Return to Transcripts main page


Kavanaugh Hearing Reviewed; Kim Jong-un Renews Commitment to Denuclearization; Examining Social Media Platform Issues. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired September 6, 2018 - 05:00   ET



DAVE BRIGGS, CNN HOST: At about the same time as that game starts, the president will rally Billings, Montana, and it will be fiery, my friend. Good morning, and welcome to "Early Start." I'm Dave Briggs.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN HOST: Good morning. I'm Alison Kosik. I'm sitting in for Christine Romans. It's Thursday, September 6. It's 5:00 am in the east. So the big question this morning, who is the mystery senior administration official who wrote that explosive New York Times op-ed, the one that called out President Trump for his amorality and reckless decision making.

The author writing, he or she is part of a resistance inside the administration, working to neutralize the president's worse impulses, even claiming there were early whispers about invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office, with aides ultimately deciding not to risk a constitutional crisis.

BRIGGS: Here's more from whomever pinned this op-ed. Quote, "To be clear, ours is not the popular resistance of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous. But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic."

That claim has the president and his inner-circle angry and pushing back.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: It's not clear to us, anyway, that it's somebody in the White House. They're saying senior administration official, and that could be many people there. I think thousands of political appointees, hundreds of folks who would qualify under that title alone.


KOSIK: And this from the president who asked, "Treason? The Times must, for national security purposes, turn him-her over to government at once." CNN's Jeff Zeleny with more now from the White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Trump waking up to another bomb shell, this time in the New York Times, with the Trump senior administration official really giving a blistering assessment of his administration and frankly, of his capacity for office.

This is one of the passages this official writes about, anonymously, saying this, "It may be cold comfort in this chaotic area, but Americans should know there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening, and we are trying to do what's right, even when Donald Trump won't." Now this is really just a - the most blistering assessment we have seen of this presidency, but the president, of course, pushing back when he was speaking with sheriffs at the White House on Wednesday evening.

He took on the New York Times and said this.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you tell me about some anonymous source within the administration, probably who's failing and probably here for all the wrong reasons - if the failing New York Times has an anonymous editorial - can you believe it, anonymous, meaning gutless, a gutless editorial - we're doing a great job.

ZELENY: He'll be traveling later today to Montana for a campaign rally tonight in Billings, Montana, then staying on the road unusually, going to North and South Dakota for campaign-type events as well. But we do know all of this will follow him, and clearly the White House pushing back on this. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that person is a coward and should resign. David and Alison.

BRIGGS: Jeff Zeleny, thank you. And so close to the White House, he tells (ph), CNN aides are following leads to find the author. Based on the way this op-ed is written, just hours before the opinion piece published, the president ordered loyal aides to help him determine who cooperated with another scathing betrayal.

Bob Woodward's new book - Mr. Trump has talked openly with allies about his suspicion that former national security advisor, H. R. McMaster, was the source for the legendary journalist. He's expressed similar beliefs about Gary Cohn, his former chief economic advisor.

One official telling CNN, it's unlikely anyone will be fired. That would lend credence to a book the president is trying to discredit.

KOSIK: We are also told the president evaluates aids who are suspected of being disloyal by how strongly they push back against the accusations. Two officials tell CNN Mr. Trump is pleased with the denials of Chief of Staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Josh Rogin of the Washington Post reports White House officials are actively discussing who will replace Mattis at the Pentagon when he steps down. But on the Wednesday, the president declared Mattis will stay in his job. Josh Rogin will join us in just a few minutes.

KOSIK: No shortage of fireworks on day two of Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing, but there was a shortage of concrete answers in the president's Supreme Court nominee (ph), as it's been precedent. Kavanaugh declaring, "no one is above the law," during a 12-hour session before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But he did not want to answer any potentially explosive questions from democrats about the man who nominated him.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-CA: Can a sitting president be required to respond to a subpoena?

BRETT KAVANAUGH, JUDGE: So that's a hypothetical question.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, D-VT: President Trump claims he has an absolute right to pardon himself. Does he?

KAVANAUGH: Well, that's a hypothetical question that I can't begin to answer in this context, as a sitting judge.



KOSIK: It is common, it is a common practice for judicial nominees to say they cannot answer questions about cases that may come before them but this is become a critical issue considering the ongoing Mueller investigation.

Judge Kavanaugh also tried to clarify his position on whether a sitting president can be indicted. Even though he argued against it in a 1999 article, Judge Kavanaugh now maintains his past writings were only focused on policy.

KAVANAUGH: I'll have an open mind, I'll listen to the arguments, I'll dig in to the history -- I've seen all sides of this. I will -- I'll have a completely open mind on the constitutional issue...

BRIGGS: Meanwhile Capital Police arrested 73 people in Senate office buildings on Wednesday, 66 were removed from the Committee room and charged with disorderly conduct.

