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Trump Slams Danish Prime Minister; Trump Threatens to Release ISIS Prisoners; Steel Layoffs Counter Claims of Revival; Fires Burn in the Amazon Rainforest; Ten Uninjured from Plane Crash. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired August 22, 2019 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: After she shot down Trump's idea of buying Greenland, a sovereign part of a sovereign country, of selling that to the U.S. On Wednesday, Trump reverted to his playbook of insults, calling her comment nasty.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought that the prime minister's statement that it was absurd, that was -- it was an absurd idea, it was nasty. I thought it was an inappropriate statement. All she had to do was say, no, we wouldn't be interested.


SCIUTTO: Nasty. The president has now used that term to characterize Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Meghan Markle. Notice a theme?

CNN correspondent Anna Stewart is live in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Anna, the Danish prime minister says she does not want a war of words, but that is not stopping the president.

ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, because last night he tweeted again, this time to criticize Denmark's contribution to NATO, saying that they don't pay enough. They pay 1.35 percent. He thinks they should pay more, 2 percent of their GDP.

And, you know, this comes at the end, as you know, of days of this spat where the U.S. president has, frankly, insulted the Danes by saying he wants to buy Greenland, which is not for sale and is a semi- autonomous region. Also, of course, as you said, saying that the prime minister's comments were nasty. Also canceling the state visit. He was invited by the queen. He should be here in just under two weeks' time.

And the NATO issue was something we expected him to raise if he had come. But tweeting it now is just adding further insult to injury. That is how it's being seen here.

The U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, did call the Danish foreign minister, as you said, and that does appear to have gone down well because (INAUDIBLE), the foreign minister here, did actually tweet to say that he appreciated the conversation, that it was frank, that they worked towards things that they hope to work further on their alliance and work together on common issues.

I mean, interestingly, actually some analysts here in Denmark think that this flurry of diplomatic activity that we've seen just in the last 24 hours may actually, in the end, strengthen the bond between Demark and the United States despite all of the offense that has been caused in the lead-up to it.


SCIUTTO: Well, that's some hopeful spin there after a president cancels a state visit.

Anna Stewart in Copenhagen, thanks very much.

Iran has unveiled what it says is a new domestically built weapon. Today, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was there as the country displayed the long-range mobile missile air defense system. State media reports the system is designed to neutralize aircraft, drones and high-speed ballistic missiles. There's the weapon being tested there.

President Trump says it is time for Europe to take back ISIS prisoners currently being held by Syrian defense forces. The president says he will not send those prisoners to Guantanamo Bay. He even threatened to release them into their home countries in Europe, among U.S. allies there. In January, Trump signed and executive order to keep Guantanamo Bay open. This, of course, reversing an Obama administration policy.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins me now.

So, Barbara, if not Guantanamo Bay, what happens to these prisoners? And is this a serious threat by the U.S. president to release dangerous terrorists onto the ground in Europe?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're talking about approximately 2,000 ISIS fighters, ISIS adherents, currently being held in Syria, but not being held in the U.S., not being held by the Trump administration. They're being actually held by U.S.-backed SDF forces in Syria, in very difficult conditions, because the SDF really doesn't have the resources to ensure security of that facility.

So, President Trump, himself, cannot necessarily have his administration suddenly take these people and dump them in Europe. It would be a security nightmare if that was to happen.

So what the policy, the actual policy of the United States has been is to try and encourage these European countries to take these people back under strict circumstances and try and hold them accountable, prosecute them in their home countries in Europe. It's a very difficult proposition. Only a handful really have been returned. But this is the way that the U.S. policy is supposed to be working despite what the president said.

Jim. SCIUTTO: Barbara, the president said he's going to take executive action to provide financial relief for disabled veterans. What is the issue that he's trying to fix here?

STARR: Well, even the president joked a little bit that maybe this is a policy no one will criticize.

What they're trying to do is make it automatic for disabled veterans to have their education debt, their college debt, if you will, automatically forgiven. There's been a very complex process within the Department of Education where disabled veterans can apply to have forgiveness on that debt. But it's a difficult process by all accounts for veterans to go through and even top personnel at the Education Department had wanted to see all of this streamlined.

[09:35:08] So the president says now this executive order will have that forgiveness of college debt for America's disabled veterans.


SCIUTTO: And that is an enormous relief for them and their families.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

STARR: Sure.

SCIUTTO: As the president claims the steel business is booming, one of the country's biggest steel producers announces hundreds of layoffs. Can Trump still declare a victory on his pledge to revive the U.S. steel industry?



