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Gordon Eyes the Gulf; Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearings; Trump: Don't Prosecute Supporters; Nike Turns to Kaepernick. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 4, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:18] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Tropical Storm Gordon barreling toward the Gulf. Two million people under advisories expected to become a hurricane later today.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings begin this morning. Democrats have a four-point plan to challenge the Supreme Court nominee.

BRIGGS: The president targets Jeff Sessions again. This time, he slams the attorney general for not placing allies above the law.

ROMANS: And this, Nike throws its support behind Colin Kaepernick. The polarizing quarterback now part of an iconic marketing campaign. Seems like everybody has an opinion on this one.

BRIGGS: They do indeed. And get ready for the latest boycott.

ROMANS: Oh yes.

BRIGGS: I'm certain.

ROMANS: And maybe presidential tweet.

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

BRIGGS: That we know.

I'm Dave Briggs. Good to have you back, my friend.

ROMANS: Thank you.

BRIGGS: Tuesday, September 4th. Four a.m. in the East. We'll get to Kaepernick in just a moment.

We begin with tropical storm Gordon, though, strengthening overnight, forecast to become a hurricane when it makes landfall later today. About 2 million people along the Gulf Coast under hurricane watch or warning. States of emergency have been declared in Louisiana and Mississippi. Officials in Biloxi have ordered the evacuation of the city's four harbors and marinas. People along the coast turning to sand bags and other measures to keep their boats and property safe.

ROMANS: In New Orleans, the mayor has declared a voluntary evacuation for areas outside that city's levee system. New Orleans City Hall now closed to a non-essential personnel. Gordon has already lashed South Florida with rain and tropical storm force winds.

And many schools from Florida to Louisiana are closed or closing early.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins us live this morning in the CNN weather center with the latest.

Hurricane by later today?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it looks like it, Christine. You know, it has everything going for it to develop over in the next few hours here. And I want to show you something here as you look very carefully at this system, not very organized, not very symmetrical at this hour on radar imagery. But you notice, there is a little bit of an eye trying to form right here.

It sits about 250 miles south of the coast of Mississippi where it is really poised to move in that direction. But you take a look. Water temperatures in the middle 80s to upper 80s.

And for a tropical system to form, all you need are water temperatures of 82 degrees or warmer. So, it certainly is there. And you know the environmental conditions, as far as wind shear or winds above the storm that typically shred and break apart a system, they're not there. So, it has everything it takes to develop into a hurricane.

If you take a look, the Hurricane Center, as you mentioned, really taking this seriously. Upwards to 2 million people underneath the hurricane watches and warnings. And the area underneath the warnings, just east of New Orleans into Biloxi, Mobile and just west of Pensacola, that's the highest likelihood for landfall somewhere in Southern Mississippi there as early as 7:00 p.m., as late as I think 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. as what we're looking at here for the trajectory of the system.

But it is a quick moving system. And if anything good that comes from it, is that it's moving at around 17 miles per hour. You take a look, historically speaking, a slow moving system brings in upwards of 30 or so inches of rainfall with a tropical feature. Once you bring that up to 15 or 20-mile-an-hour moving system, which is where Gordon is currently sitting at, typically five, six, seven inches falls from this system.

So, that's what we're looking at. Again, landfall around 7:00 p.m. tonight as it moves in potentially as a category one. It could strengthen right before landfall. So, we're going to watch this afternoon, guys.

BRIGGS: We sure will. Pedram, thank you.

Meanwhile, Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh begin this morning. Democrats planned to target four areas, portraying Kavanaugh as misleading and evasive. A senior Senate Democratic source telling us they will take aim at Kavanaugh's candor, painting him as untruthful. They'll highlight his skepticism of the Affordable Care Act and pre-existing condition protections. Democrats will dig into his views on abortion and Roe v. Wade. And

they'll prove his opinions on executive power and investigations of a sitting president.

ROMANS: Last night on the eve of the hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee received an additional 42,000 confidential pages on Kavanaugh's time in the George W. Bush White House. Democrats complained they can't possibly evaluate all those documents in time. The Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley claims his staff has already done it.

The Justice Department argues the volume, depth and breadth of the documents far surpasses those produced for previous nominees.

CNN's Ariane De Vogue has a preview of the confirmation battle ahead.


ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, expect today's confirmation hearing to be bitter. Brett Kavanaugh is up for the seat of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy was the swing vote on so many hot button social issues -- abortion, affirmative action, LGBT rights.

Kavanaugh is not only more conservative than Kennedy, he's younger. He is poised to move the Supreme Court to the right for decades to come.

[04:05:01] Democrats have several lines of attack. So, they will press him hard on his views. They say they have been denied thousands of documents from his days serving in the Bush White and citing his views that a sitting president shouldn't be indicted. They want Kavanaugh to pledge to recuse himself if any of the current investigations concerning President Trump make it to the Supreme Court.

Republicans on the other hand feel confident that he'll be confirmed -- Christine, Dave.


BRIGGS: Ariane de Vogue there in Washington, thanks.

