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Trump and Economic Advisers Downplay Recession Fears; Police Prevent Potential Mass Shootings in Connecticut, Florida and Ohio; Thousands Cram Streets in Peaceful Weekend Protests in Hong Kong. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 19, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


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[09:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of my biggest days and I -- and I didn't -- I just did not want to miss this. He means the world to me. We've been through a lot together.

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CAMEROTA: My gosh, it is so beautiful. And he says he had no idea his fellow police officers were going to be there and were already there, so everybody was surprised and it was a wonderful day.

BERMAN: What a great extended family they have.

CAMEROTA: OK. The Trump administration is downplaying concerns about the economy. CNN coverage continues right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York. Poppy Harlow is off today. Recession worries. What recession worries? Following a week of whiplash on Wall Street, global economic concerns, President Trump back in Washington this morning seemingly with one goal seeking to calm any fears of a looming financial crisis.

The president's top economic advisers hitting the Sunday shows touting this message that the economy here in the U.S. is great. And despite the president's no-end-in-sight trade war with China, the growing number of economists who are warning of a recession, the White House claiming they are just plain wrong.

For his part President Trump is also pushing that same mantra on a tarmac in New Jersey yesterday saying that U.S. consumers are doing just fine.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think we're having a recession. We're doing tremendously well. Our consumers are rich. I gave a tremendous tax cut and they are loaded up with money.

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SCIUTTO: Of course, most of that money went to corporations. Joining me now CNN's Joe Johns at the White House. You get a window

into Trump's mind often with his protest, with his tweets, et cetera, but also into his worries. Does this indicate that the president here is concerned about the economic indicators and particularly how that might affect his re-election chances?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, it's hard to see how he couldn't not be concerned simply because history, if it is any prologue tells you George H.W. Bush had problems when the economy went into a downturn and so did Jimmy Carter. So he's going to watch those numbers. But look, the full-court press on this economic message continued this morning. Kellyanne Conway, the presidential adviser, out on the driveway just a few minutes ago telling reporters that in her view the fundamentals of the economy are sound.

Wilbur Mills out on CNBC this morning. He is the Commerce secretary as you know, saying that in his view that inversion event last week that was believed to have triggered the 800-point selloff on Wall Street was really not a good signal at all. And over the weekend the president's top economic advisers out on the morning shows talking up the economy. Listen.

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PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISER: In this case, the flat curve is actually the result of a very strong Trump economy. What we see now is foreign capital coming to the best game on the globe, which is the Trump economy. It's going into our stock market.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Well, I sure don't see a recession. We had some blockbuster retail sales consumer numbers towards the backend of last week. Really blockbuster numbers.

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JOHNS: So that is the message from the White House, as you can see from everybody who is anybody who wants to talk about it, and you can expect that will continue because the election is coming ever closer.

Jim, back to you.

SCIUTTO: Joe Johns at the White House. Thanks very much.

We are just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Joining me now, CNN business correspondent Alison Kosik.

So, Alison, you know, can't help but think, Shakespeare, thou dot protest too much. It's too early to say that a recession is coming. But there are in the market and in the economic figures overseas, there's some troubling signs.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I would say a troubling sign is just watching what happened on Sunday talk shows. You know, these economic advisers with the White House, even President Trump himself coming out and saying there's no recession. How do you know there's no recession? One other thing I noticed watching, you know, Larry Kudlow and Peter Navarro is they were putting a lot of pressure again on the Fed, on Fed chief Jay Powell to go ahead and cut rates at its next meeting in September, September 18th and 19th.

And that's why we're seeing the market up this morning, Dow futures look like they are going to -- you know, have a good opening this morning. Looks like Dow is going to open about 300 points higher because investors want that stimulative effect of the economy. But the realities of last week, that volatility we saw last week, that still exists. We know that five of the world's biggest economies are at risk of going into a recession. I'm talking about the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy.

The trade war has yet to be solved. That's causing a lot of pressure on businesses and their profits. And then we can't ignore the inverted yield curve. Listen, investors are giving us a signal that something is going on there. That investors are feeling less optimistic about the economy in two years, less optimistic than they are, let's say, in 10 years. And that's why we saw the yield spike on the two-year bond because that carries more risk because the thinking is there's more risk two years out rather than 10 years out.

[09:05:08] SCIUTTO: Right. Is it oddly possible that by talking so much and making claims about everything being just fine when there are contra-indicators that the president is increasing fears of a recession?

KOSIK: That could be. You know, he's saying nothing to see here yet I'm holding up the red flag and talking about recession ad nauseam, especially over the weekend. That can make consumers think, what do they know that I don't know. That can make consumers pull back even more spending. And the consumers are what's really driving this economy right now. That can create more angst, I think.

