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Trump Delivers Angry, Divisive Speech at Phoenix Rally; Navy Removing Commander of U.S. 7th Fleet; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 23, 2017 - 04:00   ET



DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: It's change buyer behavior.

ROMANS: Totally.

BRIGGS: You go to the store. You check Amazon to vouch for the price.


BRIGGS: All right. EARLY START continues with the latest from the Phoenix rally.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hit them with neo- Nazi. I hit them with everything. I got the white supremacist, the neo-Nazi, I got them all. Let's see. Yes. KKK, we have KKK. I got them all.


ROMANS: President Trump ticking off all the groups he has condemned or says he has condemned. President Trump goes off prompter and off course playing directly to his base. The president defends his Charlottesville response but apparently forgets or at least downplayed what angered critics in the first place.

Good morning, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is Wednesday, August 23rd, 4:00 a.m. in the East, 1:00 a.m. in Phoenix, and for those that think it's just the liberal media criticizing the president's speech, here's the very conservative "Weekly Standard" saying, quote, "The president was whining about unfair treatment in Washington, undercutting his employees and telling obvious lies."

One night after preaching to the nation about healing President Trump does a 180 with his speech at a campaign rally in Phoenix. The president again defending his response to the violence in Charlottesville. He spent nearly 15 minutes recounting his words but with one glaring omission.

ROMANS: Mr. Trump neglected to mention he initially blamed those clashes on both sides, on many sides.

For context, here's what the president said last night and what he really said 10 days earlier.


TRUMP: Here's what I said on Saturday. "We're closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia." This is me speaking. "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence." That's me speaking on Saturday.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It's been going on for a long time in our country."


ROMANS: And that was just one moment in a speech that has some including the former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, questioning the president's fitness to hold the office. We'll have more on that, that stunning, stunning exchange, next.

BRIGGS: But first protests turning ugly outside the Phoenix Convention Center after President Trump's speech. Three people were arrested. Police using tear gas and pepper spray to try and break up the crowd of protesters in the triple-digit heat.

ROMANS: Police say people threw rocks and bottles at officers. They dispersed gas in the area. Phoenix Police were on high alert. They kept Trump supporters and protesters behind barricades and on separate sides of the street.

Want to bring in Zachary Wolf, CNN Politics digital director.

Nice to see you this morning, 77 minutes of Donald Trump really I think recharging his battery in a room with an adoring crowd who loved the insults he threw, who loved the blame that he played on the -- placed on the media and also this is fascinating to me. The president slammed Republican senators.

We have a list, a laundry list of who he named and even didn't name, but very clearly slammed. You had Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, Senator John McCain, Senator Jeff Flake, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

What did President Trump -- last night in those 77 minutes, aside from attacks. what did he do to move his legislative agenda forward?

ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL MANAGING EDITOR: You know, I think we have to start wondering if this is a president who wants to move any legislative agenda forward. He went in, you know, the day before he was talking about love and how to heal the country and then he goes in and he picks all these scabs and he attacks senators on basically every side of the, you know, ideological, aisle. Rand Paul and John McCain aren't exactly, you know, bosom buddies in

the Senate. They have a lot of differences, so you've got to wonder who he's trying to attach himself, too. How -- you know, in his inaugural address he tried to -- he talked about this sort of ruling class of politicians and last night he was still -- it felt like he was trying to up end everything in Washington.

BRIGGS: Interesting, given everything that's happening that the president returns to the Charlottesville message every time it seems he's going to pivot and move forward. Given 24 hours earlier it was a solid speech on Afghanistan telling Americans why we needed more troops in America's longest war.

Look, Steve Bannon is gone from the administration. He's not gone from the conversation. Maybe that's why, but why return to the Charlottesville message?

WOLF: Well, I'm not sure, you know, a lot of people were wanting Steve Bannon to be fired.

[04:05:04] They were frustrated that his point of view was in there. I think it's becoming clear that Steve Bannon's point of view is the president's point of view. It has less to do with Steve Bannon than it does with Donald Trump at this point for him to turn around and go and pick these wounds in Arizona last night the way he did.

ROMANS: Yes, it's -- you know, going back, he just can't let that go even though as though it seems his team is trying to wrap it up, button it up yesterday in the beginning of the Afghanistan speech, the day before yesterday, move forward and the president just has to go back and be right. He has to be right on this.

Last night he attacked the media along the same lines about the media taking away America's culture, the media changing America's culture. Listen to that remark.


TRUMP: It's time to expose the crooked media deceptions and to challenge the media for their role in fomenting divisions, and yes, by the way --


TRUMP: And yes, by the way, they are trying to take away our history and our heritage. You see that.


