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Source: Trump Tells NRA Universal Background Checks "Off The Table"; Trump Nixes Denmark Trip; Locking Up Families; Pompeo: ISIS Gaining Strength in Parts of Iraq, Syria. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired August 21, 2019 - 04:30   ET




[04:31:21] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have very, very strong background checks right now.


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

ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: Is this diplomacy? The president calls off a trip to Denmark after they announced Greenland is not for sale.

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

Welcome back to EARLY START on a, was it, a Wednesday, a hump day. Happy hump day, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

KOSIK: Good morning. I'm Alison Kosik. I'm sitting in for Christine Romans. It's 30 minutes past the hour here in New York City.

And it's been 18 days since the El Paso shooting that killed 22, 17 days since the Dayton shooting that killed nine. Already it seems momentum for meaningful change to gun laws is fading.

A source confirms President Trump told NRA Chief Wayne LaPierre that universal background checks are off the table. The 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 himself downplayed any hopes of change 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.


BRIGGS: Doesn't exactly jive 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.


BRIGGS: 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 this 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.


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

KOSIK: 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. Two of the latest, a 15-year-old Florida high school student arrested for threatening a school shooting during a video game chat.


SHERIFF'S OFFICIAL: I, Dalton Barnhart, vow to bring my father's M-15 to school and kill seven people. [04:35:03] 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?


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

BRIGGS: And in Tennessee, a truck driver was arrested for threatening a mass shooting at a church. A friend asked Thomas Matthew McVicker, he said 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. It doesn't matter how rich or how poor you are. So, I mean, they need something -- he wouldn't do that.


BRIGGS: McVicker's mother says her son is being treated for schizophrenia.

Quite a diplomatic about-face by Trump less than two weeks before his planned trip to Denmark. The president has now postponed that visit after the Danish prime minister refused to discuss the sale of Greenland, calling his interest 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, joining us live from Moscow. Fred, extraordinary about-face here again by the president. He said

Greenland was not a priority, at least buying it. Why then was he going to Denmark in the first place?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he actually had an invitation from the queen of Denmark. Obviously Denmark is a very important ally to the United States. Having covered European politics for a very long time, I can tell you Denmark stood by the U.S. and sent troops to Afghanistan, also to Iraq, as well, even though that was controversial among other European allies.

And the president himself said that this was not a front burner issue for him. And when asked whether it was one of the reasons why he was going to Denmark, he said, no, it's absolutely not the reason. And just yesterday we had on our show him allegedly seemingly having fun with all this tweeting. A picture of a Trump tour in Greenland, and saying this is not what he wants to do.

Now, President Trump being staunch on U.S. allies, however not so staunch on U.S. adversaries. One of the things President Trump said is he believes that Russia should make a return to the G7 which, of course, was the G8 before Russia got kicked out. He says he believes that Russia belongs in that group.

And as other cases in the past, Dave, he's laying the blame on the Obama administration. Of course, the same reason why he left the Paris climate accords and the Iran nuclear agreement, saying he believed that Vladimir Putin had outsmarted Barack Obama and, therefore, the Obama administration wanted him out of the G8. Here's 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: And, Dave, senior administration source telling CNN that this apparently came after a phone call between French President Emmanuel Macron and President Trump, both of them saying they want to broach this topic at the upcoming G7 summit that is going to take place in France. They'll be looking forward to that, but certainly very interesting diplomatic events going on, developments going on, really diplomacy of the administration right now pretty hard to figure out.

BRIGGS: Fred, you make a great point, tough on allies, soft on adversaries. That's the pattern around the world when you look at North and South Korea, similar dynamic there, as well. Extraordinary.

Fred Pleitgen live for us in Moscow, thank you. KOSIK: The White House is looking to boost confidence in the economy.

Could another tax cut be the answer?


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 messages 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: OK, so the U.S. economy and the job market are strong, in part thanks to Trump's 2017 tax cuts.

