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EARLY START

USS John S. McCain Collides With Merchant Ship; Trump To Announce "Path Forward" For U.S. In Afghanistan; Trump To Hold Campaign-Style Rally In Phoenix Tuesday; Icahn Steps Down As Trump Adviser; North Korea Warns Of "Merciless Strike". Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 21, 2017 - 05:00   ET

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


[05:00:05] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: You'll recall the fatal collision involving the "USS Fitzgerald" in which seven sailors died. The three top commanders of the "Fitzgerald" were removed from their duties in the fallout surrounding that fatal collision.

As for the "McCain," a massive search and rescue operation is underway now. Kyung Lah is live in Tokyo with the very latest. Kyung, they've pulled that or it has steamed into port. What is the status of the 10 missing sailors?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's happening at sea right now, Christine, is becoming a race against time. You mentioned it's 5:00 in Singapore. There's about two hours of daylight left before the sun sets.

According to Malaysian authorities, the search area is 10 nautical miles. They are combing the waters with the help of the Singaporeans and the U.S. Navy as well as the U.S. Marines trying to find these 10 sailors.

According to the Malaysians, that at the point of impact, it is believed that they may have been thrown overboard. The condition of the water right now, according to the Malaysians, is waves are quite rough, two to three feet in height.

So, they are desperately trying to find these sailors although they have now been in the water almost 12 hours. The "McCain," you see the giant, gaping hole in the side. That is the point of impact where it collided with the oil tanker.

According to the U.S. Navy, five other sailors were injured, four of them were flown by helicopter back to a Singaporean hospital. Their injuries are non-life-threatening.

You did mention that there were four incidents this year. Three of them were collisions. If you look at the timeline of this, the latest one with the "USS John S. McCain," then the "Fitzgerald" two months ago where seven were killed.

Large investigation, still trying to get at exactly why this happened. The other two, this has been certainly, Christine, a challenging year for the U.S. forces when it comes to these collisions. ROMANS: All right. Of course, our thoughts and prayers with everyone who has a loved one serving on that vessel because there are a lot of questions about the fate of those 10 sailors. Thank you so much for that, Kyung.

Our other big story, President Trump set to unveil the new U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan. He'll do it in a primetime address tonight. The speech, this is the speech after this extensive review in which White House and Pentagon officials considered a more aggressive role for the U.S. military.

U.S. forces have been engaged in Afghanistan since 2001. This is America's longest war. We get more this morning from CNN's Boris Sanchez.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, we are set to hear from President Trump tonight at 9:00 p.m. He'll be addressing the nation from Fort Meyer in Virginia on the strategy moving forward in Afghanistan.

This is something that the president tweeted about over the weekend, on Saturday writing that after a very important meeting with top military brass in in Camp David, they came up with the strategy.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis was actually asked about this on Sunday. He gave no indication except to say that he wanted to allow the president to explain the decision to the American people himself. Here's Secretary Mattis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I was not willing to make significant troop lifts until we knew certainly what was the strategy, what was the commitment going in. In that regard, the president has made a decision, as he said. He wants to be the one to announce it to the American people. So, I'll stand silent until then, until that point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: So, it will be interesting to see what the president emphasizes moving forward. This is something that the White House has been working on for months. And finally, tonight, we will get what the president has decided to do with that war that has gone on for so long and cost so many lives -- Dave and Christine.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed, many lives lost, as Boris mentioned there. More than 2,200 killed. More than 20,000 wounded. The Trump team has been working on a new Afghan strategy for several months now.

Many options on the table. They rank from a troop surge to a complete withdrawal. One proposal favored by now-ex-White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon shifting the responsibility to private contractors, what some refer to as mercenaries.

Sources tell CNN it could be a bump of some 4,000 troops, mostly advisers, though. That in bed with local Afghan army units. Officials say troop levels are just one component of the full South Asia strategy, which includes pressuring Pakistan to deny safe haven to the Taliban and other extremist groups.

ROMANS: Let's bring in Julian Zelizer, our CNN political analyst and historian and professor at Princeton University. Nice to see you bright and early on a Monday morning.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Good morning.

ROMANS: Let's talk about tonight. This primetime address from the president. He's going to -- I think his first real primetime address --

BRIGGS: His first address to the nation.

ROMANS: He had called for a complete review of Afghan strategy. We know the contours of the possibilities. How important is this moment for President Trump, Julian?