ROMANS: That one short sentence, he replaces Crooked Hillary with crooked media, and the trying to take away our history and our heritage. That played well with that crowd. Again, the president still stirring up all of the stuff around Charlottesville here.

WOLF: Yes, he clearly doesn't want to let it go. We've seen him essentially twice now, I guess this is a quadruple down on those original comments where he said them, then he walked them back, then he said them again, then he walked them back, so it's -- you know, and now he's sort of explodes into this place where he knows there are going to be protesters, where he knows that his comments are going to create this kind of controversy, so it's -- he is -- he is almost willfully fire starting at this point to do it in this sort of way with protesters there at a campaign style rally.

BRIGGS: He also made some news threatening once again to pull out of NAFTA, hinting that pardoning controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio and threatening a government shutdown over a classic wall funding. Here's what he said.


TRUMP: The obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it but, believe me, we have to close down our government. We're building that wall.

Let me be very clear to Democrats in Congress, who oppose a border wall and stand in the way of border security, you are putting all of America's safety at risk. You're doing that. You're doing that.


BRIGGS: Let's keep Democrats off the table for a moment. What do you make of that remark if you're House and Senate Republican leaders, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell?

WOLF: Well, Republicans have tried to shut down the government before. It didn't work that well for them. It sort of backfired in public opinion.

ROMANS: Right.

WOLF: So from a strategy perspective I'm not sure I see what the strategy is. At the same time I think this is, you know, we're almost seeing the president damn the torpedoes format here. He's kind of -- he's like we're going to go down and I'm going to take it all with me is what it feels like.

If the president is willfully talking about shutting the government down he has that power. He can veto any bill. It's not like trying to get votes for something. So he can do that if he wants.

BRIGGS: It's interesting, too, because he's been very successful on the border. The numbers show what they're doing is working. It's almost as if they don't need the wall but that doesn't matter here.

ROMANS: No, this is all about campaign promises and making -- and keeping campaign promises.


ROMANS: So he can tick through the things Steve Bannon style on a white board.

BRIGGS: Yes. The big white board.

ROMANS: The things that he promised in those big rallies that his base loves.

Let's talk a little bit about the questions. There were whispers and now there are questions about the president's fitness for office specifically last night from James Clapper. He was with Don Lemon last night. Let's listen.


GEN. JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I really question his ability to -- his fitness to be in this office. And I also am beginning to wonder about his motivation for it. Maybe he is looking for a way out. Having some understanding of the levers that a president can exercise, I worry about frankly, you know, the access to nuclear codes.


ROMANS: I mean, that's sobering and this isn't, you know, a TV pundit. This is James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence.

[04:10:07] WOLF: Yes. And it's echoing I think things that we've heard some Democrats say earlier in the week after his earlier responses to Charlottesville sort of having more high profile, you know, middle of the road type figures say that kind of thing is cause for concern and certainly enough to give anybody pause.

Clapper did work in the Obama administration almost, you know, exclusively as -- in that role, so, you know, he's somebody who potentially has a political outlook.


WOLF: But at the same time he knows more about the nuclear codes than most people out there, so we have to pay attention to what he says.

ROMANS: Important context. Zachary Wolf, thank you so much. Talk to you again very, very soon. Bright and early for us this morning in Washington.

BRIGGS: Thank you, sir.

ROMANS: President Trump not optimistic about renegotiating NAFTA with Canada and Mexico.


TRUMP: Because we have been so badly taken advantage of, they have made such great deals, both of the countries but in particular Mexico, that I don't think we can make a deal. So I think we'll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: That was received by cheers from that Arizona audience. The first round of NAFTA talks just wrapped up. Negotiations off to a tense start. The U.S. blasting NAFTA as a job killing factory closing deal.

This administration taking a tough stance on many complex issues. For example, they want to require a substantial portion of auto parts be made in the U.S. Millions of jobs, thousands of companies rely on NAFTA. Renegotiating it was a core campaign promise for this president. He blames it squarely for the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs.

So as talks resume next week, negotiators expect, quote, "a great deal of effort" will be required. It's going to be a very tough road especially since they aim to rewrite NAFTA by the end of the year. That is a blinding pace for trade negotiations. The original deal took years to complete and multiple administrations.

BRIGGS: Boy, it's another major fight looming there. The rift, though, widening between the president and his own Senate majority leader. This pair hasn't spoken in weeks and Mitch McConnell has doubts the White House can get its legislative campaign on track.

That's next on EARLY START.


[04:16:32] ROMANS: President Trump and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell are not talking. In fact it has been two weeks since a phone call between the two men erupted into a profanity laced shouting match.

Sources tell CNN the August 9th conversation unraveled when the president began to express frustration with the Russia investigation and the Russia sanctions bill passed by Congress.

