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Trump Shares Classified Info; Trump Hosting Erdogan at White House; North Korea Behind Global Cyberattack?; Unlikely Hero Leads Celtics to Game 7 Win. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 16, 2017 - 05:00   ET



H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The story that came out tonight as reported is false. I was in the room. It didn't happen.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The White House with a full-throated denial after the president was accused of sharing classified information with the Russians. What did he share? Why does it matter?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

Serious accusations once again facing the White House.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans.

Another big story reverberating through Washington and all over the world, really, as it just, the optics of the president's relationship with Russia just get worse. The White House pushing back fiercely against reports the president shared highly classified information with Russia's foreign minister and the ambassador to the U.S. in a White House meeting last week.

CNN has now confirmed the key points of that story first reported by the "Washington Post."

[05:00:02] One official with knowledge telling "The Post" that Trump said, quote, I great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day -- before he reportedly relayed the intelligence details.

BRIGGS: The president did not directly reveal the source of the information, but intelligence officials tell CNN the concern is Russia will be able to figure out the highly sensitive source, highly sensitive in part, of course, because the information came from a foreign ally.

The White House once again spinning into damage control here.

CNN's Sara Murray starts our coverage from the White House. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)


Another day at the White House and another damaging headline. On Monday evening, administration officials were sent scrambling, insisting the president did not jeopardize classified information and share it with Russian officials.

MCMASTER: There's nothing that the president takes more seriously than the security of the American people. The story that came out tonight as reported is false. The president and the foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation. At no time -- at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed, and the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known. I was in the room. It didn't happen.

MURRAY: Those comments from President Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, coming after the "Washington Post" broke the story that President Trump shared classified information with Russia's foreign minister and ambassador in a meeting at the White House last week.

Now, CNN has confirmed the main details of this story. One thing is clear -- despite the White House's denial, this has certainly sent the White House off of its message. They were hoping to reset this week after the president's controversial firing of FBI Director James Comey and instead focus on their new FBI director, focus on the upcoming foreign trip.

But if Monday is any indication, it's clear that's not going to come easy.

Back to you guys.


ROMANS: All right. Sara Murray, thank you for that.

BRIGGS: All right. Joining us this morning as we break down this big story, "Weekly Standard's" senior writer, Michael Warren, live in our Washington bureau.

Michael, good to see you this morning. A lot to get to.

And let's start with the "Washington Post" report. Greg Miller, one of the two reporters responsible for the story, a national security correspondent. When he pushed back against H.R. McMaster, who in part denied this report, here's what Greg Miller told CNN.


GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think that the White House is playing word games here to that effect to try -- to try to blunt the impact of this story, nor do any of these White House officials who are denouncing this story, nor have any of them offered any explanation as to why if this was all above board and not problematic in any way, why did the National Security Council coming out of this meeting feel it was necessary to contact the CIA director and the director of the National Security Agency to give them a heads-up on what Trump had just told the Russians?


BRIGGS: Michael, can what H.R. McMaster said, that denial, and what the "Washington Post" is reporting, essentially both be true? And if so, how serious is this accusation?

MICHAEL WARREN, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, I think that was a carefully worded statement. It was very similar to the statement originally provided to Greg and the "Washington Post." Greg's a very good, solid reporter on these intelligence issues.

Look, there is wiggle room here because there's a distinction between sources and methods, which is what H.R. McMaster and the White House --

ROMANS: Right.

WARREN: -- is saying and information. And information can be very valuable for somebody like Russia, which is doing its intelligence operations in the Middle East. This is something to do with ISIS in that region. They have enough information perhaps now that they can figure out the source.

And this is a big problem because as one former senior intelligence official told "The Weekly Standard," this is kind of a red line, sharing information that we get from foreign intelligence services without their permission, and there's no indication that we received any permission, is sort of this big red line that the president seems to, I think, inadvertently, have crossed.

ROMANS: And this is what has the intelligence community so alarmed here, you know, destabilizing some of these really important intelligence relationships the United States has around the world, and just the image of the president in the Oval Office, images brought to us by the Russian foreign ministry, by the way, not by the free press of the United States, of the president sort of being played by the Russians here. I mean, that's the optics of this, isn't it?

I mean, is this a president's rookie mistake, or is this someone who is not competent to hold the office?

WARREN: Look, I don't know. We don't know all the details, exactly why. I think there's a lot of -- there's an explanation, perhaps.

Look, the president is legally allowed to declassify information like this, and perhaps we should give the president the benefit of the doubt and say, maybe there was a national security reason for him to do this. [05:05:01] But that doesn't really jibe, I think, with the way the

administration has been reacting, and particularly, as you mentioned, the way the intelligence community reacted to this.

I mean, what I'm told is that pretty much the CIA, other intelligence agencies scrambled very soon after this meeting last Wednesday to try to undo the damage, and that tells you that there was damage done. And while this is the president's judgment, it's what we elect him to do, I think there's going to be a lot more questions about whether this was a prudent judgment for him to release this information in addition to all of the optical things that you mentioned with regard to the president's perceived relationship with the Russian regime.

