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Trump Calls on Sessions to End Russia Probe; Will Manafort's Right-Hand Man Testify?; TSA Might End Screening at Smaller Airports; Mexico Plane Crash Caught on Video. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 2, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:13] KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN ANCHOR: The president pushing his lawyers to let him sit down with Robert Mueller. The special counsel now willing to limit questions about obstruction if the president meets face-to-face.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Terror at smaller U.S. airports and a big concern for the TSA. The agency eliminating screening at 150 smaller airports nationwide.

HARTUNG: And one of the nation's top college football coaches put on leave. Urban Meyer is accused of ignoring domestic violence accusations. What did he know about the actions of his recently fired assistant coach?

Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Kaylee Hartung in for Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Good to see you, my friend.

HARTUNG: You too.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Thursday, August 2nd, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

That was a shocker indeed about Urban Meyer, a coach you know well. We'll talk about that more in just a bit. We start this morning with what Stephen Colbert calls a tweet-nado.

Robert Mueller offering President Trump a trade-off this morning. The special counsel suggesting he would reduce the number of obstruction of justice related questions he wants the president to answer so long as obstruction is addressed in a sit-down interview. The president's lawyers had offered to provide written answers to obstruction questions. The Trump legal team wanted the sit-down interview limited to things that happened before he took office mainly related to collusion.

HARTUNG: "The New York Times" reporting overnight the president is pushing his lawyers to let him do an interview. Three sources tell the "Times" the president believes he can convince Mueller's team their own inquiry is a witch hunt, as he so often likes to call it. But earlier on Wednesday, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani was not on board, not just yet.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: He's always been interested in testifying. It's us, meaning the team of lawyers, including me, that have the most reservations about that.


HARTUNG: A source tells us the two sides are still talking but taking only baby steps towards each other.

BRIGGS: But it didn't take long after President Trump was briefed on the Mueller investigation for him to fire up the Twitter feed. The president calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to, quote, "stop this rigged witch hunt right now." He has repeatedly criticized Sessions' decision to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia probe. This tweet may be the most scathing criticism yet of the special counsel and raises new questions about whether he's attempting to obstruct justice.

So was President Trump just venting or was this an order from the top?

More now from Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Kaylee, President Trump has made no secret, of course, of his dislike for the Russia investigation. That, of course, was taken one step further yesterday when he specifically called on the Attorney General Jeff Sessions to bring an end to the Russia probe.

Now the White House quickly responded that this was all about the president's own opinion, not a directive exactly to the attorney general to end this investigation. But we asked White House press secretary Sarah Sanders how does she know it's an opinion or a presidential directive.


ZELENY: If he told you something as a member of his staff, how do you know if it's a directive from the president or just simply his opinion?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president makes it pretty clear when I'm having those conversations with him. The president is not obstructing, he's fighting back. The president is stating his opinion. He's stating it clearly. He's certainly expressing the frustration that he has.


ZELENY: No question this Russia investigation continuing to consume at least some of the president's bandwidth here. The president is traveling to Pennsylvania tonight for one more campaign rally this week. He certainly is ramping up his campaigning for the midterm elections. Then after that, he will end up in New Jersey by late this evening. He'll be starting a bit of a summer recess vacation there. But of course this Russia investigation and all its fallout is sure to follow him -- Dave and Kaylee.

HARTUNG: Jeff Zeleny at the White House there.

And President Trump is monitoring the Paul Manafort trial very closely. And he is comparing the case against his former campaign chairman to the prosecution of notorious mob boss Al Capone. And for good measure, he is asking once again where is the Russian collusion.

Prosecutors plan to question Manafort's bookkeepers and accountants when his bank and tax fraud trial resumes in Virginia this morning. On Wednesday, Manafort's lavish lifestyle was the primary focus. You can't forget that ostrich jacket. And there was a shocker from the prosecution about who may not take the stand.

We get now more from CNN's Jessica Schneider.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Kaylee, this is a swift moving trial that saw a number of developments during day two most notably prosecutors floated the possibility that they might not call Rick Gates to testify. Of course they could have just been bluffing but it definitely sent shockwaves through the courtroom.

Of course Rick Gates was the former associate to Paul Manafort. He also worked as a deputy during the campaign. Rick Gates has already pleaded guilty to two counts in Washington, D.C. and he's currently working with the special counsel's team.

[04:05:05] Now the defense team meanwhile has said that they plan to use Rick Gates' testimony against him to discredit him. To say that Rick Gates in fact was the embezzler and only flipped on Manafort to help himself. So quite an interesting development there. Prosecutors also called a flurry of witnesses, including an FBI agent who is part of that pre-dawn raid of Paul Manafort's condo last July.

He also talked about the hundreds of documents they seized including some of those loan applications with Paul Manafort's name on it. There were a number of other witnesses as well. They were called to represent Paul Manafort's lavish lifestyle. They included one employee from a high-end men's clothing store in Manhattan. He talked about the fact that Paul Manafort was one of their top five clients.

