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WSJ: "National Enquirer" Boss Makes Immunity Deal; Trump Organization Facing Criminal Charges; Hurricane Lane Barreling Toward Hawaii; GOP Congressman and Wife Plead not Guilty; Georgia County may Close Seven Polling Places. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 24, 2018 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: -- strong winds and deluge of rain. And now a new advisory is just in. We go live to the big island.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And a predominately black Georgia county could close most of its polling places before the midterms. Critics say it is being done to muzzle the minority vote as a black woman is making a historic run for governor.

And checkout the frontpage of the "New York Post" going full on "National Enquirer" this morning. Looks a lot like it's what's in the safe as well as the bigfoot work on the lower corner. Big story for the president this morning.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday, August 24th. Exactly 5:00 a.m. in the east and 11:00 p.m. in Hawaii where we will go in just a moment.

But first, another key figure in the effort to squelch Trump related scandals ahead of the election is now cooperating with investigators. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that David Pecker, the head of American Media, publisher of the "National Enquirer," he has been granted immunity. Pecker told prosecutors that Mr. Trump knew - he knew about those payments to buy the silence of women who claimed they've had sexual encounters with Trump.

BRIGGS: In his guilty plea this week, Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen said he and Pecker worked together to suppress the potentially damaging claims. That includes American Media's $150,000 payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal. American Media was supposedly buying the rights to her story but buried it instead on a tabloid tactical catch and kill.

ROMANS: In an interview with Fox News, the president lashed out at former allies who have turned on him.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everything is wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they flipped on whoever the next highest one is or as high as you can go. It almost ought to be outlawed. It's not fair.


ROMANS: The "Associated Press," of course, the "National Enquirer" kept a safe said to contain documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories the tabloid killed ahead of the 2016 election.

BRIGGS: According to "The New York Times," the Manhattan district attorney is looking into criminal charges against the Trump organization. Prosecutors reported they want to know how the president's company accounted for its reimbursement to Michael Cohen after he paid off adult film star Stormy Daniels. The "Times" reports the Trump organization recorded the reimbursement as a legal expense, but federal prosecutors say Cohen did know legal work in connection with the matter. The D.A. review is said to be in the early stages. No comment from the Trump organization.

ROMANS: All right. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general has apparently had enough of the attacks by President Trump. The attorney general pushing back after the president lashed out again saying Sessions failed to, quote, "take control of the Justice Department." The president has slammed his A.G. regularly for more than a year ever since Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation.


TRUMP: He took the job and then he said I'm going to recuse myself. I said what kind of a man is this. The only reason I gave him the job because I felt loyalty. He was an original supporter.


ROMANS: CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House this morning for us with some of the reaction from Sessions and top GOP lawmakers.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Christine and Dave, we are seeing the feud between President Trump and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions intensify after President Trump said that he never thought Sessions actually took control of the Justice Department despite being attorney general for a year and a half now. It is not unusual for the president to criticize Sessions ever since he recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. But what is rare is that Sessions fired back at his time saying that the Department of Justice won't be swayed by politics.

In a statement, he said, "I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in." Later on in that statement, he says, "While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations."

Although Jeff Sessions and the president have been at odds for some time now, what has changed is now two leading Senate Republicans, Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Chuck Grassley, are now talking about a future where Jeff Sessions is not the attorney general. Listen to what Senator Lindsey Graham had to say on Capitol Hill.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The president's entitled to an attorney general he has faith in. Somebody that's qualified for the job. And I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and fresh voice at the Department of Justice. Clearly Attorney General Sessions doesn't have the confidence of the president.


COLLINS: So, right now, it seems that Jeff Sessions' future is going to continue to hang in the balance. Christine and Dave?

BRIGGS: Kaitlan Collins, thank you. The attorney general was at the White House yesterday for a meeting on criminal justice reform. We learned after the meeting that a planned criminal justice overhaul has been tabled until after the midterm election. You can see the spot shot there on Jeff Sessions. The package of reform has been pushed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers and Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

[05:05:02] The president appears to have a problem with the prison and sentencing revisions and wants to revisit the political charged issue after the November elections. Sources tell CNN the Trump/Sessions feud was not addressed at all at the meeting.

ROMANS: The effects of hurricane Lane felt in Hawaii this morning. It is now a Category 3. But officials are warning residents that the storm is a significant rainmaker moving slowly here. And Governor David Ige says some parts of the island could get more than 30 inches, could get waves up to 20 feet high. The outer bands of the hurricane already causing flooding. There is now voluntary evacuation order on Reed's Island near Hilo. The normally scenic Wailuku River turning into a raging torrent.


LUKE MEYERS, EXEC. OFFICER, HAWAII EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY (voice- over): Everyone watching the forecast models, they probably not get too concerned about that. Some of the biggest threats we see from this storm, obviously we are looking at tropical storm, maybe some hurricane-force winds. We are also looking at potentially for a lot of flooding potentially urban flooding.