BRIGGS: Of course, as you know, Michael, with every Trump presidency controversy, there is the other emerging narrative, that this is fake news. That the White House has denied this, it's not true.

What might change that is Republicans criticizing the president. Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was pretty critical in his comments. He said they are: In a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that's happening. You know, the shame of it is there's a really good national security team in place, but the chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline creates a worrisome environment.

Mitch McConnell gives an interview this morning, 9:00 a.m. with Bloomberg TV. How do you think Republicans, in particular in the Senate, and perhaps in the House with Paul Ryan, will handle this latest controversy?

WARREN: Well, they can't be too happy with it. I mean, this is, what, like the fifth controversy in the last week that's distracting, I think, the House and the Senate leadership from what they would like be doing. They would like to be figuring out the best way to pass a health care reform legislation that works and doesn't sink them in 2018. They'd like to be working on tax reform.

Now, I think they're in a very tough position, as many of these past controversies over the last just four months have put them in with, you know, various committees having to do extra investigations into Russian interference. They're going to have to, I think, sort of assert their independence, and the executive branch won't like that. President Trump won't like that.

But I think now with all the information we have, and particularly with the possibility that some of these conversations were taped, according to President Trump's own sort of implication, they may be asking for more information about what exactly was said in this particular Oval Office meeting, so I imagine there will be more activity on that.

ROMANS: We don't know if he taped those meetings.

WARREN: We don't.

ROMANS: And we don't know why he -- I mean, some of the reporting is the president was sort of bragging about all of his great intel, and it was sort of from this bragging conversation that this information was shared with the Russians. We don't know exactly.

And it's interesting to me, because David Brooks in "The New York Times", write in "The New York Times" today talks about how the president is so loose with words. You almost don't know what he means when he's talking.

Trump's statements don't necessarily come from anywhere, lead anywhere, or have a permanent reality beyond his wish to be liked at any given instant. We've got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.

This from a conservative columnist David Brooks. Wow! Ouch!

WARREN: Yes, I think David is sort of echoing what I certainly feel, sort of trying to follow this and cover this. Look, I think this is something where the president does have all of this information, and we remember right at the beginning of his administration that there were foreign intelligence agencies, particularly the Israelis, who were being warned against providing this sort of information to the president.

I certainly think that a lot of these allied intelligence agencies are going to be thinking twice about giving what they perceive as sensitive information -- and this is a problem for the bigger intelligence community, and I don't think it's going to be very good for repairing the very bad relationship that the president has with our intelligence community. This is only really going to make it worse. And he's got a long way to remedy it.

BRIGGS: Regarding those allies, the president will speak with King Abdullah of Jordan today. You would think this would certainly come up. H.R. McMaster, part of the press briefing today at 1:30 with Sean Spicer.

ROMANS: Oh, yeah.

BRIGGS: Perhaps we'll get some more answers.

Michael, see you in about 30 minutes.

WARREN: Thanks.

ROMANS: All right, classified information isn't the only topic the White House is struggling to clean up.


REPORTER: Why won't you just explain whether or not there are recordings of President Trump --

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the president's made it clear what his position is. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Still no real explanation on the president's veiled threat to release recordings of James Comey. That's next.


[05:13:49] ROMANS: Thirteen minutes after the hour. Welcome back.

The White House refusing to confirm or deny whether the president is recording phone calls at the White House. President Trump made a thinly veiled threat against James Comey last week, tweeting the fired FBI director, quote, better hope there are no tapes of their conversations before he decides to start leaking. The president's spokesman, Sean Spicer, offering no clarity on this controversy.


SPICER: I think I made it clear last week that the president has nothing further on that. I made it clear what the president's position on that issue.

REPORTER: Why won't you just explain whether or not there are recordings of President Trump --

SPICER: I think the president's made it clear what his position is.


BRIGGS: Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with president Trump about the search for a new FBI director on Monday. It's not known whether Sessions offered a final recommendation or just an update.

But there is certainly a lot on the table when Turkey's controversial leader meets with President Trump at the White House today. President Recep Erdogan is critical to nearly everything the U.S. hopes to accomplish in the Middle East in the war on terror. The meeting comes a week after Erdogan was angered by the U.S. decision to arm Kurdish fighters in Syria.

CNN's Muhammad Lila has a preview for us this morning.

[05:15:00] And, Muhammad, certainly some friction between the two sides when they meet.

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dave, friction would be an understatement. You know, Turkey is outraged that a few days ago the Trump administration made a strategic and tactical decision to start providing heavy weapons to Turkish fighters on the ground to help them topple ISIS. Look, there are so many different groups fighting on the ground in Syria. Effectively, the United States has chosen those Kurdish fighters and said these are our guys, these are the guys we're going to back to overthrow ISIS.

Now, in doing so, they outraged Turkey, because Turkey considers those Kurdish groups to be terrorist groups, and some of those groups or splinter groups that are in Syria that are Kurdish have launched attacks into Turkish territory. So, Turkey's not happy about that. President Erdogan certainly is going to be bringing that up today in his face-to-face meeting with President Trump.

