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EARLY START

Trump Calls Off Strike Against Iran Over Drone Shutdown; Trump Aide Hope Hicks' Capitol Hill Testimony Transcript Released; Protest in Hong Kong Flared Up Again. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired June 21, 2019 - 04:30   ET

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


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[04:32:07] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight. "The New York Times" says President Trump ordered then called off strikes against Iran.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A witness makes a stunning courtroom confession at the trial of a Navy SEAL charged with murder.

BRIGGS: Newly released video shows one man's wild attack on TSA agents at an Arizona airport.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: The New Orleans Pelicans select Zion Williamson.

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ROMANS: The number one pick in the NBA Draft shares an emotional moment with mom after his longtime dream comes true.

This brought tears to my eyes. I'm telling you, behind every great guy is a great mom.

BRIGGS: That is true. I love that statement. And you know, a lot of reasons to party in New Orleans.

ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: Not that they need one but they have a few more.

[LAUGHTER]

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

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Happy Friday, everybody. 4:32 Eastern Time. We start with the Iran confrontation. Breaking overnight, the president steps back from the brink. "The New York Times" reporting that President Trump authorized military strikes against Iran, then abruptly called them off. The strikes were in retaliation for Iran shooting down a U.S. military drone. The "Times" says the president initially approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets like radar and missile batteries.

The "Times" reports there were ships in position and planes in the air when the president walked the whole thing back. It was not clear whether he simply changed his mind or whether strategy or logistics caused the pull back. Also unknown whether the attacks may still occur, but what is clear that the president's public responses really seesawed since the drone shootdown.

Thursday morning Mr. Trump seemed inclined to give Iran the benefit of the doubt and at the same time leave open the possibility of war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth. I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it, but we'll be able to report back and you'll understand exactly what happened, but it was a very foolish move, that I can tell you.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, how will you respond?

TRUMP: You'll find out.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you willing to --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Reality show presidency getting very real this morning.

Let's go live to Tehran and bring in senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen.

Fred, you told us last half hour this is a -- prayers can often turn political. Any reaction yet from the Iranians?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yes. Yes, Dave. Those pressures are actually still going on so we're going to wait and see whether or not there's going to be any reaction coming out today after that "New York Times" article came out. But over the past couple say 24 to 72 hours, you have heard from various Iranian officials coming out and saying, look, if the United States makes a military move here in this region, if the United States decides to attack Iranian airspace or Iran in general, there would be a crushing response from the Iranian military.

[04:35:06] In fact, one senior commander came out and said this would be a crushing response and would be a crushing response in a very wide area. Obviously seemingly meaning that Iran would not only necessarily retaliate against U.S. forces in the immediate Persian Gulf area but possibly with its proxy forces in the entire Middle East.

Now as you mentioned, still sort of conflicting narratives between the U.S. and Iran as to what exactly happened and where specifically this drone was shot down. The Iranians obviously not following President Trump's narrative that there might have been some rogue commander who shot the drone down. They're saying they did this deliberately because they say the drone went into their airspace. Iran's Foreign minister even coming out and in a tweet giving coordinates that we checked out and that would put the site about nine miles off the Iranian coast which is of course Iranian territorial water.

Now the U.S. has a very different take on this. They say this happened in international airspace, it was about 20 miles off the Iranian coast and therefore it was an unprovoked aggression by the Iranians. So you have those conflicting narratives. The Iranians for their part are saying that their airspace is a red line and tensions really flaring up guys here in the Persian Gulf area. Some airlines have already decided to fly different routes avoiding the Persian Gulf area, which is an airspace that's got a lot of air traffic going through it -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Tensions continue to escalate. Fred, we'll check back with you in the 5:00 hour. Thank you.

Earlier Thursday before word of the planned strike broke, reaction on Capitol Hill was falling along party lines. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he spoke with the president about Iran Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

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SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): He believes that we're going into a -- we're getting into a bad space, that his options are running out, that he's not going to be intimidated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The top Democrats on the Hill, meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling for the president to lower the temperature with Iran.

