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EARLY START

Questions About Jeffrey Epstein Suicide As President Trump Promotes Conspiracy Theory; Democrats Descend On Iowa State Fair; North Korea Threatens To Freeze Seoul Out Of Talks. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 12, 2019 - 05:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:32:43] WILL RIPLEY, CNN ANCHOR: It is the latest in a pattern of baseless claims spread by President Trump. This time, a conspiracy theory about the death of accused sex trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Twenty twenty Democratic presidential candidates stumping at the Iowa State Fair, hoping to win support from potential caucusgoers.

RIPLEY: North Korea using President Trump's own words to justify their repeated missile launches. And now, a new threat for South Korea this morning.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Will Ripley in for Dave Briggs.

KOSIK: Good morning, I'm Alison Kosik. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

And there are questions this morning about how high-profile inmate 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 dead in his jail cell over the weekend and 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 that the federal probe into his conduct is ongoing and there are signs federal prosecutors could pursue related criminal cases against his associates or employees.

RIPLEY: Epstein had been placed on suicide watch. That was on July 23rd. He had to undergo daily psychological assessments and he was kept in special housing with increased monitoring.

But all that ended when he was removed from suicide watch at the end of last month. He was cleared to return to his cell under normal protocols, but there were security protocol that was not followed as CNN's Kara Scannell reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: There is new information shedding light on the circumstances around Jeffrey Epstein's death. A source with knowledge of his detention tells CNN that there appears to have been two breaks in protocol.

The 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 cellmate, 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.

[05:35:05] 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSIK: OK, Kara Scannell. Thanks so much for that.

President Trump promoting more baseless conspiracy theories, this time involving the suicide of Jeffrey Epstein.

Because of the president, millions of people have now read conservative comedian Terrence Williams' tweet that claims the Clintons were behind the death. It 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." Of course, the president obliged.

And it's not the first time Mr. Trump has been all too willing to spread falsehoods.

Here's CNN's Jeremy Diamond.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Good morning, Alison and Will.

The president, once again, showing his penchant 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 is 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 PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think the president just wants everything to be investigated. As you -- as your reporter just revealed just the day before, there was 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 -- 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 right 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 wiretapping President Trump during the 2016 campaign. 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RIPLEY: The acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection is defending the mass immigration raids at food processing plants in Mississippi last week, except he's saying that they're not actually raids.

Mark Morgan telling CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" the terminology is all wrong and they're actually something else.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK MORGAN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF U.S. CUSTOMS AND 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 worksite 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RIPLEY: Research shows between April of 2018 and March of this year, the Trump administration has actually prosecuted zero companies -- zero -- for all that talk about going after the companies. Just 11 individuals have been prosecuted for employing undocumented immigrants.

KOSIK: In that interview, Morgan was also asked about the widely-seen video of a young girl crying and begging for her father to be returned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAGDALENA GOMEX GREGORIO, FATHER TAKEN BY ICE AGENTS: I need my dad and mommy. My dad didn't do nothing. He's not a criminal.

Government, please put your heart -- let my parent be free with everybody else, please.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: And here's Morgan's response to this video -- roll it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: Many children separated by these raids have been reunited with parents.

One of the plants where the Mississippi raids took place was a Koch Foods processing plant. A previously -- a previously-scheduled jobs fair is being held there today.

[05:40:03] RIPLEY: The acting secretary of Homeland Security is defending the arrests of 680 undocumented immigrants in Mississippi, even though the raids took place just days after a gunman targeted Mexicans in a deadly shooting spree in El Paso.

Kevin McAleenan telling NBC that the plans for the ICE raids were set in motion long before the massacre.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KEVIN MCALEENAN, ACTING SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Something like this has been planned for over a year. This is a criminal investigation with 14 federal warrants issued by a judge and ICE had to follow through on that. It was already planned and in motion.

CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, NBC "MEET THE PRESS": Give the emotions of the country right now, in hindsight, do you wish this raid didn't happen this week?