BRIGGS: Since then the president and McConnell have been publicly questioning one another. The "New York Times" now reports McConnell is privately questioning whether Trump can salvage his presidency. President Trump last night speculated that Mitch should do away with the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

ROMANS: A senior White House official is dismissing the seriousness of this rift but is not denying reports the two men are not speaking.

The president and McConnell will have to work together if Republicans want to tackle tax reform, a spending package and raising the debt ceiling.

BRIGGS: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's wife Louise Linton apologizing for a now deleted Instagram post that triggered in the angry backlash. The post boasting about flying on a government plane with her husband to Kentucky and featured a glamorous photo of Linton along with the tags for fashion lines she wore on this trip.

ROMANS: The post did not sit well with Instagram user Jenny Miller, a mother of three from Oregon. She commented, "Glad we could pay for your little getaway, #deplorable." Linton fired back in a sarcastic tone telling Miller her, quote, "life looks cute," while touting her own family's wealth and personal sacrifice.

You know, I mean, the response was widely disseminated online. You know, this woman right here, Louise Linton, talking about how she and her husband pay more in taxes any day than probably this Jenny Miller.

BRIGGS: Yes. Once the backlash hit Linton's post was deleted, her account was set to private. The Treasury Department says the Mnuchins are reimbursing the government for that travel.

ROMANS: All right. Chelsea Clinton has been there and the former first daughter is coming to the defense of the president's youngest son after an article attacked Barron Trump's casual attire. Chelsea tweeting, "It's high time the media and everyone leave Barron Trump alone, and let him have the private childhood he deserves."

BRIGGS: Her comment coming after the conservative "Daily Caller" Web site criticized the 11-year-old's fashion choice saying that Barron, quote, "the least he could do is dress the part when he steps out in public." The story getting strong pushback from both sides of the political aisle.

ROMANS: And late last night First Lady Melania Trump tweeting this response to Chelsea Clinton. "Thank you, so important to support all of our children in being themselves. #stopchildhoodbullying."

I think what he wears is completely off-limits. He's a cool kid. He's 11 years old. Move from New York to go to the White House. You know --

BRIGGS: That's what he's supposed to wear?


BRIGGS: Interesting the timing of Melania's tweet during a speech which some say was bullying in and of itself.

All right. How about this story? A lot of people are talking about online. ESPN deciding to pull announcer Robert Lee from the University of Virginia's college football season opener because his name. Robert E. Lee of course was commander of the Confederate Army. The network confirming the decision was made as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding. Lee who is Asian has been assigned to another game.

You speak of backlash with the Louise Linton story. This has been harsh all across social media this morning.

[04:20:01] ROMANS: I mean, mostly everyone says it's just a complete overreaction.


ROMANS: A complete overreaction. BRIGGS: Safe assumption.

ROMANS: All right. The Navy is set to make a big change after another accident in Asian waters. It's costing a top commander his job. We're live in Singapore next.


BRIGGS: The U.S. Navy is planning to remove the commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet after the guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with the commercial tanker Monday off the coast of Singapore. Naval officials say some remains of the 10 missing sailors from the McCain have now been recovered.

[04:25:02] CNN's Matt Rivers live in Singapore with the latest details.

Good morning, Matt. What are we learning?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We know that search efforts continue here throughout the day here in Singapore where the USS John S. McCain is moored and appear not far from where we are right here, but unfortunately the news over the last 24 to 36 hours has not been good. Some of the remains of those 10 missing U.S. sailors have been recovered both inside the hull of that damaged ship and also one body that was found in the waters near where that incident happened.

And we do expect to be updated at some point by the U.S. Navy later on today about their efforts throughout the day today as the day begins to wind down, but of course thoughts have turned to why is this thing happening, why did this particular incident happen and why have there been three other incidents involving U.S. Navy warships deployed to this part of the world in just 2017 alone. And it does appear that people are being held accountable on this.

We know that Vice Admiral Joe Aucoin, the commander of the 7th Fleet, which has three of the four ships within its ranks that have experienced these incidents. He is now expected to be relieved of duty as the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander.

Admiral Scott Swift is in Japan today meeting with commanders of the 7th Fleet probably having some very difficult conversations with them.

We also know that there is what's going to be called an operational pause scheduled to be completed by next Monday for the entire U.S. Navy where each different command around the world will stand down for one day at a time at their discretion to really take a deep dive into those ongoing safety issues.

Are there systemic problems here? If there are the Navy needs to figure out what's going on and they've acknowledged that.

BRIGGS: Yes. Some real answered needed as to why four incidents this year.

Matt Rivers live for us 4:26 p.m. there in Singapore. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump really energized in Arizona in true Trump campaign mode. He hinted at a controversial pardon, he opened the door to a government shutdown. He tried to rewrite history about his Charlottesville response.