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EARLY START

First Presidential Debate Tonight; Curfew Lifted in Charlotte; Fact-Checking the Candidates; Golf Legend Arnold Palmer Dies at 87; Star Pitcher Jose Fernandez Dies in Boat Accident; Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 26, 2016 - 05:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[05:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Could be the most consequential election of a lifetime tonight at Hofstra University. That's on New York's beautiful Long Island. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face off on stage for the very first time 90 minutes. 90 minutes is what they have to convince voters that they are right, their opponent is dead wrong. 90 minutes to make a case about the future, your future, America's future.

Yes, you might have noticed these two candidates don't seem to like each other very much. This really isn't about who wins the food fight, who slings the most mud, who scores the most points. It's about who can lead the country when there are serious questions right now about race, about terror, about prosperity. And this race is essentially tied so that pretty much tells you how big, how pivotal this moment is.

We have new information also this morning about how the candidates are preparing, who will be in the audience and what the moderator will or will not do.

Let's bring in our panel. We have CNN Politics executive editor Mark Preston. He's at Hofstra University. Here in the studio, senior media correspondent Brian Stelter, host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES." And CNN Politics reporter, Eugene Scott.

Let's start on the scene. Right there. You had some rowdy students behind you a few minutes ago. So everyone is really excited, Mark Preston. How have they been preparing? What do we know new over the weekend about how they're preparing and what kind of candidates we will see tonight on those stage -- at that lectern?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Well -- well, I tell you what, Christine. You know, it's a tale of two strategies. At least that's what we're told. Hillary Clinton going the traditional route holding two sessions a day over the weekend. In fact it was late into last night Hillary Clinton went back to the hotel near her home in Chappaqua. Continued on to try to work out her debating.

As you can see they're all behind us right now. As she is doing that, though, you have Donald Trump who's meeting with his advisers and we're told he's not exactly doing the traditional mock debate. Rather going through issues, going through ideas, going through briefing books. Not really doing a face-off against somebody who is playing Hillary Clinton. Now we do know Hillary Clinton's, one of her confidantes, Philippe

Reines, has been playing Donald Trump. Within Washington circle Philippe Reines is known for being very bombastic and the idea was perhaps that she'll be prepared in a very bare-knuckled brawl if we were to see that happen tonight.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Mark Preston. Now we know why you missed the last hit there with all those college students up who apparently were up all night at Hofstra.

Eugene Scott, who's going to be in the audience for this debate? Because all of a sudden this weekend, we were hearing whacky stuff about that.

ROMANS: Yes. Gennifer Flowers is the words -- Gennifer Flowers were trending this weekend.

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: They were trending. But we saw as of last night that she will not be there, at least as a guest of the Trump campaign, at which was something that was up for discussion as recently as midday Saturday but we do know that Mark Cuban is going to be there but he will be on team Clinton, it seems.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: The mind games, if you think about the mind games here, Mark Cuban in the front row. A billionaire businessman. In some ways like Trump. But a huge Trump antagonist.

ROMANS: Yes. But he's kind of the anti-Trump.

STELTER: Yes.

ROMANS: The same kind of backstory but, you know, Dallas Mavericks owner. Made a ton of money in the dot-com boom. Right? And he really is supporting Hillary Clinton.

STELTER: I think the argument here is you put a billionaire in the audience, who arguably is worth more than Trump because that's what will get under his skin.

Now I think the debate commission isn't thrilled with this idea of putting an antagonist in the audience. There is a tradition of this. But it's a little bit of uncomfortable along with friends and family and supporters. There will be Hofstra students as well.

ROMANS: I wonder if Bill Clinton will be in the audience. I think we don't know yet if Bill Clinton will be in the audience.

STELTER: We don't know.

BERMAN: That will be fascinating to see.