MCALEENAN: The timing was unfortunate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: Shortly after the raids in Mississippi, the White House directed senior ICE officials to conduct more workplace enforcement operations this year. A senior immigration official with knowledge of the conversations tells CNN ICE field offices around the country have been instructed to identify at least two locations in their regions as potential targets.

RIPLEY: Democratic candidates descended on Iowa over the weekend for a campaign trail rite of passage, the Iowa State Fair. They saw the famous 800-pound butter cow.

KOSIK: I love that butter cow.

RIPLEY: The butter is like clay apparently, so not edible butter.

KOSIK: Oh, OK.

RIPLEY: It's recycled butter.

KOSIK: It's a no-popcorn butter.

RIPLEY: But there was -- no, no popcorn butter. But they did have a lot of fried food to choose from including, of course, corn dogs, fried pickles.

And they spent 20 minutes each standing between those hay bales on the "Des Moines Register" political soapbox delivering their stump speeches and fielding questions from a surprisingly well-informed crowd. Actually, maybe not surprisingly. Iowa voters know what's up.

KOSIK: Yes, they do.

RIPLEY: They were there to convince Democrats in that state to choose them in Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucus.

CNN's Rebecca Buck has more on one of the most important stops on the political calendar.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REBECCA BUCK, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Will, 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 Walmart 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 fairground with him this weekend and ask him if he expects more Democrats to line up behind that proposal. He said he is optimistic that more and more Democrats will be getting on board.

However, Sen. 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.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, that's something I want to think about. I said then -- 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 believed 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. But I want to have more conversation and 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 5-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.

Of course, Will and Alison, we still have six months to go until the Iowa caucuses -- Will, Alison.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOSIK: President Trump saying North Korea's leader wants to come back to the table once drills between the U.S. and South Korea end. We're live in Seoul, next.

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[05:48:40] RIPLEY: Remember how President Trump said that the North Korean short-range ballistic launches don't really bother him? Well, now, a top North Korean official is using the president's own words to justify the repeated provocations that are in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

North Korea also threatening to freeze South Korea out of the talks with the U.S. This is according to North Korea's state-run news agency.

Pyongyang also escalating its effort to stop joint military drills staged by South Korea and the U.S. even though their own drills continue unabated.

On Saturday, President Trump tweeted that he received a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un -- a letter complaining about the exercises and saying that Kim wants to restart negotiations, which President Trump is apparently open to.

For the latest on all of this, let's bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks live in Seoul. Not a great time for South Korean President Moon Jae- in, who has staked his claim on being a mediator. Now, North Korea is saying they could freeze him out.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Will.

I mean, North Korean Foreign Ministry, speaking and writing in state- run media, has slammed South Korea, saying that they could cancel all talks with Seoul if they decide to carry on with these joint military drills or if they don't give a valid excuse for why they're carrying them out.

Now bear in mind, these drills -- they started yesterday, officially. They'll be going on until the 20th of August. They are not the large field exercises that you usually see at the end of some of those who have been downsized significantly, officials say, so that they can give diplomacy a chance to work.

[05:50:04] What we're seeing is soldiers sitting at computers and simulated exercises, but still enough to annoy North Korea. And we've only seen that over recent weeks. Five missile tests in 2 1/2 weeks.

The U.S. president, Donald Trump, as well, is downplaying the fact that these drills are going -- these launches are going ahead. He has said they are not nuclear tests, they are not long-range ICBM missile tests so he's OK with it.

He also talked over the weekend and tweeted about the letter that he received from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, calling it very beautiful, calling it very positive, and also saying that Kim Jong Un has said that he is willing to meet and start negotiating as soon as these joint military drills are over. But, of course, bear in mind just a couple of months ago when he met President Trump at the DMZ, he said that he would start negotiations within a couple of weeks. So, once again, North Korea pushing back the start of those negotiations.

Now, President Trump also saying there was a small apology within that letter for the short-range missiles -- Will.

RIPLEY: But, President Trump essentially giving his permission for those launches to continue all but guarantees we'll see more as these drills go on in the coming weeks.