SCIUTTO: Yes. In wages, U.S. consumers have been propping up the world economy as others turn.

KOSIK: Right. Yes, they have.

SCIUTTO: Alison Kosik, good to have you as always. Thanks so much very much.

Caught in the crossfire of the trade war, American farmers as the Chinese market dries up, they are really hurting. By the end of this month the Trump administration says it will start doling out a second round of aid payments to farmers. Many farmers say it's still not enough to replace what has been lost. Here is the response from the White House.

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NAVARRO: This president has the backs of farmers. All the money we're taking on tariffs, a lot of that is going right to the farmers.

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SCIUTTO: Fact check there, the U.S. is taking in no money from tariffs. U.S. consumers, U.S. manufacturers pay those tariffs.

But joining me now is Gary Wertish. He's president of the Minnesota Farmers Union.

Gary, it's great to have you this morning. Thanks very much for taking the time.

GARY WERTISH, PRESIDENT, MINNESOTA FARMERS UNION: Hey, good morning, Jim. Glad to be on.

SCIUTTO: So you heard the president's trade adviser there, Peter Navarro, who's involved in these trade talks with China, saying that the president has the farmers' backs. Now you have said in the past that farmers supported the president's position on the trade war but that support is changing now. Why?

WERTISH: Very much so. You know, at the beginning, we supported -- we spoke out that we supported the president, looking at all trade agreements that, you know, we can -- maybe we can do things better. There's no disagreement with that at all. But as farmers union we definitely disagree to his approach with the use of tariffs.

And you've got to remember, Jim, at the beginning the president assured us that trade wars will be easy to win. Well, we've gone on for over a year. We've lost markets. We've lost the China market then they keep assuring us we will get that market back. But the one thing that's not mentioned, United States farmers, we spent decades building that market up and we spent millions of our own dollars securing that market, and just like that, with the action, you know, taken on China.

We all agreed that -- you know, that there's intellectual property rights, there's things that they aren't doing right but trying to take China on all by ourself without a coalition of the world working with us, it's very disappointing. You know, the one thing, you know, in the United States we have elections, every couple of years we have elections, and it drives a lot of our policy. China doesn't have that. You know, the president, you know, he's got a big bully pulpit, but China has their bully pulpit, that's a lot bigger than ours.

They have been in power. They have no intent to change it. You know, they take a long-term view and they don't really care on the short- term stuff which has been very devastating to our farmers.

SCIUTTO: It's a good point because there are concerns that China will attempt to wait this out and will wait the president out. We're starting to see some warning signs particularly in the farming sector. The John Deere equipment company noting that sales of its equipment are down because of uncertainty surrounding the trade war. So fewer purchases from farmers like yourself. Are you hearing and seeing similar signs from farmers and farm suppliers in your community?

WERTISH: There's no doubt. You know, when you can't cash flow your farm, you're having trouble. You know, we came into this with a five- year period of time, our prices are going down due to global supplies of our crops. You know, and the president's trade war just further put downward pressure on us. I mean, as a farmer, you're just trying to hang on, you know, as best you can. And unfortunately, the longer this drags on, the more consolidation it will drive. And, you know, farmers will be -- it's going to drive -- it already has driven some farmers off the farm, which not only hurts the farming community but it hurts real small rural communities. It's been very devastating to rural America.

SCIUTTO: Yes. As you know, the Trump administration is expected to begin paying $14.5 billion to farmers hurt by the U.S.-China trade war. I've got two questions for you. One, does that aid cover the gaps, the losses in sales? But perhaps even more importantly, do farmers want those kinds of payouts in this context?

WERTISH: No. It does not nowhere near cover the gaps of the markets that we lost. It does not nowhere near cover, you know, our loss of income. You know, and that's -- the other side of it, no, the farmers do not want that. We want our markets back. We do not want the money from the taxpayer. You know, we appreciate the payments but, you know, the U.S. taxpayer won't stand for this.

[09:10:05] You know, in the last 2 1/2 years our federal deficit has ballooned from $2 trillion to $3 trillion. You know, the taxpayer is not going to stand for it, and they should not. You know, the farmers, we want our markets back. You know, we're very stoic, independent people. And like I said earlier, we spent a lot of our own dollars building those marks. And just like that, it's taken away from us. And, you know, it's going to take a long time to get those markets back. They say we'll get the China market back. We'll never get that back completely. You know, we got the market facilities payments last year and this year and we'll probably get them next year because there's a 2020 election coming up next year. After that, who knows? I -- you know, some common sense needs to reign in here.