President Trump targeting his attorney general in a controversial new way, blasting Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice for indicting two of his earliest supporters in Congress. The president suggesting they should not be charged because they are Republicans.

More now from CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, President Trump has routinely gone after his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but doing so in an entirely different way, by directly questioning the Justice Department's role in the ongoing criminal investigation.

Take a look at this tweet from Monday when the president wrote this. He said two easy wins in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job, Jeff.

The president referring, of course, to the indictments of two sitting Republican Congressmen Chris Collins of New York and Duncan Hunter of California. Both, of course, were key early supporters of the president. They have been indicted on separated unrelated financial matters. But the president for the first time really saying that the attorney general and Justice Department should take political considerations in mind when they make their cases.

The president also making clear he is worried about Republicans holding on to their majority control of Congress, particularly the House. Now, not many Republicans at least initially were weighing in over Labor Day holiday. There were a couple. Speaker Ryan saying justices' decisions should be apolitical.

But Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska said this is not a banana republic. This is not a two-tiered system, one for the majority party and minority party. But we will see how the fallout today continues on this as Republicans and Democrats return to Capitol Hill from their long Labor Day weekend -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you for that.

"New Yorker" magazine has disinvited Steve Bannon as a headliner of its annual festival and the former White House chief strategist does not like it. Editor in chief David Remnick rescinded Bannon's invitation after several big name participants threatened to boycott the event. Remnick was preparing to interview Bannon at that festival, but after "The New York Times" revealed Bannon's participation, celebrities like Jim Carrey, Patton Oswalt and Judd Apatow threaten to pull out.

Apatow tweeting, I will not take part in an event that normalizes hate.

BRIGGS: In a letter to the "New Yorker" staff, Remnick says he will interview Bannon in a more traditional journalistic setting in the future if the opportunity presents itself. In a statement, Bannon says he accepted the "New Yorker's" invitation so he could face-off against one of the fearless journalists in this generation.

He goes to say, quote: In what I would call a defining moment, David Remnick shows he was gutless when confronted by the howling online mob.

ROMANS: The head of NBC News and Ronan Farrow both breaking their silence on a controversy over reporting on Harvey Weinstein. NBC News chairman Andy Lack emailing employees Monday to dispute claims the network hindered or tried to kill Farrow's reporting. Thursday, "The New York Times" quoted Farrow's former producer saying there were orders from, quote, the highest levels of NBC to stand down on the Weinstein scandal. "The New Yorker" later published Farrow's scope, which won a Pulitzer Prize.

BRIGGS: Lack bushed back, providing NBC News employees with the 10- page document that describes Farrow's reporting as not ready for broadcast, claims Farrow did not have a witness or any alleged victims willing to go on record against Weinstein.

But overnight, Farrow tweeted a statement seeming to contradict NBC's claims. It says in part, their list of sources is incomplete and omits women who are either identified in the NBC story or offered to be. The story was twice cleared and deemed reportable by legal standards. Only to be blocked by executives who refused to allow us to seek comment from Harvey Weinstein.

This one not yet over.


BRIGGS: As this story, believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything. Nike commemorating an iconic ad campaign with powerful words from Colin Kaepernick. The outrage, ahead.


[04:13:36] BRIGGS: Nike is taking a very public stand on the national anthem debate in the NFL, making Colin Kaepernick one of the faces of a new ad campaign commemorating the 30th anniversary of its iconic "Just Do It" slogan. Former Niners quarterback tweeting out a photo from the campaign with a caption that reads: believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. Nike sponsored Kaepernick since 2011.

ROMANS: He hasn't played since the 2016 season, the year he begun kneeling during the national anthem, to raise awareness about police brutality. Kaepernick alleges the league is conspiring to keep him out of the league because of his protests. Last week, an arbiter denied the NFL's request to throw out his grievance. The protests have divided the leg, often pitting the president and a conservative white owner base against the NFL's mostly African-American players.

BRIGGS: It's primary day in Massachusetts. One of the most closely watched races has two Democrats buying for the seat in Massachusetts seventh congressional district. Boston City Councilwoman Ayanna Pressley is running against 10-term incumbent Michael Capuano. Pressley trying to capitalize on insurgent wins on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

More now from CNN's Miguel Marquez.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, election here in Boston that a lot of people would be watching because of a bit of an insurgency from the left. Long time Congressman Michael Capuano has been here for 20 years, ten terms in a very deeply blue district, part of the area that he's represented here was actually represented by JFK way back when.

[04:15:12] Ayanna Pressley, she's a counsel person here in Boston and she is making a run sort of at his left, even though she's been involved in Democratic politics and doesn't quite fit that insurgent candidate. She is an African-American, the first African-American female elected to the Boston City Council. She is trying to capitalize on some of that energy, that far left energy and we caught up with both in their last full day of campaigning.

AYANNA PRESSLEY (D), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I believe there is a paradigm shift changing.

REP. MICHAEL CAPUANO (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Democratic Party, like all party, Democratic Party is no different. We always have issues internally. That's what families do. It's always a struggle for the hearts and minds and the soul of the party.