Paula Hancocks live in Seoul. Thank you.

KOSIK: OK, let's get a check on "CNN Business" this morning.

Taking a look at global markets, it looks like Asian stocks are recovering after a volatile week last week. China set the reference point for the yuan at just over seven for per dollar today and that's the third session in a row it's above that psychological -- that psychologically important number on Wall Street.

Checking out futures here, we're seeing red arrows before the opening bell. We've seen futures a little choppy this morning as the yuan is slightly stronger than expected. And markets are closely watching the exchange rate after fears last week that the trade war could become a currency war.

Universal Pictures pulling its release of the movie "The Hunt". The decision comes a week after the two deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. The movie depicts strangers who wake up and discover they are the target of a violent hunt.

The studio said in a statement that now is not the right time to release this film, but it did not address whether the decision was directly related to the two tragedies. The film was set to be released on September 27th.

The hard seltzer market having a movement here and it's about to get even bigger. Brewing company AB InBev launching a new line of spiked seltzer. It will be made under the Natural Light brand, which is known for its affordability.

The new drink will face off against category leader White Claw. That drink saw its sales grow 283 percent in July compared to last year.

The new Natural Light seltzer will be 20 percent cheaper than White Claw and sold in larger packages.

You're going to be first to drink it, I know it.

RIPLEY: I had no idea hard seltzer was even a thing. I leave the U.S. and look what happens.

KOSIK: All right, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:57:18] RIPLEY: An outbreak of Legionnaire's Disease tied to an Atlanta hotel is now the largest on record in that state.

Georgia health officials say one person died, 11 other cases now confirmed after stays or visits to the Sheraton Atlanta hotel. This was between June 12th and July 15th. Officials also report 63 probable cases.

The Sheraton Atlanta has been closed since July 16th over public health concerns and the hotel's general manager says it will stay closed until at least Wednesday.

Legionnaire's disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by bacteria and it can live in water systems, like air conditioners.

KOSIK: A shooting at a mosque in Norway being investigated as a possible act of terrorism. Authorities say the suspect, a Norwegian citizen in his 20s, has expressed right-wing sympathies online.

He's charged with attempted murder in the shooting at the Al-Noor Islamic Center near Oslo on Saturday. Police say the gunman was overpowered during the attack by a 65-year-old worshipper who pinned him to the ground until help arrived. One person inside the mosque suffered minor injuries.

The suspect is also facing a murder charge. Police searched his home and found the body of his 17-year-old stepsister.

RIPLEY: A true display of sportsmanship in Toronto on Sunday after Serena Williams had to make the heartbreaking decision to retire from the Rogers Cup championship match because of her back injury.

Instead of celebrating, her opponent, 19-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu, went over to console Williams who was visibly upset. She was in tears on the sidelines.

The teen could be heard giving the tennis legend a pep talk, telling her she's followed her, her whole career. She was actually two months old when Serena won her first title.

The two embraced, the crowd cheered, and they expressed their appreciation of that special moment.

You know, Serena and I were both born the same year, 1981, and getting old kind of sucks sometimes.

KOSIK: Oh, she's still great.

All right, thanks for joining us. I'm Alison Kosik.

RIPLEY: I'm Will Ripley. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Epstein was found in his cell unresponsive. A law enforcement source saying that he took his own life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Investigators want to know why Epstein was taken off suicide watch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did the president retweet that Clinton suggestion?

CONWAY: The president just wants everything to be investigated.

BUCK: Presidential candidates converged on Iowa this weekend.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Poor kids are just as bright and talented as white kids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Biden campaign says he simply misspoke.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I pay very little mind to it. Biden will have to answer to his words, himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Monday, August 12th. It's 6:00 here in New York.

Alisyn is off. Erica Hill joins me.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, my friend.

BERMAN: Happy, happy Monday.

HILL: Oh, happy Monday.

BERMAN: All right.

This morning, we know Jeffrey Epstein.

END