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REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We know that the high tension wires are up there and we must do everything we can not to escalate the situation but also to make sure that our personnel in the region are safe.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): I told the president that these conflicts have a way of escalating. The president may not intend to go to a war here but we're worried that he and the administration may bumble into a war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Schumer adding Democrats told the president in a situation room meeting Thursday that he needs to get congressional authorization before taking military action against Iran.

ROMANS: A stunning twist at the end of a Navy SEAL's trial in San Diego. Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher on trial for murdering an Iraqi prisoner and other battlefield crimes, but a SEAL team medic in Gallagher's deployment shocked the courtroom yesterday testifying that he, not Gallagher, killed the young prisoner. Medic Cory Scott backed up other witnesses who said Gallagher stabbed the prisoner under the collar bone but Scott said he then covered the prisoner's tracheotomy tube with his thumb suffocating him because he knew the prisoner would die anyway.

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TIM PARLATORE, CPO EDDIE GALLAGHER'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Today for the first time, somebody went to one of these witnesses and actually asked the real question. What is the cause of death?

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ROMANS: The medic testified he was only admitting the murder now because he'd been granted immunity and cannot be charged. An outraged military prosecutor as much as accused Scott of lying on the stand. Scott replied, "He's got a wife and family. I don't think he should spend the rest of his life in jail." The Navy says it will not drop murder charges against Gallagher. It says, "The credibility of a witness is for the jury to decide."

BRIGGS: It seems cooler heads are prevailing for the moment in a heated spat between former vice president Joe Biden and his 2020 rival Cory Booker. Biden called Booker late Wednesday following the New Jersey senator's appearance on "CNN TONIGHT." Booker had demanded Biden apologize for touting his ability to cooperate with segregationist senators. Booker revealing only portions of the phone call.

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SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't want to characterize a private conversation. I think that Joe Biden should explain to people that it's not about me. I don't feel like I want an apology to me. I think that this is something that he should speak to the public about and I think he has an opportunity here. And I understood where his contentions were. I understood where his heart was. The fact is, though, it's not about me or him. He said things that are hurtful and are harmful. My belief he should be apologizing to the American people and having this discussion with all of us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Biden met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus last night. A sit-down planned prior to his controversial remarks. Caucus members had already publicly defended Biden before the meeting, some wishing, though, he had chosen better words but claiming his remarks overall did not offend them.

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[04:40:09] REP. HANK JOHNSON (D-GA): Not at all. I mean, the honest truth is we have to work with people who we disagree with on moral grounds every day. And that's politics. REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): You know that we have some members of

Congress right now that would be a 2019 version of what he experienced in the 1970s. The point he was trying to make is that you do have to work with people who have polar opposite politics. I certainly wished he would not have used that example.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Republicans also weighing in on this potentially divisive issue for the Democratic Party with Senator Lindsey Graham surprisingly supportive of Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: Now I don't want Joe Biden to be president for a lot of reasons, but one of the things that I like about Joe Biden, he's a decent man. There's not a racist bone in his body. He is my friend. And what he did back then and what he will do in the future is try to find common ground with people he disagrees with. If that can't be done, America's best days are behind us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The Biden campaign is yet to comment on these new developments. Biden and Booker are scheduled to appear tonight at a fish-fry in South Carolina.

ROMANS: All right. Just as President Trump launches his re-election, the Trump economy faces its biggest test. Can the 10-year economic expansion endure? First, the growing concern of a slowing economy. JPMorgan raised the risk of recession next year to 43 percent from 24 percent. The president's trade wars a big reason. A year in tariffs now seem to be a permanent condition, not a bargaining chip.

The White House first slapped 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in high tech imports from China last July. And then last fall put 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of intermediary goods and ultimately raised that to 25 percent this spring. And the president has now promised and threatened tariffs on another $300 billion plus in Chinese goods. Something more than 600 companies and trade groups warned would hurt American jobs and damage the economy.

