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Trump Versus White House on Comey Timeline; Colbert Trolls Trump; White House: Russia "Tricked" Us!; Harden and Rockets Come Up Short. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 12, 2017 - 05:00   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.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

[05:00:03] 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 the possibly of a visit by the president to FBI headquarters today, but that's been nixed by the administration after being told Mr. Trump would not be greeted warmly there. 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: All right. Athena, thank you. New details emerging this morning from that private dinner between President Trump and the former FBI director. According to "New York Times," Comey, James Comey is telling friends the president demanded a pledge of loyalty from him twice during their meal. Comey said he declined, but he assured the president he would be honest with him.

And that reaffirms reporting from CNN's Jake Tapper that the president fired Comey, in part, over a lack of loyalty. "The Times" reports that dinner took place on January 27th.

BRIGGS: And that 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 this NBC interview.


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.

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: Two government officials who are inside FBI headquarters say Comey's office has been cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape. Not an actual crime scene. It seems the yellow tape was all the bureau had to keep the curious out.

ROMANS: All right. Let's talk about all this with CNN politics reporter Eugene Scott.

Eugene, just a whirlwind of events over the past few days or so. And there is a fallout from that interview with NBC News really telling here. I mean, you have the president of the United States calling Michael Flynn a very good man.


ROMANS: You got the timing changing. The story changing about why James Comey was fired and it makes the White House press office, it makes the White House communications strategy look completely a mess, doesn't it?

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Certainly. There is not a clear one.

What I don't understand is why everyone cannot consistently be on the same page. We have seen at least three, maybe even more different reasons and tales as to why the president made this decision. I just feel like the purpose of a press office is to communicate to the world, to us, why a certain decision was made.

ROMANS: The president is not on the same page. You know?

BRIGGS: OK, yes, this is much larger than a press office, it's much larger.

So, let's play some of the contradictions from the president and the vice president, himself.


PENCE: The president took strong and decisive leadership here to put the safety and security of the American people first by accepting the recommendation of the deputy attorney general to remove Director Comey as the head of the FBI.

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

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

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


BRIGGS: OK. So, the vice president knowingly lied to the American people there or how do you reconcile those two very different accounts of what happened?

SCOTT: When I was watching that, my first thought is this is not the first time Mike Pence has not been on the same page with Donald Trump regarding Russia, General Flynn or other issues that --

BRIGGS: But he's part of the inner circle. It's not about being on the same page. This is about being dishonest.

SCOTT: We have not seen him consistently being involved in decisions that you would think someone on the inner circle would be making, and that's my point. You can be on the inner circle in the Trump administration it appears and not invited to a main meeting with a huge decision like this is made.

So, could he have being dishonest? Sure. It's possible also he wasn't involved in the conversations at the top level when decisions like this were made. The point is we don't know and we should know.

ROMANS: Look, there are two words, credibility and integrity. These are two very important words for any White House, right? The credibility of the White House has been questioned and strained, right?

The integrity -- I mean, CNN issuing a statement yesterday saying it's beneath the dignity of the White House to be slamming reporters the way it has been. I mean, that's a separate case.

I want to listen to what Andrew McCabe, the acting FBI director, said in testimony. I mean, he also contradicting the White House. You know, we heard from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, that there's countless FBI people who have been texting her and emailing her, telling them they were so glad that the FBI director was gone.

That's not what we are hearing from inside the FBI. Let's listen.


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.


ROMANS: That was a remarkable moment, Eugene.

SCOTT: Yes, I certainly thought so. We're at a point where we see situations like that now happening that don't appear as if someone is completely loyal to the president. You can't help but wonder, are your days numbered as well?

You want to talk about important words. You mentioned integrity earlier, two words I have been thinking about quite a bit have been honesty and loyalty, which were two of the words at the dinner between Comey and Trump that kept coming up, and wondering how each of them define them, and more importantly, how will Comey's next replacement define them? Because that's what's really important to the president -- loyalty.

BRIGGS: Everything. It is everything to the president. It may, in fact, be his downfall.

Let's talk about his attorney general, though, Jeff Sessions, who said he recused himself from the Russia investigation. Yet we now know he was a part of the firing of James Comey, the man in charge of that very Russian investigation who he recuse himself from.


BRIGGS: Could he be in trouble here?

SCOTT: Certainly. Certainly.

We had Senator Kamala Harris talking to our own Jake Tapper yesterday saying that this is another reason he needs to be removed from this position and the reality is so many of Jeff Sessions' critics made it seem like the pushback was solely political. Surely, some of it is political, but the reality is, if you have said that you would recuse yourself from this investigation, which is already alarming considering that you, yourself, were a part of the Trump campaign, making a move like this doesn't make a strong case for your integrity and your impartiality and your ability to honor the command, the statement that you originally made.

ROMANS: I wonder what all this does for the president's agenda on tax reform, on healthcare reform, on all of these important things that are before him. If he is losing kind of the focus and the good will of people on Capitol Hill who are watching all of this and wondering, why can't they be on the same page? Why can't they operate like grown-ups?

SCOTT: I have noticed, at least in the earlier days, we haven't seen Republicans come out as strongly against Trump's actions I think we thought would have, at least initially. And so, whether or not this is going to make some of his supporters in Congress back away from him.

[05:10:05] I don't think that's really clear right now. What it is, it's a big distraction. This week, there have been some executive orders and other issues signed that normally would make the headlines and draw the attention of the American people. But this right here is what's occupying people's interests.

BRIGGS: We did have five Republican senators questioning the timing of this, two Republican House members yesterday, though, called for an independent investigation.

SCOTT: Sure.

