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Multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein Commits Suicide in His Prison Cell; President Trump Promotes Epstein-Clintons Conspiracy Theory; Democratic Presidential Candidates Make their Case in Iowa. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired August 12, 2019 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] WILL RIPLEY, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: And staff speeches, the 2020 Democratic candidates are trying to win over voters and having a few corn dogs at the Iowa state fair.

ALISON KOSIK, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: And happening now, protesters streaming into Hong Kong's international airport after the tenth weekend of violent clashes between police and pro-Democracy protesters. Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, I'm Alison Kosik, I'm sitting in for Christine Romans.

RIPLEY: I'm Will Ripley in for Dave Briggs, it is 5:00 a.m. here in New York, Monday, August the 12th. And there are questions this morning about high -- how high profile image Jeffrey Epstein was apparently able to kill himself while in federal custody over the weekend.

The well-connected multimillionaire was accused of using employees and associates to recruit young girls for him to abuse. Epstein was found in his jail cell over the weekend. He had been set to go on trial at some point next year. Epstein's death ends the criminal case against him. But a person familiar with the investigation tells CNN the federal probe into his conduct is ongoing.

And there are signs that federal prosecutors could pursue related criminal cases against his associates or employees.

KOSIK: Epstein had been placed on suicide watch on July 23rd, he had to undergo daily psychological assessments and was kept in special housing with increased monitoring. But he was removed from suicide watch by the end of last month and was cleared to return to his cell under normal protocols. CNN's Kara Scannell has details on some lapses that are now coming to light.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: There is new information shedding light on the circumstances around Jeffrey Epstein's death. A source with the knowledge of his detention tells CNN that there appears to have been two breaks in protocol. But first, Epstein was placed on suicide watch after he was found unconscious in his cell with marks around his neck several weeks ago.

When he was removed from suicide watch, he was supposed to have a cell mate, but for some unexplained reason, Epstein was alone in his cell from Friday into Saturday morning. The second Epstein was placed in a special housing unit after he was moved off of suicide watch. In that unit, guards are supposed to monitor inmates every 30 minutes, even wake them up when they're asleep, but that didn't happen, according to the source.

These questions are likely to be of interest to the FBI and Justice Department's office of Inspector General who are investigating how Epstein went from suicide watch to dead in under two weeks. Also Sunday, the chief medical examiner said an autopsy of Epstein was completed, his cause of death is pending further information. Alison, Will?

RIPLEY: As that investigation continues, President Trump is promoting more baseless conspiracy theories, this time involving the apparent suicide of Jeffrey Epstein. Because the president retweeted this tweet, "millions of people have now read it from conservative comedian Terrance Williams, his claim that the Clintons were behind the death.

Says Epstein had information on Bill Clinton, and now he's dead." The message also calls on Twitter users to retweet, quote, "if you're not surprised. Unsurprisingly, President Trump did oblige." It's dangerous spreading misinformation and it's not the first time that Trump has been all too willing to spread this kind of falsehood as CNN's Jeremy Diamond reports.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Good morning Alison and Will, the president once again showing his intention for conspiracy theories. This weekend sharing a conspiracy theory, blaming the Clintons for the death of accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Now, federal officials say that Epstein died of an apparent suicide, that has still not kept questions from swirling around the circumstances of his death, but certainly, there's no evidence linking the Clintons to Epstein's death.

That, however, did not stop the president this weekend from sharing a tweet, making that baseless claim to his 63 million followers. And as a result, Kellyanne Conway on Sunday defending the president.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: I think the president just wants everything to be investigated as your reporter just revealed just the day before. There is some unsealed information implicating some people very high up. And I'm not going to repeat their names, but Jeffrey Epstein has done some very bad things over a number of years. And so, let's continue to investigate that.


DIAMOND: Now, Trump's retweet of this conspiracy theory is certainly not an isolated incident. We know that there is a long pattern of this president sharing and using his megaphone to share these conspiracy theories and falsehoods, even going back to before his time as president. He gained prominence on the political ride for voicing -- giving a loud voice really to these birtherism conspiracy theories surrounding President Obama falsely, accusing Obama of not having been born in the United States.

