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CNN NEWSROOM

Confusion Continues Over U.S.-China Trade War; Jeffrey Epstein Victims to Testify Today; Taylor Swift Calls Out White House on Equality Act. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired August 27, 2019 - 10:30   ET

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


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[10:30:59] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: "Phone call, what phone call?" That is the response from the Chinese foreign ministry after President Trump that hopes for a trade deal with China had improved because Chinese leaders had called the U.S. to restart trade talks. Stocks are continuing to rise after that news.

So what about that deal? What about the call? CNN White House reporter Sarah Westwood joins us now. Has the White House presented any evidence that such a communication took place?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Not so far, Jim. And President Trump's still creating a lot of confusion around that phone call, which may or may not have ever actually happened.

So first, during a bilateral meeting between President Trump and President el-Sisi of Egypt, Trump said that China had called and asked to come back to the negotiating table.

Then, in another bilateral meeting, later in the day, he seemed to imply that that phone call came from the vice premier of China, even though at the time, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin interjected, tried to play a little bit of clean-up, saying the outreach was coming through intermediaries.

But by the time President Trump got to that joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, later in the day yesterday, he had shifted to describing that outreach as a breaking news alert that had been elevated to his attention overnight. He said that the vice premier had made comments about China being willing to come back to the table, negotiate under calm conditions.

And that appears to be the most accurate reflection of what happened. Because Vice Premier Liu He of China actually did say at a conference -- was covered by a Chinese newspaper -- that China would be willing to come back to the negotiating table under those calm conditions.

So what appears to have happened is President Trump conflating public comments from the vice premier --

SCIUTTO: Yes. WESTWOOD: -- with a private phone call that the Chinese have not

actually confirmed actually happened. And of course, this just feeds into the overall chaos of Trump's approach to China during the summit. He described Xi Jinping of China as an enemy before the summit. By the end, he was calling him a great leader.

But of course, this softening, opening of rhetoric, whatever you want to call it, Jim, just more evidence that President Trump is not giving up on his trade war with China any time soon, despite the economic consequences we've already seen.

SCIUTTO: And he seems to have misled on a communication at the highest levels between the U.S. and China. Sarah Westwood at the White House, thanks very much.

It has been a good run for the bull market this week. In fact, it remains the longest in American history. But corporate insiders, telling a different story. They're now signaling that Iran may be coming to a close by cashing in their own chips.

According to one report, top executives, leading shareholders and directors, they're all selling their stocks at a rate not seen since 2006 and 2007, $600 million per day. And of course, 2006-2007 preceded the biggest stock market crash and the biggest recession since the Great Depression. Chief business correspondent Christine Romans joins me now with more.

Is this a giant and very wealthy canary in a coalmine?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It is usually a confidence proxy, a proxy for how investors and insiders feel about the economy. And August, clearly showing us that their confidence is rattled. You're talking about the fifth month, now, of $10 billion in insider sales.

Now, there's a couple of things that could be happening here. Sometimes you have to sell stock to pay taxes, right? And we do have some big tax changes that are only one and a half, two years old in some of these big high-cost states. But also, we've seen buybacks, stock buybacks have also slowed. And that's another sign of corporate confidence.

So look at the timing here. You just heard Sarah Westwood talk about trying to figure out what the messaging is from the White House on where we are with the China trade war. It has been incoherent, the messaging from this White House, about where we stand with the Chinese on the trade war.

And the president, this weekend, Jim, as you know, he said, "Well, this is the way I negotiate, take it or leave it," you know? "This is the way I negotiate and this is what gets results."

SCIUTTO: Yes.

ROMANS: But for markets, it's about confidence. And they don't have confidence right now, at least in the last few weeks, that we're moving forward on the trade front.

SCIUTTO: Right. Well, they look for results.

Another story. The president seems to be relying on the Fed --

ROMANS: That's right.

SCIUTTO: -- to bail him out, both on a falling stock market and on the economic effects of a trade war. Is that something that the Fed is going to acquiesce to?

[10:35:02] ROMANS: It's something that -- for those of us who have covered the Fed for a long time, it's just totally -- we've just never been here before. He's just smashed the protocol. Privately, president have cajoled the Fed, but never publicly like this (ph).

The former Fed president -- New York Fed president, Bill Dudley, getting a lot of attention this morning for an op-ed he wrote in Bloomberg where he says, "U.S. President Donald Trump's trade war with China keeps undermining the confidence of businesses and consumers, worsening the economic outlook.

"This manufactured disaster in the making presents the Fed with a dilemma: Should it mitigate the damage by providing offsetting stimulus, or refuse to play along?" He goes on to say if the goal here is the healthy economy, the Fed should consider not giving the president what he wants, which is lower interest rates right now.