And, of course, we know that it will be cordial, but certainly, there are serious issues to discuss because the United States, quite frankly, needs Turkey's help on the ground if they're going to defeat ISIS strategically, certainly within the next few months in Iraq and moving forward long term in Syria as well -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Certainly the president will be facing screaming questions from reporters about these intelligence reports.

Muhammad, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Desperate attempts to contain the world's biggest cyber attack appear to be working. The infection didn't spread as much as law enforcement expected. And while it's still unclear who's responsible for this, researchers found a link to North Korea, a frequent culprit in computer crimes. Still, the virus that hit 150 countries was a wake-up call for the world and for investors.

Cybersecurity stocks soared Monday. Companies like Palo Alto Networks, Symantec, FireEye. Cybersecurity a big and growing business. Funds for the sector are up about 35 percent in the past year.

The latest attack, which locks computers and demands payment to open them, ransomware, targeted machines running Microsoft Windows without up-to-date security. In an unusual move, Microsoft partly blaming the U.S. government for the attack. That's because the tools used were stolen from the NSA.

Microsoft President Brad Smith telling CNN that's why we need new rules about government stockpiling cyber weapons.


BRAD SMITH, MICROSOFT PRESIDENT & CHIEF LEGAL OFFICER: One of these rules should actually put new restraints on governments so that they're not hoarding these vulnerabilities, they're not creating all of these exploits, and when they are, that they're keeping them secure.


ROMANS: The company saying it's like losing track of Tomahawk missiles. These are cyber weapons.

Smith added that Microsoft wants a digital Geneva Conventions for cyber weapons. Fascinating, isn't it?

BRIGGS: You say stolen, but could have been leaked, right?

ROMANS: Could have been leaked, right? BRIGGS: All right. An unlikely hero leading the Boston Celtics to a

thrilling game seven win over the Wizards. Boston big man feeling the love from the Celtics fans. Coy Wire here, "Bleacher Report" next. Kelly Olynyk the man in Boston right now.


[05:22:14] BRIGGS: Oh, what a night in sports. An unlikely hero stepping up in game seven of the heated playoff series between the Celtics and Wizards.

ROMANS: Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Hey.


There is a lot of star power in the series, John Wall for Washington, Isaiah Thomas for Boston, but it's the backup center for the Celtics that comes up big last night. Kelly Olynyk will be remembered for a long time in Beantown. The big man went beast mode in front of the hometown crowd, scoring most of his career playoff-high 26 points in the fourth quarter.

The Celtics outlast the Wizards, 115-105, in the winner-take-all game seven.


KELLY OLYNYK, CELTICS CENTER: It was unbelievable. You know, especially to do it in front of our fans, you know, for the city of Boston. And you know, it was unbelievable to be in there and feel that energy and, you know, feel that enthusiasm and, you know, the passion that, you know, 20,000 people have, you know, and just thrive off that.


WIRE: The Celtics will now host LeBron James and the Cavs in the eastern conference finals. Game one is tomorrow night in Boston on our sister channel TNT.

Spurs star Kawhi Leonard is listed as doubtful for tonight's game two against the Warriors. Sprained his ankle on this play in Sunday's game, landing on Warriors center Zaza Pachulia's foot. Some questioning if this was just accidental contact by Pachulia, but there is no doubt in the mind of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich what it was.


GREGG POPOVICH, SPURS HEAD COACH: Can't just be, oh, it was inadvertent. He didn't have the intent.

Who gives a damn about what his intent was? You ever hear of manslaughter? You still go to jail I think when you're texting and you end up killing somebody, but you might not have intended to do that. All I care is what I saw. All I care about is what happened. And the

history there exacerbates the whole situation and makes me very, very angry.


WIRE: Now, you think coach Popovich was heated, check out Pittsburgh's Phil "The Thrill" Kessel in game two of the eastern conference final against the senators. Scoreless into the third period. Kessel didn't like what he was seeing, yelling after nearly every shift, making sure his teammates were locked in. Well, his motivation tactic worked, especially on himself!

Kessel would score the only goal of the game, getting the Penguins the win and tying the series at one game a piece in front of the home crowd. Pittsburgh rockin'! Game three is Wednesday, guys in Ottawa.

BRIGGS: The unlikely spark plug of that team the last couple of seasons. What do you think, though, is Pop right? Was that intentional on the foul there, Kawhi.

WIRE: You know, in my humble opinion, it didn't look it was intentional to me. Just looked like he was going for a blocked shot and his foot was caught up underneath.

[05:25:01] BRIGGS: All right.

WIRE: It would be great placement if he did try to do that on purpose.

BRIGGS: Diplomatic.

He was hammered because Bruce Bowen was accused of doing the same thing when he played for Pop.

Coy, thank you. Good stuff.

WIRE: You're welcome.

ROMANS: All right, what a difference eight months makes.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't have someone in the oval office who doesn't understand the meaning of the word confidential or classified.


ROMANS: And now the president himself accused of divulging classified information to the Russians.



MCMASTER: The story that came out tonight as reported is false. I was in the room. It didn't happen.