, Syria, and other topics, but the White House and the Pentagon would not confirm any agreements had been reached. The leaders met for about two hours with only translators present. It's not clear what they talked about, what agreements might have been decided on. A spokesman says National Security Council officials are still reviewing the discussion.

BRIGGS: The secrecy around the president's one-on-one meeting with Putin is not going well on Capitol Hill. Well, Anderson Cooper asked Republican Congressman Will Hurd, a former CIA officer, whether he trusted the president to represent America's best interests.

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REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: He didn't have a strategy, and I don't think he should be doing one-on-one meetings with heads of state because too much is at stake.

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BRIGGS: Several Democrats calling for the president's interpreter at the one-on-one to testify before Congress. That interpreter, Marina Gross, has translated for the State Department and other government entities.

ROMANS: Sources tell CNN the White House could have kept the indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers quiet until after the summit but chose not to, despite the clear possibility it could affect the Helsinki meeting. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had been mindful of the upcoming summit and briefed Mr. Trump before he left for Europe. Sources say after Trump consulted with top aides, the White House told justice not to hold off.

BRIGGS: Now that the summit and the World Cup are over, U.S. and British intelligence agencies are worried Russia will ramp up its aggression once again. A U.S. intel official tells us Russia did not want any high-profile incidents to mar the prestige of hosting the world's biggest sporting event.

ROMANS: Former President Barack Obama in South Africa this morning. In about 30 minutes, he'll give a town hall speech and take questions from students at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg. Yesterday giving the Nelson Mandela annual lecture, Mr. Obama did not mention Donald Trump by name, but he did lament the loss of shame in political leaders and repudiated the politics of fear and resentment.

For the very latest, we go to CNN's David McKenzie live in Johannesburg -- David.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, good morning.

Yes, there was no mention of Donald Trump by name, but certainly, everyone in that huge audience, which -- who treated President Obama like a rock star, it seems, knew what the former president was talking about. He defended his own administration's policy and criticized policies around climate change denial and also border control.

This was probably, though, one of the most pointed statements. Take a listen.

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BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: Strongman politics are ascendant, suddenly, whereby elections in some pretense of democracy are maintained, the form of it, but those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning. Don't you get a sense sometimes by -- again, I'm ad-libbing here -- that these people who are so intent on putting people down and pumping themselves up, that they're small-hearted, that there's something, something they're just afraid of.

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MCKENZIE: Obama also seemed exacerbated by the way he said politicians these days seem to be ignoring objective truth. We'll see in a few moments when he starts a town hall with young African leaders behind me whether he's more direct, but it's certain, Dave and Christine, that he's making some digs at the current president.

ROMANS: Yes, for the former presidents out there watching the political discourse in this country and remaining mostly quiet, one wonders behind closed doors what they really think. Maybe some of those students will be able to elicit some comments on the record.

Thank you so much, Dave McKenzie.

BRIGGS: Former FBI Director James Comey is urging all who believe in this country's values to vote for Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. The lifelong Republican tweeting last night, quote, this Republican Congress has proven incapable of fulfilling the founders' design that ambition must counteract ambition. Policy differences don't matter right now. History has its eyes on us.

Comey continues to be the target of harsh criticism from the president and his allies over his role in the Clinton e-mail probe.

ROMANS: Republican Congresswoman Martha Roby survived a primary runoff in Alabama last night. CNN projecting she's defeated former Democratic congressman turned pro Trump conservative Bobby Bright.

Roby had been viewed as vulnerable since the 2016 election. She insisted then nominee Trump step aside after the "Access Hollywood" tape came out. Since then, she has been a reliable vote for the Trump agenda and the president endorsed her on Twitter last month.

[04:40:06] BRIGGS: The Trump administration is expecting North Korea to return the first group of remains of U.S. service members a week from Friday. July 27th is 65 years to the day after the signing of the armistice establishing the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Sunday the U.S. and North Korea agreed to restart the search effort to find the Americans who never returned from the Korean War.

President Trump made the return of remains a key pledge at the Singapore summit last month.

ROMANS: All right, more than 1,000 survivors of the Las Vegas massacre are being sued, suing the survivors. Why the company that owns the hotel the shooter used as his perch is filing suit against them.

