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Trump Finally Gives in and Praises John McCain; Vietnam Pays Respects to John McCain; Secret North Korean Letter Forced Trump to Nix Pompeo Trip; Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 28, 2018 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: And Louis C.K. back on stage for the first time since admitting to years of inappropriate sexual conduct.

Good morning. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Laura. Good morning to all of you. I'm Dave Briggs. Tuesday, August 28th, it's 5:00 a.m. in the East. We have a live report from Hong Kong straight ahead. Also Ivan Watson joins us from Vietnam.

We start, though, with the latest on Senator McCain. It took two days and mounting pressure from all sides, but President Trump has finally offered praise to honor the late Senator John McCain. First, in a written statement saying in part, "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, a move one leading veterans group called symbolic but important.

JARRETT: A source familiar with the internal talks says Mr. Trump was pushed by senior staffers including John Kelly, Bill Shine, and 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.

BRIGGS: 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.

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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

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. JARRETT: Abby Phillip, thank you.

Senator McCain had one final message for his fellow Republicans. 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."


JARRETT: McCain said that he lived a rewarding life and would not trade a single day, not even the ones of extraordinary hardship.

BRIGGS: No doubt the hardest of those hardships was 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.

Ivan Watson inside the Hanoi Hilton this morning -- Ivan.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave and Laura. The Hoa Lo prison, better known perhaps as the Hanoi Hilton, is now a museum with displays such as the flight suits that U.S. pilots wore when they carried out combat missions over Vietnam. And John McCain spent a big chunk of his five and a half years as a prisoner of war within these walls.

[05:05:07] And he figures prominently in the museum exhibits here. For example, there are photos along walls here of when he was actually a prisoner such as this moment here when he was badly hurt after he was taken prisoner in 1967 when he's splashed down. But I think that the exhibits here also kind of display the remarkable transformation in relations from that long conflict.

I'm going to zip around here to 2000 when he was a visitor here to the same very museum talking about that time but also talking about peace between the U.S. and Vietnam. He became a prominent voice advocating for improved relations. And he's being honored here by top officials where there's a monument by the lake where he splashed down when he was shot down in '67. There are flowers and tokens of tribute to him.

The U.S. embassy here in Hanoi is holding a rare honor for him. A book of condolences open to the public. When he was ambassador in Washington, the deputy prime minister of the country saying he is a symbol of a generation of lawmakers and veterans who have worked to heal the wounds between these countries -- Dave and Laura.

JARRETT: Gosh, so incredible just to see inside the museum there.

Well, John McCain's Senate colleagues returning to Washington without him for the first time since 1987. McCain's desk was draped in a black cloth and on the desk sat a vase of white roses later re-tweeted by his wife Cindy.

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.


BRIGGS: 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.

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


BRIGGS: 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 and received President Trump's endorsement.

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

JARRETT: Breaking news. A letter from a top North Korean official is apparently 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 warned the denuclearization process was again at stake and may fall apart.

CNN's Will Ripley live for us in Hong Kong. Will, what's the latest?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Laura. Essentially this is the biggest warning sign yet that this new diplomatic relationship between the United States and North Korea could really be in trouble here. I want to read you a portion of what a source told me overnight saying from the North Korean view that the U.S. is still not ready to meet North Korean expectations in terms of taking a step forward to sign a peace treaty.

A peace treaty to formally end the Korean War which has been in a technical ceasefire since 1953, appears to be the major sticking point here. The North Koreans think the peace treaty should happen up front, denuclearization later. The U.S., though, feels that a peace treaty is a major concession that shouldn't happen until after Kim Jong-un has agreed to give up a large portion of its nuclear arsenal.

[05:10:05] But the North Koreans -- and this is why the U.S. have gone -- U.S. and North Korea have gone back and forth on this and really have been in gridlock since early July. The North Koreans say they're not going to give up those nukes until they have security guarantees that Kim is going to stay in power. And that is where we are right now.

This letter also indicating that if diplomatic talks, if this process falls apart, North Korea could go back to its nuclear and missile activities. The kind of activities that the U.S. had responded to with increasingly escalating tensions that many felt pushed this region to the brink of a military conflict. An all-out war potentially between Pyongyang and Washington.

