Return to Transcripts main page


Revoking Rivals' Credentials; North Korea Dismantling Key Site?; Georgia Lawmaker Embarrassed. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 24, 2018 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:13] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they politicize and in some cases monetize their public service.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, that's the White House take with the president being accused of distracting from the Russia investigation by silencing his critics.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: New satellite imagery appears to show North Korea dismantling a key satellite launch facility. The site plays a big role in development for Pyongyang's missile program.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have three seconds to attract attention. Go!



BRIGGS: You should have that viewer warning there. Drop your pants and scream the "N" word to protect yourself from a terror attack. A Georgia lawmaker put that argument on camera. What he is saying to defend himself.

ROMANS: Bizarre.

BRIGGS: So that happened.

ROMANS: Bizarre.

BRIGGS: Good morning, everyone. You are welcome.

Welcome to EARLY START.

ROMANS: Bizarre.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, July 24th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. Good evening, everyone.

It would be an extraordinary use of presidential power, by President Trump is considering stripping a half dozen former national security officials of their security clearances. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders cites their public criticism of the president in the midst of the Russia investigation.

BRIGGS: The list includes former officials from the FBI, CIA, and other national security jobs. Oddly enough, sources say two of them, James Comey and Andrew McCabe, no longer have security clearances, having been fired from the Trump administration. Now, normally, former top officials keep clearance so their successors can consult with them on a volunteer basis.

Take the case of Michael Flynn, the president's former national security adviser. He was fired by the Obama administration, but allowed to keep his clearance even as he led those lock her up chants at Trump's rally.

ROMANS: The president's plan seems to be unplanned likely at the suggestion of Senator Rand Paul.

Paul is considered a pivotal vote in the upcoming Supreme Court battle.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more from the White House on what "The Wall Street Journal" calls the dumb idea of the week.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, President Trump taking that unprecedented step of talking about revoking security clearances from old Obama administration officials. Of course, these officials have been critical of him and his presidency. Now, this has never happened before, but it is something we are told the White House is considering it.

In fact, right here in the White House briefing room just yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders acknowledged the president was considering it when she said this.

SANDERS: The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they politicized and in some cases monetize their public service and security clearances, making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate.

ZELENY: So, the White House is considering it, but it's unclear if they will actually do it. A senior administration official tells me the president likes this conversation, likes the debate, but has not decided whether he is going to go ahead with this or not. But it certainly served to change the subject.

But certainly, the Russian investigation in all its entirety is still weighing heavy on this White House and that security clearance is just the latest sign -- Dave and Christine. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Indeed. Jeff Zeleny, thank you.

Critics were quick to seize on the threat of retaliation by the White House, even as those on the president's enemies list downplayed the impact that losing their security clearance might actually have.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think it's off the top of my head, that's kind of a sad commentary where for political reasons, this is a kind of a petty way of retribution I suppose for speaking out against the president, and if he chooses to do it for political reasons -- well, that's -- I think that's a terrible president and it's a very sad commentary, and it's an abuse of the system.


BRIGGS: Former NSA Director Michael Hayden says being stripped of his security clearance would have no effect on what he says or writes. Hayden and James Clapper are both CNN contributors. No comment thus far from John Brennan or Susan Rice.

ROMANS: All right. Paul Manafort's bank and tax fraud trial has been delayed until next Tuesday. It was -- it was supposed to start tomorrow. A federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia, granting a delay to the former Trump campaign manager, allowing Manafort's lawyers to review 120,000 pages of documents turned over by prosecutors in the last month. The judge also granting immunity to five witnesses who are expected to testify at the trial, all of them work for banks or financial firms linked to Manafort.

BRIGGS: New satellite images appear to show that North Korea has started dismantling facilities at a key nuclear test site.

[04:05:01] The Sohae location has been the main site for North Korean satellite launches since 2012.

We're fortunate to be joined by Will Ripley live in Hong Kong this morning.

Will, how significant is this?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly is according to analysts a good confidence-building measure on the part of the North Koreans because the Sohae launching station is significant and symbolic. This is where North Korea launched a satellite in 2012, shortly after signing a denuclearization deal with the Obama administration. That deal was basically dead on arrival because North Korea launched this satellite which they claimed was just a peaceful space operation but most international experts believe was actually a ballistic missile program in disguise.

I actually interviewed the scientists behind the Sohae launching station after satellite control center in Pyongyang back in 2015, and even at that time, they insisted to me that it was purely peaceful work they were doing.


RIPLEY: What can you say to the world to prove that this is not a ballistic missile program in disguise?

HYUN GWANG II, DIRECTOR OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH & DEV. SOHAE SATELLITE TESTING SITE (through translator): Why on earth would we drop nuclear bombs on the people of the world, including the United States?


RIPLEY: Well, of course, we know that was 2015, look at what happened in the subsequent years. There were lots of threats of dropping nuclear bombs on the United States. But here's the important thing to remember, at the Sohae launching station, they were developing ballistic missiles that used liquid fuel. Liquid fuel takes a long time to fill up the missile. You can see the missile sitting there before they launch it.