[04:40:02] But that's been largely driven by consumer demand. Now, however, that demand is being threatened by a global slowdown.

So 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 cut in payroll taxes would increase GDP by 80 cents. In 2011, the payroll tax cut added a notable half percentage point to GDP.

But would it be worth ballooning the deficit? Several economists say no. In 2011 and 2012, the economy was struggling to emerge from the Great Recession. You look at what's happening now, unemployment is at historic lows, and wages are steadily rising. So, analysts are arguing that a payroll tax cut would actually be a waste of ammunition in the event of a future downturn.

BRIGGS: Yet another move by the White House targeting migrants at the U.S. southern border. The Trump administration will try to keep families locked up longer. That move would replace the so-called Flores Settlement which limits of detention of kids to 20 days. An administration official says families are exploiting that limit knowing they'll be released quickly if they come with kids.

Under a new rule, families will be held at family centers run by ICE throughout the parents' immigration proceedings. The change is expected to be met with legal challenges.

ROMANS: 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 not to travel to Israel today 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: So that dual loyalty claim echoing historic anti-Semitic tropes, and 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 say, 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. If this is about Jews being loyal to him, then Trump needs a reality check.

Jewish voters went Democrat by about a 3-1 margin in the midterms.

KOSIK: OK. Last week, his boss called him the best police commissioner in America. Now, Richard Ross is out of a job. What happened to Philadelphia's top cop?



[04:47:29] HOST: Is it gaining strength in your opinion?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's complicated. There are certainly places where ISIS is more powerful today than they were three our four years ago.


BRIGGS: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledging the threat from ISIS has not gone away but says their capacity to attack has been diminished. This on the heels of a pentagon report that says ISIS is gaining strength in Iraq and Syria.

Nick Paton Walsh has covered ISIS on the front lines and joins us live from London with the latest.

Nick, good morning.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave, yes, absolutely. Mitt Pompeo's comments there making it clear that the U.S. recognizes there is an enduring threat.

Now, make no doubt about it, territorially, it has diminished in Syria and Iraq. But still both countries shattered as they are dealing with the thousands of fighters still in their prisons but also the tens the thousands of ISIS supporters. As we said yesterday, there's a grievance in the Sunni populations in both countries.

But ISIS began as something local but turned into a global brand. Much like al Qaeda did. Sort of a franchise operation you might say. And there's still evidence of them in Libya now, exploiting the chaos of Libya, but more worryingly in Afghanistan. And that's where the U.S. is pushing forward hard with a peace deal here which may make it make a lot of compromise with the Taliban, unthinkable when it went in in 2001. The question is, how does ISIS benefit from that?

ISIS called ISK by many in Afghanistan, they're predominantly in the east where they have a lot of Pakistani members and essentially have become the extremist rump of the long-lived insurgency in Taliban. The Taliban are there, those who get disgruntled might move toward fresher branding of ISIS. ISIS characterized themselves there with devastating mass casualty attacks like the one in Kabul at the weekend.

As people look at the withdrawal deal that may be announced in the weeks ahead, it's what it leaves in terms of space for ISIS. The people are most concerned about. Remember, Donald Trump himself said he didn't want Afghanistan to become a laboratory for terror. Is that going to be the case in ISIS gets a better foothold there?

Back to you.

BRIGGS: Really complicating that piece in Afghanistan. Nick Paton Walsh, live for us this morning in London, thank you.

KOSIK: Former Vatican treasurer George Pell will remain in prison after an Australian court rejected an appeal of his conviction for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old choir boys in the 1990s.

[04:50:03] The 78-year-old disgraced cardinal is the most senior Catholic Church official to be convicted of child sexual assault. Pell was sentenced back in March to six years in prison. Pell now has 28 days to appeal the ruling to Australia's highest court.

The Vatican says it respects the judicial system, but the cardinal has always maintained his innocence.

Facebook has finally unveiled a new privacy tool for users, but it's got some limits. CNN Business has got some details, next.