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[04:45:00] BRIGGS: New concern this morning over President Trump's commitment to NATO allies. Fresh off his European visit, which included the latest NATO summit, the president spoke with Tucker Carlson of Fox News. In a chat, he seemed to waver on whether the U.S. would come to the defense of all NATO member countries.

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TUCKER: Let's say Montenegro who joined last year, was attacked, why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack? Why is that --

TRUMP: I understand what you're saying. I've asked the same question. You know, Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people.

TUCKER: Yes, I'm not against Montenegro, or Albania.

TRUMP: By the way, they have very strong people. They have very aggressive people. They may get aggressive. And congratulations, you're in World War III.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: NATO treaty requires all members to help defend other member nations in the event they're attacked. It's been invoked only once, to defend the United States after September 11th.

ROMANS: Blue states are suing the Trump administration over its new tax law, claiming it violates the Constitution by unfairly targeting Democratic states. New York, Connecticut, Maryland, and New Jersey filed a lawsuit Tuesday. They take issue with changes to the state and local tax deduction, or SALT, once unlimited, it is now capped at $10,000. The suit says that will disproportionately harm high-tax states, which are mostly blue. Deductions help reduce a person's overall tax bill, and New York says the cap will increase New Yorkers' federal taxes by $14 billion this year. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called the change to SALT a political attempt to hurt Democratic states.

The Treasury Department says it's reviewing the complaint. The IRS declined to comment. Something you hear from the White House, though, and from, you know, tax writers in Congress is, like, if these states have high taxes, it's not their fault. It's not the federal government's fault that New York has high state taxes.

BRIGGS: Indeed, OK.

The company that owns Mandalay Bay filing suit against Las Vegas massacre survivors, part of a strategy to shield itself from lawsuits against the hotel. In the lawsuit, MGM Resorts International argues it has no liability of any kind for the deadliest mass shooting in American history. The company is not seeking monetary damages. More than 2,500 people have filed or threatened lawsuits.

The attack last October left 58 dead and hundreds more injured. An attorney for hundreds of victims says MGM is absolutely liable, claiming Mandalay Bay was negligent for letting Stephen Paddock inside with so many weapons. Nine months later, police have still not found a motive.

ROMANS: Ohio State University says it remains actively committed to uncovering what may have happened as accusations mount the university ignored sexual abuse by late team Dr. Richard Strauss. He's accused of abusing athletes from 1979 to 1997.

OSU says: We are aware of reports that individuals at the university did not respond appropriately during that era. These allegations are troubling and an area of critical focus of the current investigation.

Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan was then an assistant coach and is among those accused of turning a blind eye. He denies it. OSU's statement is a response to two class-action lawsuits filed by

former wrestlers claiming officials ignored repeated complaints about the doctor.

BRIGGS: The Thai soccer team and coach rescued from that cave last week will be released from the hospital today, a day ahead of schedule. And in a few hours, they will make their first public appearance during a televised news conference. A Thai health official saying all 12 boys and their coach are healthy physically and psychologically. They spent 18 days trapped under ground. It will be a welcome sight and sound to hear from those kids.

ROMANS: I know, what a great success.

All right, what would you do if your car died and you were 20 miles from work? One Alabama man decided to walk and got quite a prize for his adventure.

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[04:53:35] BRIGGS: It was a dream ending for what started as a nightmare. The night before Walter Carr's first day on the job with a moving company, his car broke down. Out of options and 20 miles from work, he decided to walk. His journey started at midnight to ensure an 8:00 a.m. arrival. Halfway through, Carr was stopped by police, who gave him a ride, breakfast, and a lift to work.

The CEO of the moving company found out about all this and gave Carr a new car.

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LUKE MARKLIN, GAVE EMPLOYEE A CAR: There's decisions in your life that are sometimes big that you make pretty quickly because they're the right thing to do, and this was one of them.

WALTER CARR, RECEIVED A CAR FROM EMPLOYER: I swear, it means a lot to me. There are people to thank. I'm just saying, to look at this story and be like, if Walter can do it, I know I can do it.

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BRIGGS: The family Walter Carr helped move started a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for Carr, which now tops $30,000.

The American League wins one of the wilder all-star games in recent memory, this one a slugfest from start to finish. Ten home runs overall. The A.L. led in the bottom of the ninth when Cincinnati's Scooter Gennett tied the game at 5-5 with that two-run shot. The American League got the lead back quickly in the top of the tenth on back-to-back jacks from Astros Alex Bregman and George Springer.

