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Trump Officially Kicks Off 2020 Campaign; Acting Defense Secretary Out; Key Trump Aide Testifies on Hill Today; U.S./Iran Tensions; Hong Kong's Lam Offers "Most Sincere Apology"; 9th American Tourist Dies in Dominican Republic. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired June 19, 2019 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:19] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I stand before you to officially launch my campaign for a second term as president of the United States.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump officially starting his 2020 bid for re-election. New campaign, the same old airing of grievances.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN ANCHOR: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan withdrawing from the confirmation process. The reason: new reporting about his troubled family life.

BRIGGS: Long time Trump aide Hope Hicks headed to the Hill today. Democrats set to press her about her time with both the president on the trail and in office, but will the White House let her talk?

KOSINSKI: Plus, President Trump downplaying military threats to Iran but warning the country war will come if they pursue nukes.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Michelle Kosinski.

BRIGGS: Good morning, Michelle. Good to see you.

KOSINSKI: Good morning.

BRIGGS: The summer of Romans continues. But she'll be back tomorrow.

KOSINSKI: I'm here to make your life a little more awkward.

BRIGGS: OK, good. Glad to hear it.

KOSINSKI: Pretty awkward in this factor.

BRIGGS: There we go.

KOSINSKI: Just wasn't enough.

BRIGGS: Started off right where you promised then.

I'm Dave Briggs. It's Wednesday, June 19th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

We start in Orlando with the president starting his first full day in official re-election mode. His new 2020 campaign launched on an evening rally in Florida that was vintage Trump -- an airing of old grievances against the Mueller report, Democrats, immigrants, even his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton.


TRUMP: We went through the greatest witch hunt in political history. The only collusion was committed by the Democrats.

No issue are Democrats more extreme and more depraved than when it comes to border security.

Remember, the insurance policy just in case Hillary Clinton lost. Remember the insurance policy.

AUDIENCE: Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!


KOSINSKI: Sources tell CNN the president has been complaining to aides that cable networks have largely stopped airing his rallies live as they did in 2016. A campaign source telling CNN officials hoped the rally would satisfy his thirst for the spotlight and reset the campaign. Instead, we heard the same familiar refrain.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins was in Orlando and brings us more.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Michelle, the president's campaign leading up to this has branded his rally as this blockbuster launch of the president's reelection campaign where he's going to swoop in and steal the limelight back from Democrats. They have new signs here. They have a live band outside. His supporters waited to get in. And they even brought out the first family on stage beforehand.

But when President Trump got on stage and he looked away from the teleprompters that were on both side of him, you heard the president essentially make the same argument to his supporters that he made back during the 2016 campaign. He talked about the news. He criticized Democrats. He went after Hillary Clinton in her emails.

It was really essentially an airing of his grievances that we've heard for the last four years ever since the president came down that escalator in Trump Tower and declared against all odds that he was running for president.

Now, there was one point in the evening where the president did get to the news and announced he was officially running for president again 2020.

TRUMP: I stand before you to officially launch my campaign for a second term as president of the United States.

COLLINS: So, what you saw from the president in Orlando was more of a settling of scores than a setting of agenda for what he's going to do if he does get four more years in office. And the president said if he doesn't he painted this pretty dark picture, at times apocalyptic and said, quote, the Democrats want to destroy you and they want to destroy your country as we know it -- Dave and Michelle.


BRIGGS: Dark, indeed. Kaitlan Collins, thanks.

Joe Biden also a target at the Trump campaign kickoff. The president's son, Don Jr., slamming the former vice president over his decades in Washington and delivering what many consider a low blow.


DONALD TRUMP, JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: If government failed you, maybe you're the problem, Joe Biden.

It's not rocket science. What was the good one last week? Remember Joe Biden comes out, well, if you elect me president, I'm going to cure cancer. Wow. Why the hell didn't you do that over the last 50 years, Joe?


[04:05:04] BRIGGS: Curing the disease has been a priority for Joe Biden since he lost his son Beau in 2015 to brain cancer. He oversaw the cancer moonshot in the Obama White House in 2016 and launched a Biden Cancer Initiative. Biden and his wife Jill stepped down from the board after he entered the 2020 race.