[05:05:08] ZELIZER: Well, it's a difficult moment because here he is announcing a new strategy where many Americans are probably not feeling there's a major crisis immediately.

He's doing it where his own party is divided about him, when his approval ratings are low, and when he is right in the enter still of a major, major controversy since Charlottesville.

So, it will be important to see can he pull something like this off, can he outline both a vision for strategy with military options and be convincing when much of the country is not going to be willing to trust him on much? Here we're talking about a military escalation possibly.

BRIGGS: Yes. And here's the context, some of what you're referring to, new polls, for example, from NBC. Here's the approval rating in those key states -- Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin -- that really propelled President Trump to the White House.

The approval rating from 34 percent to 36 percent. One interesting poll asked those voters if they were embarrassed or if they were proud of the president's behavior in the oval office and, well, not good numbers, 63, 64 percent say they were embarrassed, again, in those three key states.

Here's what the one black Republican senator, Tim Scott, said about the president's behavior, his response to Charlottesville, and what it means moving forward for his leadership.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: As we look into -- look to the future, it's going to be difficult for this president to lead if in fact that moral authority remains compromised.

His comments on Tuesday that erased his positive comments on Monday started to compromise that moral authority that we need the president to have for this nation to be the beacon of light to all mankind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: We call upon you as a political analyst but as a historian. Historically speaking, how do these factors like Charlottesville impact how a country takes in a message from a president at times like this?

ZELIZER: It's very important. If you look at someone like Lyndon Johnson, by the end of his presidency, by 1967 and '68, he's having problems. We have what we call a credibility gap. Back then, many people didn't believe what he said.

Many people would listen to him and not trust him. Part of that was because of how Vietnam unfolded and the difference between what was happening in Vietnam and the U.S. part of it were domestic problems he had here in the United States which undercut his standing with the public.

I think President Trump faces this in a much greater degree at this point. As you said with the polls, many people are not willing to listen and say this is going to be credible. It's very hard to overcome that as president.

ROMANS: Let's listen to something that Governor John Kasich of Ohio said on Sunday about this upcoming Phoenix speech. The president tonight will unveil what his strategy is for Afghanistan.

And then in hours he will get on a plane and will go to Phoenix where he's going to have like a campaign-style rally where he tends to be off the cuff, tends to be the real Donald Trump. Let's listen to what John Kasich said the president should do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: People around him have to get to him, including his own family, to say, OK, you need to show leadership, you need to bring the country together.

If you're going to go to Phoenix and make a speech, fine. That's your right. You can go there. He's got free speech just like the rest of us have it. But when you go, try to use that as an opportunity to say something that's going to bring people together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: It's interesting to me that in the wake of the Charlottesville remarks and the breakup with business leaders last week, you know, the reporting is that the president is comfortable with what he said in Charlottesville and stubborn about it. I wonder if you're going to see -- do you think, Julian, you're going to see a more tempered President Trump this week?

ZELIZER: No. It's an easy answer. I think John Kasich is involved in some wishful thinking there. There's no evidence President Trump will change. There's no evidence he regrets what he said or regrets the general style of talking about domestic issues that we have heard from day one through the campaign.

So, I think in Phoenix you're going to hear exactly what you expect and there's no pivot ever coming. This is our president. This is how he speaks and the administration, they want to carry out a military strategy. Republicans who want to reunite the country I think are going to have difficulty because that's not what this president wants to do.

BRIGGS: We've been waiting for the impact of General John Kelly. We'll see it not tonight, but probably tomorrow night in Arizona. We'll talk to you more about that in about 30 minutes. Julian Zelizer, thank you.

ROMANS: Thanks, Julian.

BRIGGS: CNN will have special live coverage of the president's address at 9:00 Eastern Time tonight.

[05:10:04] That's followed by an exclusive town hall with House Speaker Paul Ryan who did not take on the president by name about his Charlottesville response. That is hosted by Jake Tapper.

ROMANS: One of the biggest names in business quitting on President Trump. This time it is not over Charlottesville. The billionaire investor and friend of Donald Trump, Carl Icahn, is stepping down as an adviser for regulatory reform.

This he says with the president's blessing stating in a letter that he doesn't want partisan bickering over him to cloud the administration. Democrats have long criticized his role as a conflict of interest.

That's because he still runs his business and is advising the president how to lower barriers for people like him to make more money. For months, Icahn has called those claims absurd.