Prosecutors expect to call some more of those vendors to the stand today. This is a very fast-moving trial. In fact prosecutors told the judge that they expect to wrap the trial next week -- Dave and Kaylee.

BRIGGS: OK, Jessica, thanks.

CNN has learned exclusively TSA is considering eliminating passenger screening at more than 150 small and medium-sized airports across the country. Internal agency documents suggest the move could save $115 million a year, but they also say the proposal would come with a small, undesirable security risk. A TSA spokesman telling CNN the documents reflect an ongoing debate within the agency.

It's worth noting here two of the September 11th attackers first flew from Portland, Maine, thinking the relatively small airport there would be less secure.

CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh has the latest from Washington.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave and Kaylee, this would be a major change for air travelers and a huge shift in how TSA uses its resources.

The proposal the agency is considering calls for the elimination of TSA screening at small and some medium-sized airports that operate commercial planes with 60 seats or fewer. Their operating theory is that terrorists just simply aren't interested in targeting small aircraft and that they want a big payoff like hundreds of passengers on a large commercial plane. But national security experts disagreed.


PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: ISIS, their message is attack in any way you can, big or small, against anybody that you can -- you can go after. And so the opportunity to go after a 50-person passenger jet or aircraft is going to be very attractive.


MARSH: So the concern is about the lack of imagination for how bad actors could exploit security weaknesses at these smaller airports.

Well, after our story broke, TSA sent talking points for all of its senior leadership, communicating how to respond to inquiries at airports nationwide. The talking points note that a final decision has not yet been made -- Dave, Kaylee.

HARTUNG: Well, police in Phoenix have arrested an employee at a facility holding migrant children on charges he molested a 14-year-old girl. Fernando Negrete works at the facility run by Southwest Keys. The victim told police the 32-year-old entered her bedroom and kissed her. And a witness describes seeing Negrete kiss and touch the victim inappropriately, too. Police say Tuesday Negrete admitted to both accusations. Southwest Keys spokesman says the agency always works with law enforcement to, quote, "bring the full force of the law to bear when it is warranted."

BRIGGS: Wow. OK. Ahead, this week's the plane crash in Mexico caught on video from inside the cabin.

So how did 103 people survive all this? More from Mexico City. Next on EARLY START.


[04:12:56] BRIGGS: All right, 4:12 Eastern Time. And that plane crash in Mexico with 103 passengers and crew members miraculously survived, it's all captured on video from inside the cabin. Take a look.







BRIGGS: Unreal. Ashley Garcia took that video from her seat on the plane. She spoke about the ordeal to CNN last night.


ASHLEY GARCIA, SURVIVED AEROMEXICO PLANE CRASH: Honestly, it was something that I would have never imagined. It's always been such a big fear of mine and for it to like actually have happened is just insane. Like when it was happening, I really just thought like this can't be, true, this can't be true.


BRIGGS: The crash investigation just getting under way. More than 100 survivors trying to explain how they made it out alive.

Leyla Santiago has more from Mexico City.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Kaylee, we're learning more about the plane accident as well as the survivors. We understand more than half of the 103 people on board that Aeromexico flight were from the United States. U.S. citizens. And many of them are already heading home, connecting right here in Mexico City. As we have spoken to them, they have told us that when they got on that flight, it was raining outside. There was wind and something, some sort of wind gust is how they described it, brought that plane down. There was a dash to get off the plane and then they saw flames and smoke.

[04:15:04] Many, all actually that we have spoken to say this was a miracle. So now the investigation begins. The investigators have been able to recover the black boxes and say they are in good condition and they will be critical in getting a better understanding of exactly the sequence of events, what led up to that plane coming down. Even the NTSB has sent down some investigators to look into this.

In the meantime, many of those survivors are saying that they are just lucky to be able to tell their stories -- Dave, Kaylee.

HARTUNG: Lucky indeed.

Priceless royal artifacts stolen from a Swedish cathedral in a daring raid. It's a plot right out of the movies. The thieves making off with jewels belonging to former monarchs, Karl IX and Kristina. They were taken from the Strangnas Cathedral west of Stockholm. The suspects escaping across the sea from the base of the church in a small open top motor boat. The three items stolen were part of the funeral regalia of the king and queen, and would have been buried with the monarch. While the items do have monetary value, it pales in comparison to their significance to Sweden's culture history.

BRIGGS: President Trump ratcheting up the pressure on China as the trade war escalates but the actions continue to worry investors. Stock futures pointed to loses this morning. Global markets also dropping. U.S. stocks finished mixed on Wednesday.

Friday's jobs reports could provide some much needed relief but for now the worry centers on this new proposal from the Trump administration. U.S. trade rep will consider raising tariffs from 10 percent to 25 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. Both the U.S. and China have imposed tariffs on goods worth tens of billions of dollars, but Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says the president's mission here is clear.


