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National Enquirer Boss Makes Immunity Deal; Hurricane Lane Targets Hawaii; Pope Francis To Visit Ireland; Georgia County May Close Seven Polling Places. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 24, 2018 - 05:30   ET



[05:30:33] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A safe full of secrets. What more did the "National Enquirer" know about the president? The head of the "Enquirer," a longtime Trump ally, now cooperating with investigators.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane Lane battering parts of Hawaii with strong winds and rain. We have the latest track and a live report from the Big Island.

ROMANS: And a predominantly black Georgia county could close most of its polling places before the midterms. Critics say this is just being done to muzzle the minority vote with a black woman making an historic run for Georgia governor.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody, this Friday morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Happy Friday, my friend. I'm Dave Briggs. Five thirty-one Eastern Time, 11:31 p.m. in Hawaii. A live report there straight ahead.

We start with -- how about that headline this morning. 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 and publisher of the "National Enquirer," has been granted immunity. A source tells CNN Pecker told federal prosecutors that Mr. Trump knew about payments to buy the silence of women who claimed they'd had sexual encounters with him.

ROMANS: 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. America Media was supposedly buying the rights to her story but then buried the story instead. It's a tabloid tactic called "catch and kill."

BRIGGS: In an interview with Fox News, the president lashed out at his former allies who've turned on him. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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


BRIGGS: The "Associated Press" reports 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.

ROMANS: Oh yes, the plot thickens.

Joining us this morning, CNN political analyst Rachael Bade, congressional reporter for "Politico." Good morning. Nice to see you.

BRIGGS: Good morning.


ROMANS: First time on the show.

OK, Rachel, I'm just going to say it straight. How big is Donald Trump's Pecker problem this morning?

BAY: Ginormous.

Listen, when Michael Cohen came out and said the president had directed him to pay off these women to influence the election, the president and his allies basically brushed him off and said listen, this guy had his own legal exposure. He was trying to flip and turn Trump in and make something up to get himself off the hook.

This is different. This is another person that had a longtime history with the president who didn't have legal exposure.

So if David Pecker is coming out right now and -- well, telling prosecutors that Trump knew what was going on, this is very damaging for the president.

ROMANS: And that's the big question. That's the key there. Did Donald Trump do -- is he going to cooperate --


ROMANS: -- with Michael Cohen now?

BRIGGS: But some say the Pecker problem is small because campaign finance violations are -- what? I wasn't making a joke.

ROMANS: I'm sorry.

BRIGGS: -- is rarely prosecuted in court.

ROMANS: I know, I know.

BRIGGS: That's all I was trying to say.


BRIGGS: Let's talk about Jeff Sessions, though -- the attorney general. What an extraordinary turn of events yesterday.

The president has bullied him for the better part of a year and then yesterday, Sessions with some rare pushback, fighting back against the president.

And then, Lindsey Graham says this about the future for Jeff Sessions surviving the Trump administration late last night on Fox.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Jeff did the right thing legally, but Mueller is now very deep into his investigation. This conflict is far beyond Mueller and recusal. There's just not a good, healthy working relationship from what I can tell.

And for the good of the nation I think we need an attorney general that has the confidence of the president. And I'm not blaming Jeff Sessions.


BRIGGS: OK, that's some interesting words --

BADE: Wow.

BRIGGS: -- there from Lindsey Graham.

Number one, the president's famous for two words, "you're fired." Why won't he say them to Jeff Sessions, and is Lindsey Graham giving him a nudge there?

BADE: Well, he hasn't said them because Republicans on the Hill have been telling him do not fire Jeff Sessions. But that wall of protection around Sessions that we've seen for the past year or so is starting to actually crumble.

[05:35:03] We were on the Hill just yesterday talking to senators and basically, you just heard from Lindsey Graham there are some others who think that now it's the president's prerogative to fire Sessions. So there's been a little bit of a shift in tone from going to say don't fire him, leave him alone to if you don't like him you can pick somebody else.

Another front on this, the Alabama delegation -- congressional delegation. They have always been Sessions' top defenders since Sessions is from Alabama. They've always been out front defending him whenever the president sort of comes after him. You're sort of hearing some silence from them right now.

And actually, I was speaking to one yesterday who's close with Sessions -- Gary Palmer of Alabama -- and he said he has his own issues with Sessions in terms of not firing Rod Rosenstein and not turning over certain documents.

So we're seeing Republicans -- they're no longer defending Sessions. I don't think that's good for his fate. I think it's a matter of time before the president fires him.

BRIGGS: Interesting because Sessions is arguably his most effective cabinet member, maybe with the exception of Scott Pruitt.