So, it's unclear what prompted his decision to leave now. It is another crack in the uneasy alliance between America's CEOs, these business titans, and this president. Corporate America disagrees with the president on climate change, NAFTA, immigration.

It was the president's response to Charlottesville, on race, that caused the collapse of his business councils and top executives were quick to distance themselves from Trump after many months of, you know, of deciding they wanted to work with him on some other issues.

Wall Street worries what this means for Trump's corporate agenda. Corporate America is a powerful ally to push for tax reform and infrastructure. A lot of discussion. Really a lot of discussion about what an isolated Donald Trump, isolated from his party --

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: -- isolated from the business community, what that will mean for tax reform, for example. A lot of folks telling me tax reform is essentially dead. Tax cuts are what they are looking for now.

BRIGGS: Corporate mainly.

ROMANS: Corporate tax cuts.

BRIGGS: All right, the United States and South Korea starting joint military drills today. It's got North Korea furious and lashing out. That's next on EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:15:58]

ROMANS: All right. It's 15 minutes past the hour. North Korea ramping up the rhetoric again in response to military exercises by the U.S. and South Korea. Those exercises begin today.

Now the Kim Jong-un regime threatening a merciless strike. The official government newspaper warning these joint exercises are, quote, "driving the situation into the uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war."

U.S. officials say the ten-day military drills are proceeding as scheduled. They will be computer based, interestingly enough. So, the imagery might be a little bit different from other years --

BRIGGS: Yes. Look much different than we are used to ten days of those. Let's bring in now Retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton, CNN military analyst. Good morning to you, Colonel.

COLONEL CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Good morning, Dave. Good to be with you.

BRIGGS: And you. Let's start in the region with the "USS John S. McCain," the Navy destroyer colliding with an oil tanker more than three times its size off the coast of Singapore. Five injured, 10 are missing, but most importantly is what you see on the screen. This is the fourth such incident this year. What is happening here, Colonel?

LEIGHTON: Dave, it looks like there's some real problems from a training and operations perspective. So, this is very serious. When I was in that region, when I served in the Pacific region, I did spend some time with the U.S. Seventh Fleet, the same parent-numbered fleet that is responsible for this area and for the accidents that happened on its watch this year.

So, we have a training issue, an operational issue. It looks as if there are some issues with how U.S. Navy ships in this part of the world are dealing with merchant vessels. There have to be procedural changes to make sure this stuff doesn't happen.

ROMANS: These are some of the most sophisticated ships, technology- wise, in the world. To run into an oil vessel five times bigger seems there would be technology to prevent that from ever happening. I know the "Fitzgerald," top brass was removed from duty here. Does the Navy need a top-to-bottom review here in terms of leadership and training?

LEIGHTON: I think so, Christine. What this really does, what it shows is that there are procedures that clearly that have been in place for many years. The question is, were those procedures sufficient? And if they were sufficient, why were they not followed?

So, that becomes one of the issues, but it also leads me to believe that some of the equipment that these ships have, the type of equipment that is a collision avoidance designed to avoid collisions, that kind of equipment is going to have to be reviewed.

You have to do a technical review as well as review of all the personnel involved to make sure that these things in very busy waters such as in Tokyo Bay or in the Straits of Malacca where this incident with the "USS John S. McCain" occurred that doesn't happen again.

Because we really can't afford to have our Navy vessels or any other piece of military equipment put at risk through accidents of this type.

BRIGGS: All right. Colonel, let's turn now to Afghanistan. The president gives a primetime address, 9:00 Eastern Time, announcing the new strategy in Afghanistan. It's expected around 4,000 different support troops will be headed there. Is this a winning strategy?

LEIGHTON: I don't think so, Dave. The reason I say that is we're basically putting in -- in economics they talk about putting good money after bad. This is kind of like putting a lot of good troops in after a lot of bad events have happened.

What we're dealing with here is a country where the central government in essence controls almost nothing except for the capital and a few areas during the daytime. At night, it becomes a completely different area under Taliban and warlord control.

So, this kind of situation requires one of two things -- either far more effort than appears to be the proposal or we get out and cut our losses at this point in time. That's a very sad thing to have to say after so much effort and so many lives lost.

ROMANS: Yes. It's 2,216 total deaths in Afghanistan of U.S. military personnel, 20,049 wounded.