KOSIK: Breaking overnight, North Korea state news agency reporting Kim Jong-un is renewing his commitment to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Kim telling a South Korean delegation visiting Pyongyang that the two Koreas should double their efforts toward achieving that goal, and he put a timeline on it.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is live for us in Seoul with the latest. So I'm wondering Paula, are we getting a better definition of what Kim Jong- un means about denuclearization?

PAULA HANCOCKS: Well listen, I think we're getting a clearer view that it's very different to what the United States believes it is. We did hear from Kim Jong-un through the South Korean envoy that he believes denuclearization will happen by the end of President Trump's first term as president.

He also said that he has an unwavering trust for President Trump despite the recent difficulties. But then pointed to what he sees as concession that North Korea has already made, and saying that he wants matching measures from the U.S. and then he will make active steps towards denuclearization.

Now that's the exact opposite way around that Washington wants to see it, they want to see denuclearization first and then they will give concessions or start to lift sanctions. Now we also heard an interesting thing from the Blue House that when President Moon was speaking with President Trump on the telephone on Tuesday, President Trump had actually asked the South Korean President to relay a message to Kim Jong-un.

Now that message was given to the North Korean leader on Wednesday, and apparently he has given a message back to President Trump. That will be given to the United States in just about an hours' time, the National Security Chief from South Korea will calling John Bolton at 7 am eastern time to tell him exactly what Kim Jong-un had to say.

But we heard from the South Koreas also that Kim Jong-un expressed frustration that there were actually doubts in the international community that he was going to do what he promised he would. Alison.

KOSIK: Hey, well at least as these meetings set up more discussions. CNN's Paula Hancocks, thanks so much. A lot of good things happen on Capital Hill, lot of odd things as well. Here's one for you.



BILLY LONG: I yield back.

KOSIK: Why a Congressmen revived his auctioneering skills and what actually came from the big hearing with Tech Execs?



KOSIK: Welcome back. Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter's CEO Jack Dorsey facing off with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, both executives outlining the steps their companies are taking to tackle this information and to make political advertizing more transparent.


SHERYL SANDBERG, FACEBOOK CEO: When bad actors try to use our site, we will block them. When content violates our policies, we will take it down. And when our opponents use new techniques, we will share them so we can strengthen our collective efforts.

JACK DORSEY, TWITTER CEO: We don't believe that we can create a digital public square for people if they don't feel safe to participate in the first place. And that is our number one and singular objective as a company is to increase the health of this public space.


KOSIK: OK. There's that and then there was a lighter moment at the hearing. Kind of, you know, drawing you to that circus like atmosphere that we've been seeing play out lately. This is when a protestor interrupted one of Jack Dorsey's answers. Missouri Congressman Billy Long, using skills from a previous job to drown out her voice.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jack Dorsey is trying to influence the election to ...




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To play the election ...


LONG: What's she saying? I can't understand her. What?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) election. That is why ...


LONG: What's she ...



LONG: (Inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Officer, will you escort this young lady out please.


KOSIK: The room loved it. The room applauded after he was finished and that protestor, by the way, is alt-right blogger Laura Loomer. She's been banned in the past from both platforms for violating user policies.

BRIGGS: He's pretty darn good at it too.


BRIGGS: All right. Let's bring in CNN business and technology correspondent, Samuel Burke. Good to see you my friend. That was probably the most entertaining part of these hearings but what did we learn? What was the ...


SAMUEL BURKE, CNN BUSINESS AND TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: You're not going to cut me off that way if I go too long, right Dave?

BRIGGS: Yes I will. I promise you I will test out my auctioning skills if you go too long. But what did we actually learn? What was the substance of it?

BURKE: Well, we saw the steps that these two platforms had been taking. Don't forget, just a couple of years ago, Mark Zuckerberg said it was crazy to think that somehow Facebook was influencing the 2016 elections.

Now, if we can just put up on the screen all of the steps that these companies are having to take, the money that they're having to spend to make sure the platforms are safe so that our elections are safe.

Number one, talking about hiring thousands of moderators to look for fake content, developing artificial intelligence tools to remove that content from their platform, and working closer with the authorities.

Though I have to say, Sheryl Sandberg admitted that up to 4 percent of the accounts on Facebook are still fake. That's about 89 million accounts. We saw the stocks from these two companies go down.

Twitter went down over two -- Facebook went down over two percent. Twitter almost six percent. I think that's because they're really talking about regulation here. You saw some signs from the senators.

One even saying Mark Warner, the age of the wild wild west to these tech companies is over. So it looks like some regulation might be coming down the pipelines.

KOSIK: OK. Now, after all of these hearing, these tech hearings were over, the Department of Justice issuing a statement. How surprised were you by it?

BURKE: Well, that statement was after that first hearing, which really wasn't a partisan hearing in any way, shape, or form. The first hearing was about safe guarding these platforms and was about foreign interference in elections.

You see that statement there from the Attorney General -- from the Justice Department, I should say, talking about really the way that political speech may be stifled on these platforms. That was more in the second hearing.

