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EARLY START

White House Consumed By Search For New York Times Op-Ed Author; Florence Now A Category Two Hurricane; Russia And Syria Resume Idlib Air Strikes; New Miss America Crowned. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 10, 2018 - 05:30   ET

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


[05:30:00] LINDSAY CZARNIAK, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Novak Djokovic is the U.S. Open champion. He beat Juan Martin del Portro in straight sets, claiming his third U.S. Open title.

It's also his 14th career Grand Slam win, tying him with Pete Sampras for the third-most majors among men. Only Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have more.

But this morning, everybody's still talking about Serena Williams and her loss Saturday, guys. She was fined $17,000 Sunday for three code violations during the match with Naomi Osaka in the women's final.

Serena was given a point penalty for smashing her racquet. She was docked a game for verbal abuse toward the umpire. So the weekend certainly not getting any easier for Serena Williams, guys.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, that was an interesting moment, huh, Lindsay? Certainly, some sexism involved but couldn't it have been a teachable moment about how not to act with the greatest athlete of our time?

CZARNIAK: I think it was really interesting. I think her reactions could have used some improvement, you know. But to your point --

BRIGGS: Yes.

CZARNIAK: -- there are certainly a lot of questions. By the way, it was handled by the umpire as well.

So it really is one of the things we will be talking about certainly for years to come.

BRIGGS: Naomi Osaka was unbelievable in that final.

CZARNIAK: Yes, she was.

BRIGGS: We should give her some attention.

CZARNIAK: Yes.

BRIGGS: All right. Lindsay Czarniak, thanks so much.

CZARNIAK: She was amazing. BRIGGS: Good to see you.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, 31 minutes past the hour.

The White House on the attack, slamming the anonymous op-ed writer who says he is working against Trump for conservatives from inside the White House.

They're bracing for more chaos as Bob Woodward's book is set to be released.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:36:04] ROMANS: The White House fighting back. Aides telling the anonymous senior official who wrote that "New York Times" op-ed, just resign. The hunt for the writer ongoing behind the scenes.

BRIGGS: Hurricane Florence approaching the East Coast. Forecasters warn it could be extremely dangerous -- a major hurricane by the time it hits. Coastal states already declaring states of emergency.

ROMANS: Yes, it now a category two right now.

The CEO of CBS out after a new wave of sexual misconduct accusations.

Welcome back to EARLY START this Monday morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Good morning, everybody -- 5:36 eastern time.

The White House begins this new week frantically searching for the still-anonymous author of that scathing "New York Times" op-ed. Top administration officials appearing on the Sunday talk shows supporting the president's claim that whomever wrote it is guilty of criminal behavior.

Vice President Pence once again denying any involvement, calling on the author to come forward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me be very clear. I'm 100 percent confident that no one on the vice president's staff was involved in this anonymous editorial.

I know my people, Margaret. They get up every day and they're dedicated just as much as I am to advancing the president's agenda and supporting everything that President Trump is doing for the people of this country.

Whoever this was, they should do the honorable thing and resign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: That author of the op-ed claims White House aides discussed trying to remove the president from office. The vice president was asked about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS MODERATOR, "FACE THE NATION": One of the claims made in the op-ed is that there have been discussions of invoking the 25th Amendment to even remove the president from office.

Have you ever been part of a conversation about that?

PENCE: No, never -- and why would we be, Margaret?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: A source close to the White House tells CNN aides believe they've narrowed down the search for the op-ed author to just a few individuals.

We get more from Ryan Nobles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, hello from the White House.

There's no doubt that it's driving this administration crazy to a certain degree.

Kellyanne Conway, one of the president's senior advisers, was on the Sunday morning talk shows attempting to spin and destroy the credibility of this individual before their identity is even revealed.

And she took it even a step further when she suggested that perhaps the media might be partially to blame for this problem.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But what does concern me though, Jake, apart from everything the president and others have said, is that for a media that is constantly talking about facts, accuracy, transparency, authority, the authoritativeness to this anonymous writer was viewed automatically because of the content.