If you missed the pushback from Jeff Sessions, here was the statement that we're referring to.

"I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in. While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. I demand the highest standards and where they are not met, I take action."

ROMANS: Rachael, you cover Congress. Duncan Hunter has been indicted, along with his wife, for using campaign funds to pay for their living -- their lifestyle -- their living --

BRIGGS: Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

ROMANS: They're clearly living beyond their means.

You have been reporting on this for some time and you say his reaction yesterday -- his response yesterday where he said look, my wife handled all the finances, this is -- this is vintage Duncan Hunter.

Let's listen to what he said.


REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: 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 into Congress. She was also the campaign manager.

So whatever she did on that, that will be looked at too, I'm sure -- but I didn't do it.


ROMANS: Interesting strategy. They both pleaded not guilty yesterday.

BADE: I didn't do it. Pretty shameless, I would say. In fact, I've heard that word used multiple times by his colleagues -- Republicans on the Hill who were just flabbergasted by the indictment and all the details in it. Look, I have asked Hunter about misuse of campaign funds before. He did the same thing. He threw his wife under the bus and said look -- look at where these charges were made. They were in California when I was here in Washington.

Well, guess what? Three words for you -- receipts don't lie. And right now, the FBI has laid out an indictment -- prosecutors have an indictment where they detail things he bought.

Lavish dinners where he took people out that had nothing to do with the campaign. Trips he took with certain individuals he had relationships with that had nothing to do with the campaign, whether it was Virginia Beach or ski trips. Using the campaign credit card. So look, he can deny all he wants.

He's also said the prosecutors -- this is sort of a witch hunt against him because he's a Trump supporter. But all you have to do is look at the paper trail, and that is there and that is going to be a big problem for him.

BRIGGS: It will be difficult to explain a flight for your pet rabbit.

BADE: Yes.

BRIGGS: Why that needs to be paid for --

ROMANS: Why the campaign has to pay for that, right?

BRIGGS: -- through campaign funds.

Rachael --

BADE: Yes, multiple shots for friends at a bachelor party. I mean, these have nothing to do with the campaign.

BRIGGS: Tequila, at least.

BADE: It's blatant misuse of campaign funds.

BRIGGS: Rachael, great to have you this morning.

ROMANS: Nice to see you this morning.

BRIGGS: Thanks so much for being here.

BADE: Thank you.

BRIGGS: All right.

The effects of Hurricane Lane being felt in Hawaii this morning. It's now a category three but officials are warning residents the storm is a significant rainmaker. The outer bands of the hurricane already causing flooding. There's now a voluntary evacuation order on Reed's Island near Hilo.

Check out these pictures. The normally scenic Wailuku River also turning into a raging torrent.


LUKE MEYERS, EXECUTIVE OFFICER, HAWAII EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY, HONOLULU, HAWAII (via telephone): Everyone's watching the forecast models. We tell them not to get too concerned about that.

Some of the biggest threats we see from this storm -- obviously, we're looking at tropical storm, maybe some slight hurricane-force winds. We're also looking at potentially for a lot of flooding -- potentially, urban flooding.



ROMANS: Emergency sirens blaring in Honolulu yesterday. FEMA says it has staged food, water, generators and other necessities around the island.

Major airlines are waiving fees for travelers affected by the hurricane, including United, Delta, and Alaska Airlines.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is live in Pahala on the southern part of the Big Island. Good evening to you, Miguel. What are you seeing there?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, they have had about a foot of rain in some places and much more than a foot of rain over the last 24 hours, and they're expecting perhaps another foot.

Over the last six or seven hours or so it has been raining in buckets here on the southern part of the Big Island. It has just let up and it's almost a clear night. It kind of gives you a sense of how these -- the hurricanes work with those bands as they come in.

[05:40:08] It has caused havoc across much of the Big Island despite the fact that it tacked to the west and it is now a tropical storm warning for the Big Island. Other islands are now still under a hurricane warning.

One of the hardest-hit areas of the Big Island is the area of Hilo and south -- Pahoa and the Puna district. These are the areas that were also hit by Kilauea and the lava over the last couple of months and now they are getting hit very, very hard by rain as well.

There's been some evacuations in the Hilo area. Roads have been shut off because of landslides in the area.

So a lot of concern in Hawaii on the Big Island here for the hours ahead. But the biggest concern is where Lane goes now.

Will it move on Oahu, that island where Honolulu sits? That's the biggest city in Hawaii -- some 400,000 people there. Where will Lane go and how will it affect Honolulu and the people living there.

That's what people are looking for now, bracing to see what it does. Back to you guys.

