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Mueller Offers to Limit Obstruction Questions; Trump Keeping Close Eye on Manafort Trial; TSA Might End Screening at Smaller Airports; Mexico Plane Crash Caught on Video; Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired August 2, 2018 - 04:30   ET



[04:31:04] DAVE BRIGGS, 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.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN ANCHOR: Terror at smaller U.S. airports not a big concern for the TSA. The agency is considering eliminating screening at 150 smaller airports nationwide.

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

A shocking story in the state of Ohio. No one more prominent in that state today.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

HARTUNG: And I'm Kaylee Hartung. It's 31 minutes past the hour.

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.

BRIGGS: "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, but earlier on Wednesday, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani was not on board 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

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

HARTUNG: It did not take long after President Trump was briefed on the Mueller investigation for him to fire up his 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. But this tweet may be his most scathing criticism yet of the special counsel and it raises new questions about whether he is attempting to obstruct justice.

So was President Trump just venting or was this an order from the top? We get more now from CNN's 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.

BRIGGS: Jeff Zeleny, thanks.

President Trump monitoring Paul Manafort trial very closely. He's comparing the case against his former campaign chairman to the prosecution of the 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.

[04:35:02] On Wednesday, Manafort's lavish lifestyle was the primary focus. And there was a shocker from the prosecution about who may not take the stand.

More now from 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 his 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.

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.

HARTUNG: 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.

BRIGGS: A TSA spokesman telling CNN the documents reflect an ongoing debate within the agency. It is 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: Exclusive reporting from Rene Marsh there.

Now former president Obama is weighing in to the midterms offering his first round of endorsements. Obama endorsed 81 people up and down the ballot. Among the more high-profile names Gavin Newsome for governor of California, Stacey Abrams for governor of Georgia, and Jackie Rosen for Senate in Nevada. One name notably not on the list, though, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. That's the Democratic socialist from New York. Her primary win has some Democrats concerned the party is shifting too far left. Obama is expected to endorse more people ahead of the midterms and campaign in several states.

BRIGGS: Now let's check on CNN Money. A sharp rise in insurance costs for those covered under the Affordable Care Act could be slowing down. Proposed increases for plans in many states are down significantly. The "Wall Street Journal" cites lower numbers for several large insurers when compared with last year's increase. In states like Georgia, Florida, Michigan, some areas may actually see prices drop. But some of the big hikes last year came after the Trump administration halted payments to insurers causing the companies to make up for the shortfall.

Also helping the slowdown states like California seeing healthier enrollees plus markets have stabilized in many areas now that insurers have a few years of costs to compare and some states like Maine using reinsurance programs to protect against unexpected costs.

The Trump administration also rolled out new rules for short-term insurance plans on Wednesday.

[04:40:02] They aim to give a cheaper option. Those plans don't have to stick to all the consumer protections but critics say it's a riskier alternative that's not right for everyone. So bottom line here is shop around if you are in the market, my friend.

HARTUNG: Shop around.

Hey, unbelievable video coming up next.

BRIGGS: Yes. This is the crash.

HARTUNG: Coming up next, this week's plane crash in Mexico caught on video from inside the cabin.

How did 103 people survive this? More from Mexico City next here on EARLY START.


HARTUNG: The plane crash in Mexico with 103 passengers and crew members miraculously survived. It's captured on video from inside the cabin. Take a look.







[04:45:27] HARTUNG: Ashley Garcia took that video from her seat on the plane. She spoke about the ordeal to CNN last night. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.


HARTUNG: 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.

BRIGGS: Leyla, thank you.

Priceless royal artifacts stolen from a Swedish cathedral in a daring raid. 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 monarchs. While the items do have monetary value, it pales in comparison to their significance to Sweden's culture history.

It sounds like a George Clooney caper coming to Hollywood soon. Amazing.

HARTUNG: I was thinking more Pierce Brosnan.

BRIGGS: More Pierce?

HARTUNG: "Thomas Crown Affair"?

BRIGGS: Yes. Probably a good call.

HARTUNG: Maybe Katherine Zeta Jones' "Entrapment"?

BRIGGS: Clooney's always on the mind. Forgive me.

HARTUNG: I mean, whose mind is he not on?

You know, beer sales are slumping.

