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Trump's Ex-Personal Attorney Pleads Guilty; GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter Indicted; Undocumented Immigrant Charged in Tibbetts Murder; Category 5 Hurricane Nears Hawaii. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 22, 2018 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Michael Cohen pleads guilty and implicates the president. Paul Manafort found guilty of financial crimes. What does all this mean for President Trump who "The Washington Post" calls an alleged co-conspirator in the White House?

[05:00;06] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: California Congressman Duncan Hunter and his wife indicted for using a quarter of a million of campaign cash to live well beyond their means.

ROMANS: And murder charges have now been filed against a man police say killed an Iowa college student. The suspect, an undocumented immigrant working in that community.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is 5:00 a.m., August 22nd.

The headlines, the covers up from front pages are stunning, "Don's Cons", "All the President's Henchmen".

It is an incredible day. Stunned, rattled, blindsided, just some of what our sources say about reaction inside the White House after a pair of top Trump aides became convicted felons. Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer pleaded guilty in a New York City courtroom, admitting he coordinated with Mr. Trump to keep a scandal quiet during the campaign.

At nearly the same moment, the jury returned guilty verdicts against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on eight counts of financial crime.

ROMANS: A source close to the White House says Cohen's plea deal sounds terrible for the president. Republican congressional source tells CNN top party leaders are, quote, trying to catch their breath. Even the president's supporters see the significance of these convictions, "The Drudge Report", calling it Trump hell hour.

The attorney for Michael Cohen suggests the president's long-time fixer could still have damaging information for the Russian investigation.


LANNY DAVIS, MICHAEL COHEN'S ATTORNEY: Michael Cohen has information that would be of interest to Mr. Mueller in his probe of a conspiracy to corrupt American democracy, very similar to the indictment of 12 Russians. I believe Mr. Cohen would be able provide information useful to the special counsel.


BRIGGS: A plea deal means Cohen likely faces three to five years in prison at his sentencing December 12th. The president's legal team going after what they call Cohen's lies and dishonesty.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz has more on Cohen's plea deal.


SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: Dave and Christine, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's former personal attorney and a member of his inner circle, pleaded guilty Tuesday, admitted that in coordination and at the direction of the president, he acted to keep information that would have been harmful to the campaign from becoming public during the 2016 election. Now, of course, that information has to do with payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who have accused the president of having an affair with him. He has denied having affairs with them.

Now, the investigation was referred to federal prosecutors in New York where Michael Cohen pleaded guilty by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. This deal does not include any cooperation by Michael Cohen with federal investigators or prosecutors.

Now, the president's lawyers had this to say, that there is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the president in the government's charges against Mr. Cohen -- Dave, Christine.


ROMANS: Thank you for that, Shimon.

Now, the big question is how much trouble might the president be in? A source close to the Trump Organization tells CNN Cohen's plea deal, which does not include cooperation with the government is further proof he does not have anything damaging on the president. They say essentially it is Cohen's word against the president.

But legal experts like our own Jeffrey Toobin say the president is not out of jeopardy.


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think that even happened during Watergate, that someone pled guilty and said the sitting president was a co-conspirator. Now, it is true that there are justice department guidelines that say a president cannot be indicted. But this crime could be prosecuted after Donald Trump leaves office. This crime could be referred to Congress as a high crime and misdemeanor. But the fact that we have an admitted felon saying that the sitting

president of the United States was his co-conspirator in this felony is a pretty extraordinary piece of news.


BRIGGS: BRIGGS: The pleading guilty is not Cohen's only worry. The Senate Intelligence Committee says it wants to speak to him again after CNN reported Cohen was prepared to say Mr. Trump ahead of time about that 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Cohen previously testified he was not aware of the meeting before it happened.

ROMANS: And then the other shoe dropped for the White House. Paul Manafort found guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud. A mistrial declared on 10 other charges. A source telling CNN the White House was hoping for a favorable verdict so it would have fresh ammo to attack the Russia investigation. That's now off the table.

The president reacting to the verdict by praising Manafort as a, quote, good man, but at the same time distancing himself from his former campaign chairman.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It doesn't involve me, but I still feel, you know, it's a very sad thing that happened.

[05:05:00] This has nothing to do with Russian collusion. It started as Russian collusion. This has absolutely nothing to do. It's a witch hunt and it's a disgrace.


BRIGGS: And at a rally in West Virginia last night, the president whipped up the crowd with his attack on the special counsel.


TRUMP: The Russian witch hunt, we've got a whole big combination. Where is the collusion? You know, they're still looking for collusion. Where is the collusion? Find some collusion.


BRIGGS: Despite all the devastating news for the president, his reporters still revived some familiar chants at his rally last night.


CROWD: Lock her up! Lock her up!