BRIGGS: Emergency sirens blaring in Honolulu yesterday. FEMA says it pre-staged food, water and generators and other necessities around the islands. Major airlines are waiving fees for travelers affected by the hurricane, including United, Delta, Alaska Airlines.

CNN's Miguel Marquez live on Pahala, the southern part of the big island. It's 11:00 p.m. there. Miguel, what are you seeing?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is an area that is bracing for the worst that Lane had to offer up. So far it missed it. Lane took the sharp left turn moving westward. And now there is a tropical storm warning for all of the big island and there is flooding in certain areas across the big island. There's been a slide at one of the major roads. It goes across the island and some voluntary evacuations in Hilo. In this particular location, we had six, seven hours of rains-straight on, just dumping it down and then crickets.

Right now, the rain has stopped. The wind. There is almost none now. And we are waiting for that next sort of band if it comes from the hurricane. Many other islands of Hawaii remain under a hurricane warning right now.

And the big question is Honolulu and Oahu. That island that has Honolulu County. Population is 400,000. How close will Lane come to it and how will people fare there? They have been very concerned about flooding in Honolulu. Much easier to deal with it on the big island where they are more accustomed to rain especially in Hilo and those areas. But Honolulu really not looking forward to this and people sort of battening down the hatches there. Back to you.

BRIGGS: All right. Miguel Marquez live for us in Pahala tonight. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. A new advisory just in from the National Weather Service. For the very latest on that, we are joined live by meteorologist Ivan Cabrera. He's in the CNN Weather Center. Ivan, what does this advisor tell us?

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: So, basically it is still a powerful hurricane. The track has slightly shifted here. I'll show you that in a second. But still 120-mile-an-hour winds. Still a Category 3 storm. And look at the movement. It is walking towards the islands here north at 6 miles an hour. That is a huge problem here because of the amount of rain that we're talking about.

Some areas across the big island have already picked up nearly two feet of rainfall and Miguel, my friend, you're going to get a lot more rain coming - I think three to six inches. So that lull you are experiencing now in the big island is not going to last. Here is the latest track. There is a bit of a shift here, right?

So, it moves because it's still moving to the north. It is going to continue getting very, very close. Now by the time we get into Friday, 8:00 p.m. local, the hurricane force winds will begin to approach some of the island. In fact, we could gust over 75 miles an hour easy. And then it makes that track over to the west. All the while dumping incredible amount of rain and because of the topography in Hawaii, we're going to be looking at some very heavy rainfall.

Here the latest to watch and some warnings. No big changes, tropical storm warning for the big island. The middle islands looking -- Oahu and Honolulu at a hurricane warning and then a watch for Kauai which is going to continue to see the effects much later down the pike.

But there's the rainfall. We have one blob. There's the center of the storm. There's the eye right there. Look at all the rainfall that has already fallen across the islands. And again, as a result to the mountainous terrain, we're going to continue to see very heavy rain. Look at the winds. This is still not a factor yet. 20-to-40-mile-an- hour wind gusts. I think tonight the wind begins to play a factor. The rain will continue to be an issue and we are talking about torrential amounts of rain which could put down mudslides and landslides. You saw the torrents of rivers there. And looking so far, up to 20 plus inches of rain and still more to come. Guys.

BRIGGS: You can't help but wonder how many people are trying to surf this out. They warn of life-threatening surf. Thanks for all the warnings and projections. I appreciate it.

Ahead, it's going to be an interesting couple of days in the Congressman Duncan Hunter household. He and his wife indicted for alleged fraud and seems to throw her straight under the bus here.

[05:10:09] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: She handled my finances throughout my entire military career and that continued when I got to Congress.



ROMANS: All right. Don't get too excited about creative workarounds to keep your state and local tax deductions. The Treasury Department cracking down on the loophole for high-tax states preventing them from helping taxpayers avoid that new cap on state and local tax deductions. That was one of the most controversial parts of the new GOP tax law.

Once unlimited, the so-called SALT deduction is now capped at $10,000. Now that disproportionately harmed high-tax states which are mostly blue. In fact, several blue states are suing the Trump administration. New York, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey. They claim the tax law unfairly targets Democratic states. Those same states passed laws to work around the cap allowing taxpayers to make charitable contributions in lieu of state taxes in exchange for a tax credit.

[05:15:05] But a new treasury rule blocks that scenario. Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Congress limited deduction that benefited high income earners to help pay for major tax cuts for American families. Deductions help reduce your overall tax bill so in high-tax states like New York, the cap could increase resident taxes by $14 billion this year. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo calls the SALT change a political attempt to hurt Democratic states. He promised to fight that new treasury rule.

BRIGGS: California Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter and his wife pleading not guilty in federal court Thursday. The charges they illegally used a $250,000 in campaign funds to furnish their lavish lifestyle. Hunter on Fox News last night seemed to point the finger at his wife.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HUNTER: When I went to Iraq in 2003, the first time I gave her power of attorney and she handled my finances throughout my entire military career and that continued on when I got in Congress. She was also the campaign manager. So, whatever she did, that will be looked at, too, I'm sure. But I did not do it.