North Korea has since moved on to solid fuel technology with these mobile missile launchers that can deliver ballistic missiles just as far but can be rolled out with very little notice, and there is no indication, at least not right now that North Korea is destroying their solid fuel facilities. So, it's a step, but just a small step toward the very long road to denuclearization, Dave.

BRIGGS: President Trump tweeting yesterday that he is called very happy about the progress in North Korea.

Will Ripley live for us. Thank you, my friend.

ROMANS: All right. The Trump administration says 463 parents who were separated from children aged five and older have been deported from the United States without their children. Administration officials claimed those parents had an opportunity to bring their children with them, but immigrant advocates questioned whether the parents fully understood the process, what was happening.

A federal judge has ordered all families separated at the border to be reunited by Thursday. The administration says there have been 879 families reunited, nearly doubling the overall total since Friday.

BRIGGS: In Portland, Mayor Ted Wheeler warning demonstrators to peacefully leave the ICE facility they've occupied for the past five weeks or face removal by police. Wheeler says now is the time to focus instead on a sustainable immigration policy, unclear when police will begin enforcing orders to evacuate.

President Trump travels to Kansas City today to the address the annual VFW convention.

Greeting him there, a stinging editorial in "The Kansas City Star", responding to the president's rhetorical combat with world leaders, both friend and foe. It says, quote, the president should take this opportunity to do something he's not known for and that's to listen -- and we mean really listen -- to some of the heroes will be on hand to hear him. They surely will have something to say to him about the realities of war and the horrors of combat. Those insights would be good for Trump to hear now as he continues to rattle his saber at foes around the globe.

Ahead of his trip, the Senate confirmed the new Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie. The vote was 86-9. This was the first time since V.A. secretary became a cabinet position that any senators voted against confirmation.

ROMANS: President Trump once again threatening European cars at his "Made in America" event yesterday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The European Union's been very tough on the United States but they're coming in to see me on Wednesday and we'll see if we can work something out, and otherwise, we have to do something with respect to the millions of cars that they send in every year.


ROMANS: President Trump meets with E.U. leaders tomorrow. The aim is to de-escalate the current trade fight, but European leaders failed to stop the president's tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Now, he's threatening tariffs of up to 20 percent on foreign cars.

Automakers around the world even in the U.S. have criticized possible tariffs. Every car sold in the U.S. used imported -- uses imported parts. That means U.S. automakers would have to absorb higher costs or raise prices. They say a car with imported parts would cost two grand more.

The E.U. also vows to strike back. It already imposed retaliatory tariffs on things like bourbon and motorcycles that caused Harley- Davidson to shift some production overseas, could hurt Harley's bottom line. Harley reports earnings this morning. Experts expect tariffs to cut into profits there.

BRIGGS: Again just a reminder what you just said, U.S. cars are imported cars in effect because of how much they use what -- from Mexico in particular.

ROMANS: Yes, and, you know, all the global supply chain for cars over the past years has become so sprawling and so widespread.

Also when you look at some of the German automakers, they are big exporters of cars made in the United States.

[04:10:00] Exported out, so --

BRIGGS: It's massive --

ROMANS: It's not -- it's not so simple.

BRIGGS: It is not presidents all caps tweet on Iran is just silly diplomacy and the thoughts of a corrupted person, so says the top official in Tehran. How the president respond after warning Iran of severe consequences?



SANDERS: The president's been I think pretty strong since day one in his language towards Iran. He was responding to comments made from them and he's going to continue to focus on the safety and security of American people.


BRIGGS: The White House defending president's all-caps tweet to Iran, warning of dire consequences if the U.S. is threatened again. The president calling the on the Iranians to, quote, be cautious.

Iran's foreign minister firing back with: color us unimpressed. The world heard even harsher bluster a few months ago and Iranians have heard them, albeit more civilized ones for 40 years.

Javad Zarif concludes his tweet by channeling President Trump's warning: be cautious.

[04:15:04] Let's bring in CNN's Nick Paton Walsh live from London.

Nick, this is how we do it in 2018, exchanging threats of war via Twitter, fire in fury part two. Good morning.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, what a marked difference from about five years ago while the Obama administration were very gently and carefully trying to put together a complicated nuclear agreement. The Trump administration pulled out of that and we still now 48 hours later one potential whole news cycle later with distraction again made by the decision potentially to bar some of Mr. Trump's key critics for security clearances. Now, we're still talking about the possibility of this conflagration with Iran.

On three separate occasions yesterday, the White House stood by that strong tweet that was put out late on Sunday. Donald Trump said he had no concerns at all. Sara Sanders, as you heard there, basically said they started it, and then we heard from John Bolton, raising the incredibly broad threshold for any potential military actions. From the national security adviser, he said that if Iran does anything negative at all, that could spur action.

