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Trump Caves, Finally Praises John McCain; Vietnam Pays Respects to John McCain; Secret North Korean Letter Forced Trump to Nix Pompeo Trip; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 28, 2018 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:13] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We very much appreciate everything that Senator McCain has done for our country.


LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: It took two days, a flag flap and a lot of pushing, but President Trump finally offering respect to Senator John McCain.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight. A secret letter from North Korea warns denuclearization talks cannot move forward at this time.

JARRETT: The U.S. announces a new trade deal with Mexico. But is it a redo or just a rebranded NAFTA?

BRIGGS: And Louis C.K. back on stage for the first time since admitting to years of inappropriate sexual conduct. It happened just a few hours ago here in the New York area. More on that in a moment.

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

JARRETT: And I'm Laura Jarrett, in for Christine Romans. It's Tuesday, August 28th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Well, it took two days and mounting pressure from all sides, but President Trump has finally offered praise to honor John McCain. First, in a written statement saying in part, quote, "Despite our differences on policy and politics, I respect Senator John McCain's service to our country." The president later echoed the sentiment at a White House event. It's a move one leading veterans group called symbolic, but important.

BRIGGS: A source familiar with the internal talk says Mr. Trump was pushed by senior staffers including John Kelly, Bill Shine, Sarah Sanders to deliver a more robust statement on John McCain. The "New York Times" reports the president even refused earlier requests from Vice President Pence to do so.

JARRETT: According to the "Wall Street Journal" White House prodded the president for two days to put out a kind word about McCain, but Trump reportedly told advisers he thought the TV coverage of McCain's death was over the top.

We get more from CNN's Abby Phillip at the White House.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Laura, a day of controversy ended with President Trump making an abrupt about-face, finally issuing a statement addressing John McCain's service to the nation Monday night at an evangelical event here at the White House. Listen.


TRUMP: Also our hearts and prayers are going to the family of Senator John McCain. There will be a lot of activity over the next number of days and we very much appreciate everything that Senator McCain has done for our country.


PHILLIP: President Trump's comments were the first that he made all day on Monday after ignoring questions from reporters on five separate occasions when they asked him to comment on McCain's death.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, any thoughts on John McCain?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you have anything to say about John McCain, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you believe John McCain is a hero, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Guys, let's go. Keep moving.

TRUMP: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Nothing at all about John McCain?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why won't you say something about John McCain?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Press, let's go. Make your way out. Let's go. Press, let's go. We're finished, let's go.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, any comment on John McCain, sir?


PHILLIP: Now the president had faced a lot of pushback from Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, from veterans groups, and according to our sources, even from within the White House. Finally on Monday afternoon, he issued a statement addressing McCain's service to the nation after this weekend only issuing condolences to McCain's family.

That statement also authorized the flags here at the White House to be lowered to half-staff. The White House had initially resisted lowering the flags, which would have been a longstanding tradition that many presidents have followed, lowering the flags until McCain was laid to rest. And now President Trump is saying that's exactly what will happen.

Now we asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders about what caused the change of course here at the White House. She would only say that it was the president's decision to issue a second statement which lowered the flags and addressed McCain's service and that that statement spoke for itself -- Dave and Laura.

BRIGGS: All right, Abby Phillip. Thank you.

Senator McCain had one final message for his fellow Americans in a pointed letter read by his longtime aide Rick Davis. McCain encouraged Americans to unite around ideals that connect them rather than focus on divisions.


RICK DAVIS, FORMER MCCAIN CAMPAIGN MANAGER: "We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down. When we doubt the power of our ideals rather than trust them to be the great force for change they've always been.

"Do not despair of our present difficulties. We believe always in the promise and greatness of America. Because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history."


[04:05:05] BRIGGS: McCain said he lived a rewarding life and would not trade a single day, not even the ones of extraordinary hardship.

JARRETT: No doubt the hardest of the hardships is the five and a half years he was held captive at the infamous Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam. John McCain's time as a prisoner of war shaped the remainder of his life and his legacy.

Let's bring in CNN's Ivan Watson live from the Hanoi Hilton -- Ivan.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there. I'm at the Hoa Lo prison, this where it used to be a French colonial prison and it's now a museum. This of course is the facility where John McCain did spend a substantial part of his five and a half years as prisoner of war here in Hanoi.

So deeper inside and our signal doesn't work in there, you can see an exhibit showing kind of a pilot uniform which he would have been wearing when he was shot down over Hanoi in 1967 and some of the conditions that the prisoners were living in during what was a harrowing ordeal by his own accounts when he was subjected to torture, malnutrition, dysentery, long times in solitary confinement.

What's remarkable about his story and his relationship with Vietnam is after conducting dozens of bombing missions over this country and being held as prisoner of war, he became one of the strongest voices for the normalizations of relations between the U.S. and Vietnam.

