Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

New Book: Top Generals Feared Trump Would Attempt Coup After Election; Taliban Seize Border Crossing In Kandahar Province; Britney Spears Calls Her Conservatorship "F**king Cruelty." Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired July 15, 2021 - 05:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good morning, everyone. This is Thursday and it's EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Polo Sandoval in for Laura Jarrett. About 5:29 here in New York.

ROMANS: All right, a Saturday Night Massacre in reverse. That's how an explosive new book documents the first time in modern U.S. history the nation's top military officer prepared for a showdown with the president. Why? Because the chairman of the Joint Chiefs feared a coup attempt by then-President Trump after he lost the November election.

Pulitzer Prize-winning "Washington Post" reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker write that Milley and other top officials informally planned strategies for stopping Trump.

SANDOVAL: And they even thought about resigning one-by-one rather than carrying out orders they considered illegal, dangerous, or ill- advised. The authors explained that Gen. Milley was concerned about personnel moves that put Trump loyalists in positions of power at the Pentagon after the 2020 election.

According to the book, Gen. Milley said of the possible coup attempt, "They may try, but they're not going to f-ing succeed. You can't do this without the military. You can't do this without the CIA and the FBI. We are the guys with the guns."

ROMANS: Let's dig deeper here and bring in CNN military analyst and retired Air Force Col. Cedric Leighton, former member of the joint staff at the Pentagon. So nice to see you this morning.

You know, you read this -- these revelations in this book. You say they are unprecedented, especially the fact that a top U.S. general -- a top U.S. general feared a coup attempt by the president. You served in top levels of the Pentagon. What's going through your mind when you hear this?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST, FORMER MEMBER, JOINT STAFF (via Webex by Cisco): Well, good morning, Christine.

You know, in some ways, I'm shocked because these kinds of revelations are what you expect to see in another country -- you know, in a place like Latin America or Eastern Europe or Asia, not here in the United States.

And the very fact that we saw the -- we hear about these revelations, we saw what happened on January sixth, and then we see the role that Gen. Milley, who is the top officer -- top number-one uniformed officer in the United States -- that he had to step in in the way that he did is really, really unprecedented.

SANDOVAL: You know, Gen. Milley even drew a comparison between Trump's election lies and Adolph Hitler's rhetoric, Colonel, so it is quite rare to actually hear a chairman of the Joint Chiefs speak like this. But yet, when you read some of the excerpts, all along, he seems quite sure that members of the military would actually stay loyal to their oath. Is that what you take away from these excerpts, Colonel?

LEIGHTON: Absolutely, Polo. And the very fact that Gen. Milley made that gamble shows how much he trusted the men and women in uniform.

Back in the 1930s, the German military had to swear an oath of loyalty to Adolph Hitler personally and that paved the way for all kinds of things to happen. All the abuses of power and the anti-democratic aspects of Nazism really came to the forefront at that point.

And what you see here in the United States with this is really an effort to not only make sure that the military was loyal and really made that gamble and he succeeded with that gamble, but you also see that Gen. Milley knew that he could actually leverage that and use that to his advantage and protect the democratic institutions of the country.

ROMANS: You know, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke with Milley on safeguards to prevent Trump from using nuclear weapons in his final days in office. How noteworthy is that and what does it mean for the future and other possible threats to democracy?

LEIGHTON: Well, Christine, it means that not only was the speaker paying attention to this, she was very concerned. I -- as far as nuclear commanded control issues are concerned, it becomes really important for us in the military and the civilian leadership to make sure that those command and control procedures are ironclad and that nothing can happen if somebody takes unilateral control of those weapons and puts us into a situation that we don't want to be in. And that, I think, would be the key takeaway in this case.

SANDOVAL: It really does paint a picture of an unstable president, too.

So thank you so much retired Air Force Col. Cedric Leighton, as always, for your service. And, of course, for your (INAUDIBLE) perspective.

ROMANS: Yes, all these books -- the president sitting down for some of these authors, actually, as they try to piece --

SANDOVAL: One more shocking than the next. ROMANS: -- together the last year or the last moments of this Trump administration.

All right, to the big "i" in business now -- inflation. It is the downside of a hot economy. Demand for just about everything is coming back faster than producers can keep up.

Take a look -- take a trip to the gas station, for example. Last year, it cost just over $26.00 to fill up a tank -- an average 12-gallon tank car. Today, that same trip to the gas station is about $38.00.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell reiterated Wednesday inflation will be temporary.


JEROME POWELL, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL RESERVE: Inflation has increased notably and will likely remain elevated in the coming months before moderating. Inflation is being temporarily boosted by base effects as the sharp pandemic-related price increases from last spring drop out of the 12-month calculation.


