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Trump Contradicts Aides on Comey Firing; Colbert Trolls Trump; White House: Russia "Tricked" Us!; The Government Considers Expanding Airline Laptop Ban. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 12, 2017 - 04:30   ET



MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president took strong and decisive leadership here.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: He took the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.


LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: You already made the decision?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.


ROMANS: President Trump's changing timeline for the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

[04:30:04] The president's timeline contradicts everything the White House has been saying.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Dave Briggs. It is 30 minutes past the hour.

Hard to believe with all the trouble coming down in the White House, he took time to troll a comedian. But we'll get to that later.

Up first, contradictions and confusion from the White House over the firing of FBI Director James Comey. In a revealing interview with NBC's Lester Holt, President Trump giving answers that directly go against what aides have been saying since Comey was dismissed on Tuesday.

ROMANS: After saying for days, for more than three days that the move was based on the recommendation from his deputy attorney general, Trump now says the call was his and was made long ago. The president also undercuts the idea that Comey was fired over the Hillary Clinton investigation.

The president admitting Russia was on his mind.


TRUMP: What I did is I was going to fire Comey. My decision. It was not --

HOLT: You made the decision before they came in the office?

TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey. There is no good time to do it, by the way. They --

HOLT: In the letter, I accepted their recommendation. You already made the decision.

TRUMP: Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.

He made a recommendation. He is highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him. The Republicans like him. He made a recommendation.

But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.


BRIGGS: There was a possibility of a visit by the president to the FBI headquarters today, but that is now nixed by the administration after being told Mr. Trump would not be greeted warmly. The White House now claiming the trip was never really finalized.

CNN's Athena Jones with more of the president's interview.



The president made news on several fronts in his interview with NBC. The president also revealed a little bit more, shed more light on his claim on the note delivered to Comey, the note that was his dismissal note, in which he said that the director had told him on three separate occasions that he wasn't under investigation.

Lester Holt of NBC asked him to talk about that. Here's what he had to say.

TRUMP: I had a dinner with him. He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House --

HOLT: He -- he asked --


TRUMP: -- very early on. That dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner.

And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And I said I'll, you know, consider. We'll see what happens.

But we had a very nice dinner. And at that time, he told you are not under investigation.

So, he said it once at dinner and then he said it twice during phone calls.

HOLT: Did -- did you call him?

TRUMP: In one case, I called him, in one case, he called me.

HOLT: And did you ask am I under investigation?

TRUMP: I actually asked him, yes. I said, if it's possible, would you let me know am I under investigation. He said you are not under investigation.

JONES: So, there you heard the president acknowledging he had several conversations with the FBI director and included discussions about an ongoing investigations. That is something that critics are saying is unwise at the very least. Of course, we will be watching to see what he says and does next -- Christine, Dave.


ROMANS: Yes, we will. Athena Jones -- thank you, Athena, at the White House. New details emerging this morning from that private dinner between President Trump and the former FBI director. According to "The New York Times", James Comey is telling friends Donald Trump demanded a pledge of loyalty from him twice during their meal. Comey says he declined, but assured the president he would be honest with him.

That reaffirms reporting from CNN's Jake Tapper that the president fired Comey in part over a lack of loyalty. Of course, the FBI is independent, supposed to be independent. That's what his ten-year term so it can be independent of the White House.

"The Times" report the dinner took place on January 27th.

BRIGGS: That is one day after former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates issued a strong warning to the White House about Michael Flynn's contacts with Russia. The president addressed the firing of his former national security adviser in that NBC interview. Listen.


TRUMP: My White House counsel Don McGahn came back to me and did not sound like an emergency of any -- he didn't make it sound like he was, you know -- and she actually didn't make it sound that way, either in the hearings the other day. Like it had to be done immediately.

This man has served for many years. He's a general. He's a, in my opinion, a very good person.

I believe that it would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we don't even know and immediately run out and fire a general.

We ultimately fired -- but we fired for a different reason.

[04:35:05] HOLT: You're talking about General Flynn?

TRUMP: General Flynn, yes.

HOLT: Because -- because of lying to the vice president.

TRUMP: Yes, but everything plays in -- everything plays into it. But we fired him because he said something to the vice president that was not so.