MARQUEZ: Now, the polls all the way along in this have shown that incumbent Michael Capuano up by at least ten points. But no one is taking anything for granted here. It is still a huge X factor as to whether or not Pressley can get the turn out those sort of disparate communities, people that don't often vote here, African-Americans, other minority groups. This is a majority minority district, nearly 60 percent of the district here is nonwhite and she's counting on that, but it is not clear that she can get out enough of those votes -- Dave and Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Miguel in Boston, thank you.

Aretha Franklin's family blasting the pastor who eulogized the Queen of Soul last week calling his message offensive and distasteful. Reverend Jasper Williams was criticized for making a political address. It described children in homes without a father as abortion after birth and said black lives do not matter unless blacks stop killing each other. The late singer's nephew says he spoke for 50 minutes and at time did not properly eulogize her, adding he used the platform to push his negative agenda which the family does not agree with. The family chose Williams because he had spoken at other family memorials including Aretha's father.

BRIGGS: Former astronaut Buzz Aldrin weighing on a controversy surrounding the upcoming Neil Anderson biopic "First Man." The film has been criticized for not featuring a patriotic scene of Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon.

The 88-year-old Aldrin, the second man to set off on the moon's surface appeared to tweet his own take on the controversy, sharing photos of himself and Armstrong on the moon next to the flag. It has the hashtag proud to be an American, freedom, honor, and one nation.

Let's you draw your own conclusion as to what he means there. Neil Armstrong's two sons are defending the film and director's choices. "First Man" will open nationwide on October 12th. ROMANS: All right. Roger Federer is out at the U.S. Open, beating in the round of 16 by unseeded Australian John Millman. It is the first time he's lost to someone ranked outside the top 50. The second- seeded Federer is definitely not on his game, double faulting ten times and failing to convert a trio of set points, just the second time in Federer's last 14 appearances at the U.S. Open. He failed to make the quarterfinals. He won the open five times.

It doesn't get easier for John Millman. His next opponent, the number sixth seed, and is 13-time major champ, Novak Djokovic in the quarters.

ROMANS: That's the top eggs on ticket sales at the U.S. Open.

ROMANS: All right. Eighteen minutes past the hour.

There are some growing concerns the U.S.-backed rebels in Syria could come under attack. Now, the president with a forceful warning to adversaries in the region.

We're going to go live to the Middle East.


[04:23:09] BRIGGS: President Trump warning the Assad regime and its allies Russia and Iran against attacking the last major rebel stronghold in Syria. The president calling such an attack a grave humanitarian mistake. But Iran's foreign minister says Idlib must be cleared of what he calls terrorists and return to government control.

Jomana Karadsheh monitoring the latest for us. She's live in Istanbul.

Jomana, good morning.


That tweet from the president following warnings we've heard from U.S. officials over the past week, concerned about what seems to be this imminent offensive by the Syrian regime and its allies to recapture Idlib province. We've heard these statements whether it is from the Iranian foreign minister during his visit to Damascus, saying that Idlib must be cleared of these terrorist groups, must be returned to the Syrian people as he put it.

We've also heard similar rhetoric from the Russians and the Syrian regime. All indicating that this offensive is imminent. We've also heard from U.S. officials about military movements indicating this offensive might happen soon and whether it is the moment of the Russians in the Mediterranean or Syrian regime on the ground.

And when you hear the side of the story from the Syrian regime and its allies, they say they are going after the terrorist groups. This is the word the regime has used to describe all rebel groups. While there are a few thousand according to estimates by the United Nations and others of hard core jihadist fighters in Idlib province affiliated with al Qaeda and other groups, there are also 3 million civilians, about half of them, Dave, have already displaced from other parts of the country and they right now have no safe place to turn to with this looming operation that many are warning could be a bloodbath.

[04:25:04] BRIGGS: Oh, boy. Stay on this one for us.

Jomana Karadsheh live for us in Istanbul, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. A global outcry after Myanmar sentences two "Reuters" journalists to seven years in prison. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were investigating a massacre of Rohingya Muslims. A Myanmar court ruling they broke the country's secrets act. Now, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says the ruling forces journalists to make a choice to either self center or risk prosecution.

The British on Myanmar speaking on behalf of the E.U. says the verdict has, quote, struck a hammer blow to the rule of law.

And U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley says it is a responsibility of a free press to hold leaders accountable and the conviction is a stain on the Burmese government. This case, the "Reuters" CEO is outraged by the outcome here because these reporters were invited to a meeting with officials. Sat down at the table and handed documents and were arrested for violating -- it was a set up, according to "Reuters". These two men simply doing their job and now seven years in prison.

BRIGGS: You would like to see the president take an active role in saying something about this in the midst of the tweet storm in the last couple days, one that I cannot find.

Coming up, the Gulf is bracing Tropical Storm Gordon expected to become a hurricane later today.

ROMANS: And confirmation hearings begin for Brett Kavanaugh this morning. How the Democrats plan to go after the Supreme Court nominee.