SCIUTTO: Quick question before I let you go. In a word, from your view, from your seat and the seat of farmers that you represent in Minnesota, is the U.S. winning or losing the trade war with China?

WERTISH: Well, I can tell you the farmers are definitely losing. You know, I know examples already of farmers that couldn't get their operating loans. Any young farmers, you know. Some of them farmers with their own family have been farming for generations. The farmers are losing big time. And, you know, it's very, very disappointing. It's coming from somebody that's really never had any soil underneath his fingernails or dirt underneath his fingernails or grease on his hands. You know, and that's -- you know, it's -- to tell us that it's going to be great in the end, what's the end going to look like?

SCIUTTO: Right.

WERTISH: Agriculture will survive but what form of agriculture will survive?

SCIUTTO: Gary Wertish, we appreciate the troubles that you and the farmers you represent are going through. We wish you the best of luck.

WERTISH: Thank you, Jim. Thanks. The message needs to get out there.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, three potential mass shootings avoided. Authorities saying that men in three different states planned to carry out separate mass shootings. How tips from the public led to their arrest. Near misses here.

Hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters hit the streets in Hong Kong over the weekend. The pictures are just incredible. President Trump even weighing in. We're going to be live from Hong Kong.

Plus, a special CNN report from Greenland where rapidly melting glacier ice is causing major concerns for rising sea levels. We're going to take you right to Greenland. That's coming up.

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[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Newer misses this weekend. Authorities say there could have been three more mass shootings in America if members of the public had not taken action. Three men, all in their 20s were arrested over the past few days in three different states, Ohio, Florida and Connecticut.

Officials say that all of them had expressed an interest in mass shootings or had gone so far as to threaten to carry them out. Polo Sandoval joins me now. So, Polo, the 20-year-old from Ohio, again self-described white nationalist -- in fact, he was at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville two years ago. What else do we know about James Reardon and how he reflects a broader problem here with this kind of gun violence.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, consider that at 20 years old, James Reardon had both the firepower and of the white supremacist views. And you'll recall in less than a month we saw that those were the basic ingredients that were required to carry out that massacre in El Paso.

Reardon has had no qualms about sharing his racist sentiment publicly as you're hearing in just a few moments. And as you mentioned up -- first, a background on this. Police do believe that he is the one seen on an Instagram video shooting a rifle, but the caption underneath that video actually tags the Jewish community center of Youngstown, Ohio.

And that caption also seems to imply that the gunman in the video would be the shooter behind this potential attack at the center. Which I mentioned that it was actually a resident in that Ohio village of New Middletown that first flagged the post to police, they went on to search Reardon's mother's home, they found rifles, ammunition, gas masks, you see some of the items that were seized by police that are currently being analyzed right now.

Eventually, investigators charging Reardon with telecommunications' harassment. New Middletown police chief Vincent D'Egidio telling CNN that their suspect is the same man that's see in the "National Geographic" documentary on the 2017 Charlottesville Nazi rally.

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JAMES REARDON, SELF-PROCLAIMED WHITE NATIONALIST: I want a homeland for white people, and I think every race should have a homeland for their own race.

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SANDOVAL: So, the FBI has already interviewed Reardon, but they have not pressed any federal charges of their own. We're looking to see if that potentially happens here, Jim, but again, this is really just one of at least three other cases. For example, in Florida, there was also a 25-year-old man now identified as Triston Wix who is charged there because according to investigators, he was sending these text messages to his then girlfriend at the time, threatening to open fire on large crowds.

We should mention that he did tell investigators that he did not have any firearms, but he did have a fascination with mass shootings. So, you can read some of those disturbing text messages for yourself that are now essentially evidence.

And then also in Connecticut in the last seven days, another man was arrested on Thursday on a separate case who also seemed to show some interest in carrying out attacks. You're looking at 22-year-old Brandon Wagshol, he was arrested on weapons charges in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Police saying that they initially received a tip that he was stockpiling these weapon components to make a rifle, but then he was also posting on Facebook his intentions to carry out this mass shooting, Jim. The one commonality with all these three cases, somebody saw something --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

SANDOVAL: And they said something.

SCIUTTO: Yes, that's the phrase we used to say about international terrorism, if you see something, say something, and here it is --

SANDOVAL: Right --

SCIUTTO: At home, and folks at home, if you're watching, do the same thing, it could prevent violence. Polo Sandoval, thanks very much.

SANDOVAL: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, just two weeks after the Dayton and El Paso shootings, President Trump backing away from his support for universal background checks. Remember that immediately after those deadly attacks, he said he was for widespread background checks.