Already there are signs that the expansion is topping out here. When you look at job growth in particular. This year so far 164,000 net new jobs each month on average. Look, that's the weakest job growth in a decade.

Beyond trade, there's also budget uncertainty and budget risks. Lawmakers must work out a deal by the fall. Another government shutdown, deep spending cuts or failing to race the federal debt limit are all risks for the economy. And then there's this, the president really is proud of the stock market. Even yesterday he said, look, the S&P 500 opening at a record high. He uses this almost as a personal scorecard. Since the election the Dow -- the S&P 500 is up 30 percent, but look, where does that put him with other presidents? It's not necessarily that Trump bump that he would like everyone to believe.

And then there is this. This big risk, oil prices. Because of this conflict in the Persian Gulf oil prices had been rising that's something consumers will feel. If that continues, if you still have trouble in the Persian Gulf heading into the election, Dave, that could be a problem for consumers, for drivers and for this president.

BRIGGS: That is one thing Americans certainly do feel. We'll continue to watch those oil prices globally throughout the hour. Thank you.

Draft night in America and what had been inevitable since the NBA Draft lottery last month finally became official.

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SILVER: With the first pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the New Orleans Pelicans select Zion Williamson.

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BRIGGS: Zion rocking the all white there thought to be a generational talent. Played just that one freshman year for the Blue Devils before turning pro. Zion and his mom were overcome with emotion.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mom, we can see that Zion visibly emotional as are you. What are you feeling right now in this moment?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We worked -- he's worked to aspire for this moment.

ZION WILLIAMSON, NUMBER ONE PICK IN NBA DRAFT: I dreamed about this since I was 4 and for it to actually happen, I just thank God for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Like Zion, the draft's second and third picks went according to plan. Murray State point guard Joe Morant went second to the Memphis Grizzlies and R.J. Barrett, Williamson's freshman teammate at Duke, was taken third behind the New York Knicks.

There was an emotional dramatic night at the NBA draft. And Christine Romans, your take on the night was what?

ROMANS: Well, they're all wearing skinny pants and no socks. Are you going to start doing that? Is that like this new sports thing? I thought they looked great. I mean, I love it.

BRIGGS: I'm going to try it out.

ROMANS: Did you notice?

BRIGGS: I did not notice that. My eyes were elsewhere.

ROMANS: I really --

BRIGGS: But I love your fashion take.

ROMANS: I did love how much the moms and parents were rewarded last night.

BRIGGS: Yes. Skinny pants, no socks for me about 6:00. OK?

ROMANS: All right. You've got it.

President Trump says Latino voters support deportations. You'll hear from the president next.

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[04:49:09] BRIGGS: President Trump claiming Hispanic voters support his immigration agenda. During his first interview as president with Spanish language TV network, the Telemundo anchor pressed Trump after he claimed Latino voters support deportations.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Going back to the Latino vote, granted, a percentage definitely supports you but there are some who fear, who fear your rhetoric, who fear what's been going on in the border, who fear that you have said that you will be deporting millions of people.

TRUMP: They want me to do it. They're --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, they do not.

TRUMP: They do. They do. Are you ready? They don't want to lose their jobs. They want to keep their salaries, their wages up, and they don't want crime. When people come through you have MS-13 coming through. Hispanics --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: That's not the majority, Mr. President.

TRUMP: The Hispanics -- but it's a lot of people.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It may be some.

TRUMP: If it was one in 100 --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The mothers that are coming with their children aren't MS-13.

TRUMP: But if it's one in a --

[04:50:03] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The people who were raped in their town aren't MS-13.

TRUMP: I agree. But if it's one in 100, it's too many.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: Late Monday on Twitter Trump claimed that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement would start removing millions of migrants who have made their way into the U.S. beginning next week. He added that they will be removed as fast as they come in. But asylum seekers at the border cannot be immediately removed because they have a legal right to apply for humanitarian relief.