SCIUTTO: Is there evidence that folks on the Fed, current sitting governors, are listening or considering that advice?

ROMANS: There are divisions inside the Fed, no question. But the president has put them, really bullied them, into a position that we've never really seen before. If the Fed keeps cutting interest rates to provide stimulus at a time when the president's own trade war is slowing the global growth, then you don't have very much room when there's a real problem, a real recession --

SCIUTTO: Yes, yes.

ROMANS: -- to try to juice the American economy.

SCIUTTO: And remind me, just do you need a unanimous decision of the Federal Reserve board, to cut rates? A majority? Consensus? How does it work?

ROMANS: You need -- the Fed chief will get everyone on board for something like this, no question.

SCIUTTO: Right. Christine Romans, great to have you on the story.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

SCIUTTO: Keep following it.

Four arrests, more expected in the deaths of 12 nursing home patients in South Florida following Hurricane Irma. Coming up, why investigators say those deaths were completely avoidable.

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[10:41:13] SCIUTTO: Four former nursing home workers are now facing charges in connection with the deaths of 12 patients after Hurricane Irma slammed into Florida, almost two years ago.

The storm knocked out power to millions, including the nursing home. And even though the facility had no air conditioning and temperatures skyrocketed, it took three days to evacuate the elderly residence, imagine that.

CNN's Nick Valencia joins me now. So, Nick, say -- investigators say that more arrests could come from this.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. They did say that additional arrests are expected. But they gave no indication on who their focus might be. Police, just wrapping up a news conference where they formally announced the arrest of four former nursing home employees.

And it was the facility administrator, as well as the night nurse supervisor, who received the most charges, 12 counts of aggravated manslaughter. If convicted, they could face up to 15 years in prison.

TEXT: Charges in Hurricane Irma Nursing Home Deaths, Hollywood, Florida: 12 counts of aggravated manslaughter and neglect of an elderly/disabled adult; Two counts of aggravated manslaughter and neglect of an elderly/disabled adult; Two counts of tampering or fabricating evidence; Six counts of aggravated manslaughter; Three counts of tampering or fabricating evidence

VALENCIA: Police, very clear and direct in this press conference, saying it was the actions and inactions of these four former nursing home employees that led to the deaths of the 12 elderly patients. Their ages range between 71 and 99 years old.

The police chief, being very clear, saying these workers took an oath to protect these lives, an oath that they failed to meet.

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CHRIS O'BRIEN, CHIEF, HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA POLICE DEPARTMENT: Regardless of their medical status at the time, these four individuals neglected their duties and failed to provide accurate care, which ultimately resulted in the death of these 12 victims. It's pretty simple.

These individuals took an oath to provide care and safety for these individuals in their facility. They betrayed that oath.

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VALENCIA: There were moments of this press conference, Jim, that were very emotional. Families of the victims were front and center for this presser. Several of them appeared to wipe tears away from their eyes.

When the police chief asked, "Just what took so long?" -- it was nearly a two-year criminal investigation -- they said that this was an exhaustive investigation, it required a lot of manpower. But they said that this is the decision that, ultimately, these families wanted. They did, however, also say that it was video evidence that led to these criminal charges. They believe that a criminal act took place here -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Oh, goodness. Imagine if it happened to your loved ones. Nick Valencia, thanks very much.

Several of Jeffrey Epstein's accusers walked into a New York court just moments ago -- you can see them there -- preparing to tell a judge about the assaults that they say they endured from the convicted sex offender.

Epstein was accused of sexually assaulting dozens of girls, some as young as just 14. But he was found dead from an apparent suicide in his cell earlier this month, before he could be tried on sex trafficking charges. Joining me now, CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, criminal case is going to be dropped -- Epstein, of course, is dead -- but the judge made an unusual decision here to allow his accusers to still have their moment in court.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. This is rather unusual, and I think that's what makes today so unique. You don't normally have victims of crimes come in and talk publicly to a judge -- really, this is for the public -- after a defendant has been -- is dead, in this case of a suicide. So this is rather unique.

But the judge, really making it a point to say that he needed for the victims to have their moment. Because of course, there's been all sorts of allegations here, that in the first go-around with this investigation, that many of the victims did not have their day in court, that they did not have the opportunity to tell the public what happened to them. They were denied their rights.

And essentially, this is, in one part, why the Southern District of New York -- here, federal prosecutors -- decided to bring another case here. And so the judge here, felt it very important for the victims to be able to come in to court and publicly say what happened to them.

[10:45:05] Now, we're told from reporters inside the courthouse, that there are three rows with victims with their lawyers and their victims, seated in about three rows inside the courtroom. It's not clear how many of them, yet, are going to speak. We've heard anywhere from a dozen to maybe 30 speaking, we really don't know.