STELTER: I think he will be there somewhere. He'll be backstage. BERMAN: One of the things that the Clinton team is doing a lot right

now, Mark Preston, is to try to frame the question in this debate. Not about who is the best performer, who is the most entertaining, but who can best lead the country and they are very concerned, the Clinton team is, is that Donald Trump will be graded somewhat differently. Listen to campaign manager Robby Mook over the weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBBY MOOK, CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I'm very concerned that Donald Trump will be graded on a curve. Just because he doesn't fly off the handle in the middle of this debate does not mean that he is prepared to be president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: It's an interesting question. Do you think the Clinton team knows how to deal with a subdued Donald Trump? The new Kellyanne Conway Donald Trump? If he comes out and he talks about policy and he doesn't say something insulting, is that something Hillary Clinton can deal with, Mark?

PRESTON: I think so. Look, I think that Hillary Clinton, she is very skilled at doing debates. She's been doing these now for, what now, 12 years? So she knows how to handle herself on the debate stage. And in some ways if he does come out more subdued and does not attack her, that might actually give her an opportunity to really focus on trying to sell her message as oppose to trying to fact-check him at every corner and at every turn.

So in some ways, if Donald Trump comes out and he's quieter, he's not as bombastic, that might actually work for Hillary Clinton as well.

[05:05:03] But I suspect that no matter what happens, she's going to be prepared. But as we watch tonight -- rather, as we listen tonight for what they have to say, let's watch what their body language is because I think that's going to be very telling about who's going to be declared the winner and the loser.

ROMANS: You know, Eugene, there's also the potential that Donald Trump could make news somehow. He could -- he could make some kind of a statement. He could apologize for birtherism, take something off the table. Right? And then suddenly the headline is, Donald Trump X.

SCOTT: Right.

ROMANS: Instead of Donald Trump has the command of the issues, has the policies to go behind. You know what I mean?

SCOTT: Yes.

ROMANS: He could -- there is a way he could generate a different headline and take the -- you know, take all the attention.

SCOTT: Absolutely. I'm sure his campaign is very aware of the criticism that's been lodged at him from the Clinton campaign and from voters. And he may try to make an effort to reverse that. Such as apology for birtherism or even presenting his tax returns right there. Both of those things will be huge shocks to all of us, but I think he's very aware of the holes he has and the gaffes he has and I think he'll try to make an effort to make some progress in those areas.

BERMAN: All right, guys, stick around. A lot more to discuss including why one campaign or another may not want the moderator to care about facts at this debate. I'm not even really kidding so stick around. We'll talk about that coming up.

In the meantime, protests over a deadly police shooting in North Carolina. Those protests were largely peaceful this weekend. The issue of racial justice and policing you can bet that will be front and center on this debate stage tonight. We'll talk about the campaign strategies coming up.

ROMANS: All right. Tributes pouring in this morning for Arnold Palmer. The legendary golfer has passed away, 87 years old. A true legend. More on that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:11:01] BERMAN: A midnight curfew has been lifted in Charlotte as protesters hold new peaceful demonstrations in the wake of the deadly shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the release of police footage of his death. City officials have urged the community to come together and stay calm.

Let's get the very latest from CNN's Nick Valencia.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, the demonstrations continued over the weekend in Charlotte. This crowd shows the protest outside of the NFL game with the Panthers playing the Minnesota Vikings. Didn't really disrupt the game so much and a thin crowd as you can see behind me.

Also over the weekend, we saw the first police video released from the fatal shooting of Keith Scott. One dash-cam video, one body-cam video was released that was part of the demand from the protesters that we had been hearing all week.

As far as what's happening on Monday, protesters tell me they plan to march to city hall. What they want now is the resignation of the governor, they would like the mayor to step down and the police chief. And they say to plan this protest, this protest anyway, will continue, they say, until their demands are met -- John and Christine.

BERMAN: All right, our Nick Valencia in Charlotte, thanks so much.

Want to bring back our panel right now. Mark Preston, Brian Stelter and Eugene Scott. Yes, issues of race and policing will be front and center tonight. You know they will be discussed on that debate stage.

But, Brian Stelter, all of a sudden, one thing that is controversial that may or may not be on the stage tonight, the idea of facts and fact-checking. Why is it controversial that the moderator Lester Holt should jump in and say, if the candidate says something true or false, and I asked this question because you did I think one of the most news-making interviews over the weekend with Janet Brown who is the executive director of the Presidential Debate Commission. And this is what she told you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANET BROWN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES: I don't think it's a good idea to get the moderator into essentially serving as the Encyclopedia Britannica. And I think it's better for that person to facilitate and to depend on the candidates to basically correct each other as they see fit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So she wants a journalist, Lester Holt, not to get involved in what's factual or not.