[05:20:00] You know, blood and treasure, blood and treasure and America's longest war. It's a really big decision the president has to make. He released a picture from Camp David, the meeting with all of his top officials sort of sitting down, grim -- grim faced.

Because you know, all the options here, stay the course, add more troops, or get out are all very difficult, difficult decisions to make in light of all that America has already invested and lost in the region.

You know, what would your advice be then? I mean, of those three options, add more troops, stay the course, or get out, what would you recommend?

LEIGHTON: Generally speaking I would say get out at this point in time. In fact, I would have advocated getting out a lot earlier. I would have basically stated the mission is get rid of al Qaeda.

When Osama Bin Laden was killed, that would have been a perfect opportunity to declare victory and leave. But this was one of those situations where we were involved in nation building, for lack of a better term.

And we felt we could -- with the death of Osama Bin Laden back in 2011 we could actually do something more to the country. Help them really regain footing, but this is a place that hasn't had a strong central government.

It always had warlords or fiefdoms of various types controlling large areas of territory, and that is not going to change just because we're there.

ROMANS: A lot of bad choices, it sounds like.

BRIGGS: Yes, all bad options.

ROMANS: All right. Cedric Leighton, Colonel, please come back. We'll talk more about this. Thank you, sir.

LEIGHTON: You bet, absolutely, Christine.

BRIGGS: All right. Coming up, the NBA launching an investigation into the Los Angeles Lakers, and the focus on the team president -- Magic Johnson. Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report" next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:26:22]

BRIGGS: Millions of Americans will have their eyes on the skies for today's solar eclipse, but not Alabama head coach, Nick Saban.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes explains in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, guys. You know, Saban is known for being hyper-focused on improving his football team regardless of what's happening around him. Yesterday, he was asked how the Crimson tide was preparing for the eclipse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICK SABAN, ALABAMA HEAD COACH: We'll set it up so if the players want to get sunglasses and look at it, I guess they can. That's not something that I'm really that focused on right now.

They're already saying what it's going to look like in every city in America, so what -- what's going to be significant? I'm going to watch it on tv. Maybe we should have a team meeting about how we're going to do this. I haven't thought of that yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCHOLES: Saban sounds so excited about the eclipse, and you know, those players, they better get special glasses and not just use sunglasses or else Alabama might not fare too well in their opener against Florida State on September 2nd.

The NBA is investigating a claim by the Pacers that the Lakers tampered with their former superstar, Paul George. According to ESPN, Team President Magic Johnson is at the center of the investigation.

Now it is illegal for a team to have any contact with a player that is under contract with another team. And George is not going to be a free agent until next summer. If the Lakers are found guilty, they could lose draft picks, be fined, and be restricted from signing George in the future.

The Lakers deny the allegations and say they're looking forward to clearing their name.

All right, the Cardinals and Pirates hosting a special game last night for the 16 teams playing in the Little League World Series. The game was in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and had the lowest capacity ever for a Major League game of just 2,500. Tickets not available for the public for this one.

And Cardinals' outfielder, Tommy Pham, wearing special cleats. They were decorated by two kids being treated for cancer at St. Louis Children's Hospital. Cool deal for him to wear those.

Pham also ordered 200 snowcones for all the Little Leaguers in attendance. Safe to say he was definitely a fan favorite last night.

Finally, this is one of the best catches you will ever see. Pennsylvania taking on Chinese Taipei in the Junior Little League World Series. Jack Regeny goes over the wall and is able to hold on to the ball to make the catch and rob the home run.

Look at the concentration -- going down over the wall. Still able to make the catch. Incredible. The call was actually overturned after it was ruled an out. But then it was overturned again and was back to an out.

You know, that makes me think of what really should be the rule, guys? Should you have to stay in the field of play for it to be a catch? You go over the wall --

BRIGGS: Thank you -- like a home run to me. The ball went over the wall. Extraordinary play. I happen to side with you on that, my friend.

ROMANS: My dilemma about that play is as a mom, I'm like he could have really been hurt going over, landing on his head. The mom in me is like --

SCHOLES: Give him the out for the risk --

ROMANS: Don't do it at home. Yay, but don't do that. SANCHEZ: Mom.

ROMANS: I know. Mom.

All right, breaking news, ten soldiers, they're missing in the Pacific after a U.S. Navy destroyer collides with an oil tanker. The latest on that search.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)