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Puerto Rico Battens Down For Dorian; Purdue Pharma Settlement Talks; Barr Books Trump's Hotel For $30K Holiday Party; Popeyes New Chicken Sandwich "Sold Out" Nationwide; Coco Gauff Rallies to Win U.S. Open Debut. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 28, 2019 - 05:00   ET


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Florida now squarely in Dorian's sights. The storm expected to hit Labor Day weekend as a hurricane. First, the tropical storm hitting Puerto Rico today, a new update just in from the National Hurricane Center.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Billions of dollars in company ownership at stake here. The family blamed for helping spark the opioid crisis now in settlement talks.

[05:00:03] BRIGGS: Outrage at the attorney general. You won't believe where he's hosting a $30,000 holiday party, or will you?

ROMANS: And a twist in the chicken sandwich wars that has Popeyes fans crying foul. Yes, we went there.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. I tried to try the sandwich. Couldn't kept you go the drive-thru.

Wednesday, August 28, a hungry hump day here, 5:00 a.m. in the East, 5:00 a.m. in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We'll get there in a second.

A big update on tropical storm Dorian, gaining more strength, now expected to strengthen into a category-two hurricane by the time it makes landfall in Florida. First, it's expected to hit Puerto Rico near hurricane strength around noon today. Late last night, President Trump approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico to speed up delivery of resources, more on that in a moment.

ROMANS: Dorian now forecast to strengthen into at category-one hurricane by Friday evening before it makes landfall across the East Coast of Florida early labor day morning.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri live for us this morning in the weather center. We know right at the stroke of 5:00, we were expecting an update. What are they saying?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, we're seeing this storm shift a little farther towards the east. It's continued to do that in the past 24, shifting about 80 miles to the east of where it was forecast yesterday. So, it is skirting toward a corner of Puerto Rico.

But the U.S. Virgin Island, British Virgin Islands also in line for impact with the storm system in the next couple of hours. Then, of course, the storm has the potential if it continues skirting to the east as it has in the past model runs here, potentially skirting even entirely away from Puerto Rico. But at this point, Puerto Rico still in a direct path of the storm system, but there's an outside chance Puerto Rico misses the direct impact, and the storm remains off shore and, of course, if that's the case, that is what we can be looking at, a storm that potentially strengthens to a cat two or stronger if it entirely avoids the mountains of Puerto Rico.

But you notice we have hurricane watches in place across the island. We have tropical storm watches across portions of the island of Hispaniola, as well. With the storm system, the main player here is going to be heavy rainfall. As much as seven to ten inches possible, potentially the wettest day across San Juan since Hurricane Maria back on September 20th of 2017. Across the city they brought in ten-plus inches on that day with Maria.

You take a look at the models, again, with the storm system potentially shifting a little farther toward the East, avoiding portions of the mountainous regions of the island there, this could allow it to strengthen more. The models suggest this gets to a category one early Friday morning. Category two early Sunday morning as it passes north of the Bahamas and potentially remains a category two on landfall there on Labor Day morning, a few hours before sunrise.

Could be a big story if the models continue guiding the storm in the direction they are right now -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Sure will. Pedram, thank you so much.

President Trump's emergency declaration for Puerto Rico came after a push from Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott. Also after President Trump vented about the storm.

Quote: Wow, yet another big storm heading to Puerto Rico. Will it ever end? Congress approved $92 billion for Puerto Rico last year, an all-time record of its kind for anywhere.

As we've said before, those numbers are misleading. More than half of the money is based on White House estimates of potential costs over the next 20 years.

ROMANS: Dorian is still growing, but it's already wrecking havoc. Look at this flooding on the island of Martinique to southeast. In Puerto Rico, the government says 90 percent of preparations are done. Officials saying they more ready now than they were for Maria two years ago.


GOV. WANDA VAZQUEZ GARCED, PUERTO RICO (through translator): Puerto Rico has been through worse situations. I trust in the people of Puerto Rico.

We are ready. We are going forward. We are going to wait and see how this emergency unfolds and we are going to be better prepared.


ROMANS: The government says Puerto Rico has a 41-day stockpile of gasoline, infrastructure supplies across the island, 300 generators, 100 more on stand by. And police and national guard troops for security at shelters.

BRIGGS: Among other preparations, Miami-Dade County is sending a 45- member search and rescue crew to Puerto Rico. Airlines and cruise lines modifying their schedules, so check with your career before traveling through the area.

ROMANS: So, tropical storm Dorian bearing down on Puerto Rico. But the Trump administration is taking $155 million out of the FEMA disaster relief fund to use it for immigration enforcement. Now, the Department of Homeland Security confirms a total of $271 million including that FEMA money will be repurposed, redirected to immigration. Last week, the administration announced it intends to hold migrant families indefinitely despite a legal settlement limiting family detentions to 20 days.