But this statement put out before the second hearing. So they heard something that the rest of us didn't hear and this is really a separate topic. The one that Jack Dorsey addressed and this is more some of the conspiracy theories that we here from the alt-right about shadow banning on some of these platforms. And while it's good to keep track of some of these platforms, hold their feet to the fire because they do play such an important role in our democracies now, a lot of the stuff they were hearing about these platforms isn't confirmed.

These are suspicions that some people at the highest offices in the United States have but really they're just suspicions. There's nothing there to confirm so much of the allegations we hear about political biased in the algorithms somehow.

Jack Dorsey addressed this over and over again, talked about how he grew up with a republican rather and a democratic mother and that how he tries to make sure that these platforms are safe spaces for both sides of the political assault and talked about the studies that they've done that show that a democrat tweets something, republicans tweet something.

They have no statistical evidence to show that somehow the algorithms are treating these tweets differently Dave.

KOSIK: And this is what makes investors very nervous is the fear that government will over reach and begin to really over regulate.


BURKE: You know it, Allison. Investors don't like regulation.

KOSIK: Yes. All right, Samuel, thanks.

BRIGGS: Good to see you my friend.

KOSIK: Former Alabama Senate candidate Rory Moore is suing Sacha Baron Cohen after he was duped into appearing on Cohen's Showtime series "Who is America." He's seeking more than $95 million dollars in damages for defamation, emotional distress, and fraud.

During the interview Cohen brought out a device that appeared to be a metal detector wand claiming it could detect pedophiles. Moore has been accused by several women of having pursued them sexual when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers. A spokes person for Showtime is refusing to comment because of pending legislation -- litigation.

BRIGGS: Colin Kaepernick will make an appearance during tonight's NFL season opener between the Falcons and Eagles in Philadelphia. Not on the field but in this new Nike ad.


COLIN KAEPERNICK, NFL QUATERBACK: Believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything.


BRIGGS: The commercial, narrated by Kaepernick also features NBA star Lebron James and tennis champ Serena Williams and several others. Kaepernick's protest against racial injustice launched a movement across the NFL in 2016. No team has signed him since.

Now a Colorado sports store getting rid of all Nike merchandise to protest the ad. Stephen Martin has owned Prime Time Sports for 21 years. Says his father-in-law was a prisoner of war and he claims Kaepernick quote, "doesn't know sacrifice."

Just to get a little context, a little reminder that it was a former Green Beret, Nate Boyer that suggested to Kaepernick that taking a knee during the anthem was probably the best way to protest without offending those troops. But this will stoked again at a Trump rally tonight in Billings, Montana. Just my prediction.

KOSIK: OK. All right, President Trump warning the Syrian Regime against an assault on the last rebel strong hold. But a defense seems imminent seen as (inaudible) is live on the ground in Syria next.



TRUMP: The world is watching, that cannot be a slaughter. If it's a slaughter, the world is going to get very very angry. And the United States is going to get very angry too.


BRIGGS: Wow, President Trump warning the Syrian regime as government forces prepare to attack the last rebel stronghold of Idilib. A large scale offense by Russian forces and the Syrian army appears imminent.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen live for us on the ground in Damascus, Syria with the latest. Fred, what do we know?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Dave. Well, one of the big concerns of course is for the civilians who are still also there in Idilib province. There's some estimates who (ph) say there could be up to three million people still inside Idilib province.

And of course essentially, they have nowhere to go. To the north, the border with Turkey has been closed. And to the south, the only place that they could go is through what the Russians call humanitarian corridors.

But of course, you have to keep in mind Dave, that a lot of these people fled the Syrian government to begin with so very much unclear whether or not they would be willing to go back.

[05:25:00] At the same time, we are hearing that Idilib is now completely surrounded by Syrian government forces. And it's not just a lot of troops, a lot of armor that they've put in place, but also some of the most elite and battle-hardened forces, veterans of battles like Aleppo and also in here in Damascus.

So certainly, a very tough, a very strong force that's out there. At the same time, those warnings that we just saw by President Trump feeling not being heated and leaving President Bashar al-Assad unphased.

We are still hearing from the Syrian government officials (inaudible) Idlib province a hot bed of terrorism Of course, there are a lot of very hard lying as land of spiders there (ph).

And they - the Russians and the Iranians as well have been saying that they believe Idlib's province needs to be cleansed of those elements.

Also the Russians by the way, they have a lot of forces on the ground here. They've moved additional ships in to the area. Right now, the talk is about 26 Russian battle ships and then strategic aircraft as well. All of them capable of firing cruise missiles towards that area.

So, it seems as though the situation's really heating up. And the battle here what we're seeing could be very much imminent and certainly could be a very large, very bloody battle as well, Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes, and the Presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran will meet Friday in (inaudible), perhaps a slaughter can be averted. Fred Pleitgen live for us in Syria, thank you sir.