And then as a presidential candidate, Trump went and shared a conspiracy theory, linking Ted Cruz's father to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. And of course, as President Trump has continued to share some falsehoods and conspiracy theories including one about former President Obama wire-tapping President Trump during the 2016 campaign.

[05:05:00] There is no evidence for that claim, of course. Now, Bill Clinton's spokesman in regards to the claim that the president recently made this weekend, he has called it ridiculous and of course not true. Back to you.

KOSIK: OK, Jeremy Diamond, thanks very much. The acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection is defending the mass immigration raids at food processing plants in Mississippi last week. Mark Morgan tells CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION", he disputes the terminology being used, and he insists they are not raids.


MARK MORGAN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF U.S. CUSTOMS & BORDER PROTECTION: I think words matter, these aren't raids, these are targeted law enforcement operations. And in this case, this was a joint criminal investigation with ICE and the Department of Justice targeting work site enforcement, meaning companies that knowingly and willfully hire illegal aliens so that in most cases they can pay them reduced wages, exploit them further for their bottom line.


KOSIK: OK, here's the thing. Research shows that between April of 2018 and March of this year, the Trump administration has prosecuted zero companies, no companies and just 11 individuals for employing undocumented immigrants.

RIPLEY: They're certainly not shy about going after the workers --

KOSIK: Hundreds of --

RIPLEY: Themselves --

KOSIK: Yes, exactly.

RIPLEY: Morgan was also asked about this widely-seen video, heartbreaking video of a young girl crying and begging for her father to be returned.




My dad didn't do nothing, he's not a criminal, government, please, put your heart, let my parents be free -- anybody else, please.


RIPLEY: Morgan saw that clip, here's his response.


MORGAN: They are here illegally, and then a lot of times there's additional fraud that goes with this for them to try to get these jobs in these companies. So, I understand that the girl is upset and I get that, but her father committed a crime and just so the American people know also, is that girl, her mother was home and she was reunited with her mother within a few hours that night.


RIPLEY: Many children separated by these raids have been reunited with parents. One of the plants where the Mississippi raids took place was a coke foods processing plant. There were supposed to be a jobs fair and it's still happening today.

KOSIK: At least, eight Wal-Mart locations have received threats in the past week, it follows the massacre at an El Paso Wal-Mart and a deadly shooting at a store in Mississippi late last month. Police are investigating threats in a total of six states. A man was arrested last week in Springfield, Missouri, after walking into a Wal-Mart equipped with body armor, a handgun and a rifle.

He's facing a charge of making a terrorist threat in the second degree. Police say the suspect told investigators they wanted to know if Wal-Mart honored the Second Amendment.

RIPLEY: Musician John Legend, an Ohio native made a surprise visit to Dayton over the weekend, nine people died in the mass shooting there just over a week ago. Legend decided to tour the city's Oregon district on Sunday. He was with the mayor of Dayton and he pleaded for lawmakers to act.


JOHN LEGEND, MUSICIAN: Every time one of these events happen, we see the strength of the community, we're inspired by everyone's resilience. But let's start requiring that level of strength and resilience from people. Let's prevent these things from happening in the first place. Let's fight for common sense gun legislation.



RIPLEY: And there was this moment when the star musician performed for the victim's families and local district staff. Legend is originally from Springfield, Ohio, just 30 miles away. He says it was heartbreaking to see gun violence hit so close to his hometown.

KOSIK: Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil company could be moving towards the biggest IPO in history. Aramco plans to host its first ever earnings call on Monday, sharing its financial results in a possible effort to show investors its value. The call coming at a rough time though for oil markets. The international energy agency released a report on Friday suggesting the U.S.-China trade war is taken its toll on oil demand.

The report said demand for crude oil fell in May and grew at the weakest pace since 2008 in the first five months of the year. The IEA lowering its forecast for demand for the rest of the year, warning that the outlook is fragile, saying that there is growing evidence of an economic slowdown. Oil prices entered a bear market last week, meaning they are down 20 percent from recent highs, and that could be a cause for concern as oil demand can provide a look at the health of the world's economy.

RIPLEY: We continue to follow breaking news out of Hong Kong at this hour. All departing flights have just been canceled at Hong Kong's airport as protesters continue moving in.