The U.S. has a long wish list of things it would like to see Iran do. Highly unlikely those will actually occur. And instead today, we've slowly heard from key Iranian officials their repudiation of this. The speaker of parliament calling it, quote, silly diplomacy, and a spokesperson for the foreign ministry saying this is a sign of the illegal withdrawal of the nuclear deal and the utter hopelessness of the U.S. policy in the region.

I don't think this is going to suddenly turn into military conflict in any stretch of the imagination. Day two, it looks more like a shouting match frankly than the beginning of something more serious. But the ratcheting up of pressure an area like this and the fact that key diplomats are now given to exchanging block capital letters insults over Twitter shows really how far things have slipped in terms of the diplomacy and what little room potentially there may be for it in the months ahead -- Dave.

BRIGGS: John Bolton has long advocated for some type of military strike on Iran.

Nick Paton Walsh live for us in London, thank you.

ROMANS: To Greece now where nearly 50 people have been killed by wildfires burning there near Athens. More than others have been injured. Fires are burning along three main fronts in the Attica region. One of them now out of control near the seaside resort of Mati beach.

A combination of intense winds and several parallel fronts is creating an unprecedented challenge there for firefighters in Greece.

All right. This bizarre, strange, troubling story. A Georgia lawmaker with a display you have to see to believe.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you want to win, you show some skin.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, show it to me.


ROMANS: This man was convinced to fight off terrorists, he needed to drop his pants. And it gets worse.


[04:22:12] ROMANS: Twenty-two minutes past the hour.

Rattled nerves in the Bay Area after three people were killed in attacks from public transit in less than a week. John Cowell was taken into custody Monday night on the death of 18-year old Nia Wilson. She was walking on the subway platform with her sister's Sunday night when Cowell allegedly stabbed her in an unprovoked attack. Demonstrators held a vigil for Wilson drawing, nearly 1,000 people to downtown Oakland.

BRIGGS: Early Saturday morning, 47-year-old Don Stevens was found on the platform at the Bay Fair Station just south of Oakland. Authorities right now searching for a suspect there and last week year old Gerald Bisbee died he was assaulted at the Pleasant Hill Station in Walnut Creek. The suspect in that case is in custody.

ROMANS: A search is underway right now for a missing University of Iowa student, 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts has been missing from Brooklyn, Iowa, since last Wednesday. There are reports she had gone for a job that evening. Her boyfriend tells CNN affiliate KCRG he texted Mollie Thursday and became worried when she didn't respond. He immediately alerted her family who created a Facebook page to help find her.

BRIGGS: If you're packing a snack for your children today, listen up, Pepperidge Farm recalling four varieties of Goldfish crackers over possible salmonella risk. One of the company's suppliers says whey powder and the Goldfish seasoning could be contaminated. Out of an abundance of caution, Pepperidge Farm is voluntarily recalling flavor blasted extra cheddar, flavored blasted sour cream and onion, Goldfish baked with whole-grain and extra cheddar and goldfish mix with extra cheddar and pretzel, my favorite.

ROMANS: The House overwhelmingly voting to designate a new national three-digit hotline for mental health issues and suicide prevention. The proposal led by Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah, promised the Federal Communications Commission to study the feasibility of designating a new, easy to remember three-digit dialing code, sort of like 911.

It would also evaluate the effectiveness of the current national suicide prevention lifeline, including how well it addresses veterans' needs. The FCC will then send a report with recommendations to Congress. The Senate already passed a companion bill in November.

BRIGGS: Top Georgia Republicans are calling on a state lawmaker to resign after he dropped his pants and screamed racial slurs on national television.



UNIDENTIIFED MALE: Good. One more time. But louder with America.




BRIGGS: Yes, that happened. Republican State Rep Jason Spencer featured on Sasha Baron Cohen's new Showtime series "Who is America". Spencer says he was punk'd into believing he was making an anti- terrorism trading video.

A warning, some of the language here is disturbing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because of who you are, you could be the victim of kidnapping by is. You have two seconds to attract attention. How do you attract attention?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Start screaming. Take your clothes off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In America, there is one forbidden word. The "N" word. Now, I am going to be the terrorist. You have three seconds to attract attention.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you crazy? The "N" word is no need. Not this word. This word is disgusting.



ROMANS: Spencer has not returned CNN's calls for comments, but he told "The Atlanta Journal Constitution" the series convinced him to participate by playing on his fear that he or his family would be attacked. Fears, he said, were sparked by death threats after he proposed legislation barring Muslim women from bearing burqas. Spencer says on the show, I don't call it a burqa bank. I call it an anti-masking statute.

Spencer lost the latest state primary and will be out of office by year's end one way or another. Just a bizarre story.

BRIGGS: Yes, look, Sacha Baron Cohen, he's trying to punk people in his show. That is what he is doing. So, it does appear --- let us know what you think about it @earlystart on Twitter.

ROMANS: Yes, please.

BRIGGS: All right. The conservative editorial page at "The Wall Street Journal" calls it the, quote, dumb idea of the week. But the White House standing by the move to strip former intel officials of security clearances, even though some already have given up their clearance.