KOSINSKI: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan withdrawing for consideration for the permanent job. His decision comes after new reporting from "The Washington Post" about a violent family incident in 2011 when Shanahan's son attacked his own mother with a baseball bat. Shanahan strongly defended his then 17-year-old son, arguing in a memo two weeks later that the teen was defending himself. Shanahan told "The Post" he later regretted that memo and that the self-defense claim was false.

BRIGGS: An administration official tells CNN Shanahan was fully vetted. The White House was generally aware of the domestic abuse claims. But sources tell us even though Shanahan himself was never arrested, there was growing concern his ex-wife would publicly accuse him of domestic abuse. Shanahan's withdrawal raises key questions about Pentagon leadership. It comes just as tensions are escalating with Iran.

CNN's Ryan Browne has more.



This most senior shakeup at the Pentagon amid increased tensions in Iran, Acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan stepping down, announcing that he will resign effective Sunday, we're being told. And this shakeup comes as President Trump has said he is seeking to avoid war with Iran while the U.S. simultaneously is deploying thousands of additional troops to the region to do forced protection, to respond to what it says is an increased Iranian threat, 1,000 troops being ordered most recently.

Those forces will include reconnaissance personnel, missile defense crews, forces that are said to be defensive in nature. But again, Iran saying that the action is provocative, saying it will be prepared to respond if need be and, again, the senior shakeup at the Pentagon raising questions about leadership here.

Army Secretary Mark Esper will fill the role. He will take over on Sunday, we're being told. Again, he's had a fairly narrow portfolio of secretary of the army overseeing that one service. And he's currently getting a crash course in a variety of issues, including nuclear weapons, international security affairs, policy.

And he is an Army veteran. He spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill so he is familiar with some of these issues. But again, a real speed transition going on as he steps into the most senior level role at the Pentagon. Back to you.


KOSINSKI: Yes, definitely unexpected. Thanks, Ryan.

Well, turning now to the Democrats. Front-runner Joe Biden on the fundraising trail later today in the Maryland suburbs of Washington. On Tuesday in New York, the former vice president stopped by the Stonewall Inn, the scene of a 1969 uprising that sparked the gay rights movement. He told supporters the fight for LGBT rights must continue.

BRIGGS: Bernie Sanders reaching out to his backers on social media last night after the president's rally. The senator from Vermont evoking the Twilight Zone.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to take you into another universe, a parallel universe from where Trump was this evening. It's really quite incredible.


BRIGGS: Amy Klobuchar laying out a plan for her first 100 days in office which includes a return to the Paris Climate Accord and a $15 minimum wage. The Minnesota senator telling Chris Cuomo, enthusiasm will not be an issue for Democratic voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am not one bit worried about the excitement on our side. We just have to unite behind a candidate, and that's what these debates are all about.


KOSINSKI: Today, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is focusing on his day job. He'll be speaking to police officers and their families in South Bend, Indiana. Buttigieg returns to the campaign trail Thursday in Boston.

And Senator Cory Booker testifies before a House committee today. He's supporting a bill that would create a condition to examine reparations for slavery.

BRIGGS: Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seems to be comparing the Trump campaign to Nazis over its policy of detaining migrants at the southern border. Listen to what the New York City Democrat told her followers on Instagram live.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): The United States is running concentration camps on our southern border and that is exactly what they are. They are concentration camps. I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that we should not -- that "never again" means something.


KOSINSKI: AOC's critics are slamming her for using the term "concentration camps", which is commonly associated with Nazi death camps during the Holocaust.

[04:10:07] Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney tweeting: Please, AOC, do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history. Six million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.

BRIGGS: Ocasio-Cortez firing back: Hey, Representative Cheney, since you're so eager to educate me, I'm curious what do you call building mass camps of people being detained without a trial?

Ocasio-Cortez went on to tell CNN she is not comparing the situation at the border to death camps but the internment camps like the ones that held Japanese-Americans during World War II.