In addition, strong demands in sectors where production bottlenecks or other supply constraints have limited production has led to especially rapid price increases for some goods and services, which should partially reverse as the effects of the bottlenecks unwind.


ROMANS: He makes a good point that there's a mathematical quirk there. Remember, the whole bottom fell out of prices last year. And so now they've bounced back, so it makes it look more dramatic. But temporary inflation is still challenging, especially for low-income Americans whose dollar needs to stretch farther just to cover the necessities.

Take families earning less than $15,000 a year. Every dollar is gobbled up by the cost of the basics. Every dollar and then some. That means they would have to borrow or go into debt just to meet the basics. When the basics go up it makes it harder for them.

Restaurants say inflation could force them out of business without federal help. The price of grains was up nearly 94 percent in June compared to last year. Beef and veal prices have surged 41 percent. Rising gas prices also mean it costs more for restaurants to transport food.

SANDOVAL: Let's go overseas now. The Netherlands is now reinstating work-from-home advice just weeks after they actually lifted it. The move reflecting broader concerns about Europe's big reopening this summer amid the COVID pandemic.

Let's go now to CNN's Phil Black, live from the U.K. with more. Phil, this is really just one of several measures that's been put back in place all throughout Europe.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Polo, you're seeing some dramatic steps by European countries.

France, for example, this week, announced restrictions on the unvaccinated, including no cafes or restaurants unless you can prove your status. The French president even floated the idea of mandatory vaccinations.

You mentioned the Netherlands. They are reimposing restrictions that were lifted at the end of June because of a five-fold increase in cases in just one week. The Dutch prime minister apologized for an error in judgment.

It does all point to a grim, difficult summer for Europe and it's why everyone on the continent will be watching what happens here in the U.K. very closely in the coming weeks. Because from Monday, here in England, pretty much all remaining legal restrictions on people's freedoms will be lifted despite the fact the U.K. is dealing with an already large and still accelerating wave of Delta variant cases.

The government's hope is that it can deal with vast numbers of infections without seeing large numbers of serious illness because of the advanced nature of the vaccination program here. But it is an unprecedented experiment. No other country has tried to unlock society in this way in these circumstances. And it has critics who described it as reckless and dangerous. And even the government's own scientists say they don't know how this is going to turn out -- Polo.

SANDOVAL: Yes, the Delta variant making a tough situation even worse.

Our thanks to Phil Black there in the U.K.

ROMANS: All right, to Venice now where big cruise ships are banned from sailing into Venice, Italy beginning August first. Residents, environmentalists, and cultural organizations -- they have been fighting for this ban for years. It will cover the lagoon basin near St. Mark's Square. That's Venice's most iconic landmark, as well as a major marine artery used by ships to reach Venice's port.

The ban applies to vessels weighing more than 25,000 tons and longer than 590 feet.

SANDOVAL: Basically, if it's a floating hotel --


SANDOVAL: -- it's not allowed.

All right. Still ahead on EARLY START, one of the great defensive plays you will see. Now, all of a sudden, the NBA Finals are tied at two. The Bleacher Report is next.


[05:42:51] SANDOVAL: All right, welcome back.

The battle for Afghanistan between government forces and the Taliban -- it seems to be intensifying as the U.S. withdraws. One of the country's peace negotiators says that she fears a quote "very, very bitter civil war" if a political solution cannot be reached.

She spoke to CNN's Bianna Golodryga from Qatar, where peace talks are ongoing this morning.


FATIMA GAILANI, AFGHAN GOVERNMENT PEACE NEGOTIATOR: Yes, Taliban are the reality of the country. Yes, it was a mistake that they are not part of the one (ph) conference. And yes, we will have to live together, but not like that. Not push the country into a civil war.

When there is a chaos, the bad doers will take a huge (ph) and they will have their homes in different parts of mountainous Afghanistan. And they will have a right in their own hand to do whatever they like.


ROMANS: The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan under President Obama agrees and thinks the slide into all-out war is happening faster than we realize.


RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO AFGHANISTAN, 2011-2012: I'm very worried about a civil war. In fact, I think it's already started. And we are seeing the images of the Taliban on the move, as you've noted, in various parts of the country burning girls' schools as they go.

So the war is on. The only thing that has changed here is that we have opted out. Our decision no longer to be a major player in Afghanistan doesn't end the war, it intensifies it.


ROMANS: Our Anna Coren is on the ground for us this morning in Kabul.


ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Christine, Polo, the Taliban continues its surge across the country, seizing another major border crossing -- this time, Spin Boldak in Kandahar Province, bordering Pakistan. This is the fourth border crossing to fall in less than a month as the Taliban targets key infrastructure in an attempt to choke the country and pressure the government.