RIPLEY: We continue to follow breaking news here on CNN. Hong Kong's international airport is now canceling all departing flights as thousands of protesters continue to swarm into the terminal. This is a live picture of the crowd which is growing by the hour. This is the tenth-straight weekend of clashes between Hong Kong police and pro- democracy protesters.

At least nine people were hurt in the latest round of demonstrations. There's been a lot of violence back and forth, police using tear gas and rubber bullets, protesters hurling petrol bombs and bricks. And now they are at the airport with the intent of disruption and that's exactly what they're doing. CNN's Ben Wedeman is back with us on the phone now. Ben, what do we know?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): So, yes, as we were reporting within the last hour, of course, all departing flights have been canceled and what we're seeing is unprecedented numbers of protectors here. A day of protests, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

[05:15:00] But they were focused on the arrivals area, so it didn't impede or obstruct the departures, and then in general the operations of the airport. But what we saw this afternoon was that there were so many protesters in the arrivals area that they spilled up and over into the departure area and started to block passengers trying to reach the check-in desk.

You watch as airport staff was trying unsuccessfully to control the situation, but it was apparent by mid afternoon local time that the airport simply could not function under these conditions.

Now, many of these protesters here -- and this was not a planned protest, it was not supposed to happen today, but after what was seen as excessive violence by the police injuring at least nine people yesterday including a young woman who was hit in her eye by a police bean bag, this is what motivated people to come out here and to take even more radical steps in terms of basically shutting down this airport. And it's not clear when it's going to start functioning again. Will?

RIPLEY: How does this end? How do police clear out the airport?

WEDEMAN: Well, that's the interesting thing, there is no obvious police presence here. They have not showed up, and even over the weekend sit-ins, there was not a large police presence. But it's one thing to be a nuisance in the airport, it's another to shut it down.

So, there are rumors among the protesters that perhaps the police may be on their way, but I can tell you, from my vantage point, I can look down into the arrivals area as well as the departure area, there is not a policeman in sight. Will?

RIPLEY: Hong Kong is a significant regional hub, billions of dollars moving through there, and this is going to have a serious financial and logistical impact. What will the city do? We'll keep following it, Ben Wedeman live in Hong Kong, thank you.

KOSIK: Democratic candidates descending on Iowa over the weekend for a campaign trail rite of passage. The Iowa state fair, they saw the famous butter cow, makes me want to have some toast -- they ate fried foods and they all spent 20 minutes standing between hay bales on the "Des Moines Register's" political soap box delivering their stump speeches and fielding questions from the amazingly well-informed crowd.

They were there to convince Democratic voters to choose them in Iowa's first event in the nation's caucus. CNN's Rebecca Buck has more from one of the most important stops on the political calendar, the Iowa state fair.

REBECCA BUCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as presidential candidates converged on Iowa this weekend, the discussion of guns in America remained in the spotlight with some candidates taking more aggressive policy positions than they ever have before. Senators Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar became the latest Democratic candidates to urge Wal-Mart to stop selling guns in their stores.

Meantime, Beto O'Rourke speaking to CNN from El Paso after the tragic shooting in his community said he has changed his mind on the idea of national gun licenses and he now supports them. Senator Cory Booker was the first Democratic candidate for president to back this proposal. And we walked through the fairgrounds with him this weekend and asked him if he expects more Democrats to line up behind that proposal.

He said he is optimistic that more Democrats will be getting on board. However, Senator Bernie Sanders, not there yet. We asked him if he would support licenses for all guns, not just assault weapons, and here's what he had to say.


something I want to think about. I said that, that was 30 years ago that assault weapons are weapons of war. They are designed to kill people in very rapid ways. And we saw that in Las Vegas and we've seen it recently in Dayton and El Paso.

And I believe then and I believe now that we should ban the sale and distribution. And I believe that if you own an assault weapon, that weapon should be licensed. And I want to have more conversation to learn more about what else we might be doing.


BUCK: Now, of course, this weekend in Iowa and here at the state fair, was also about these candidates continuing to build support in the crucial state of Iowa which will hold the first in the nation caucuses in February next year. Kamala Harris signaling with a five- day bus tour from river to river across the state that she is going to be taking Iowa seriously and intends to compete here.