BRIGGS: Breaking overnight, a prominent family would give up ownership of Purdue Pharma under a proposed settlement stemming from the opioid epidemic.

[05:05:04] The Sackler family would also pay at least $3 billion of their own money according to multiple reports. Purdue is widely blamed for sparking the opioid crisis, introducing OxyContin in 1996 with aggressive marketing, persuading doctors to prescribe it widely.

ROMANS: NBC first reported settlement talks saying Purdue is offering $10 billion to $12 billion total. Purdue Pharma confirms it is trying to settle.

Two thousand cities, counties, and tribal lands are suing Purdue Pharma, a trial set to begin in October. This follows a landmark decision in Oklahoma, where a judge ordered pharmaceuticals giant Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million for its role in Oklahoma's opioid crisis.

BRIGGS: Today's the deadline for Democrats to qualify for the next debate two weeks from tomorrow. Ten candidates have qualified. And those campaigns are hoping it to keep it to ten. At least one poll is coming out this morning if businessman Tom Steyer tops 2 percent in one more DNC-approved poll, he will be the 11th candidate to meet the criteria. The debate will then be split into two nights. And that is causing some grumbling among the top tier campaigns. One aide saying it's a disservice to primary voters saying they want to see Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg, they've been the consistent top tier for months now.

ROMANS: Former Vice President Joe Biden sat down Tuesday with several black journalists, repeating his argument he is the most electable candidates even as other candidates draw bigger crowds like Elizabeth Warren, whose crowd size has been the talk of the media, and, of course, got the Twitter attention of President Trump.

Biden will be on the trail today in South Carolina, but it's Warren getting buzz in the state. She will hold a town hall next week in Orangeburg with Congressman Jim Clyburn on student debt relief. It's not an endorsement, but still a very important appearance. Clyburn is considered the biggest Democrat in the state with a lot of black voters, demographic where Warren trails.

BRIGGS: President Trump is so determined to complete hundreds of miles of border fencing before the 2020 election, he's directing aides to fast track billions of dollars worth of construction contracts aggressively, seize private property, and disregard environmental regulations. This all according to "The Washington Post."

He's also assuring subordinates he will pardon them for any wrongdoing. A White House official claims the president is joking about the pardons.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed about 60 miles of replacement barrier during the first 30 months of the Trump presidency. All of it in areas that previously had border infrastructure.

Attorney General Bill Barr planning a holiday party for 200 people in December. He booked it at President Trump's D.C. hotel, fueling even more questions about his independence. The "Washington Post" obtained the party contract Barr signed. He will pay for the gathering himself, eventually writing a check to the hotel for more than $30,000.

According to the Justice Department, the attorney general chose the president's hotel because other hotels were booked. A DOJ official says ethics officials were consulted and that the purpose of the party is not to curry favor with the boss. Barr's Justice Department may eventually have to consider whether it's legal for the president's plan to holds the next G7 at his own Doral golf club near Miami.

ROMANS: All right. A reprove of sorts for farmers hit hard by President Trump's multi-front trade war. President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have made an agreement in principle on trade during that G7. While American pork producers say they're happy about the deal, it's no better than it Trump had stayed in the Trans Pacific Partnership in the first place.

Pork producers relied on Japan as their biggest market. They had already seen exports slip this year. The new deal should put them back on a level playing field. Still, the agreement only solves one problem created by Trump's trade policies. Tensions with China could worsen if Washington and Beijing follow through with their latest tariff threats on Sunday. Trump and Abe plan to sign their agreement on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly next month.

BRIGGS: Yet another bizarre twist in the Amazon fire story. A spokesman for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says the country is open to taking foreign aid to fight the rainforest fires. About 24 hours ago, Bolsonaro's chief of staff said Brazil would reject $20 million in aid from the G7. Then hours later, Bolsonaro denied that he said that but laid down conditions for accepting the aid.

Satellite data shows the fires are now decreasing to a level at or below normal intensity for this time of year. Brazil's defense ministry says about 2,500 troops have been assigned to fight the fires. President Bolsonaro tweeted Saturday he was sending 43,000 troops.

Ahead, he was supposed to be starting his freshman year at Harvard, but instead he was deported before he even left the airport.

[05:10:04] We'll tell you why.


BRIGGS: Breaking overnight, the family of a Minor League pitching prospect killed in a triple homicide. The wife, child, and mother-in- law of Blake Bivens, a pitcher in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, were killed in Virginia.

[05:15:06] Police say they arrested Bivens' 18-year-old brother-in-law and charged him with first-degree murder.

Bivens' team, the AA Montgomery Biscuits, postponed their scheduled double-header last night because of the tragedy.

The Tampa Bay Rays released a statement saying on Twitter: Our hearts are broken for Blake. We are grieving with him and will support him any way we can.

ROMANS: It's a terrible story.