STELTER: Right. She wants Holt to ask the questions and keep track of time. And that's really what moderators in the past have also done. People like Jim Leher who's moderated 12 presidential debates, says the moderator's job is to keep it flowing, to keep the conversation going. Not to interject and challenge the candidates.

But what's different this year, let's face it, Donald Trump is uniquely fact-challenged. Politico, the "New York Times," "Los Angeles Times," the "Washington Post" have all evaluated his recent statements and concluded he lies more often than Hillary Clinton. Both candidates exaggerate the truth but he lies more often. So that's why we're hearing a lot of calls, including from the Clinton campaign for more forceful fact-checking this year. And one great example is about the Iraq war.

If Donald Trump is out there on the stage tonight say that he opposed the invasion of Iraq, even though there is no evidence about that, Clinton will surely interject. But it might end up needing -- we might end up needing to see Lester Holt actually step in and remind viewers about the truth.

ROMANS: Well, I mean, the thing about fact-checking this election year, you're absolutely right. I mean, there have been so many times when you get through one long winded answer from Donald Trump and there are seven or eight things that you could fact check within that. You know?

STELTER: Right. Right.

ROMANS: I mean, it's pretty -- what kind of -- maybe we don't see that Donald Trump tonight, Eugene. Maybe we see a Donald Trump that tries to appears very presidential. That isn't going to -- will be hyperbolic, but will try to look strong, presidential and like he deserves to win the White House.

SCOTT: I think what we will see from Donald Trump, because there will be more time allotted for answers is more specifics, more policy descriptions because we have not seen that. And he knows that that's what people will want to see from him. And even if Lester Holt doesn't fact check, and even if Hillary Clinton doesn't push back, what we have heard is that her team, her campaign will be on social media fact-checking as it goes.

ROMANS: Yes.

SCOTT: And so whether or not it gets called out immediately, it will be out there in the Twitter-sphere.

STELTER: You know, Trump speaks to a larger truth, though. I'm not sure that many voters cared deeply about the details of his answers. They care about the larger truths that he is expressing, that he said he's expressing about immigration, about security, about the economy.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: You know, I care about fact-checking. Journalists care.

ROMANS: What he says the unemployment rate is 42 percent and depression in the streets. You know, that's just not true.

[05:15:03] STELTER: It's just not true. I agree with you. It's just not true. I think it touches on a nerve, it touches on a different kind of chord in some voters' hearts. I do think we're going to need to do extensive fact-checking after the debate against Clinton and Trump to follow up on both precise things.

BERMAN: You know, Mark Preston, you have been part of every presidential debate dating back to, you know, Kennedy-Nixon in the 1960s. What's it like in the room, in the debate hall? Give us a sense of what the atmosphere is.

PRESTON: Well, a couple of things, one is, let's just do a comparison, a quick one. When you look at the presidential primary debates, the very raucous, the very loud. There's applause and what have you, and there's multiple people on stage.

And in Brian's interview -- really great interview that he did on "RELIABLE," it was very clear that the audience was actually going to be in the room will not be able to make a sound. It will be very, very quiet. It will just be three voices that are heard. And it will be Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Lester Holt. So it will be a little bit different than what we are used to and what our viewers are used to seeing, where the sniping goes back and forth and they really play off the energy of the audience.

Now we'll see how negative it gets. And if it becomes really negative, it will be interesting to see how those two are able to interact with one another and how much more pronounced that will be because the focus would just be on those two.

STELTER: Can I just point out the --

BERMAN: Not really. We got to go to break.

STELTER: OK. I'll save it for later. (LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: We've got to do that. But we're going to take a break. We got two more hits in the 5:30 hour. Brian, stick around. Eugene Scott, Mark Preston, you as well.