KOSINSKI: Long time aide Hope Hicks heads to Capitol Hill in the matter of hours. The former communications director will face questions from lawmakers behind closed doors. But the administration is asserting immunity for Hicks, insisting she cannot testify about her time in the White House.

More now from Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.



Hope Hicks, the president's long-time confidante, someone who predates the time of the campaign, worked with him in the Trump Organization, worked with him through the campaign, into the transition, into the White House, she will go behind closed doors before the House Judiciary Committee and she's going to face an array of questions. We do know that the Democrats plan to press her on a key topic, that is those hush money payments that occurred back in 2016 to silence those alleged extramarital affairs involving Donald Trump. At the time, she was on the campaign, she had knowledge about that. The president cannot invoke executive privilege because he was not president at that time.

But there are instances that occurred that are outlined in the Mueller report that could lead into a fight between the administration and House Democrats, namely those instances detailed in the Mueller report about potential obstruction of justice.

Now, I'm told by Democrats that they plan to ask about five topics of potential criminality at this that were laid out in the Mueller report as it comes to potential obstruction of justice, the efforts to undermine the Mueller probe, the president's efforts allegedly to dismiss the special counsel, Robert Mueller, how he handled the firing of James Comey, his conduct around his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, and his efforts to get the former attorney general at the time, Jeff Sessions, to unrecuse himself and to oversee the Mueller report. Those are all topics they plan to press her on and the Democrats want to ask about -- Michelle and Dave.


BRIGGS: OK, Manu, thanks.

To CNN Business now. Stocks soared yesterday after President Trump tweeted he will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20. The Dow closed up over 350 points after Trump said the two had a very good telephone conversation, that they will have an extended meeting next week.

Trump and Xi were expected to meet to discuss trade. It was unclear whether a meeting would take place. And if Xi didn't meet with him, Trump said he would impose $300 billion worth of tariffs on China.

Hundreds of companies have warned the president about the effects of tariffs. A group of more than 600 of them wrote in a letter, quote: Additional tariffs will have significant negative long-term impact on the U.S. economy.

Even New Balance which makes 4 billion pairs of shoes in the U.S. says it needs to import parts from China and the tariffs would hurt its financial health. Yesterday's tweet gave investors and businesses more confidence that those tariffs will not take effect.

KOSINSKI: President Trump downplaying the threat of a military confrontation with Iran, but saying it's still on the table. We're live in Tehran, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:18:19] KOSINSKI: The head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps is insisting they'll be able to strike American aircraft carriers if they need to. The warning comes after President Trump downplays the threat of a military confrontation with Iran. He tells "Time" magazine in an interview he wouldn't say if he's considering that, but the president says he would consider using military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is live in Tehran now with the latest.

So we're hearing this back and forth between Washington and Tehran daily now, Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we certainly are, Michelle. And I do have a little bit of breaking news, I guess, for you guys. The Iranians right now are coming up with some new lines. The defense minister literally just a couple of minutes ago had a cabinet meeting here in Tehran, once again said the Iranians decisively deny America's accusations that they are behind those tanker attacks.

And he added, this is interesting, that none of this is documented, that obviously a direct answer to some of the photos that we've seen coming out of the Pentagon allegedly showing the Iranian boat saying it's removing a mine off the side of one of those tankers. At the same time, you do have the rhetoric really escalating between the U.S. and Iran. The head of the Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps coming out and saying that the Iranians would be able to target carriers. He said that the Iranians have been testing their ballistic missiles at sea and were able to hit a target that's about 2/3 the size of a U.S. aircraft carrier.

Now, whether or not that's true, it certainly shows that the rhetoric between the two sides is quite bellicose at this point. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps also once again saying they don't want any sort of negotiations with the U.S.

[04:20:02] They say that America, with their offer for talks, is aiming to weaken Iran's defense capabilities. So, the Iranians are saying at this point in time they don't want to talk to the Trump administration.

However, on maybe a bit of a more positive note, earlier today a senior Iranian politician once again coming out. The head of Iran's National Security Council and saying unequivocally, there is not going to be a war with the United States, Michelle.

KOSINSKI: Yes, they keep trying to call out the U.S.'s bluff if that is, indeed a bluff.