I just came from the U.S. embassy here, which has opened a book of condolences for Senator McCain. It's a rare honor for him. It's open to the public. And I saw a deputy foreign minister of Vietnam there who had been ambassador to the U.S. just a few years ago who described McCain as a good friend. And said he was mourning the passing of this lawmaker who another top Vietnamese official has described as a symbol of a generation of lawmakers and veterans who have helped heal the wounds of war that existed between these two countries -- Laura and Dave.

JARRETT: Wow. Just imagine five and a half years. Ivan, thank you so much for being there for us.

BRIGGS: John McCain's Senate colleagues returning to Washington without him for the first time since 1987. McCain's desk draped in a black cloth and on the desk sat a vase of white roses. His wife Cindy re-tweeting that image.

Before President Trump finally spoke out on McCain, Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson pulled no punches with his remarks on the Senate floor.


SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: Anybody who in any way tarnishes the reputation of John McCain deserves a whipping. I would say to the president or the -- anybody in the world, it's time to pause and say this was a great man. He gave everything for us.


JARRETT: Well, as of now, Republican senators are mixed on Chuck Schumer's proposal to rename the Russell office building after McCain. Senators Orrin Hatch and Tim Scott say yes, but several say it's too soon to decide. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sidestepped the question altogether. The Russell office building had been named after longtime Georgia senator Richard Russell. He was a Democrat, but also a segregationist who opposed the Civil Rights Act.

BRIGGS: In the wake of John McCain's passing, Arizona voters go to the polls in primary elections today. Republicans would choose between three candidates. Congresswoman Martha McSally, Kelli Ward and former sheriff Joe Arpaio, running for the Senate seat vacated by Jeff Flake. On Monday Ward apologized for suggesting an announcement by McCain's family that he was ending his cancer treatment was actually designed to hurt her campaign.


DR. KELLI WARD (R), ARIZONA SENATE CANDIDATE: I do understand how many could have misconstrued my comments as insensitive, and for this, I apologize. But again the intention of my comments were in no way directed at Senator McCain or his family.


JARRETT: Well, the frontrunner for the Democratic Senate nomination is current Arizona Congressman Kirsten Sinema.

Florida also has a primary today. The Republican race for governor between Congressman Ron DeSantis and state agricultural commissioner Adam Putnam has been hotly contested. DeSantis asked for President Trump's endorsement and he got it.

Primary day will also cement one of the year's most competitive Senate races in Florida, with Governor Rick Scott all but guaranteed to face Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson in November.

BRIGGS: In what might be the most expensive race in modern times.

Breaking news, a secret letter from a top North Korea official apparently is what led the president to cancel Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's latest trip to North Korea.

Our colleague Josh Rogin first reported in the "Washington Post" that Pompeo received the letter from Kim Yong-Chol, a top aide to Kim Jong- un. CNN has confirmed the letter sent to Pompeo warning the denuclearization process was, quote, "again at stake and may fall apart."

[04:10:03] CNN's Will Ripley live in Hong Kong with the latest.

Will, what do we know?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Dave. Well, we know that this is perhaps the biggest warning sign yet that the U.S.- North Korea diplomatic relationship is in serious trouble. This letter that the "Washington Post" first reported delivered to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by his chief nuclear negotiating counterpart Kim Yong-Chol.

The United States considered the rhetoric belligerent but the North Koreans feel they were simply laying out what they have expected all along. They want a peace deal upfront, denuclearization later. The U.S. wants denuclearization to happen first and then concessions like a peace deal and other things.

I want to read for you a portion of what a source had told me overnight, saying, quote, "The U.S. is still not ready to meet North Korean expectations in terms of taking a step to sign a peace treaty." A step forward in the North Korean view. But some in the Trump administration feel that that peace treaty is just one more concession that weakens the United States' position. And the United States' position already weakened considerably. President Trump even stated as such, because China is believed to no

longer be enforcing the sanctions that were key to the maximum pressure campaign. At the same time U.S. ally South Korea and its president Moon Jae-in still moving forward with plans for a summit with Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang next month.

So the U.S. and South Korea no longer apparently in lockstep, a big mess here, all resulting on this vaguely worded statement in Singapore. The North Koreans thought meant one thing, the U.S. obviously thinking it means something else entirely -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes. The fundamental issues that plagued the situation from the beginning.

Will Ripley, live for us in Hong Kong, thank you.

JARRETT: The "Wall Street Journal" editorial board calls the trade deal between the U.S. and Mexico notably worse in many ways. What's in it? What's not? And what does Canada have to say? Next.


[04:15:55] BRIGGS: All right. 4:15 Eastern Time. A check of CNN Money. U.S. and Mexico striking a deal to rework NAFTA. But President Trump warns he may leave Canada out of the agreement. With the Mexican president on the phone, Trump announced the bilateral deal yesterday.