All right. He was the king long before LeBron James was born. Arnold Palmer passing away, died over the weekend. We'll have much more on his life and legacy. Coy Wire with this morning's "Bleacher Report." That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:21:13] BERMAN: All right. We are mourning the loss of one of golf's greatest athletes ever. A guy who really transcended sport altogether.

ROMANS: That's right. Coy Wire has more on the life and legacy of Arnold Palmer in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Good morning, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and John.

Arnold Palmer, one of golf's greatest and most charismatic players. He won more than 90 tournaments throughout his career, including international play, seven majors. He's credited with making the game popular outside of just the country clubs. Bringing it mainstream. He is known as the king. 87-year-old had a legion of loyal followers nicknamed Arnie's Army.

In a statement Jack Nicklaus said in part, quote, "Arnold transcended the game of golf. He took the game from one level to a higher level. Virtually by himself," unquote.

Tiger Woods tweeted, "Thanks, Arnold, for your friendship, counsel and a lot of laughs. Your philanthropy and humility are part of your legend." And finally, President Obama posted, "Here's to the king who was as extraordinary on the links as he was generous to others. Thanks for the memories, Arnold."

Meantime, one of baseball's young, brightest stars Miami Marlins' ace pitcher Jose Fernandez killed in a boating accident early yesterday morning. The scheduled game that day against the Atlanta Braves was canceled to allow the team to grieve. Officials say the all-star and two other men were found dead near Miami Beach on a rock jetty where their boat was flipped upside down. And they have confirmed that speeding was a factor in the crash. Jose Fernandez was 24 years old.

Legendary play-by-play announcer Vin Scully has been calling the Dodgers game ever since they were Brooklyn Dodgers. 67 years. And yesterday was his final home game at Dodgers Stadium, typically a one- man show but his wife Sandy and the family were there. His partners in the booth where the game ended in storybook fashion. Extra innings, walk-off homerun.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VIN SCULLY PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCER: 0-1 to Charlie. Swung on to deep left field. And the Dodgers have clinched the division and will celebrate on schedule.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIRE: Celebrate you, too. Vin Scully's last regular season game is next Sunday in San Fran.

Finally protesters were peaceful outside yesterday's Panthers and Vikings game in Charlotte. Now inside the stadium things didn't go very well for the defending NFC champions. Minnesota's defense had Cam Newton feeling the heat. It picked him off three times and racked up eight sacks. The Vikings snapped. The Panthers 14 game home winning streak. 22-10. They remain undefeated. The Vikings do.

Now Monday Night Football tonight. Falcons at the Saints. 8:30 kickoff time. New Orleans favored by 2.5 in that game.

ROMANS: So I'll watch that. I'll watch.

BERMAN: Yes, exactly.

BERMAN: I don't know if people are going to be watching that game tonight. That game may not be the most -- the hardest hitting spectacle, you know, going on on TV tonight, Coy. Thanks so much.

WIRE: You're welcome.

ROMANS: All right. It is debate day. That's why we won't be watching that game. For Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, tens of millions of people get ready to watch the showdown between these friends turned political foes. Our latest insight into the big night, our dream team of contributors here. We got that next.

[05:24:25]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: And it all begins tonight. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump ready to square off in primetime. This is it. The first 2016 presidential debate. It is just hours away. You can taste the anticipation.

BERMAN: You can smell it frankly.

ROMANS: You can smell -- you can cut the tension with a knife. Issues here facing the next commander-in-chief at home and overseas, all in the spotlight. How will it will play out -- how will we possibly while away the hours until it happens?

EARLY START has full debate coverage starting right now.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. BERMAN: I'm John Berman. We're looking at 30 minutes past the hour

right now. And if you want big moments, if you want high stakes, if you want excruciating tension, it doesn't get any bigger, higher and more excruciating than this.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, they face off at in their first presidential debate tonight at Hofstra University on New York's Long Island. 90 minutes to make the sale to an audience that could top 100 million people. That is nearly 1.1 million people per minute.

ROMANS: You're good at math.

BERMAN: Think about that.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Issues on security, race, economic well-being expected to be front and center. Not to mention temperament. It is no secret that these candidates do not like each other which is fitting because voters don't seem to like them much either. They have high unfavorables than any --