An incoming Harvard freshman deported before stepping foot on campus. According to "The Crimson", 17-year-old Ismail Ajjawi of Lebanon was questioned for hours by immigration officers at Logan Airport Friday. He was stopped because of social media posts by his friends and his laptop and phone were searched. Ajjawi ultimately had his visa canceled and was denied entry to the United States.

Harvard says the university is working closely with the student's family and appropriate authorities to resolve this matter.

BRIGGS: Eleven suspicious deaths now being investigated at a V.A. hospital in West Virginia. They confirm potential wrongdoing at the Louis A. Johnson V.A. Medical Center in Clarksburg where a person of interest in the case is no longer in contact with patients. According to Senator Joe Manchin, at least one of the deaths is now a confirmed homicide.

In a claim filed last week, the family of 82-year-old Felix Kirk McDermott alleges he died at the hospital after being injected with a fatal dose of insulin either negligently or willfully. McDermott's daughter tells "USA Today" she thought her dad was safe there. ROMANS: They weren't bribes, they were legitimate donations. That's

the defense you can expect from "Full House" actress Lori Loughlin in the college admissions scandal. In federal court, the attorney for the actress and her husband, designer Mossimo Giannulli, said they gave money to a nonprofit that made legitimate donations to universities.

Now, they're accused of paying $500,000 as part a scheme to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California. Both have pleaded not guilty to mail fraud and money laundering charges. Loughlin's understated arrival Tuesday was different from her court appearance in April when she signed autographs and took pictures with fans.

BRIGGS: Ahead, she's Coco the comeback kid. The teen tennis phenom rallies to victory in her U.S. Open debut.

Andy Scholes has that story in the "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:22:20] ROMANS: All right. If you love your fried chicken crispy and quick, you won't love hearing this. Popeyes sold out of its popular new chicken sandwich nationwide. The fast food chain says due to, quote, extraordinary demand they just sold out in just two weeks. They projected inventory would last until the end of September.

Popeyes says it is working to bring the crowd pleaser back as soon as possible. Customers flocking to Popeyes after a Twitter feud between Popeyes and Chick-fil-A over who has the best chicken sandwich, Dave.

BRIGGS: We are all in need of some comfort food clearly.

All right. U.S. women's national team star Carli Lloyd says she is serious about giving the NFL a shot, just not this year.

Andy Scholes has more in the "Bleacher Report."

Good morning, my friend.


Carli Lloyd's trainer James Galanis said Lloyd was offered the opportunity by two NFL teams to make history and suit up for their pre-season game Thursday but she declined because the women's national team has a game on Thursday and also because if she's going to try to be a kicker in the NFL, she wants to give it a true effort and train for a full offseason.

Now, Lloyd's field goal kicking abilities went viral after she nailed a 55-yarder last week. After taking in the Phillies game last night, 37-year-old says she thinks she could eventually make an NFL team.


CARLI LLOYD, 2-TIME WOMEN'S WORLD CUP CHAMPION: I don't want to go in there blindly. I want to attempt to actually do. It I know that I definitely could do it because anything I set my mind to do, I can do it. And I actually do kick balls for a living.

So, yes. It's all about the technique and we'll see what happens. I'm sort of -- I'm now entertaining the idea.


SCHOLES: All right.

Rob Gronkowski opening up on his decision to retire from the NFL yesterday. He got very emotional when explaining why he walked away from the game.


ROB GRONKOWSKI, FORMER PATRIOTS TIGHT END: I want to be clear to my fans, I needed to recover. I was not in a good place. Football was bringing me down. And I didn't like it. And I was losing that joy in life, like the joy. I'm sorry right now, but -- dang, let me -- I really was. And I was fighting through it.


SCHOLES: Gronk also left the door open for a return, saying if one day he feels passionate about football again, he will come back. In the meantime, the 30-year-old is going to be a spokesperson for CBD Medic, a company that specializes in topical pain and skin care medications.

Finally, Coco Gauff making her U.S. Open debut last night, taking on 18-year-old Russian Anastasia Potapova. Coco may have had nerves early on. The 15-year-old dropping the first set 6-3. But then she battled to win the next two 6-2, 6-4.

[05:25:03] Defending champion Naomi Osaka also winning her opening match, Dave. These two in a collision dangerous to meet in the third round if they're -- collision course to meet in the third round if they're moving on. It would be quite the one to watch. Osaka versus Coco Gauff.

BRIGGS: Yes, bring it on to Flushing. That is great stuff.

Andy Scholes, thank you.

SCHOLES: All right.

BRIGGS: Romans, what's coming up?

ROMANS: All right. We're watching the hurricane, tracking tropical storm door unanimous now set to hit -- Dorian now set to hit Florida as a category two hurricane, and first Puerto Rico is in its path.


ROMANS: Florida now squarely in Dorian's sights. The storm expected to hit Labor Day weekend as a category-two hurricane. First, the tropical storm will hit Puerto Rico today.

BRIGGS: Billions of dollars in company ownership on the line. The family blamed for helping spark the opioid crisis.