The American League never trailed, held on to win, 8-6; 25 strikeouts, mind you, in this game.

[04:55:05] Some of the biggest news of the night came off the field, though. Orioles all-star Manny Machado on the verge of being traded to the Dodgers. Very bad news for the Giants, the Rockies, the Diamondbacks and that division. Los Angeles gives up its biggest outfield prospect in this deal, by the way.

ROMANS: All right, a sight you rarely see, a funnel cloud over New York City. No kidding. Part of big storms that rolled through the Northeast, bringing temperatures down sharply.

More from meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.

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PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Dave and Christine.

Yes, we're watching temps drop off just a few degrees across parts of the Northeast, from Washington from 92 down to 84, places such as Cleveland, about six degrees cooler, it Indianapolis about four degrees cooler. Boston, a big-time drop in temps there, 91 to 82. How about the 80s into the 70s across parts of Syracuse. Not too bad there.

And, of course, we did have some severe weather here as well in the past 24 hours, much of it related to wind damage associated with a line of storms here, prompted some 1,500 flights to be canceled, some 4,000 to be delayed yesterday across the Northeast because of all the gusty winds. And the severe weather risk is still in place. It is across the plains, though, impacting places such as Sioux Falls, Topeka and Omaha once again becoming a wind threat, the biggest threat, at least, across that part of the country.

The heat remains the story, in particular around portions of the Southwest, and in fact, it wants to stretch on into the northwest over the next several days. Here's what the temperature trend looks like. Down across portions of the South, they will actually want to warm up a little bit, into the middle 90s in places like Nashville, a little bit cooler by the latter point of the week. And then down across the Southwest, we're talking about big-time heat returning as the monsoons take a brief break -- guys.

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ROMANS: All right, P.J., thanks for that.

Let's get a check on "CNNMoney." Global stocks mixed right now after Wall Street closed higher. The Nasdaq, record high, thanks to solid earnings and optimistic comments from the chair of the Federal Reserve. On Capitol Hill yesterday, Jerome Powell said the U.S. economy is on solid ground, so the Fed plans to keep raising interest rates, but not too quickly.

Netflix fell 5 percent after it failed to add as many subscribers as expected, but don't feel too bad, it still added 5 million customers last quarter. The stock is still up 98 percent this year.

The Texas Instruments CEO is resigning over, quote, personal behavior, after less than two months in that role. Texas Instruments says Brian Crutcher violated the company's code of conduct. It did not elaborate.

Best known for its graphing calculators, Texas Instruments is one of the largest chip manufacturers in the U.S. and isn't the only chipmaker whose boss left for conduct reasons. Last month, Intel's CEO resigned due to a, quote, past consensual relationship with an employee.

Goldman Sachs officially named its next CEO, kicking off a new era for the Wall Street bank. The company president David Solomon will take over in October. Solomon is a traditional pick. He's been at Goldman for almost 20 years, leading its investment banking unit for a decade, but Solomon also has some nontraditional extracurricular activities, working part time as an electronic deejay under the name DJ D-Sol.

It also marks the end of an era for current CEO Lloyd Blankfein, a head of Goldman Sachs since 2006. He led the bank through the financial crisis and heightened regulation afterwards.

BRIGGS: Can we sample those tunes next hour? I want to hear his deejay work.

All right. EARLY START continues right now with the art of the cleanup.

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TRUMP: President Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.

I said it should have been, I don't see any reason why I wouldn't or why it wouldn't be Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: President Trump trying to correct the record and end this barrage of criticism over the Helsinki summit. Now a new question -- did the president negotiate a security deal in private with Vladimir Putin?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: Let's say Montenegro joined last year, was attacked, why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?

TRUMP: I understand what you're saying. I've asked the same question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Another shot to the longstanding alliance. The president appears to be questioning the commitment to defend NATO allies.

ROMANS: And an instant classic at the major league baseball all-star game. Ten home runs, ten innings. Who came out on top? Good morning, everyone, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine

Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It's Wednesday, July 18th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

We start with wouldn't-gate. More than 26 hours after President Trump sided with Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence community, Mr. Trump did something almost as astounding, admitting a mistake. Influential voices were telling the president he had to do something, even one "Fox & Friends" host.

It became clear walking back his Helsinki remarks via Twitter would not be enough, so he invited cameras into the cabinet room to record him backing the intel community, but even that came with a key caveat.