BRIGGS: Now you have my attention.

HARTUNG: Right? But One brewer thinks it found a new ingredient that would spark higher revenues. We'll explain next.


[04:52:57] HARTUNG: News rocking the college football world as Ohio State University places 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 in 2009, but did not know about a 2015 allegation of domestic violence.

BRIGGS: 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.


BRIGGS: You can watch that full interview at 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 telling CNN once Smith gets his chance to tell his side it will be corroborated by police.

Greg Schiano, by the way, the defensive coordinator, will not take over in interim. That would be Ryan Day, the 39-year-old offensive coordinator.

HARTUNG: Yes. That's news in of itself right there.

BRIGGS: A bit of a surprise. Yes.

HARTUNG: Nobody saw that coming.


HARTUNG: Well, Houston police believe a 20-year-old grudge is the motive in the murder of a prominent cardiologist. A man whose mother died on 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.


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.


[04:55:06] HARTUNG: 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.

BRIGGS: Fire officials in northern California hope they've turned a corner battling the Carr Fire. But fire crews are expected to face unstable conditions at high temperatures or near 100 degrees again today. The Carr Fire has burned more than 121,000 acres and is 35 percent contained. It is now the sixth most destructive fire in state history. More than 1,000 homes have burned. Everyone who was reported missing in the Carr Fire has now been accounted for, but six people have died. Redding's police chief says many arrests have been made in connection with looting.

HARTUNG: 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.

BRIGGS: So she wrote, "It's been 20 years, but I still carry great remorse. Please accept my apology plus this money as a repayment plus 20 years of interest. May God forever bless you and your family." The restaurant owner was floored.


CARLOTTA FLORES, OWNER, EL CHARRO RESTAURANT: We're used to see a 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.


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

HARTUNG: All kinds of honesty revealed there.

Two New Jersey brothers just knocked it out of the park while searching through their collection of old baseball cards. They found five Topps cards from 1952 featuring Yankee legend Mickey Mantle. Heritage Auctions just put a value of $1 million on one of them. The brothers turned down an offer of $8,000 for their entire collection around 1980. That was a good move. The most valuable cards are currently part of an auction that runs through August 19th.

BRIGGS: All right. Let's get a check on CNN Money this morning. Wall Street looking at a lower open. Stock futures are down following mixed results yesterday. Showing corporate earnings have been in a tug-of-war with concerns about trade. And it seems investors are still trying to sort through the implications of both. Tesla suffers the biggest quarterly loss in its history, but the stock

is still set to pop this morning because investors had feared even worse results. The company burned through more than $400 million in cash reserves last quarter in part to ramp up production of the Model 3. But Tesla still has more than $2 billion in cash leftover. So investors see more of a sustainable path forward. That's pushing the stock up as much as 10 percent in the pre-market trading. And investors will take the gains. The stock is down for the year and has lost 11 percent this month. CEO Elon Musk also apologizing for the rather bizarre earnings call he hosted earlier this month when he some analyst's questions boring and refused to answer others.

A joint venture between Molson Coors and a marijuana company called Hydropothecary is bringing a new beverage to Canada. The company says that cannabis infused drink will hit store shelves in Canada following the legalization of marijuana there. The beverage will not contain alcohol and Molson Coors expects to start selling it next year. Part of an effort to boost sales after revenues from beer has been slowing.

Other companies also turning to marijuana infused drinks in the works include Corona brewer Constellation Brands. It seems the young people, 21 to 27, says the "Wall Street Journal," drinking far less beer than they were a decade ago.

HARTUNG: That's shocking.

BRIGGS: I'd include myself in that. More of a tequila man myself if you were wondering at 4:59 a.m.

HARTUNG: Right? Because that's what we're thinking about at 4:59 a.m. as EARLY START continues right now.

BRIGGS: 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.

HARTUNG: Terror at smaller U.S. airports not a big concern for the TSA, it appears. The agency is considering eliminating screening at 150 smaller airports nationwide.

BRIGGS: And one of the nation's top college football coaches put on leave. Urban Meyer is accused of ignoring domestic violence allegations. What did he know about the actions of his recently fired assistant coach? The virtual earthquake in the state of Ohio this morning.

Good morning, everyone, welcome to EARLY START.