ROMANS: Yes, Miguel, and it's just moving so slowly -- six miles per hour at this point. That just makes it a rainmaker.

MARQUEZ: Churning along.

ROMANS: All of those -- all right.

Thanks so much, Miguel. Stay safe, thanks.


Overnight, the weather service downgraded the Big Island to a tropical storm warning, leaving the hurricane warning in place for the other Hawaiian Islands.

For the latest, we're joined by meteorologist Ivan Cabrera live in the CNN Weather Center.

Ivan, I'm reading in the "Honolulu Star-Advertiser" about all the surfers eagerly awaiting the swells. Would you recommend that?

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No, I would not. In fact, you want to stay in your hotel and order in, take it easy, and batten down the hatches over the next couple of days.

There is the still the possibility -- the very real possibility that a hurricane will landfall on top of Honolulu here within the next 24 to 48 hours. We're hoping that doesn't happen and I'll show you why in a second here.

But all the while, the rain has still been falling here. We're talking about -- well, we're running now a couple of feet of rain across the Big Island of Hawaii.

And the center of the storm is still a good couple of hundred miles to the south Honolulu. The track has changed a little bit. I'll talk about that in second here.

But I want to show the rainfall here is quite significant. There you see the eye of the storm but the heavy rain -- two feet of rain -- has fallen well out ahead of it to the north of it here across the Big Island.

Of course, the topography has helped with that with the -- what we call orographic lift. You get that wind just piling up the mountains. It can't go down, it has to go up, condenses, cools, and falls in the form of rain.

There's the main shield of rain as the storm continues to basically move very, very slowly to the north. And because of that slow movement and the topography, look at this. Plus-17 inches now in Hilo -- just to the south of Hilo. Close to two feet of rainfall and the storm is not done -- not by any stretch.

Now, this is the latest track from the National Hurricane Center. We're still at 120, it's still a category three.

Notice what happens here. This is still tonight going to move to the north -- 90 mile an hours, a category one.

Look at the cone now getting very close to Honolulu. Yes, there is a chance that this could continue going north. It has not made that turn and until that happens I won't feel better.

But even with that turn, the effects are still going to be significant because we're going to be talking about the potential for 20, 30, 40 inches of rainfall in the next couple of days, guys.

ROMANS: All right, Ivan. Wow, that's something. OK, thank you.

BRIGGS: Thanks, man.

ROMANS: He'll be working all weekend.

The Pope heads to Ireland this weekend and there's plenty to atone for. What can he say to Catholic victims of abuse in the church? We're going to go live to Dublin.


[05:47:45] BRIGGS: Pope Francis confronts the past sins of the Catholic Church when he travels to Ireland this weekend, and his visit will be closely watched after a recent Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed over 1,000 children have been abused over decades by hundreds of predator priests.

The Pope plans to meet with survivors of abuse in Ireland.

Let's go live to Dublin and bring in CNN's Phil Black.

What do those survivors, Phil, want to hear?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They got some very key demands Dave, and this was always going to be key test for the Pope. A very difficult visit because there are simply so many people who have suffered and are suffering as a result of abuse within the church.

That report in Pennsylvania has only heightened the sense of expectation that the Pope must act decisively in order to deal with this. Many of the people here are aware of the Pope's recent written apology which was wholesome and clear and in many ways, unprecedented. It was appreciated.

But the view here among the many victims we've spoken to is that it's simply not enough. The time for eloquent, heartfelt, sorrowful words, they say, has passed. Take a listen.


MARIE COLLINS, VICTIM AND ACTIVIST: We heard the Pope the other day in a strong letter. A lot of it is good but unfortunately, he still says we're working on finding a way to hold people accountable.

We're decades on. You can't still be working on it.


BLACK: So their demands, specifically, are practical and really very reasonable. They want the compulsory reporting of all suspected abuse across the church. They want accountability for abuses but also those who protect them as well within the church.

They want, in essence, a zero tolerance system to be adopted formally by the Vatican, something that still hasn't happened. People here say that anything less than that will be viewed as a failure by Pope Francis to really deal with this issue, Dave.

BRIGGS: An important story to follow this weekend.

Phil Black live for us in Dublin. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on "CNN Money" this morning.

Trade fears are shaking Wall Street. Despite trade talks this week, the U.S. still went ahead and slapped tariffs on another $16 billion in Chinese goods yesterday. Moments later, Beijing retaliated dollar- for-dollar.

[05:50:03] U.S. stocks fell yesterday. Companies with big business in China, like Caterpillar and Boeing, dragged down the Dow.

U.S. Central Banks are meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming today. Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell will speak. He may give clues about future interest rate hikes. The next one will likely be next month.

Right now, global stocks are higher.