As long as the message is anti-Trump it seems the messenger has credibility. That should concern everyone.

I'm with the vice president on this. He has said that the person should resign if the person truly is an appointee who has taken oaths of the Constitution.

NOBLES: So now the big question as we start this week is just how far will the president and his administration go in attempting to find out who exactly this person is.

Vice President Mike Pence suggesting over the weekend that perhaps a crime may have been committed. If that's the case, does the Department of Justice get involved?

The president has suggested that he thinks Attorney General Jeff Sessions should look into this. At this point, the Department of Justice has said that they will not comment on the matter -- Dave and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Ryan Nobles, thank you.

The White House bracing for the release of Bob Woodward's new book "Fear" which comes out tomorrow. Early excerpts sent shockwaves through the administration.

Here's how the legendary journalist and author sees it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "FEAR: TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE": You look at the operation of this White House and you have to say let's hope to God we don't have a crisis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: In his book, Wood describes a White House where top advisers removed documents from the president's desk to prevent him from enacting dangerous policies.

ROMANS: Woodward is also weighing in on the anonymous "New York Times" op-ed, claiming he would not have used the author's claims if they had been presented to him.

[05:40:06] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOODWARD: If there was a person in the White House or the administration who wanted to tell me what's in that op-ed piece, I would say OK, name me who was there, what is the specific incident as you know from having read my book, their dates and times and participants, I wouldn't have used it.

It does not meet the standards of trying to describe specific incidents. Specific incidents are the building blocks of journalism, as you well know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: President Trump calls Woodward's book a con on the public and accuses the author of being a Democratic operative.

BRIGGS: All right, let's go live to Washington and bring in CNN political analyst and "Politico" congressional reporter, Rachael Bade. Good morning to you, Rachael.

ROMANS: Hi, Rachael.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Good morning.

BRIGGS: Happy Monday. So what's your sense of the impact of both the Woodward book and "The New York Times" op-ed on the actual operations inside the White House, and how do they get all this in their rearview mirror?

BADE: It's devastating and I think there's a reason why they're trying to find obviously who wrote this op-ed. It's not just to sort of oust someone from White House. It's so that they can continue to do their work -- to try to consult with the president and advise him and actually have him listen.

Listen, Republicans, right now, they have tried to walk the president back many times on a number of issues that his gut instinct basically runs counter to the party. Things like trade, things like Russia --

ROMANS: Yes.

BADE: -- NATO, our alliances. Whether or not to shut the government down a couple of weeks before the midterms.

And their success completely depends on his ability to trust them and listen to them, and them to walk him back. If he thinks somebody in the room is out to get him and sort of cycle his agenda or has it out for him -- which clearly he does because he doesn't know who this author is --

ROMANS: Right.

BADE: -- then he wants to know who this is. They want to know who this is to get that person out of that room and get him to trust them again.

ROMANS: You know, it's fascinating listening to sort of the Bob Woodward book excerpts last week -- and the book comes out tomorrow -- and then you have "The New York Times" op-ed in the middle of that.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: So these two narratives here.

Bob Woodward says he would not have used that information. That was not sourced properly enough for him to have used it.

But he does give this fascinating real-world example in the book where he talks about the president writing a tweet that said I'm going to pull all the dependents out of South Korea.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: And through backchannel negotiations, diplomats find out about this and say look, that would be seen as an act of aggression by the North. That could lead to -- oops, I dropped my pen. That could lead to action.

That's a real example of a potential crisis from the behavior of this president. BADE: That's right. And the op-ed might not give a lot of specifics -- Woodward's book clearly does. But the whole narrative, it's very similar and it's what we've heard all along.

You know, Sen. Bob Corker, when this topic came out -- he said I'm not surprised. I've known about this for a long time that there are groups of people in the White House --

ROMANS: Right.