KOSIK: Philadelphia is looking for a new top cop this morning after Police Commissioner Richard Ross Jr. abruptly stepped down.

[04:55:06] The resignation comes as Ross, the city of Philadelphia, and others are named in a lawsuit by two female police officers. One of the plaintiffs claims she called Ross to report that she had been experiencing sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. Ross declined to act and suggested the officer just sit down. It was only last week when the mayor of Philadelphia called Ross, quote, the best police commissioner in America.

BRIGGS: Twenty-two Texas towns targeted in a massive cyberattack. State officials say computer systems were infiltrated by hackers demanding as much as $2.5 million in ransom. The FBI and state cybersecurity experts are examining the breach which began Friday morning and is ongoing.

It has affected mostly smaller local governments. The Texas department of information resources says the evidence points to a, quote, single threat actor.

KOSIK: Two teenagers got the scare of their lives when they discovered a bear raiding the fridge in their cabin. Fifteen-year-old Hayes Sherman says he was watching TV with his friend when he heard Tupperware being aggressively ripped open. The two boys hid behind a sliding door and held it shut while the bear tried to open it.

Hayes had to use his apple watch to alert his sleeping mother upstairs and call 911. A deputy finally arrived and fired a warning shot to shoo it away. As for the bear, Hayes says it enjoyed taco meat and two pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.

Those -- I can't believe, first of all, this is all caught on video. And then the second important question, what flavors --

BRIGGS: Of Ben & Jerry's?

KOSIK: Of Ben & Jerry's. I'm curious.

BRIGGS: Yes. I wouldn't -- I wouldn't suspect a bear would go for the ice cream and open the Tupperware. Bravo, bear.

KOSIK: Smart animal.


It's back.


BRIGGS: Twenty years after the first, he's still doing it. A fourth installment of the blockbuster sci-fi franchise "The Matrix" is happening. The film set to star original cast members Keanu Reeves and Carrie Ann Moss. The co-stars will also reunite with one of their original writer/directors, Lana Wachowski. The new sequel is set to begin production next year. It will be released by Warner Bros., which, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Media.

KOSIK: Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning.

Asian markets closed slightly higher, and European markets, they've opened, and they're -- we're seeing green arrows. On Wall Street, futures are pointing to a positive open. The Dow snapped a three-day winning streak on Tuesday closing 173 points lower. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also fell.

With trade wars and recession fears on everyone's mind, all eyes are turning to the Federal Reserve. The minutes of the July meeting where the central bank cut rates by -- for the first time since 2008, those minutes come out today. And Fed Chair Jerome Powell gives a speech in Florida on Friday. So, investors are going to be closely watching for any signs of future interest rate cuts.

Facebook is finally rolling out a privacy tool for users' browsing history with some limits. The off Facebook activity feature will help users see and manage data that apps and websites collect and share with Facebook. But users won't be able to delete the data entirely. Instead, users have the option to disassociate the information from their accounts.

Facebook won't know which websites the user visited but the data will still exist on servers without identifying information. The feature will be available first to users in Ireland, South Korea, and Spain, and roll out worldwide over the coming months.

"Spider-Man" has lost its studio and producer. Deadline is reporting that Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige will no longer produce any future Spider-Man movies, putting the future of the web slinger up in the air. According to deadline, Disney and Sony failed to agree on a co- financing deal for the future of the franchise.

Sony said it's disappointed in the decision and said the issue was with Feige's time constraints with other Disney projects. "Spider- Man: Far From Home" recently became Sony's highest grossing film of all time bringing in $1.1 billion.

There are reportedly two more Spider-man movies in the works. Deadline is saying unless something drastic happens, Kevin Feige will not be the creative lead on those movies, which is incredible because we know his track record.

BRIGGS: That lit up Twitter all day yesterday.


BRIGGS: Thanks to our international viewers for joining us. Have a great rest of your day.

For our U.S. viewers, EARLY START continues right now.