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Efforts Stalling to Curb Gun Violence; Trump Nixes Denmark Trip; Locking Up Families; Italy's Prime Minister Resigns. Aired 4- 4:30a ET

Aired August 21, 2019 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:18] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have very, very strong background checks right now.


ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Efforts to curb gun violence in America stalling once again. What the president told the chief of the NRA.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Is this diplomacy? The president is canceling a trip to Denmark after they announced Greenland is not for sale.

KOSIK: And yet another move by the White House aimed at migrants. How entire families are now being targeted.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Alison Kosik, sitting in for Christine Romans.

Good morning.

BRIGGS: Good morning. Good morning to all of you. I'm Dave Briggs. Wednesday, August 21st, it is 4:00 a.m. in New York City.

It's been 18 days since the El Paso shooting that killed 22, and 17 days since the Dayton shooting that killed nine. Already it seems momentum for meaningful changes to gun laws is fading. A source confirms President Trump told NRA Chief Wayne LaPierre that universal background checks are, quote, off the table. A source says there is more emphasis on passing red flag laws, allowing people to ask a court to intervene if they see a warning sign.

A senior White House official tried to downplay the president's comment to LaPierre saying he was only talking about universal checks. But, yesterday, the president downplayed any hopes of changes to background checks.


TRUMP: We have very, very strong background checks right now, but we have sort of missing areas and areas that don't complete the whole circle, and we're looking at different things. And I have to tell you that it is a mental problem. And I've said it a hundred times, it's not the gun that pulls the trigger, it's the person that pulls the trigger.


KOSIK: That doesn't square with what he said after the El Paso and Dayton shootings.


TRUMP: Well, I'm looking to do background checks. I think background checks are important.

I think we can do meaningful -- very meaningful background checks. I want to see it happen.


KOSIK: President Trump's change of tone not sitting well with the 2020 Democrats or Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia who spoke with the president about the issue.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I said, Mr. President, you can blast with a keg of dynamite your base -- they're not leaving. So, they didn't leave you on bump stocks. They're not going to leave you on common- sense background checks.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Even this president says he's going to do something about background checks. And then word comes out today that he has consulted with his masters at the NRA and they've told him sorry, you can't do that. It raises the very simple question -- who's in charge?

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need not to let this be a time of impotent empathy where we don't feel enough pain for our brothers and sisters across this country that are suffering from the ravages of violence. But we all begin to demand it, Republican and Democrat.


KOSIK: One Republican operative close to the White House says the issue is likely to reemerge when Congress returns from recess in September, noting that some GOP lawmakers in swing districts are hearing from voters who want to see action on the gun issue.

BRIGGS: Law enforcement cracking down on threats since the El Paso and Dayton shootings, at least 25 arrests across the country in connection with alleged mass shooting threats. Three of the latest, a 15-year-old Florida high school student arrested for threatening a school shooting during a video game chat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SHERIFF'S OFFICIAL: I, Dalton Barnhart, vow to bring my father's M-15

to school and kill seven people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's just a little kid playing a video game. What's so bad?

SHERIFF'S OFFICIAL: And all these kids keep getting arrested and that's why the FBI and the local enforcement are spending so much time --

SHERIFF'S OFFICIAL: Do you have any weapons?

SHERIFF'S OFFICIAL: -- because how do we know he's not going to be like the kid from Parkland?


BRIGGS: The Volusia County sheriff's department received a tip from the FBI. Confronted by police, the teen insisted it was a joke.

KOSIK: Thirty-five-year-old Eric Lin of Maryland was arrested Friday. Court papers say he used Facebook accounts to threaten a South Florida resident and their family. He also made pro-Hitler statements and called for the extermination of all Hispanics.

And in Tennessee, a truck driver was arrested for threatening a mass shooting at a church when a friend asked Thomas Matthew McVicker why, police say McVicker told him they put spiritual snakes and spiders in my bed at night. Another friend says he has mental health issues.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mental health is something that you, you know, it doesn't discriminate and is, you know, amongst all.

[04:05:04] It doesn't matter how rich or how poor you are. So, I mean, they need something -- he wouldn't do that.


KOSIK: McVicker's mother says she is being treated for schizophrenia.

BRIGGS: Quite a diplomatic about-face by President Trump. Less than two weeks before his planned to Denmark, the president has now postponed his visit after the Danish foreign minister refused to discuss the sale of Greenland, calling his interests, quote, absurd. The leaders of both Greenland and Denmark met yesterday before the Trump announcement.


KIM KIELSEN, PREMIER OF GREENLAND (through translator): Greenland is not for sale in any way. I'm not saying it as a joke. Greenland is not for sale.

METTE FREDERIKSEN, PRIME MINISTER OF DENMARK (through translator): Of course, Greenland is not for sale. I totally agree with Kim Kielsen. And by the way, Greenland does not belong to Denmark, so it's not a case for us.