In some cases, only the lawyers are going to speak, Jim, on behalf of these victims. And then in a lot of the cases, we may not even know some of the victims' names.

SCIUTTO: Yes. PROKUPECZ: Their lawyers said that they would only identify them as

Jane Doe.

And also important here is that for a lot of this, this is going to be the first time that we're hearing from some of these women. So a lot of new faces and a lot of new stories that are going to be told behind us --

SCIUTTO: Yes.

PROKUPECZ: -- here in court this morning, Jim.

SCIUTTO: It's going to be a powerful moment. Hope it gives them a measure of justice.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, you've been covering this from the beginning. Are there any -- is there any new answers as to how Epstein was able to kill himself despite a prior suicide attempt, despite writing his will two days before, despite him supposed to be under surveillance while he was there?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. And that -- there aren't any new answers. And that is still very much part of the Department of Justice and FBI investigation. They're still trying to get answers, as to how this happened.

It was just recently that we reported that 20 -- at least 20 guards have been subpoenaed before a grand jury, here in Manhattan, to give testimony. They're working out -- the prosecutors and the FBI are working out, to try and speak to these guards. A lot of guards were not initially cooperative in this investigation.

There are a lot of answers and a lot of issues here, for the Department of Justice and for the Bureau of Prisons, in allowing this to happen. This should not have happened. Jeffrey Epstein should not have been able to kill himself -- and apparently, so easily -- because the guards were not watching him, were not doing what they were supposed to do.

And also, as you mentioned, Jim, the previous suicide attempt, it appears that the Bureau of Prisons completely bungled that. They did not handle that appropriately. They felt that it wasn't a serious issue. In fact, in some cases, we're told, they didn't even believe that Jeffrey Epstein tried to kill himself in that incident.

So there are a lot of questions as to why that happened, why it is that jail officials did not take that more seriously. And the judge has already even addressed this, that the death of Jeffrey Epstein has certainly been a significant turn of events in this investigation, and he himself is going to want answers as to how this happened.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Reasonably so. Shimon Prokupecz, outside that courthouse --

PROKUPECZ: Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- thanks very much.

[10:47:42] Ten years after being upstaged by Kanye West, pop star Taylor Swift is once again going viral for something that happened at the VMAs. This time, she's calling out the White House.

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SCIUTTO: Pop superstar Taylor Swift got political during last night's MTV Video Music Awards. She won Video of the Year for her equality anthem, "You Need to Calm Down." That video ends with a push to sign a petition for the Equality Act, which focuses on LGBTQ rights. But the White House has yet to respond, so Swift gave the administration a not-too-subtle reminder. CNN's senior media reporter Oliver Darcy joins me now.

So she had a pretty direct message there, not very subtle.

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Right. If there was some mad love between the two of them, it's no longer there. It's some bad blood now, to use a cliche, Taylor Swift's lyric reference.

She called out the White House. She said that she had put out this petition to support the Equality Act, and it's now passed 500,000 signatures online but the White House has still not responded. Usually, the White House says they respond to petitions with 100,000 signatures or more, if they're filed on the White House website. This one was filed on Change.org, so maybe a little different there.

But nonetheless, Taylor Swift is wanting a response. And last night, she called the White House. Let's take a listen.

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TAYLOR SWIFT, WINNER, 2019 MTV VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS VIDEO OF THE YEAR: I want to thank everyone who signed that petition because it now has half a million signatures, which is five times the amount that it would need to warrant a response from the White House.

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SCIUTTO: Yes, checking her watch, there, as well. She was not the only one who had a political message last night, though.

DARCY: No, no. There was a lot of political messages based on immigration particularly, where people were calling out the Trump administration's position on immigration. There was references saying it was disgusting and so on and so forth.

Regarding Taylor Swift's message, I did check in with the White House. They have not responded at all. But, you know, it's always possible, the president, who is a pop culture warrior --

SCIUTTO: Right.

DARCY: -- might weigh in at some point here.

SCIUTTO: Now, prior to 2016, she was very careful about not going political. That's changing.

DARCY: Definitely. She was very apolitical for a long, long time. To the disdain of many. Many people were wanting her to get into politics, particularly in the 2016 election, and she refrained.

But with this album, she's gotten a lot more political. She's been an advocate for LGBTQ rights. She's said that she's obviously pro- choice, and she wants to play a role in this election.

[10:55:07] I think that she realizes that we're at a moment as a culture. And she does not want to, you know, remember 10, 15 years from now as someone who was silent in this moment.

SCIUTTO: Right. Oliver Darcy, thanks very much.

DARCY: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Right now, a tropical storm is heading toward Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. It could cause major problems for the island nation, which is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria, two years after that storm. Of course, Florida's right behind it. We're minutes away from an update from the National Hurricane Center, please stay with us.

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