BADE: -- who are really concerned about the president's instincts.

I'm curious to see if this affects midterm elections, right? There's Republicans out there. They want to talk about the economy which is doing fairly well right now, but this is totally being drowned out by all the drama in the White House.

And we heard -- there was some great reporting over the weekend "The New York Times" where they wrote about how Mick Mulvaney, at an RNC meeting in recent days, basically said if it weren't for the president they could potentially keep their majority. So they know that he's a drag right now on them.

ROMANS: Oh.

BRIGGS: Speaking of the majority, it appears that the midterms are going to be framed as Obama versus Trump. President Obama back on the campaign trail over the weekend and he will continue to speak out harshly against President Trump, his policies, his demeanor in terms of the decency issue in this country.

And here's what Mike Pence said about all that to CBS yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENCE: It was very disappointing to see President Obama break with the tradition of former presidents and become so political and roll out the same tired arguments that he and liberals have made over the last eight years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Pretty rich for President Trump's vice president to be speaking about past political decorum.

BADE: Yes, and breaking tradition.

BRIGGS: Yes.

BADE: You're right.

BRIGGS: Let's try to put that aside for a moment. And clearly, President Obama is very personally popular --

BADE: Absolutely.

BRIGGS: -- but were his policies popular and will it help?

BADE: Listen, he is revered by liberals, by the progressives, by Democrats in general all across the spectrum and he can drive out the Democratic base, which is exactly what they need to take the House right now. So it doesn't hurt at all to bring him out. It helps them.

I do think it begs a question going forward though -- what do they do without Obama? We don't have a clear 2020 --

ROMANS: Yes.

BADE: -- figure for the Democrats right now. Who are they looking to?

Nancy Pelosi has her own sort of issues in terms of a lot of moderates not liking her. Who's going to lead the Democratic Party past that?

[05:45:04] But for now, they're looking at this fall. Obama's their best bet to turn out the base and so, of course, they're going to go to him.

ROMANS: All right, Rachael Bade. Nice to see you this morning, getting up bright and early for us on a Monday --

BRIGGS: Good to see you.

ROMANS: -- morning. Thank you.

BADE: Happy to be here.

ROMANS: All right, 47 minutes past the hour.

Florence is bearing down on the East Coast now as a category two hurricane and there are growing concerns it could make landfall Thursday night or Friday morning as a category three or worse.

Florence is expected to intensify rapidly over the next several days and forecasters fear it could stall. That would bring catastrophic Harvey-like flooding to the mid-Atlantic.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri is tracking that storm for us.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Dave and Christine.

Yes, we have an update on what is now a category two hurricane, Florence, sitting out there about 1,500 miles east of the coast of the United States right now, strengthening very quickly over the next several hours. And we think this has everything it takes to become a category three or a major hurricane by later on tonight.

But you notice very little going on ahead of this system. But what we do know it's a water level there. It's very warm waters, as much as the lower 80s where it's situated, the middle 80s where it's slated to move on, and potentially the upper 80s as it closes in on land there on Thursday afternoon or Thursday evening. So it still has the potential to become a major hurricane and remain there for really the foreseeable future, unfortunately.

And unfortunately as well, the steering environment is such that it guides the system directly towards the East Coast of the United States. We still are looking at potentially a strong category three or a category four at landfall with the system.

And with the model guidance on this, very high confidence at this stage of the game, at least, on this heading in, whether it be the state of North Carolina or down towards South Carolina. But notice the variance now beginning to shift in more towards North Carolina on into portions of maybe Virginia.

I've to note though, within say a 4-day period before landfall, on average there is about a 200-mile margin of error. So certainly, it could shift anywhere within this cone. But again, the guidance on this wants to shift it at this point a little farther towards the north.

And the concern beyond that is what happens after landfall as we think this will slow down dramatically. If that is the case with a very slow-moving system as such, it could produce tremendous rainfall which may be, unfortunately.