[09:20:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I'm looking to do background checks, I think background checks are important. I don't want to put guns into the hands of mentally unstable people or people with rage or hate, sick people. I don't want to -- I'm well in favor of it.

People don't realize, we have very strong background checks right now, you go in to buy a gun, you have you to sign up. There are a lot of background checks that happened -- approved over the years. So, I'll have to see what it is. But Congress is meeting --

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SCIUTTO: It's a big difference, just a little more than a week, the president saying he was for it and now backing off as he has done after past shootings. The president added that he is very concerned about the Second Amendment, remember he spoke to the head of the National Rifle Association to get his views on background checks and he opposed them.

I'm joined now by our national security analyst Sam Vinograd. So, Sam, the president has done this before, he did this after Parkland, he had the famous meeting in the White House. He even berated a Republican lawmaker saying that you're afraid of the NRA -- well, the president meets with the NRA after these shootings and he changes his position.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: What hasn't the president flip-flop on when he thinks it's going to cost him votes. He was very clear on August 7th that he was interested in looking at background checks, members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats talked about potentially looking at background checks and red flag laws which is a separate issue.

And then the president heard from the NRA and backed off. Unfortunately, this issue of background checks though didn't start with President Trump. It's been an issue that's plagued presidents including President Obama whom I served under. But the larger question is when Congress comes back into session, what are they actually willing to look at when it comes to background checks and when it comes to these red flag laws --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

VINOGRAD: As well.

SCIUTTO: Well, will they be watered down once again? This is -- so, let's talk about the mass shootings that were stopped over the past few days. I mean, this is remarkable in a short span of time, and in each case, you had someone see something, say something, right?

You know, a social media post, a text to an ex-girlfriend talking about this kind of threat here. White nationalists, at least one of them -- I mean, is this an indicator of the broader, arguably bigger terror problem now being domestic?

VINOGRAD: Well, Jim, from a security perspective in the aftermath of a consistent stream of high-profile events, we're in a higher threat period. Would-be attackers may feel inspired by what they're seeing on television. They're seeing people that tried to or did perpetrate attacks, their names all over TV and we're seeing the president, frankly, obfuscate on white nationalism as a threat.

For that reason, people that may have been thinking about attacks may be more motivated to act. And all three of these attackers weren't hiding in the dark corners of the internet --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

VINOGRAD: Thank goodness. They were quite not public, but they were overt about their intention to carry out these attacks -- Instagram, Facebook and text messages. So, we have to be aware that others may be inspired to act. And the public, as you mentioned, plays a critical role here.

The public is sending tips in, that means that law enforcement both at the local level and with federal authorities has more intelligence to work off of. But this is frankly putting a band-aid on a stab wound. We have more guns in this country than people, and as much as the public is activated to act, we are not going to be able to track down all of these would-be attackers unless we start looking at the root of the problem.

SCIUTTO: Right, it puts an enormous burden I suppose you can say on the public, too, if that's the only step taken. Sam Vinograd --

VINOGRAD: Thanks, Jim --

SCIUTTO: Always good to have you, thanks very much. Streets and sidewalks literally jammed by hundreds of thousands rallying in Hong Kong over the weekend in favor of democracy. We're going to have a live report from the ground, next. The scale of these protests really remarkable.

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SCIUTTO: Thousands of pro democracy protesters defying a police ban as well as threats from Beijing, even bad weather to march through the streets of Hong Kong by the hundreds of thousands -- unlike some of the previous demonstrations, this weekend's massive rally peaceful across the board.

You could see them there holding umbrellas that's become a symbol of this pro democracy movement. Organizers claim as many as 1.7 million people of all ages joined in cramming streets and side-walks, that's about one in four of the population of Hong Kong. Ben Wedeman, he is live there in Hong Kong with the latest.

And Ben, it's remarkable, the size of these protests, how long they have endured really through weeks now. What is the situation on the ground at this hour, and is the city growing impatient with these demonstrations?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's 9:30 p.m. on a Monday evening. So, right now, the situation perfectly normal, but certainly, yesterday was a turning point in the sense that after two and a half months of these demonstrations, some of them which have been quite unruly -- for instance, we saw for two days, Hong Kong International Airport being shut down, some very violent scenes there.

Despite that, 1.7 million people, a quarter of the population, that is according to the organizers, coming out to continue to express their demands for fundamental democratization of Hong Kong. Keep in mind, of course, Hong Kong is a mere 7 million people, part of a country China which has 1.4 billion people.

So, in a sense, it's a drop in the sea. But for China, it is a serious irritant to see these people who are in a sense Chinese like the rest of the 1.4 billion coming out.

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