TRUMP: They used to call it NAFTA. We're going to call it the United States-Mexico Trade Agreement. We'll get rid of the name NAFTA. It has a bad connotation because the United States was hurt very badly by NAFTA for many years.


BRIGGS: President Trump says NAFTA has cost hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs specifically auto jobs. So this deal sets higher labor standards for autoworkers and requires North American cars include a higher percentage of parts made in the U.S. or Mexico which the U.S. Trade rep says will help both countries.


ROBERT LIGHTHIZER, U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE: We created a situation where there's more U.S. jobs, but there also will be more Mexican jobs because we're going to squeeze out people who are not in the region. So it's a big, big win for manufacturing.


BRIGGS: Without naming them, squeezing out China would be the goal. Lighthizer says it's now time for Canada to come to the table. And President Trump gave Ottawa until Friday to agree with the changes with threatened tariffs on Canadian cars. In response, Canada calls the progress between Mexico and the U.S., quote, "necessary" to rejoin talks. Canada's Foreign minister heads to Washington today.

And Wall Street liked the news of this deal, hitting record highs. But "USA Today's" editorial board calls the stock rally premature, likening it to Trump's summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, quote, "Both came amid much fanfare and bluster, and premature declarations of success."

JARRETT: Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman, was reportedly seeking a deal in his upcoming trial in D.C. The "Wall Street Journal" reports as jurors in Virginia were deliberating bank and fraud charges against him, Manafort's defense team was trying to hammer out an agreement with prosecutors to avoid a second trial. The paper says the talks stalled after Special Counsel Robert Mueller raised issues with the potential deal.

Meantime, the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, says they have not heard back from Mueller's office in nearly three weeks. He suggests Mueller's team could be considering issuing a report without talking to the president at all or issuing a subpoena. Several legal experts however have noted that the probe into Russia collusion may pose less of a threat to Trump than the federal investigation in the Southern District of New York.

That's where Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to working with Trump to silence women to sway the election and where two longtime Trump loyalists have reportedly agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

BRIGGS: All right. Coming up, a 6-year-old boy in Washington state attacked with rocks and sticks so badly he had to go to the hospital. All because he stood up for a friend who is being bullied.


[04:23:16] BRIGGS: All right. We're 10 weeks out from the critical midterm elections and North Carolina's congressional map may have to be redrawn. A panel of three federal judges ruling Monday districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans. Republicans hold 10 of North Carolina's 13 seats in the House.

JARRETT: A redrawn map could put more seats in play for Democrats possibly impacting control of the House. The judges acknowledged primary elections have already occurred, but were reluctant to let voting take place again in current congressional districts. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case back in June, but that decision could result in an election year appeal to the high court which currently has only eight justices.

BRIGGS: Federal judge in Seattle blocking a Texas man from releasing downloadable blueprints for 3-D guns. The judge extending an initial temporary restraining order until the case is resolved. The move comes after Cody Wilson who posted designs online for 3-D printed handguns in 2013 filed a lawsuit against the federal government when he was accused of exporting weapons without a license.

The judge argued Wilson's First Amendment rights were not sufficient enough to overcome the public interest in the case. For his part Wilson tells CNN he'll unveil a national plan of action today.

JARRETT: Police in Olympia, Washington, are investigating an attack on a 6-year-old boy who stood up to bullies. Carter English had surgery to repair a laceration over his eye and may need surgery on a broken arm. He says he was attacked with rocks and sticks and had saw dust rubbed in his eyes all for standing up to bullies who went after his friend.


CARTER ENGLISH, ATTACKED AFTER STANDING UP TO BULLIES:: They were bullying him, like beating him up. And I told them to stop. And then they did it to me.

[04:25:04] DANA ENGLISH, MOTHER OF CARTER ENGLISH: It's been hell. I mean, I haven't slept. I haven't ate. I mean I can't do anything. I can't even leave his side.


JARRETT: Just heartbreaking. Police identified a 5-year-old boy they believe who started the fight. Social services will get involved, but due to the age of everyone involved, the case will not result in criminal charges.

BRIGGS: Comedian Louis C.K. making a surprise return to the stage. "The New York Times" reporting he appeared unannounced at the Comedy Cellar in New York Sunday night performing for the first time since he admitted last fall to years of sexual misconduct. The club owner says he did a 15-minute set of typical Louis C.K. material and got a warm reception from a sold-out crowd who gave an ovation to start. One audience member called the club Monday to object to the surprise set. But other patron responded to a standard e-mail followed up to say they were happy they caught the show.

JARRETT: Well, after days of prodding by all aides, way up to the vice president, President Trump finally lowering flags and tipping his cap to Senator John McCain.