The highest threat to life here would be the flash flood potential coming in from Thursday night through Friday and Saturday across this region. As much as 10 to 15 inches or more possible into the weekend -- guys.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that.

Forty-seven minutes past the hour.

Dozens killed in Syria. The regime attempts to end the country's 7- year civil war with air strikes and shelling. Observers are very worried for civilians.

We're going to go live to Damascus.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:51:45] BRIGGS: All right, the latest now from Syria.

Twenty-seven people killed, more than 60 others injured in air strikes and shelling in the Idlib Province since Tuesday. That's according to a spokesperson for the rescue volunteer group The White Helmets.

A Syrian government official telling CNN the ongoing air strikes on the rebel-held province were conducted by Russian and Syrian forces. The official claiming the strikes are surgical, targeting an armed group affiliated with al Qaeda.

We're very fortunate to have CNN's Fred Pleitgen live for us in Damascus this morning with the latest. Fred, good morning. FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Dave, and so much happening around that potential offensive here in Syria over the weekend.

And, of course, you had Vice President Mike Pence this weekend warning both the Russians and the Syrians not to use chemical weapons if, indeed, there is an offensive on Idlib Province, saying that the United States would respond.

Now, the Russians, for their side, are blaming Syrian rebels for preparing what they call false flag chemical attacks to try and draw the United States into the Syrian conflict.

Meanwhile, we have that whole complex of the offensive there in Idlib that could kick off very soon.

Over the weekend it was very interesting to see -- after that summit that we covered on Friday of the Turks, the Russians, and the Iranians where no deal was reached for a ceasefire -- there was a lot more air strikes than usual on Idlib Province during the weekend.

Obviously, the opposition saying that civilian targets were also hit. The Syrian government saying that it was only groups affiliated with al Qaeda that were hit.

Of course, in all of it there is grave concern that if there would be an offensive in Idlib Province that a lot of people could be at risk. The estimates are that there's around three million people still inside Idlib Province -- civilians inside Idlib Province.

Of course, the United States very concerned about them -- again, warning the Russians the Syrians that if they take military action in Idlib Province they have to make sure that somehow those civilians are protected. Of course, at this stage, that's something very difficult to do, Dave.

BRIGGS: A pivotal moment there in Syria.

Fred Pleitgen live for us in Damascus. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, 53 minutes past the hour.

We have a new Miss America but some controversy about last night's competition. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:58:20] BRIGGS: The 92nd Miss America was crowned late last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARRIE ANN INABA, CO-HOST, 2018 MISS AMERICA PAGEANT: The first runner-up is Bridget Oei, Connecticut, which means Nia Franklin, New York, you are Miss America 2019 -- congratulations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Nia Franklin crowned by 2018 winner Cara Mund.

The Miss America Organization has faced considerable controversy over the past year, including a clash with Mund who accused CEO Regina Hopper and chairwoman and former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson of trying to silence her.

ROMANS: A scandal last December forced then-CEO Sam Haskell to resign after e-mails revealed he mocked competitors with misogynistic language.

This year's revamped program got rid of the swimsuit portion in favor of a red carpet competition in order to shift focus away from outward physical appearance. The idea was mostly panned on social media.

BRIGGS: Yes. Twitter, in large part, said no thanks.

ROMANS: All right, that's it for us today -- this Monday. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now. We'll see you tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's coming in at a different angle. We are preparing for the worst.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the storm surge and the wind it could be very bad.

ROMANS: The hurricane prompting concern about significant inland flooding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've activated over 800 National Guardsmen. We will be prepared.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The "Times" should never have done that. It's treason. You can call it a lot of things.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Does this president not understand that the Justice Department is not the tool of his own personal power?

CONWAY: There could be a national security risk at hand. He doesn't want this person in meetings.

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D-IL), SENATE MINORITY WHIP: In a matter of great national security, can we trust this president to make the proper decision?

PENCE: I'm 100 percent confident --