BRIGGS: That's Mike Coffman of Colorado and Justin Amash of Michigan. We'll see if that number grows.

ROMANS: Just -- and the pictures, oh my gosh, the pictures out of the Oval Office, the Russians in the Oval Office, you know, being able to spread those pictures and laughing on state media in Russia and U.S. reporters. It's just -- it's remarkable. We'll talk about that when we come back. It's just remarkable. All right.

BRIGGS: We'll see you about 30 minutes.

ROMANS: Stephen Colbert fighting back after the president insults him in an interview.


STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN/TV HOST: It's all of my success is clearly based on talking about you, if you really want to take me down, there is an obvious way. Resign.


ROMANS: More on Colbert's Trump takedown, next.


[05:15:14] ROMANS: Stephen Colbert is trolling President Trump. It all started when the president personally attacked the late night host, along with members of the media, including some on CNN. In a wide ranging interview with "TIME" magazine, he referred to Colbert as filthy and a no talent guy, and he 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.


BRIGGS: The president also attacked CNN anchors Chris Cuomo and Dom Lemon. CNN releasing a statement saying Mr. Trump's comments are beneath the dignity of the office of president.

President also taking to Twitter to tweak his old nemesis, Rosie O'Donnell. She tweeted fire Comey, back in December. Mr. Trump 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.

Now, that also is some would say beneath the office of the president and misses the larger point. A lot of Democrats and Republicans agree that the reasoning to fire Comey for how he handled the e-mail investigation is accurate.

But that's not what's being questioned. It's the timing of it. What it has to do with the Russia investigation, missing the larger point.

ROMANS: It's a shifting story about the reasoning.

BRIGGS: Yeah. Not alone does it say about the president's use of his time.

ROMANS: Yes. All right. So, who doesn't care about the firing of the recent FBI Director James Comey? Corporate America doesn't care.

That's what the real estate mogul and Trump supporter Sam Zell told me. You know what they care about? They care about his business policies and I asked him his thoughts on the Comey story.


SAM ZELL, REAL ESTATE MOGUL: I think it is a great event for 24-hour news. It has almost no relevance to what is going on.

ROMANS: How do we pay for tax reform? Are you worried how we pay for it without adding to deficits?

ZELL: I think the chances of not adding further deficit is remote. So, some degree of deficit creation will occur. I think 15 percent is a great idea. I think the chances of a 15 percent rate are no. But if I'm negotiating a deal and if I want to start the conversation, I'll layout something that I'm willing to come off. Just like NAFTA. Just like China manipulator.

ROMANS: You don't see the president flip-flopping. You see the deal.

ZELL: Sure. How can you not?


ROMANS: So, Zell also told me that unlike former President Obama, businesses like the Trump administration is what he calls sensitive to the economics.

Look, he -- I mean, he is reflecting what you see when you look at the stock market. I mean, companies are rolling in profits right now, and they expect when they get a tax cut, whether it's 15 percent, whether it's 20 percent, what have you, that they're going to get a whole bunch of more money, that's going to be good for their bottom line.

BRIGGS: And Americans, what, to his point care about getting jobs, creating jobs, turning the economy around. But the White House can't seem to focus on that.

Kellyanne Conway, meanwhile, surfaced this week. But where in the world is James Harden, a Houston Rockets star goes silent with the season on the line.

Coy Wire has this morning's "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:23:55] BRIGGS: All right. Time for the "Bleacher Report". Spurs and Rockets faced off in a pivotal game six last night. But the Rockets seemed to run out of gas.

ROMANS: Someone who never runs out of gas, Coy Wire. He has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Broom, broom. Good morning to you, Christine and Dave.

The Rockets, guys, playing at home against the Spurs who are without their two best players. So, you would think there is no way Houston is going to when this game, right? Wrong.

Rockets James Harden had to have one of the worst games of his life, ten points, six turnovers, arguably the best player in the NBA this season, a front runner for league MVP. The guy only took 11 shots in the game. The Rockets get blown out 114-75.

The Spurs advance to play the Warriors. Fans were leaving the game in the third quarter. Afterwards, Harden had to face the music.


JAMES HARDEN, HOUSTON ROCKETS: Everything falls on my shoulder. I take responsible for it. Both ends of the floor, it's tough, especially the way we lost at home for game six. But it happened. Now, we move forward.


WIRE: Sergio Garcia is (INAUDIBLE).

[05:25:01] The recent Masters winner has been the center of attention all week at TPC saw grass. And then he drops a hole in one. This is at the 17th iconic hole at the course, just the eighth player to ace that same hole.

Kids in the crowds started chanting "Sergio, Sergio". He says that's the 12th career hole in one and fifth in competition. Oh, yes.

Now with the day so close to Mother's Day, ECU football head coach Scottie Montgomery had a surprise for one of his walk-on mothers.


SCOTTIE MONTGOMERY, CEU FOOTBALL HEAD COACH: It's Mother's Day, and you were so close, so I wanted to come over and give you a nice mother's day gift.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are on a full scholarship for ECU!


WIRE: An incredible momentum. I remember as a player, guys, it's always so wonderful when you see one of the guys who has worked hard to earn that scholarship. He gets it. What a creative way by Coach Montgomery to surprise that mom.

BRIGGS: That is outstanding, kind of outstanding, it hurts the rest of us, they buy flowers in the car. That's all we got, right?

WIRE: Hey, Christine, I would like to say happy Mother's Day to you and to all the mothers with us this morning.

ROMANS: All right. Awesome, thanks, guys.

As far as this goes, that's pretty amazing.

BRIGGS: That's pretty solid, well done.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, guys.

All right, President Trump contradicting his vice president communications team with the president's new time line says about James Comey's firing. That's next.