BRIGGS: OK. There is a lot to unpack there, but let me start with what the president just said. Michael Flynn was fired because he lied to the vice president. The vice president lied to the American people on Wednesday about why James Comey was fired. So, either the vice president lied to the American public or someone lied to him about why James Comey was being fired.

He also said the warning from Sally Yates didn't seem like an emergency. So the fact that your head of the National Security Council was compromised by the Russians was not an emergency in the estimation of the White House.

ROMANS: And even now, the president is calling Michael Flynn a very good person. But he's calling Jim Comey, who's investigating Russian collusion, a showboat, you know?

BRIGGS: Very interesting characterization.

ROMANS: It is.

BRIGGS: And I said, the council, the national security agency. A lot to get to with that Lester interview.

But two government officials who are inside FBI headquarters say Comey's office has been cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape. It's not an actual crime scene, of course. This yellow tape was all the bureau had to keep the curious lookers out.

ROMANS: And the acting FBI director now is Andrew McCabe and he heaped praise on his former boss at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, while also assuring lawmakers the Trump administration is not interfering with the bureau's Russia investigation. McCabe is vowing to let lawmakers know immediately if that changes. Much of McCabe's testimony directly contradicting a number of White House claims.

The latest now from CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.



Now, the FBI trying to reassure the Senate Intelligence Committee that its investigation into Trump campaign and any of the contacts that may exist with Russian officials is still moving forward despite the stunning firing of FBI Director James Comey earlier this week.

The acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee saying that there's been no interference by the White House, saying that they have enough resources to move forward and they plan to do just that. And also contradicting the White House by saying this is a highly significant investigation, even as the White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier this week that this is really not a high priority for the FBI.

Now, at the same time, McCabe strongly pushing back at the White House's assertion saying the rank and file deeply support Mr. Comey.

ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day. I can confidently tell you that the majority, the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.

RAJU: Now, this comes as Comey was invited to testify on Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. No word yet if he's actually confirmed that appearance, but this would be a classified closed session and that means it would be off limits to the public. But we do know that other people in the administration plan to talk about some senators, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who also was at the center of the controversy involving the Comey firing invited to come to an all senators briefing next week to discuss the Comey firing.

So, this issue not going away anytime soon -- Christine and Dave.


BRIGGS: Certainly not. Thank you, Manu.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein denying reports he threatened to resign in the aftermath of the James Comey's firing. "The Washington Post" reported Rosenstein was angered about the memo being used as the prime justification for dismissing the FBI director. If he was ready to quit, he is not acknowledging it publicly.


REPORTER: Mr. Rosenstein, did you threaten to quit from the Comey fallout?


REPORTER: Did you threaten to quit?



BRIGGS: Despite the denial, CNN sources still say Rosenstein is unhappy with the way the White House handled the Comey firing. "The Wall Street Journal" has some reporting that Rosenstein asked the White House to set the record straight.

Meanwhile, Sean Spicer returning to the briefing room today. He missed the White House briefings the last two days for naval reserve duty, replaced by Sarah Huckabee Sanders. That fueled rumors he was demoted after the bizarre briefing with reporters earlier this week by the White House bushes in the dark.

The administration has been under intense fire for its contradictory accounts of FBI Director James Comey's firing.

[04:40:05] ROMANS: All right. The downward spiral for retailers continues. Sales at Macy's, Kohl's and Dillard's all plunge last quarter. Retailers blamed weak consumer spending at the start of the year. And while experts expected a rebound in shopping dollars that probably won't help traditional stores. They are still losing the sales battle against online shopping giants.

For example, Amazon sales jumped 23 percent during the same time period. Walmart sales had been, have seen a renaissance since the store boosted its digital shopping. But as brick and mortar stores struggle to grow sales investors, lose confidence. Macy's stock fell 17 percent after announcing its sales fell more than 7 percent, spurring honestly a bloodbath for retail stocks. Kohl's, JCPenney, and Sears all finished much lower.

It's not just Wall Street losing out. Retail companies employ one in 10 Americans. The industry shed tens of thousands of workers in recent months. And, really, when you look at sort of the hemorrhaging of those retail jobs, it's a far greater number of jobs than coal or some of these other industries that the president has campaigned on. Meanwhile, there's hugely that's going on in this important sector.

BRIGGS: And hard to imagine turning that tide since the sales in your opinion are going digital.

ROMANS: Yes, a lot of them are, yes.