BRIGGS: CNN's Fred Pleitgen just back from assignment in Greenland joins us now live from Moscow.

Fred, good morning to you.

The president said Greenland was not a priority. So why then was he going to Denmark, and why cancel the trip?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, originally it was supposed to be a diplomatic meeting and a visit to Denmark. I just am receiving news here that apparently the Danish royal family say they're completely surprised by President Trump's move, who as you said said that this was not a front-burner issue. This was something he was thinking about, was not necessarily a priority.

And I think just yesterday, Dave, we were talking about the fact that President Trump seemed to be joking about all this when he tweeted a picture of what seemed to be Trump tower on Greenland and said, I promise never to do this to Greenland.

So, obviously the Danes are trying to figure out what exactly President Trump is trying to do.

But the interesting thing in all this is that President Trump obviously snubbing one of America's key and long-term allies. The Danes, of course, on America's side in Iraq, in Afghanistan, sending troops to both places, a staunch ally of the United States., while at the same time trying to court one of America's adversaries. CNN learning President Trump and French President Macron were talking about getting Russia back into the G7 which, of course, was the G8 before Russia got kicked out.

Now, Russia got kicked out after invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea. This wasn't just America's decision under the Obama administration. This was the decision of the majority of the G8. Back then the G8 countries decided with Russia doing that, it no longer belonged in that organization.

However, President Trump, like in many other cases in the past, trying to pin this on the Obama administration, the same as the Paris climate accord when the U.S. left that and the Iran nuclear agreement saying he believed that President Obama at the time had been outsmarted by Vladimir Putin.

Let's listen in to what President Trump had to say.


TRUMP: Putin outsmarted him. President Obama thought it wasn't a good thing to have Russia in, so he wanted Russia out. But I think it's much more appropriate to have Russia in.

If somebody would make that motion, I would certainly be disposed to think about it very favorably.


PLEITGEN: Now, President Trump, Dave, is expected to broach this topic with other G7 members at the upcoming G7 summit which is taking place in France this weekend. That's, of course, the main reason why President Trump and Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, spoke there yesterday, trying to prepare that meeting. Macron himself met with Vladimir Putin a couple of days ago and praised relations between Europe and Russia, as well. It's going to be an interesting one to monitor. Also, diplomacy seems to be all over the place right now, Dave.

BRIGGS: It is indeed. No mention of Russian interference in our elections. Fred Pleitgen live for us on another extraordinary day in Moscow. Thanks.

KOSIK: The White House is looking to boost confidence in the economy. Could other tax cut be the answer? The president Trump keeps touting --


TRUMP: We're looking at various tax reductions, but I'm looking at that all the time, anyway -- tax reductions. That's one of the reasons we're in such a strong economic position.


KOSIK: President Trump keeps touting a strong economy, but he and his officials are sending mixed signals about a payroll tax cut.



SANDRA SMITH, FOX NEWS ANCHOR, "AMERICA'S NEWSROOM": Is a payroll tax cut being considered?

GIDLEY: It's not being considered at this time.

TRUMP: Payroll tax is something that we think about and a lot of people would like to see that. I've been thinking about payroll taxes for a long time.


KOSIK: Yes, the U.S. economy and job market strong in part to Trump's 2017 tax cuts. But that's been largely driven by consumer demand. However, that demand is being threatened by a global slowdown.

There are a few questions to ask here. Would a payroll tax cut help the economy? According to Moody's Analytics chief economist, each $1 that you cut in payroll taxes would increase GDP by 80 cents. You look back in 2011, the payroll tax cut added a notable half a percentage point to GDP.

But the question is, would it be worth ballooning the deficit?

[04:10:01] Several economists say no. In 2011 and 2012, the economy was struggling to emerge from the Great Recession. You look at the economy now, unemployment is at historic lows, and wages are rising. So, analysts argue that a payroll tax cut would be a waste of ammunition in the event of a future downturn.

BRIGGS: Yet another move by the White House targeting migrants at our southern border. The Trump administration expected to announce a rule making it easier to keep families locked up longer. The move seeks to replace the so-called Flores Settlement by removing the 20-day limit on the detention of children.

An administration official says families who know they'll be released soon by making it to the U.S. as a family could exploit the loophole. They'll be held at a family residential center run by ICE throughout the parents' immigration proceedings. The official claims there will be lenient provisions for parole. The regulation is expected to be met with legal challenges.

KOSIK: President Trump tapping into some of the very same anti- Semitic tropes he's railed on Democrats for in the past. He was lashing out at Democratic congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, questioning her sincerity as she teared up talking about her decision to not travel to Israel to see her elderly grandmother in the West Bank. Then he said this --


TRUMP: Where has the Democratic Party gone? Where have they gone where they're defending these two people over the state of Israel?

And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat -- I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or a great disloyalty.