The CEOs of America's biggest companies have a warning for the Trump administration -- your immigration policy could harm the economy. That's from the letter signed by the heads of dozens of companies, including Pepsi, Apple, JPMorgan Chase, and IBM.

They write, the confusion around U.S. immigration policy undermines economic growth and American competitiveness.

In particular, the changes to visas for highly-skilled workers. Those sought after employees hold degrees in science, tech, engineering or math. With the unemployment rate at an 18-year low it's a bad time for companies to lose high-skilled workers.

Sony's robot dog is headed to the U.S. This is a super-smart pooch. It could be yours for a cool $2,900.

The original Aibo dog debuted in the 1990s, but this latest version is more than just a robot companion. This little pup can develop a personality through artificial intelligence, loaded with facial recognition technology, cameras, and image sensors. Sony has already sold 20,000 robo dogs in Japan.


ROMANS: This product signals that Sony is no longer just a traditional electronics company. It's now a player in A.I. and robotics.

So I guess you don't have to take it for a walk. You don't have to carry the little plastic baggy --

BRIGGS: I was going to say --

ROMANS: -- right?

BRIGGS: -- arguable the worst thing we people -- we adults have to do is grab that bag.

ROMANS: Pick up behind your dog.

BRIGGS: You don't have to potty train that thing. But no snuggles, though. All right.

ROMANS: No, that's true.


Caught on video, police in Texas engage a woman about to jump off of a bridge.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't matter.

HENRY: It does matter.


BRIGGS: We'll show you what happens next, ahead.


[05:56:23] ROMANS: Residents in a largely-black Georgia county say a plan to close seven of their nine polling places is an effort to silence them. The two-person Board of Elections in Randolph County, Georgia will vote this morning -- two people on that board will vote on this proposal.

Supporters claims the seven targeted locations do not comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, but critics call it simply a move to suppress black voters in a critical election that could result in Stacey Abrams becoming the first black female governor.

BRIGGS: More than five years in prison for a former government contractor who leaked confidential information to the media. Twenty- six-year-old Reality Winner was accused of taking a report on a Russian cyberattack from the NSA in 2016 and sending it to an online news outlet.

She took a plea deal of 63 months in prison with three years of supervised release.

Her attorney calls her a, quote, "good person who didn't understand the magnitude of her actions."

Winner told the court she never intended to harm national security.

ROMANS: 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, Cristhian Rivera, is charged with her murder.

Her funeral is scheduled for Sunday.

BRIGGS: Heart-pounding video out of Texas where police stopped a woman who was attempting to jump off of a bridge. Take a look at this dash cam video from Fort Worth police. A woman standing on the ledge of an overpass, the heels of her feet hanging right over it.

Officers Justin Henry and Trae Cierzan inched closely toward her when this happened.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody wants me dead so I'll just die.

HENRY: No one wants that.


HENRY: Nobody wants that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm scared. I'm really scared.

HENRY: Please get down.

TRAE CIERZAN, POLICE OFFICER, FORT WORTH, TEXAS: Please get down. You don't want to do this. You want to come down to us.

HENRY: Please get down.


HENRY: Please get down. Please get down.



BRIGGS: One of the officers is then heard promising to get the woman help.

CNN affiliate KTVT says the woman is in the hospital. Her family says they are forever grateful to the officers who they hope to one day meet.

Officers Cierzan and Henry, bravo -- great job. Well done there.

ROMANS: Congratulations.

All right, thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans. Have a great weekend.

BRIGGS: Yes, you, too, my friend. Enjoy the vacation next week.

ROMANS: Thank you.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now. We'll see you next week.


TRUMP: This was a magazine that, frankly, should be very respected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cohen was the bigger fish here. Their willing to give Pecker immunity sort of corroborates the tale.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: It's just not a good week for us to pass it off as Republicans as no big deal. That's just not right.

GRAHAM: After the election, I think there will be some serious discussions about a new attorney general.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I think it would be a mistake. I don't think it would be good for the country.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Many of us are frustrated that we've never had an investigation of the other side.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, good morning, everyone. Happy Friday to you John Berman, and everyone, and to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

It is NEW DAY. It's Friday, August 24th, 6:00 here in New York.

Here's our "Starting Line."

It's been an extraordinary week.


CAMEROTA: It really has in Donald Trump's presidency and it's not over yet.

The "Associated Press" reports that the "National Enquirer" kept a safe -- a literal safe of secrets that stored damaging stories and documents on those hush money payments that led Michael Cohen to plead guilty this week.

Now remember, Michael Cohen testified under oath that he, Donald Trump, and the tabloid were involved in buying the silence of --