BRIGGS: Tough news.

All right. Stephen Colbert taking on Trump after the president takes aim at the late night host.


STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN/TV HOST: Oh, no. Oh, no. Please. Oh, please. Don't make me trend on Twitter again.


BRIGGS: More of Colbert's Trump trolling when EARLY START continues.


[04:45:48] BRIGGS: Stephen Colbert going toe-to-toe with Donald Trump. This all started when the president personally attacked the late night host, along with members of the media in a wide ranging interview with "TIME." He referred to Colbert as filthy and no talent guy, and claims the late show is still alive only because Colbert keeps mentioning the name Trump.

The president also pointed out his appearance on the Colbert show led to the highest rating ever. Here now is Colbert's rebuttal.


COLBERT: The president of the United States has personally come after me and my show and there's only one thing to say.


Don't you know I've been trying for a year to get you to say my name. And you were very restrained. Ad I won.

You're not wrong. I do occasionally use adult language, and I do it in the public, instead of in a privacy of an "Access Hollywood" bus.

And it's true, the night you appeared on this show, right over there, was very highly rated. In fact, the only episode that got better ratings was the night I had Jeb Bush on.

That's right. You got beat by low energy Jeb. Don't worry. You won the ratings college.


ROMANS: The president also attacked CNN anchors Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon referring to Cuomo as a boiler ready to explode. CNN releasing a statement saying the president's statements are, quote, beneath the office of the president.

The president also taking to Twitter to tweak his old nemesis, Rosie O'Donnell. She tweeted fire Comey, that was back in December. The president responding, we finally agree on something, Rosie.

O'Donnell firing back, tweeting, you don't even realize the kind of trouble you are in. Comey's people believe in him, for real. They have the proof. You are a sadistic man.

All right. A Russian photographer pushing back after the White House said it was tricked into letting the state news photographer in, in the Oval Office. The photograph who works for Russia's ministry and state media claims that's no nonsense. The photos he took show Mr. Trump shaking hands with Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, a suspected Russian spy. The administration blocked U.S. media from taking the pictures, only the Russian and White House photographer were allowed inside. The president apparently did not suspect those photos to be made public. But they did. They were. They wound up appearing on Russian state media for the entire world to see, a propaganda coup by the Kremlin.

The president claims he is not worried about the optics of the meeting with the Russians. He met with them in the Oval Office one day after firing the FBI director who is, of course, investigating the very people and meddling in the American campaign.

BRIGGS: All right. A change of plans for the Kushner family. Jared sister Nicole and other company executives won't be in attendance when the family's real estate business makes its sales pitch to Chinese investors this weekend. It comes after Nicole Kushner Meyer raised eyebrows mentioning her brother and his job as the White House adviser while courting Chinese investors for a New Jersey development project. The company later apologized.

The president's son-in-law stepped away from the Kushner companies to be part of the Trump administration.

ROMANS: All right. Good news for drivers. Cost of gasoline for summer trip just got cheaper. This is really the real deal economic indicator. Every week, you fill up your tank every week and gas prices are plunging.


[04:53:35] BRIGGS: Talk show host Steve Harvey has no regret after a stunning memo to show staff was leaked by a blogger this week. So, the memo warned employees not to speak to him or to approach him.

We're quoting here: do not come to my dressing room unless invited. Do not approach me while I'm in the makeup chair, unless I as you to speak directly.

Harvey also insisted those attempting to communicate with him, quote, schedule an appointment. Writing in all caps: if you open my door, expect to be removed.

Harvey's talk show is ending its five-year run in Chicago. His new L.A.-based show "Steve" premieres in September. We talk about optics all the time, Christine. This is the guy whose talk show talks with people.

ROMANS: Can you schedule an appointment before you chat with me?

BRIGGS: I worked with someone once who had similar policies who is no longer in the cable news industry. So, he is not alone in this, but it's nonetheless appalling when you are supposed to be one of the people on your show.

I don't know. He doesn't apologize. So, no regrets.

ROMANS: Don't talk to me. BRIGGS: I'll keep that in mind.

ROMANS: Don't talk to me.

Military investigators revealing a potentially catastrophic risk with a plane in the Air Force One fleet. According to their report, the oxygen system onboard one of the aircraft now available to President Trump was contaminated and could have sparked a mid-flight fire. The discovery coming while the plane was undergoing maintenance at a Boeing plant in Texas last year.