BRIGGS: Drain the swamp also echoed through the arena and there is more of it ahead, President Trump planning to spend 40 days on the road campaigning for Republicans before the midterms, which are 76 days.

Facebook taking down hundreds of pages after finding disinformation campaigns that originated in Iran and Russia. Some posed as a group called Liberty Front Press. Facebook says the coordinated campaigns had more than a million followers across Facebook and Instagram.

Twitter also announcing it has identified and removed 284 accounts, many linked to Iran for coordinated manipulation. This comes after Microsoft took control of the websites which said Russian military intelligence could have tried to use to hack American politicians.

ROMANS: Republican California Congressman Duncan Hunter and his wife will be arraigned in federal court tomorrow, following their indictment on misusing some $250,000 in campaign funds for personal items, expenses range from luxury vacations to kids school lunches. The stinging indictment alleges the Hunters knowingly conspired with each other. In one instance, buying clothing at a golf course and reporting the purchase as balls for Wounded Warriors.

BRIGGS: A spokesperson says the congressman believes the indictment is purely politically motivated. House Speaker Paul Ryan has removed him from committee assignments during the case. He was the second member of Congress to support President Trump. The first, Chris Collins, who was recently indicted on insider trading charges.

ROMANS: It certainly shows a couple living way beyond near means, and according to prosecutor, using campaign money to fill the gap.

A devastating end to the search for Mollie Tibbetts, the 20-year-old Iowa college student two disappeared while jogging, they say Cristhine Rivera led investigators to her body buried under corn stalks and corn leaves. He now faces first degree murder charges, the suspect an undocumented immigrant.

At least one border state Republican quick to pounce.

BRIGGS: Arizona Senate candidate Kelly Ward tweeting the lack of leadership and courage by open border senators like Jeff Flake and John McCain, Republican, minds you, adding #buildthewall.

CNN affiliate WHO reports the suspect worked for years at a farm partly owned by Craig Lang, who's a prominent Iowa Republican and had been vetted through E-verify.

For more now from CNN's Ryan Young in Iowa.


RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, this is not the ending that so many people in this community wanted.

In fact, it's not many times you go to a news conference and have so many people standing behind you who start sobbing when police start giving details about this. Mollie Tibbetts was somebody people wanted to find. And I can tell you, after we got the details that we got, people just

started weeping very loudly, very upset about the details of this. From what they know, there was a under surveillance camera in the neighborhood. They started going through hundreds of hours of that video.

They saw a black car and what they were able to glean from that is that there was a man following Mollie along, eventually he got out of the car.

RICK RAHN, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, IA DIV. OF CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION: He actually tells us that he ran alongside of her, or behind her, and then at one point, he tells us that Mollie grabbed a hold of her phone and said you need to leave you alone, I'm going to call the police, and then she took off running. He in turned chased her down.

YOUNG: They say he has confessed to this. In fact, he took them to the body just yesterday. So, you can understand why people are so upset about this, but they have him in custody. Cristhian Rivera has been charged with first degree murder. In fact, we're told he's lived in this community for some four to seven years. In fact, Homeland Security apparently is going to give us some more information in the coming days about him, but we're told he's an illegal immigrant in this country.

Again, a lot of people confused about exactly what happened. He's telling investigators that he blacked out some time and placed Mollie in the truck. Not sure how long her body was out in the location where it was found.

But we do know it was concealed -- David and Christine.


ROMANS: Yes, she should have been moving back into the University of Iowa this week for her classes.

BRIGGS: Starting school.

ROMANS: The next question is how was he able to, was he legally work income this country?

BRIGGS: How was he E-Verified, yes.

[05:10:01] ROMANS: How did E-Verify fail there?

All right. It has only happened once before, a category 5 hurricane within 350 miles of Hawaii. A hurricane watch has been issued. The full track of that storm, next.


ROMANS: Hawaii under a hurricane warning as a category 5 Lane heads for the island the storm packing maximum sustained winds of 160 miles per hour. Schools are closed on the big island and Maui. The state's governor had signed an emergency proclamation. You know, this is only the second time in history a category 5

hurricane has come within 350 miles of Hawaii.

[05:15:06] Residents rushing to stock up on supplies and essentials at this hardware store ahead of that storm.

CNN meteorologist is tracking it for us.


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

Yes, we are watching Hurricane Lane very carefully. As impressive it gets on satellite imagery, very organized, very symmetrical, and, of course, healthy category 5 at that as well.

And we do have hurricane warnings issued for the big island. Hurricane watches in place there for Molokai, Maui and unto Oahu as well. So, certainly, the National Hurricane Center is taking this seriously. But the one element of good news is that we expect weakening as it shifts and tracks towards the north.

We see gradual weakening in the next 24 hours, and then Thursday into Friday, which by the way Friday would be the best possibility for landfall there. That's when we see the most drastic weakening down, potentially to a category 1 as it mirrors the island there to the north.