SANDERS: Look, the bottom line is the president is going to continue to hold China responsible for their unfair trade practices. This has gone on for long enough. And he's going to do something about it.


BRIGGS: There will be a public comment period running until early September. Then the administration will make a final decision.

HARTUNG: It is never too late to make things right. 20 years after stealing from her job, a woman repays her debt with cash and apology. We will be back on EARLY START in just a minute.


[04:21:50] BRIGGS: Ohio State University placing head football coach Urban Meyer on paid administrative leave while it investigates whether he knew about domestic violence allegations against the fired assistant coach Zach Smith. The allegations against Smith were made by his ex-wife, Courtney. Meyer says he was aware of an incident involving the Smiths back in 2009, but did not know about a 2015 allegation of domestic violence.

HARTUNG: But Courtney Smith says she told Meyer's wife about it and she believes the head coach also knew.

Here's what she just told the Stadium Sports Network about the alleged 2015 abuse.


COURTNEY SMITH, ALLEGES ABUSE BY EX-HUSBAND ZACH SMITH: He came to my home. He wasn't happy, we got into an argument. When I stood up to him he didn't like it and he took me and shoved me up against the wall with his hand around my neck, something he did very often. My daughter was clinging to my leg and he obviously -- it registered with him what he was doing so he took my son and left.


HARTUNG: You can watch that full interview at And a hat tip to Brett McMurphy for breaking this story.

Urban Meyer says he and Ohio State's athletic director agree that Meyer being on leave during the investigation will facilitate its completion. Zach Smith's attorney tells CNN once Smith gets his chance to tell his side it will be corroborated by police.

BRIGGS: OK. So this isn't just the head football coach. It is a man that could probably elected governor tomorrow.

HARTUNG: Absolutely.

BRIGGS: In the state of Ohio. This is probably the most prominent person in the state.

HARTUNG: He's the second highest paid football coach in the country, and so --

BRIGGS: Behind only of course Nick Saban.

HARTUNG: Nick Saban.

BRIGGS: You were shocked at this. You know him personally.

HARTUNG: I do. And Urban Meyer as long as I've known him has been a man of upstanding character. And the thought that he knew and then denied knowing and did nothing is really troubling. And I think this could be a real tipping point in the sport and in the college sports landscape.

BRIGGS: Right.

HARTUNG: For him to be put on paid leave while they're investigating what he knew and what he did and didn't do.


HARTUNG: This is -- it will have an incredible impact.

BRIGGS: Against the backdrop of the whole MeToo era, and given some contract provisions he could be in trouble.

Let us know what you think about that at EARLY START on Twitter.

Next, though, Houston police believe a 20-year-old grudge is the motive in a prominent cardiologist, the man who's mother died in the operating table has been named the suspect. The mother of 62-year-old Joseph James Pappas was a patient of Dr. Mark Hausknecht, who was killed as he rode his bicycle to work nearly two weeks ago. Police say Pappas has not been seen in two days and evidence in his home links him to the killing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ART ACEVEDO, CHIEF OF HOUSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT: He's very dangerous and we need to get him into custody. Again, we think he's suicidal and we should assume that he's armed. We need to go find this man. This man is dangerous, this man's capable. This man has some skills.


BRIGGS: CNN called a phone number for Pappas' real estate company on Wednesday but it went to voicemail. That same phone number is also linked to recent listings on a firearms auction Web site for several guns, ammunition, and tactical vests.

[04:25:02] A former waitress trying to make amends 20 years after stealing money from her employer. Carlotta Flores, owner of El Charro Mexican restaurant in Tucson, Arizona, received a surprise envelope last week with 1,000 bucks in cash and a handwritten apology letter. The anonymous sender, a woman who says she worked for Flores in the 1990s while attending the University of Arizona. The woman revealed she stole from the restaurant.

HARTUNG: And so she wrote, "It's been 20 years, but I still carry great remorse. I am very sorry that I stole from you. Please accept my apology plus this money as a repayment. Plus 20 years of interest. May God forever bless you and your family." Flores was floored.


CARLOTTA FLORES, OWNER, EL CHARRO RESTAURANT: First-time employer for a young person being away from home going to school. So not only are they coming to school, they're learning a little bit about life as well. And I think it's one of those life lessons that our family tries to instill in our employees. And it's a good feeling to know that she felt that she needed to take care of this and I really respect her for it.


HARTUNG: The woman who sent the letter added she was a terrible waitress and was fired before she could pocket more than a few hundred dollars.

BRIGGS: Yes. How long had she been sitting on that? How long has that been eating her up inside, right?

HARTUNG: And saving the money she sent.

BRIGGS: Were you a waitress?

HARTUNG: No. Never.

BRIGGS: Never a waitress. I believe every human being should have to wait tables at some point in life.

Ahead, the special counsel is willing to limit questions about obstruction of justice, but Robert Mueller has one condition. The president has to answer them in person. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)