The mishap by three Boeing mechanics caused $4 million damage. It did not result in injuries, thankfully. And Boeing is reimbursing the government for the cost.

BRIGGS: U.S. airlines and European Union raising concerns about the possible expansion of the ban on laptops and other large electronic devices to include U.S.-bound flights from Europe. Homeland security officials met with airline industry representatives and others Thursday to discuss the plan, widening the ban to European airports could impact 14 million travelers. That's 40 percent of all overseas visitors to the U.S. The originally ban covered flights from ten airports in the Middle East and North Africa. It was prompted by fears a concealed bomb could be installed in the devices.

That is big stuff.


BRIGGS: Considering all the business travelers who travel from Europe to the United States with their laptops.

All right. Well, no matter where you live, chances are you're not going to like the weekend forecast. Mother's Day. Looks like a bummer. Rain moving into the Northeast. Severe storms targeting the South, the Midwest.

More now from meteorologist Derek Van Dam.


DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The weekend, Dave and Christine. We have another chance of severe weather today. This time, only marginal risk from the Gulf Coast States, right through central and northern Georgia and parts of South Carolina. Damaging winds and potential for hail exist. So, keep an eye to the sky.

Here is the storm system responsible for the isolated scattered storms. It's not a widespread severe weather event to say the least. But, certainly, some rain expected as we head into the weekend. That's another story. Saturday into Sunday from Mid-Atlantic states through New England coastline -- look at this -- heavy rain, urban flooding and potential for high winds, potentially topping over some trees.

Take a look at how much rain we're expecting, anywhere between two to upwards of four inches locally from Philadelphia through New York, eventually into Boston as we head into the day on Sunday. Temperatures today, 66 for Detroit, D.C., 59, Jacksonville, Florida, 93.

And for all of our lovely mothers, we can't forget Mother's Day this Sunday. And, in fact, things are going to start clearing out and warming up for much of the Deep South. Look at the temperatures in New York, 66.

Back to you.


ROMANS: All right. Derek Van Dam, thank you.

That's your weather, here's your money this morning, this Friday morning. U.S. futures lower while global markets are mixed. Wall Street closed down after retail stocks tanked the market. Markets are still near all time highs. And investors are already looking forward to more earnings in a strong earnings season.

Also on the radar, weekend meeting of the finance chief from the world top economies. That is in Italy.

Driving this summer, you're getting a break at the pump, everybody. Good prices have fallen every day for the past three weeks. The average is now $2.34 a gallon. That's an 8 cent drop. Unexpected.

Gas prices usually rise in the summer as refiners switch to a more expended blend, but a glut in the oil market has pushed down prices. Oil has fallen about 11 percent in the past month. And that has concerned OPEC, so much so that it has asked the U.S. to cap output to help balance out the market.

Tennessee is the first state to make community college free-for-all adults. State lawmakers are expanding a 2014 program to include all adults with no college education. It was originally designed for recent high school grads.

The goal here in Tennessee is to increase residents with degrees to 55 percent by the year 2025. Why? Jobs. The most recent weekly earnings for a person with a high school degree, $702. While someone with a college degree makes $1,280. So, it's economic imperative.

BRIGGS: Sure, how are they paying for it, though?

ROMANS: Well, taxpayers ultimately pay for it that's always the goal here. But the idea is if you have people in the state making more money, they pay more taxes. You start to recoup the costs.

BRIGGS: New York has a similar plan in the works.

All right. EARLY START continues right now.



PENCE: The president took strong and decisive leadership here.

CONWAY: He took the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.

SANDERS: To remove James Comey from his position.

HOLT: You already made the decision?

TRUMP: I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.


ROMANS: President Trump directly contradicting the top advisers with a new timeline for the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

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

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. It is Friday, May 12th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Another enormously impactful day in the nation's capital. We start with more contradictions and more confusion from the White House over the dismissal of FBI Director James Comey. In a revealing interview with NBC's Lester Holt, President Trump giving answers that directly go against what aides have been saying since Comey was dismissed on Tuesday.

ROMANS: After saying the firing was based on recommendations from his deputy attorney general, the president now says the call was his and made the call a long time ago. The president also undercuts the idea that Comey was fired over the Hillary Clinton investigation. The president admitting Russia was on his mind.