But here's what we're watching here and a lot of discrepancy in the models. The American model wants to shift well to the east, potentially bring it into near Molokai, the European models not even a chance and pushes it well to the west. And that's how we get this cone.

So, certainly a forecast worth following in the next couple of days. Quick glance what's happening across the main land. Scattered storms along the Eastern Seaboard.

Enjoy the milder temperatures him New York, a high around 83 degrees -- guys.


BRIGGS: Thank you, Pedram.

The Food and Drug Administration extending the expiration date for some EpiPens by four months to help cover a shortage of the life- saving treatment ahead of the new school year. The FDA says it reviewed data from the manufacturer showing certain batches of the expired pens could still be used. The medication to stop severe allergic reaction has been available in limited supply disruptions and manufacturer issues. The FDA approved a generic competitor to the EpiPen but is yet to announce a release date.

ROMANS: Emotions are running high as Chris Watts is arraigned on nine charges, including first degree murder for the killings of his pregnant wife and two small daughters. The father of Shanann Watts in the first row sobbing feet from the alleged killer. Watts seems largely emotionless during the proceeding. He agreed to waive a preliminary hearing. Watts claims he strangled his wife after she killed their daughters. An autopsy has not yet been released.

A Catholic priest in Pennsylvania charged with indecent assault and corruption of a minor. Prosecutors say Father Kevin Lonergan sent sexual message to a 17-year-old girl on Snapchat and hugged her inappropriately. Lonergan served at the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena in Allentown. The diocese of Allentown says it learned of the allegation in June and immediately removed that priest from his assignment. The priests Father Lonergan was not named in a recent grand jury report that accused 300 priests of abuse.

ROMANS: In Arkansas, a remarkable tale of survival. A 3-year-old boy and his 1-year-old brother on their own possibly for days following a car crash that killed their mother. The older of the two boys was found Monday after a 911 call alerted police of a toddler by himself on a state highway. Police went with a description of the boy and a family member contacted police.

BRIGGS: They say the mother Lisa Hollerman (ph) had not been seen since last week. The 1-year-old was found inside the car, alert, still buckled into his car seat.


NATHAN GREELEY, DETECTIVE: It's nothing short of a miracle. God's blessing that these children were able to survive this accident.


BRIGGS: You got that right. Both of the boys suffered dehydration but since have been released to the family.

Well, you can go home again, John Carlos Stanton feeling the love on his first trip back to Miami as a New York Yankee.

Lindsey Czarniak has "The Bleacher Report", next.


[05:23:15] BRIGGS: Urban Meyer's coaching future at Ohio State may soon be determined. The university's board of trustees set to meet this morning.

ROMANS: Lindsay Czarniak has more on this morning's "Bleacher Report", in the house with us.


LINDSAY CZARNIAK, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: It would be very interesting to see what happens because he could be back as soon as this week.

Urban Meyer's fate will be left up to that board and the university president Meyer is on paid leave while Ohio State investigates what he knew about former assistant coach Zach Smith. Meyer saying he knew about a 2009 allegation. Smith's wife Courtney made toward her then- husband, but he was not aware of a 2016 incident until last month.

Meyer later said he did follow protocol by reporting it. Smith, who has denied abuse allegation, was fired last month after his wife received a protective order.

After months of attacks on the NFL and its players over protests, President Trump is taking aim at ESPN. ESPN recently announcing they will not air the national anthem before the Monday night football game. This is what the president said at a rally yesterday in West Virginia.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was just announced by ESPN n that rather than defending our national anthem, our beautiful, beautiful national anthem and defending our flag, they decided they just won't broadcast when they play the national anthem. We don't like that.


CZARNIAK: You will remember the NFL put its national anthem policy on hold last month while they continue to have discussions with players on how to handle it. In the meantime, that mean there is still no punishment for players demonstrating during the anthem.

[05:25:00] Talk about a biter sweet moment, New York slugger Giancarlo Stanton, he traded in Miami back in December, he made his return and listen to the welcome he got from his former fans.

You know they hated to see him go. He called it quote one of the more special moments for sure. It was Yankees fans that got the last two of the night. How about that, guys?

BRIGGS: And Derek Jeter now the man in charge of that franchise, has a long way to go to build them into the Yankees.

CZARNIAK: Maybe one day they will.

BRIGGS: Urban Meyer survived?

CZARNIAK: Yes, I think so.

BRIGGS: I do think so as well. Yes.

Lindsay, good to see.

CZARNIAK: Great to see you, guys.

ROMANS: In coordination and at the direction of the candidate for federal office, Michael Cohen implicates the president as he pleads guilty to crimes, including campaign finance allegations. Between that and the Paul Manafort guilty verdict, is the president in legal jeopardy?