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, by the way, steel, steel was dead. Your business was dead. OK. I don't want to be overly crude, your business was dead. And I put a little thing called a 25 percent tariff on all of the dumped steel all over the country, and now your business is thriving.


[09:40:17] SCIUTTO: Well, just days after President Trump made those claims that he helped revive, save American steel, the industry is, in fact, taking a big hit. U.S. Steel announcing it is temporarily laying off 200 workers from a Michigan plant. The company has been struggling with shares down more than 30 percent, a third since the beginning of the year.

CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich, she is in Ecorse, Michigan, with the detail.

How big a blow is it there and what does this say bigger picture about the market for U.S. Steel?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, hi, Jim. Well, people here in the community are confused and shocked by this news because they thought that these steel tariffs were actually supposed to boost production and bring jobs to this area. But U.S. Steel announcing that they're laying off temporarily 200 workers at this facility just behind me.

And the company is saying that this is happening because of ongoing market challenges. And this is very much in contrast to what we've heard the president say over the last couple of weeks. He's given himself credit for bringing back the steel industry.

But I spoke to one city leader here who says he hasn't found a boost in the industry, and he and another community leader are concerned that these temporary layoffs will become permanent.


RICHARD MARSH, CITY ADMINISTRATOR, ECORSE, MICHIGAN: We assume that we'd have more production. And, in fact, we thought it would have a reverse effect, there would be more hiring taking place, you know, here locally. Yes, it was a shock. It was a shock. And I'm hoping that things reverse quickly.

JAMES PERRY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DOWNRIVER COMMUNITY CONFERENCE: It's a recession when your neighbor is laid off. It's a depression when you get laid off. And it hasn't changed in the past 38 or 39 years. And, you know, there's all kinds of emotions go through.

You know, you get concerned when you hear 200 people were laid off, so it is a concern.


YURKEVICH: And you hear from there the concern about the community, and 200 layoffs here may not sound like a lot when you are comparing it to the thousands of people who do work here, but the concern is that this is an indicator of what's happening with the industry, that it's actually in peril rather than rebounding as the president has said.

And also you mentioned the stock prices of U.S. Steel. This time last year they were about $30 a share, and now they are about $12 a share. And that is 60 percent drop.

And as for when these temporary layoffs may be coming back online, Jim, U.S. Steel saying they don't have a date for when those jobs may officially be back.


SCIUTTO: So tell us about the employees there. Any resources being provided to them while they're temporarily laid off?

YURKEVICH: Right, we're -- well, a temporary layoff is tough. It leaves, you know, people here in limbo. There is a resource here within the community that was created especially for this reason. So many of the workers are going to be turning to that community resource for extra job training or trying to get placed in other sectors of the steel industry. But the organizer of that resource center told me that because these layoffs are happening in a rolling way, they are going to expect to see more and more people come through trying to get ahold of these resources as they are really facing uncertain times, trying to figure out when they're going to be getting their jobs back.


SCIUTTO: Vanessa Yurkevich, on the ground there in Michigan, thanks very much.

The Amazon produces 20 percent of the earth's oxygen, one fifth, and right now a record number of wildfires are raging inside the world's largest rain forest. It has consequences, big ones, for it planet. We're going to be there live.


[09:48:24] SCIUTTO: Listen up for this story because it impacts all of us, literally everyone on the planet. Right now wildfires are raging out of control in Brazil's Amazon rainforest. This is a satellite view of the giant plumes of smoke from the burning fires there. The smoke has covered nearly half of the country of Brazil and is even spilling over into neighboring Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay. According to the National Institute for Space Research, more than one and a half soccer fields of rain forest are being destroyed every single minute.

CNN journalist Shasta Darlington, she's in Sao Paulo for us this morning.

So I understand that even where you are, hundreds of miles, 1,700 miles away from those fires, you can see the smoke there?

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. This has been pretty alarming. These fires are ripping across the Amazon. And while this is dry season when we do tend to see more fires, this has just been at an alarming rate, so much so that earlier this week, at 3:00 p.m., right here on Sao Paulo, the city was plunged into darkness. It was like it was nighttime. And this set off this firestorm on social media. Researchers came out and explained that this was a combination of low-lying clouds from a cold front mixing with smoke coming from those fires in the Amazon. So you saw this hashtag pray for amazonians.

And really a war of words with environmentalists blaming the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, saying that his encouraging business to develop the Amazon and defunding the agencies that crack down on illegal activity there have really sent the message that anything goes. And yet, ironically, when Bolsonaro was asked to -- what's up with this spike in the fires, he responded, well, maybe it's the NGOs themselves setting the fires because I've taken their funds away. So a real -- a really flippant attitude to what's going on here. And also indicating that not much is being done to stop those fires.