KOSIK: The dual loyalty claim echoing historic anti-Semitic tropes. Democrats pounced.


REP. TED DEUTCH (D-FL): It's outrageous, it's offensive, and it's dangerous. It creates an environment that puts Jews at risk. The president should know that.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): I think that's a profoundly anti-Semitic statement by the president. It's disgusting and it ought to be condemned by Republicans as well as Democrats.



And I have no concerns about voting Democratic.


BRIGGS: The head of the Anti-Defamation League saying, quote, it's long overdue to stop using Jews as a political football.

And the Jewish Democratic Council adding: This is yet another example of Donald Trump continuing to weaponize and politicize anti-Semitism. This is about Jews being loyal to him, then Trump needs a reality check, end quote.

Jewish voters went Democrat by about a 3-1 margin in the midterms. That is the question, did he mean loyalty to him, to Israel? Just a lot of the questions being asked after another stunning statement.

KOSIK: It really does make your jaw drop.


KOSIK: All right. If you thought American politics was messy, wait until you see what's going on in Italy. CNN is live in Rome, next.


[04:17:40] KOSIK: Political turmoil roiling Italy. Its prime minister resigning after a scathing speech condemning a far right coalition partner. So who is in charge now, and can they calm the political waters?

CNN's Barbie Nadeau is live in Rome with the latest.

You know, Italy is known for its political drama, but many are saying, Barbie, that is the most dysfunctional Italian government we've seen in decades.

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, that's absolutely right. Even by Italian standards, this really is a doozy of a political crisis. And I don't really know that anyone sees a way out of it short of snap elections.

Of course, this coalition government was born out of an election in March of 2018. They were estranged bedfellows, from day one. A lot of people never thought this government would last as long as it did.

Now, the president, Sergio Mattarella, has got to figure out what to do next, whether he can take the election results from 2018 and turn them into a government that does work, or if he has to just throw it all away and call new elections. And that could give rise to Matteo Salvini. He's the far right leader who pulled the plug on this government to begin with.

So, we've got a lot of political back-room dealing going on now over the next two days. By tomorrow afternoon, we should have a way forward, whatever that way forward may be, though it could cause more confusion than certainly calming these political waters, Alison.

KOSIK: And this political chaos happening with the backdrop of financial turmoil, as well. I understand growth is sitting at zero percent, public debt is skyrocketing, over $2 trillion. How is -- how is all of that being handled in the middle of all this political crisis?

NADEAU: Well, it's -- it is worrying to Italians worried about their savings. Also comes against the backdrop of Brexit. You know, we've got a Halloween deadline for Brexit.

And so, you've got one of the anchor economies in Europe in this political, financial turmoil right now just as Europe is facing one of its biggest challenges. So, this really does extend far beyond the Italian borders. This is going to create a huge problem for all of Europe -- Alison.

KOSIK: This is going to be a one country to watch. Barbie Nadeau, thanks so much.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, a Texas school forced one student to color part of his head with a sharpie.

[04:20:04] We'll tell you why.


[04:25:01] BRIGGS: It's 4:24 Eastern Time.

Parents of a Texas middle schooler say school officials used a sharpie to color in their son's haircut which the staffer said violated the school dress code. Dante Trice and Angela Washington have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Texas school district. The suit says back in April, their 13-year-old son got a fade haircut with a design line.

The next day, he was allegedly given two options by school officials, use a black permanent marker to cover his scalp, or get in-school suspension. Not wanting to affect his track team eligibility, he chose the sharpie option. The suit claims they laughed as they colored in his scalp which the parents say took many days of scrubbing to come off.

KOSIK: A Detroit family is mourning the loss of their 9-year-old daughter who was mauled to death by dogs. Police say Emma Hernandez was attacked by three pit bulls while riding her bicycle on Monday. It's not clear what set the dogs off, but witnesses tried to save Hernandez, and someone actually shot one of the dogs. The girl's aunt says her father recently confronted the dogs' owner.


CLAUDIA STAPLETON, VICTIM'S AUNT: I had actually had an argument with them that they needed to be properly fenced. They couldn't just be roaming out. And he just didn't do anything.


KOSIK: No word yet if the dog owner will face charges. Animal care and control says the dogs will likely be euthanized.

BRIGGS: Walmart is taking Tesla to court, claiming solar panels installed by the electric carmaker caught fire. Walmart accuses Tesla of breach of contract, claiming it lost hundreds of millions of dollars. They're seeking to recover the costs related to the fires at seven stores and have Tesla remove the panels.

No comment yet from Tesla, though just days ago Tesla tried to spark interest in its solar panel business with the plan to let consumers rent rooftop systems rather than buy them.

KOSIK: Unfortunately, we've seen this movie before, mass shootings followed by demands for action. The president said he'd act, but what he told the head of the NRA puts that in doubt.