Well, meantime, the Taliban's attempts to discredit CNN's reporting of the execution of almost two dozen Afghan commandos who had surrendered has been rejected. The U.S. State Department has weighed in, describing the horrific actions of the Taliban as an atrocious act.


Well, CNN confirmed with five eyewitnesses that the massacre took place.

And the Biden administration has launched Operation Allied Refuge to relocate thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. military. It's not known where they will go once their visas are processed but the White House has confirmed that the flights will begin by the end of the month -- Christine, Polo.


SANDOVAL: Well, back here in the states, it's f-ing cruelty. That's Britney Spears, emotional in court in her bid to end the conservatorship that has ruled her life for nearly 13 years. She lashed out at her father in court yesterday before she was handed a big legal victory.

ROMANS: Yes. Hours later, the pop star thanked her fans, saying "I feel gratitude and blessed" and using a hashtag that has united supporters, #FreeBritney.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is outside the courthouse for us in Los Angeles.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Christine and Polo, Britney Spears is one step closer to regaining control of her life.

This, as the judge in the case did allow for the resignation of Bessemer Trust, the wealth management firm that is the co-conservator of her trust, along with her father Jamie Spears and her court- appointed lawyer, Samuel Ingham. Both of them had petitioned to leave her case and that was granted.

What's important about this is that's exactly what Britney Spears said that she wanted the last time she was in court, and she already the lawyer right there on tap. Former federal prosecutor Mathew Rosengart was in court to represent Britney Spears and he made it very clear that they are going to be aggressive about getting her father removed from the conservatorship.

MATTHEW ROSENGART, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Pursuant to Britney Spears' instructions, we will be moving promptly and aggressively for his removal. The question remains why is he involved? He should step down voluntarily, as that is in the best interest of Britney Spears.

ELAM (on camera): And we did hear from Britney Spears in court. She did call in by phone. And she was very emotional, sobbing at some points, while she spoke for about 20 minutes.

And she said that she has abandonment issues and that she wants her father charged with conservator abuse. She says that she doesn't trust him and that most of what has been happening, her family has stood by and watched it happen.

She said, quote, "If this isn't abuse I don't what is." She added, "I thought that they were trying to kill me."

Spears also said that she wants the conservator of her person, Jodi Montgomery, who has been with her for many years -- she wants her to stay on to help her transition back to normal life.

And it's also worth noting, Christine and Polo, that she also said that she is not willing to be evaluated again to get her father removed from the conservatorship. She says that she has been evaluated enough times. She said that she is not perfect but she's also not crazy.

Polo and Christine.


SANDOVAL: Stephanie Elam in Los Angeles for us.

This next story, one of remarkable scientific achievement. Researchers in California say they have successfully tested an experimental implant that translates brain signals into words on a computer screen. Now, basically, it's thoughts into words here.

They actually attached electrodes to the head of a man who lost his speech more than 15 years ago due to a stroke and then recorded his brain activity as he was observing some words that were imaged in front of him. Well, according to researchers here, the team says that they are accurately identified -- or at least the team was able to accurately identify about half of the words that the man was thinking to say.

They do hope that this device may help other paralyzed people to be able to communicate.

ROMANS: Amazing.


ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on CNN Business this Thursday morning.

Looking at markets around the world, a mixed performance in Asia, although a one percent gain in the Shanghai Composite. And European has opened lower here this morning.

We know that China's economy grew almost eight percent -- 7.9 percent in the second quarter compared to last year -- a sign the economic recovery in the world's second-largest economy is losing steam, actually, from that big performance in the first quarter.

Taking a look at Wall Street right now, futures, you can see, narrowly mixed here. Dow futures down a little bit.

Stocks were mixed yesterday after the Fed chief Jerome Powell said while inflation is high right now, prices will ease as supply bottlenecks get worked out. Powell testifies again today.

The Dow closed up 44 points. The Nasdaq fell slightly.

Investors will also get the latest jobless claims numbers at 8:30 a.m. eastern time. Claims are expected to fall to the lowest level since March 2020.

The pay gap between CEOs and their employees grew last year despite the pandemic. A new report shows the average CEO of an S&P 500 company earned 299 times the average worker's salary in 2020.

The highest-paid CEO was Chad Richardson of Paycom. Also at the top of the list, CEOs for General Electric, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Hilton, T-Mobile; Nike, Microsoft, Netflix.


At the start of the pandemic, many top executives said they would take a pay cut or forego their salaries altogether. But key here -- giving up pay might not mean losses for executives. Pay is only a fraction of their total compensation. Often it's tied up in bonuses, stock bonuses for how the company performs. How the company performs and stock performs is often how these -- how these CEOs are compensated.

SANDOVAL: Well, the -- well, the Bucks rallying past the Suns in a nail-biter to even out the NBA Finals, now two for two.