ROMANS: All right. We know now that what longtime Trump aide and confidant Hope Hicks told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. The 273-page transcript of the closed door interview shows she was asked about this famous 2016 campaign remark by the president.

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TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.

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ROMANS: Hicks says afterwards on Air Force One she told the president the media felt the comment was extremely inappropriate and were demanding he explained what he meant. She says Mr. Trump gave her the impression the remark, quote, "was a little bit tongue in cheek, a joke."

Some context, the Mueller report notes that within five hours of that remark Russian military intelligence targeted Hillary Clinton's personal office for the first time.

With more on Hicks' Capitol Hill interview senior congressional reporter Sara Murray.

SARA MURRAY, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave. Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director, testified on Capitol Hill behind closed doors yesterday. But it was notable how much she couldn't answer after the White House said she had absolute immunity. Democrats said she was blocked from answering 155 of their questions by the Trump administration.

Hope Hicks arrived with two of her own lawyers. Three lawyers representing the White House and another lawyer from the Department of Justice. But she did shed some light on a couple of different instances. At one point the Mueller report lays out this instance in the White House where President Trump tells Cory Lewandowski, an outside adviser, that he wants Lewandowski to convince Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself from the Russia probe. Hope Hicks was privy to this conversation. She told the committee that she thought it was an odd request but when members of Congress asked her why she thought it was odd she was blocked from answering that question.

She also clarified a couple of other things. She said that she had no knowledge of Donald Trump's hush money payments to women during the presidential campaign. She said when she put out the statement saying that Donald Trump had no relationship with Karen McDougal, she was directed to do so at the time. She also insisted she had no knowledge of that Trump Tower meeting in the middle of the campaign where Donald Trump Jr. and other top campaign aides met with Russians. She said she didn't find out about that until the summer of 2017.

Now many of these things of course match up with what she told Mueller's team and what she said in previous congressional testimony. And of course there's one line that sticks out that came up in her prior appearance on the Hill. She said yes, she did tell white lies for President Trump but insisted she didn't lie about anything substantive.

Back to you, guys.

BRIGGS: OK, Sara, thanks.

Just released surveillance video shows a man attacking a group of TSA agents at a security checkpoint at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. Look at this. The incident happened Tuesday morning. A TSA spokesperson says the man was immediately subdued and arrested. One officer was taken to the hospital, four others were treated at an urgent care facility. Phoenix Police say the suspect is charged with criminal trespass, resisting arrest and misdemeanor assault.

ROMANS: All right. A big company getting mocked for its video about a light bulb. Find out why. CNN Business next.

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[04:58:09] BRIGGS: Protests in Hong Kong wrapping up again. Demonstrators have occupied a main highway around the government headquarters demanding the complete withdrawal of the China extradition bill that caused mass protests last week.

Ivan Watson is live for us in Hong Kong with all of the latest developments there.

Ivan, good morning. What are you seeing?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. We have protests again, and now there is a new strategy coming from the opposition. Take a look at this. They have encircled the headquarters of the Hong Kong police right now. So you have demonstrators in front of all of the entrances and they are chanting, "release," calling for the release of some of the people who were detained in protests and clashes with riot police that turned violent on June 12th.

And you can see that the police, for example, right in front of us are kind of standing there as the crowd chants at them and surrounds them. In one of the other entrances, they have zip-tied shot the doors of the police headquarters. And so far the police have had a pretty I would say submissive approach to this whole standoff right now. We're not seeing helmets or baton charges or rubber bullets being fired or tear gas.

The numbers that we see here are not like on previous marches earlier this month where there were estimates of 1 to 2 million people out in the streets. That's one to two in seven Hong Kongers protesting against the government and a controversial law that would law China to extradite suspects to mainland China.

What we do see here right now is predominantly young Hong Kongers. I talked to one girl, 17 years old, she came after high school out to protest. There is not one clear leader of this protest movement and it is really hot. It feels like 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

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