We're not there yet. There is still time to save this diplomatic process. But the next steps forward are going to be critical. And that is why perhaps President Trump called off Pompeo's trip to Pyongyang that was supposed to happen this week feeling it might do more harm than good -- Laura.

JARRETT: Critical indeed. Will, thank you.

BRIGGS: Major development there.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [05:15:17] BRIGGS: 5:15 Eastern Time. The 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 -- sort of -- 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've 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: Lighthizer says it's now time for Canada to come to the table. And President Trump gave Ottawa until Friday to agree to the changes or threaten tariffs on Canadian cars. In response, Canada called the progress between Mexico and the U.S. necessary to rejoin talks. Canada's Foreign minister heads to Washington today.

And Wall Street liked news of this deal, hitting record highs. But the "Wall Street Journal" editorial board says the celebration may be premature, writing, "We're glad to see Mr. Trump step back from the suicide of NAFTA withdrawal but on public evidence so far his new deal is worse."

JARRETT: We're 10 just 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.

BRIGGS: A redrawn map could put more seats in play for Democrats possibly affecting 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 the state decision could result in an election year appeal to the high court which currently has only eight justices.

JARRETT: Well, a 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 is part of a lengthy lawsuit against the government by Cody Wilson who posted designs online for 3-D guns in 2013. The judge argued Wilson's First Amendment rights weren't sufficient to overcome the public interest in the case. Wilson tells CNN he'll unveil a national plan of action today.

BRIGGS: Police in Olympia, Washington, 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.

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.


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

JARRETT: That video is just heartbreaking.


JARRETT: Well, 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 last fall when he admitted to sexual misconduct. The club owner says he did a 15-minute set of typical Louis C.K. material and got a warm reception from the sold-out crowd. One audience member called the club to object to the surprise set. But other said they were happy they caught the show.

BRIGGS: All right. The top seeded woman at the U.S. Open on the wrong side of history. Coy Wire has the latest in the "Bleacher Report" next.


[05:23:58] BRIGGS: Serena Williams making a triumphant return to the U.S. Open. And as usual, in style.

JARRETT: Coy Wire has this morning's "Bleacher Report." Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Laura and Dave. Listen you're looking might fine and stylish this morning.

BRIGGS: As are you, my friend.

WIRE: It has been two years since we've seen Serena on the court at the U.S. Open. Last year, her daughter was born while the tournament was going on. Well, the six-time champ was rocking a black tutu under the lights last night. She said she had a broken spirit going into the match because she wasn't able to say bye to her baby daughter who was napping at the hotel when she had to leave. Well, Serena broke the spirit of her opponent Magdalene. That made sure she wasn't gone too long from her baby either. It took her just over an hour for her to win in straight sets. She's the 17th seed, but still the favorite to win her 24th grand slam singles title. That would tie Margaret Court's all-time record set 45 years ago.

And a huge upset. Simona Halep became the first top seeded woman at the open to lose in the first round in the professional era.

[05:25:04] 44th ranked Kaia Kanepi of Estonia had a dream run day at the tournament last year. She was ranked 418th in the world, but made it all the way to the quarterfinals. Before that, she was off the pro tennis circuit for two years. She considered walking away from tennis. Had a string of health issues. But look out, Kaia Kanepi looking strong. And --

That is Odell Beckham Jr. and his teammates dancing in the Giants locker room. Looks like Dave Briggs on a Bloody Mary Friday. It was payday for OBJ, a reported five-year deal worth 95 million bucks. If you do some quick math that's over $52,000 a day every day for the next five years. And that's $65 million guaranteed.

It makes him the highest paid wide receiver in NFL history. Beckham hasn't played in the preseason yet this season. But he's expected to be ready to go against the Jaguars opening day. And that stout defense in Jalen Ramsey. The trash talker is going to be some must- see TV.

BRIGGS: That is a good mash-up. Junior mint. The front page. You know, it's Bloody Mary Tuesday can work, too, Coy. You don't have to wait until for Friday.

JARRETT: He doesn't discriminate.


WIRE: No, you just get better and better all the time, Dave. I thought it was just a Friday thing.

BRIGGS: Thanks, buddy. Good to see you, my friend.

WIRE: You too.

JARRETT: Thanks, Coy.

Well, after days of prodding by aides all the way up to his vice president, president trump is finally lowering the flag and tipping his hat to Senator John McCain.