Carolyn Manno joining us with the Bleacher Report.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning to you both.

There's no place like home, of course, but Milwaukee needs to figure out how to do this on the road now. After dropping the first two games of the series in Phoenix, Milwaukee right back in the mix in the NBA Finals, battling back on their home court to even up the series in a pretty rugged affair, which led to a very tense fourth quarter.

After scoring a combined 29 points in games two and three, Khris Middleton came to play in game four. Middleton pouring in a playoff career-high 40, including 10 straight down the stretch.

As dominant as Middleton was in the latter half of the fourth quarter, though, the most dramatic play of the night belonged to none other than the teams' two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo with one of the greatest plays in NBA Finals history. A huge block with just over a minute to play that would shift the momentum in the Bucks' favor, who went on to win by six.


GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO, MILWAUKEE BUCKS FORWARD: Going down the stretch we kept believing in ourselves. We kept executing. We kept setting screens. We kept getting stops.

We kept running. We kept -- we run the ball. We kept block shots.

So, we wanted this bad and the team showed it tonight. But we've got to keep getting better. We've got to keep getting better. We've got to keep taking steps forward and keep playing good basketball.


MANNO: The series will now return to Phoenix for game five on Saturday night. The Bucks will need to win at least one of those games there.

In the meantime, NFL star and free agent Richard Sherman is due in court later today after allegedly trying to break into his in-law's home. The five-time Pro Bowler is being held without bail near Seattle as part of a domestic violence investigation.


CHIEF DARRELL LOWE, REDMOND POLICE DEPARTMENT: The domestic violence component is as a result of the relationship between the occupants and Mr. Sherman, not because he physically assaulted anyone during -- any family member or significant other during this event.


MANNO: Sherman also faces charges of resisting arrest, driving under the influence, and hit and run. Police say his SUV crashed shortly before he got to the home of his wife's parents. CNN has reached out to Sherman's representatives for comment.

In preparation for the Tokyo Olympics, USA basketball's women's national team faced the WNBA All-Stars last night. The WNBA season takes place in the summer, which means that the All-Star Game is usually put on hold while players represent their countries during Olympic years. But this time around the league made an exception and the All-Stars showed out.

Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale hit five threes and put up a game- high 26 points on the way to MVP honors.

WNBA ended up winning it 93-85.

Sue Bird, who is going to her fifth Olympics, summed it up afterwards by saying that the squad learned that they are not a team quite yet. Team USA has a little bit of time there seeking a seventh-straight gold medal when they begin their Olympic campaign against Nigeria on July 27th.

And while Candace Parker didn't make the Olympic team she is still making history. The reigning defensive Player of the Year is now the first woman to appear on the cover of the NBA 2K videogame franchise.

And in a tweet, Parker said she is extremely proud and humbled and honored to work with a company that's investing in women. She said it speaks to how important visibility is and we know that that's true. She called it a benchmark for women's basketball and it certainly is.

ROMANS: That's awesome.

SANDOVAL: And she'd be the first of many. MANNO: Yes.

ROMANS: All right, Carolyn Manno. Nice to see you this morning. Thanks, Carolyn.

All right. Finally this morning, a Good Samaritan says he didn't have time to panic -- he just jumped into action after a car crashed into a home in Salem, New Hampshire with kids inside. Police say the driver, who had been drinking, hit a mailbox that catapulted into the home and injured -- severely injured a 5-year-old girl.


SCOTT DEMERS, GOOD SAMARITAN: The father came out of the house screaming that he just killed my little girl. And I saw the blood squirting out of her neck so I knew she was still with us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really, they are the ones that saved her life because I was in complete panic. I didn't know what to do.

SCOTT DEMERS: I don't have the most inviting appearance sometimes but, you know -- but, you know -- you know, heroes don't always wear capes, I guess.


ROMANS: But they have awesome beards.

SANDOVAL: That's a terrible account (ph). They absolutely do. An amazing ability to step up. That unlikely hero, Scott Demers, likely saved that young girl's life. Five-year-old Giuliana is expected to make a full recovery, which is always a great --

ROMANS: Oh my gosh. Can you imagine being in your house with your kids and the car just crashes through?

SANDOVAL: Through the door.

ROMANS: All right, 54 minutes past the hour this Thursday morning. Thank you for joining us on EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

SANDOVAL: And I'm Polo Sandoval. "NEW DAY" continues.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman with Brianna Keilar. Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. It is Thursday, July 15th.

And we begin with explosive revelations about just how close American democracy came to the edge. Jaw-dropping excerpts from a new book about the aftermath of the 2020 election.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And these excerpts obtained by CNN's Jamie Gangel are from this upcoming book, "I Alone Can Fix It," by two Pulitzer Prize-winning "Washington Post" reporters.

Among the revelations, America's top general.