Fred, thanks a lot.

BRIGGS: All right. Overnight, a rocket hitting the compound that houses the headquarters of global oil companies including ExxonMobil, in the city of Basra in southern Iraq. At least two Iraqi workers were wounded in the attack. In a separate attack, a rocket landed near a U.S. security base in Mosul. Security officials report no damage, nor casualties. There has been no claim of responsibility for the attacks.

A rare apology from Hong Kong's top executive is not silencing calls for her resignation. Massive protests last week forced Carrie Lam to withdraw a controversial extradition bill. But despite her most sincere apologies, she may now face a symbolic vote of no confidence.

CNN's Anna Coren joining us live from Hong Kong with the latest.

Anna, good morning.


That's right. We are waiting for that no confidence vote to happen in the Hong Kong legislative council. It has been delayed, but perhaps we will see it later on whether or not she will survive that.

It doesn't really matter, to tell you the truth. It is purely symbolic. This is being put forward by a pro-democracy lawmaker. The legislative council is pro-Beijing.

So, Carrie Lam, the city's chief executive, is not going anywhere.

Dave, as you mentioned, she came out yesterday, issued that apology, said, I should have done a better job. I need to do a better job.

But it really didn't go far enough. The people aren't buying it. They say it's too little too late. They are calling for her to resign, and as you say, to withdraw her very controversial extradition bill which would allow for extradition to mainland China.

She announced on the weekend she would suspend it. She would show that the protesters, they want her to completely withdraw it.

Now, we heard from the student union, they are calling on their demands to be met by the end of tomorrow, that is to withdraw the bill to free those who have been arrested, to revoke the riot claim and also to charge police for excessive force. They say that if their demands are not met by the end of tomorrow, then they will call for more demonstrations.

Demonstrations are definitely in the mix, Dave. We are expecting much more ahead. As to when that will be, we just don't know.

BRIGGS: All right. Great reporting. Anna Coren live for us in Hong Kong, 4:22 p.m.

Not clear, Michelle, if the 7 million people will ever be satisfied but the people in Beijing, the leadership in Beijing may not be all that concerned.

KOSINSKI: Of course.

BRIGGS: They appoint the leadership in Hong Kong.

KOSINSKI: There you go. And the size of those crowds --

BRIGGS: Massive.

KOSINSKI: -- are just breathtaking.

BRIGGS: When you talk about one in seven citizens in Hong Kong at the very least protesting.

KOSINSKI: Yes, it's impressive.

BRIGGS: Incredible. Look at the crowds.

KOSINSKI: Well, at least nine American tourist deaths now in the Dominican Republic over 13 months. Does anything link them? We'll have a report from Santo Domingo, next.


[04:28:26] BRIGGS: Four-twenty-eight Eastern Time.

And another American tourist has died at a resort in the Dominican Republic. Joseph Allen was found dead in his room June 13th at the Hotel Terra Linda in Sosua. Allen's sister telling CNN her brother had not been feeling well the day before but went out that night anyway. That makes at least nine American tourist deaths in the Dominican over 13 months.

Can anything unusual link the deaths?

Our Rosa Flores has answers from Santo Domingo.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave, Michelle, we are learning more about Joseph Allen from his family, who says that the 55-year-old was a regular at the Terra Linda Resort, so much so that staff welcomed him by his first name. On that ill fated day on June 13th, it was staff who found him dead in his room.

Now, we obtained a copy of the preliminary autopsy report from a state agency called Cestur (ph) and that report indicates that Allen had cardiac arrest and that his body did not show internal or external signs of violence.

So far, we know of at least nine Americans who have died in the Dominican Republic, and both American and Dominican Republic authorities say that these cases are not connected.

Back in April, the State Department issued a travel advisory, but that advisory was for crime. And the state agency that tracks the deaths of all tourists in the Dominican Republic says that the lead cause of death for tourists is natural causes -- Dave, Michelle.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BRIGGS: Awfully scary what's happening there. Rosa, thanks.

KOSINSKI: Thanks, Rosa.

Well, President Trump launching his re-election campaign with an airing of grievances. We'll have more on the road to 2020 ahead.