BRIGGS: Interesting breakfast conversation this morning. No response yet from Hunter's wife, Margaret. The couple accused of spending campaign money for personal expenses, large and small, including a $14,000 family vacation to Italy.

ROMANS: All right. The two-person board of elections in Randolph County, Georgia, will vote this morning on a proposal to shut down seven of its nine polling places. Critics see this as a move to suppress black voters in a critical election that could result in Stacey Abrams becoming the first black female governor. Supporters in the rural Southwest Georgia County say the move will save money and they claim the seven targeted locations do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

BRIGGS: A preliminary autopsy report on Mollie Tibbetts indicates her death was caused by multiple sharp force injuries. The 20-year-old University of Iowa student was last seen jogging on July 18th. Her body was found Tuesday buried under a pile of corn stalks. An undocumented 24-year-old immigrant from Mexico, Christhian Rivera charged with Tibbetts murder. Her funeral scheduled for Sunday.

ROMANS: Heart pounding video out of Texas where police stopped a woman from jumping off a bridge. Take a look at this dashing video from Fort Worth Police. A woman standing there on the ledge of an overpass. Her heels of her feet hanging right over it. Officers Justin Henry and Trae Cierzan inch slowly toward her. Watch what happens next.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody wants me dead.




Please get down.

Please get down.

Please get down.

Please get down.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: One of the officers has been heard promising to get her help. CNN affiliate KTVT says the woman is in a hospital. Her family says they are forever grateful to those officers who they hoped to one day meet.

BRIGGS: What a difficult situation for those officers not knowing when to act for the great job there. All right, ahead of preseason scare for the Cleveland Browns and their two tough quarterbacks. Lindsay Czarniak in studio for the "Bleacher Report" next.


[05:22:58] BRIGGS: Let's talk sports. Browns. Eagles fans. Did not have much to cheer about last night's preseason game.

ROMANS: We are cheering because Lindsay Czarniak is here in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

BRIGGS: Football season almost here. We're excited for that.


LINDSAY CZARNIAK, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Can you believe it? It's like almost two weeks away. The third game of the preseason. So as you guys know, it is also the most exciting because it is basically considered a dress rehearsal for the regular season which is right around the corner. Probably the most interesting thing that happened last night was before the game even started, you guys remember the Eagles when they had to win the Super Bowl with back-up quarterback Nick Foles.

Eagles starting quarterback Carson Wentz did not play, not last night. But he did work out pre-game. So, he looks pretty good. Looks like he is about ready to get out there. He was moving around on the surgically repaired knee that kept him out last season. Philly fans certainly hope he is going to be ready week one and maybe another Super Bowl run? I don't know. What do you all think?

BRIGGS: Yes, I think so.

CZARNIAK: OK. Well, a scary moment for Browns starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He injured his left wrist in the first quarter when he fell out of bounds. He left the game for a couple of series to be examined but he did return to play. He will undergo more tests today, but the team says they are confident that he is going to be good to go.

Cleveland's back-up didn't square much better the number one overall draft pick Baker Mayfield started the second half. He left after colliding with a teammate. Look at that. He was checked for concussion. He was cleared to return by doctor but he never went back in. Cleveland wins this one kind of call it ugly but it is preseason so everyone just ready to get this thing started anyway.

To baseball we go. Braves rookie sensation Ronald Acuna, Jr. needs to wrap himself in bubble wrap before playing the Marlins. That's some good advice for him because last night was the first meeting between the team since Miami since Jose Urena earned a six-game suspension for plunking Acuna on the first and only pitch. Acuna got hit again. Marlins Javy Guerra seem to lose control of the pitch and hit Acuna on the hands there. Acuna is upset, but not hurt thankfully. The Braves go on to win 5-0.

[05:25:02] Finally, this was a really special moment for one Longhorn player. The Texas Longhorns, they have a few extra scholarships heading into the season. They decided that one should go to senior defensive back Jamarquis Durst. Take a look at the reaction from his teammates.


JAMARQUIS DURST, SENIOR DEFENSIVE BACK: I'm wasn't supposed to be right here today in front of you all. So many people wrote me off. They wrote me off. Just to be here I'm so thankful. Thankful for the staff, thankful for everybody in here. You all make me love being here every day.


CZARNIAK: You can see him getting emotional and how much it means to him. Durst started off his college career playing at a Division II school in Texas and transferred to play for the Longhorns as a walk- on. So, you heard him there saying that no one thought he should have made it this far. What a story of perseverance and you know.

BRIGGS: It feels like such a business. College sports. That reminds you it is still --

CZARNIAK: Like a business and then wait until you get to the NFL.

BRIGGS: That is outstanding. Good stuff, Lindsay. Have a great weekend.

CZARNIAK: You too.

ROMANS: The president suggested it should be illegal for witnesses to flip. Looks like long-time allies ready to do just that.

BRIGGS: And hurricane Lane unleashing an epic downpour on parts of Hawaii. Up to 30 inches expected. We are live on the big island next.