[09:50:20] SCIUTTO: Yes.

And it has real and immediate and lasting consequences, does it not, for the planet?

DARLINGTON: Absolutely. It has huge consequences for the planet, for what so many people refer to as the lungs of the earth. But even for Brazil itself, you know, Brazil has just signed this trade agreement with Europe and yet its attitude in relation to the environment has already caused a lot of friction. Germany and Norway have withdrawn $70 million in funding for the Brazil Amazon Fund because it really isn't being applied.

And yet, again, Bolsonaro just responded to Angela Merkel, well, why don't you go replant some trees in Germany. It just isn't being taken seriously and this could affect trade relations.


SCIUTTO: Lord help us.

Shasta Darlington, good to have you on the story. Thanks very much.

A plane slid off a runway, burst into flames, with ten people on board. Amazingly walked away without a scratch. That story just ahead.

Plus, CNN films premier a film about the first big-name American fashion designer, Halston. He was a fashion genius of and ahead of his time. The story of his assent and downfall. Absolutely fascinating. A film you won't want to miss. "Halston" premiers on CNN Sunday night, 9:00 Eastern Time, and Pacific Time.


[09:56:18] SCIUTTO: Take a look at this video. Ten people walked away uninjured after their small charter plane crashed and burst into flames in California. The pilot had to abort takeoff at the Orrville Airport due to complications causing the plane to slide off the runway. The jet was fully engulfed in flames just minutes later, full of all that fuel on takeoff.

Important to note, this is the same type of aircraft that crashed last week. That one involving the race car driver Dale Earnhardt Junior. He also, thankfully, survived.

CNN correspondent Scott McLean is following these developments.

Are there concerns about this aircraft now, Scott?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is a great question, Jim. Currently the NTSB and the FAA are both investigating.

What we know about this crash so far is very little, but it was scheduled to fly from Orrville, California, to Portland, Oregon, about 500 miles north, yesterday afternoon when for some unknown reason the takeoff was aborted. The plane slid off the end of the runway. At first the plane looks intact. The -- there's just a grass fire beside it. But then by the time fire crews actually got there, it was almost completely engulfed. As you said, all ten people survived without injury.

Now, I just got off the phone with one of the survivors who was on board, Michael Doss (ph). He politely declined to describe his experience, other than to say he is just grateful that everyone on board was OK. Doss is the CEO of a packaging company.

We also connected with a spokesperson who said that eight of the passengers were employees. They are back home, mostly in the Atlanta area. And all are doing just fine.

Now, that plane, as you said, is a Cessna Citation. When you think of a private jet, this is probably the type of plane that comes to mind. It can fly up to 2,000 nautical miles. It can also carry up to 12 different people.

And it is the same plane, the same type of plane, that Dale Earnhardt Junior was in when his plane crashed less than one week ago in eastern Tennessee. In that case, the plane actually bounced twice on the runway before plowing through a fence and coming to rest on a highway and, obviously, bursting into flames as you can see there from that video. Earnhardt was on board on his wife and his daughter, along with two pilots. As you said, everyone was OK. Earnhardt even plans to race next weekend. He has some back issues, but he's hoping that he'll be well enough to do that next weekend.

The initial report on the Earnhardt crash should be due out really any day now, though the full report for both of these incidents, Jim, could take a year or even more.

SCIUTTO: Gosh, near misses in both cases.

Scott McLean, thanks very much.

Two people were hurt Monday night while trying to secure an event tent during a powerful storm in Clemson, South Carolina. Take a look at this video. Managers were preparing for a Clemson University event when a storm hit the area. The powerful winds blew plastic tables, chairs around the parking lot. When employees raced outside to try to secure the tent, a strong gust lifted it several feet into the air, along with two employees. You can see it there, just incredible to watch. One of the employees was slammed into the gutter on the roof. He had to get stitches above his left eye. He suffered several cuts and bruises.

A very good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington. Poppy Harlow is off today.

If you are trying to pin down President Trump's positions on issues such as gun control, tax cuts, good luck to you. Over the last 24 erratic hours, he's claimed to be open to stricter background checks, but sometimes in the very same breath claimed the U.S. already has them. That's just the beginning. A small sliver of the back and forth and the taking of both sides of a host of issues from this president.

[10:00:02] "The New York Times" reporting this morning, quote, some former Trump administration officials in recent days said they were increasingly worried about the president's behavior.