Meantime, some polling released last week showing Elizabeth Warren clearly on the rise in the Hawkeye State. She was greeted here at the Iowa state fair with an enthusiastic reaction and one of the biggest crowds of the weekend. Former Vice President Joe Biden is still the front-runner according to polling here in Iowa and nationally.

But he said this weekend when asked about Warren's rise, that he's not worried, it's still early and this is a marathon. And of course, Will and Alison, we still have six months to go until the Iowa caucuses. Will, Alison?

[05:20:00] KOSIK: OK, but my burning question, what happens to the butter cow? Is it made into melted butter for popcorn or --

RIPLEY: It's made of 800 pounds of recycled butter, I mean, you couldn't melt it, I don't know, I don't know what's more interesting, the stump speeches or the butter cow or the corn dogs.

KOSIK: I know, it's hard to chase --

RIPLEY: Or the deep-fried pickles or deep-fried peanut butter and jelly, getting me hungry this morning. The "BLEACHER REPORT" is up next, and we'll tell you why -- what had Serena Williams weeping on the sidelines in the Rogers Cup.


[05:25:00] RIPLEY: Simone Biles soaring into the record books this morning after winning her 6th U.S. gymnastics title and our own handsome champion Coy Wire here to tell us all about it. Hi, Coy --

KOSIK: Good morning, Coy --

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS REPORTER: Good morning -- hey, hands down, the greatest thing I've seen in the gym since working out with Will in Tokyo last year -- RIPLEY: Yes --

WIRE: In the game of G.O.A.T.S --

RIPLEY: That was legendary though, that workout in Tokyo.


WIRE: Hey, the greats of all time. There's a new queen on the throne, move over Jordan, Serena, Bo, King James, Simone Biles performing a floor routine for the ages in Kansas City last night. Take a look, history being made, the first woman ever to pull off a triple-double in competition, three twists while flipping twice.

Biles takes gold in four of the five events earning a record time, sixth all around title at the U.S. championships, something no woman has done in nearly 70 years. Unbelievable, unbeatable, Simone Biles has won every event she's entered since the 2013 national championships, Winter is gone, the Olympics are coming, Tokyo in 347 days.

Heart break for a legend on the court. Serena Williams so close to winning her first title since becoming a mom two years ago forced to retire from the final of the Rogers Cup just four games into her match with Canada's Bianca Andreescu in tears on the court.

Back spasms holding her back, but 19-year-old Andreescu just two months old when Serena won her first major, told Serena, I've been watching you my whole career. Here's Serena after the match.


SERENA WILLIAMS, TENNIS PLAYER: I'm sorry I couldn't do it today, I tried, but I just -- I couldn't do it, but just thanks to Jehovah for letting me even come out here, and Bianca, you're a great sports person -- woman. And thanks to my team, it's been a tough year, but we'll keep going.


RIPLEY: All right, let's keep your motors running this morning, Kevin Harvick taking the checkered flag at NASCAR race in Michigan and celebrating with his biggest fan, his 7-year-old son Keelan, a great father-son moment. Dad taking Keelan for a spin in the victory lap, they're not going to get ice cream together, they are burning rubber together. How cool is that? All right, feel-good story.

Golfer Scott Harrington has spent his entire 17-year career chasing his dream of making it to the PGA tour. Last year, he put that dream on hold to care for his wife Jenn in her second battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Yesterday, he realized that dream finishing second at the Portland Open, earning his PGA tour card, and now cancer free Jenn had flown all the way from their home in Arizona the night before to share this moment on the 18th win.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SCOTT HARRINGTON, GOLFER: To see her so happy on their teams, I mean,

it's just everything, spending time with family is everything, family trumps golf and to be able to do it for her and have her in attendance just makes it that much more meaningful.


WIRE: Privileged to be able to share that special moment with our viewers this morning.

KOSIK: That was a really emotional sports segment all around. I feel like I need to get some tissues over here --


RIPLEY: Or some hot seltzer.

KOSIK: There you go, hot seltzer, yes.

RIPLEY: Some things in life more important than golf, and that family is for sure one of those, thanks so much, Coy, appreciate it --

WIRE: No doubt, Will.

KOSIK: New details on how accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein was able to die by suicide in his jail cell. That's next.