Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Asked DNI to Intervene?; Attorney General Drama; Comey on Deck. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired June 7, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:08] DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I don't feel it's appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The Director of National Intelligence may take a different approach today. It comes as a new report says President Trump asked Dan Coats to intervene with the FBI on the Russia probe.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Does the president have confidence in his attorney general? Still no answer from the White House. We've learned Jeff Sessions offered to walk away during some heated talks with the president.

ROMANS: And James Comey's testimony to Congress is only a day way. New details this morning about what he will say, what he won't as obstruction questions loom over the president.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: Good morning to you. I'm Dave Briggs. It's Wednesday, June 7th, 2017, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Just a bit of news to get to. One day away now from testimony by former FBI Director James Comey and, suddenly, the undercard is part of the main event. At this morning's Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, a lineup of -- well, intel communities all-stars, if you will. You got Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, NSA director, Admiral Mike Rogers, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, all set to testify.

ROMANS: Overnight, DNI Coats at the center of breaking news. "The Washington Post" reporting President Trump asked Coats if he could intervene with James Comey to urge the FBI director to back off his investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Unnamed officials tell "The Post" the private interaction came after a White House briefing on March 22nd -- that's just two days after Comey told Congress the FBI was, in fact, investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. BRIGGS: The officials say Coats decided complying with the

president's request to intervene would be inappropriate. CNN has already reported that the president asked Coats and NSA Director Mike Rogers to publicly deny his campaign cooperated with Russia in the 2016 election. Now, sources told CNN both Coats and Rogers were uncomfortable with the president's request and refused to comply.

ROMANS: Also this morning, the White House still can't or won't confirm that President Trump has confidence in his Attorney General Jeff Sessions. This as a source close to Sessions tells CNN the A.G. offered to resign after a series of heated exchanges between the two men. The frustration brewing since Sessions recused himself from the Russian probe three months ago, starting a chain of events that led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.

More now from CNN's Jim Acosta at the White House.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, the White House still cannot say whether President Trump has confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Earlier in the day at the briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked that question and said he could not answer it.

REPORTER: How would you describe the president's level of confidence in the Attorney General Jeff Sessions?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have not had a discussion with him about that.

REPORTER: Last time you said that, there was a development.

SPICER: I'm asking -- I'm answering a question, which is I have not had that discussion with him.

REPORTER: So you can't say that he has confidence in his attorney general?

SPICER: I said I have not had a discussion with him on the question. I don't -- if I haven't had a discussion with him about a subject, I tend not to speak about it.

ACOSTA: Now, flash forward until later on in the evening, a White House official was asked once again. That official could not say whether the president has confidence in Sessions. There has been friction between Sessions and the president for several weeks over Sessions' initial recusal in the Russia investigation. At one point during their conversation, Sessions offered to step aside and the president did not take that offer.

However, we are told by Justice Department spokeswoman that Sessions is not being fired and he has not offered to resign -- Dave and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BRIGGS: Jim Acosta, thank you.

Still more news breaking overnight on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former FBI Director James Comey. "The New York Times" reporting that Comey went straight to Sessions after a February meeting in the Oval Office. He asked never to be left alone with President Trump again. Current and former law enforcement officials telling "The Times" Comey's confrontation with the attorney general came the day after the president asked Comey to end the investigation into Michael Flynn.

ROMANS: Officials say Comey believed it was Sessions' job to protect the FBI from White House influence but Sessions could not guarantee the president would not try to talk to Comey alone again. CNN has reported that President Trump's request for Comey to drop the Flynn probe came after he asked the attorney general and the vice president, Mike Pence, to leave the Oval Office so he and Comey could talk privately.

BRIGGS: So, with all that as a backdrop, we're counting down to the hours of Comey's Senate testimony now 28:55:29 and counting.

CNN has learned Comey will dispute the president's interpretation of their conversation earlier this year, especially President Trump's claims that Comey told him several times he was not under investigation. Sources close to the former director say he will explain to senators his conversations with the president were much more nuanced, and the president may have misunderstood the exact meaning of his words.

[04:05:11] On Tuesday, the president of asked in a photo op whether he had anything to say to the man he recently fired.


REPORTER: Mr. President, what message do you have to Jim Comey ahead of his testimony?



ROMANS: As to whether President Trump's actions constitute obstruction of justice, Comey is expected to leave that judgment to others.

We get more this morning from CNN's Jessica Schneider.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, we're learning that James Comey will actually stick to the facts and leave legal analysis aside when he testifies on Thursday. That's from a source who told our Jake Tapper that Comey will detail his interactions with the president, especially the president's request for a pledge of loyalty and the president's request for Comey to stop the investigation into Michael Flynn.

But that source does say Comey won't go so far as to conclude whether or not the president's actions may have constituted obstruction of justice. Sources do say that the White House still has not set up a war room and is very slow putting together a rapid response team, all to come to the defense of the president, and part of the hold up is that the legal team is only partially assembled at this point.

Once source says that the number of conflicts of D.C. area attorneys may be one obstacle, but a leading litigator does say that there is some concern among Washington lawyers since President Trump is quick to contradict his staff, as we saw earlier this week when the president fired off those tweets criticizing the Justice Department about the travel ban. But, Christine and Dave, it will no doubt be a focus. Back to you.


ROMANS: All right. Jessica, thank you.

Stay with CNN all day tomorrow for full coverage of James Comey's testimony. Special coverage begins at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. Testimony begins at 10:00. EARLY START will also get an early, early start beginning at 3:00 a.m. Eastern. Lucky us.

BRIGGS: Yes, set those alarm clocks, folks.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer directly contradicting position top administration officials have been trying to sell all week. Listen to the press secretary finally acknowledging the president's tweets are official White House statements -- sort of.


REPORTER: Are President Trump's tweets considered official White House statements?

SPICER: Well, the president is the president of the United States, so they are considered official statements by the president of the United States.


BRIGGS: That comment by Spicer completely counters what several members of the administration have been saying since the president's travel ban tweet storm.

Listen to White House spokesman Sebastian Gorka's comments Monday morning to Chris Cuomo.



CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Of course it is.

GORKA: It's social media, Chris. It's social media.

CUOMO: It's not social media, it's his words. His thoughts.

GORKA: It's not policy. It's not an executive order. It's social media. Please understand the difference.


BRIGGS: Look, let's thank the press secretary there. He needed to say that because these aren't -- these aren't just official. These are beyond official statements from the White House. Official statements, press releases are filtered, go through lawyers, go through the press office. These to the president's own point on Twitter are unfiltered.

ROMANS: That's right.

BRIGGS: His truest thoughts on policy, on all things.

ROMANS: And they are not throwaway. When the president says something, he's the president of the United States. It is newsworthy. It makes news. It goes into the historical record book, frankly. I mean, it goes into history.

BRIGGS: And, look, decades from now, without a doubt be the president's tweets being studied by historians. It may be the title of a book.

ROMANS: All right. Yes.

Eight minutes past the hour.

A lot of political observers wondering if the president gave Jared Kushner the kiss of death on live TV. This is the moment that's raising eyebrows and touching off a surge of speculation on social media. The president hosting Senate and House Republicans where he made this remark about his son-in-law. Listen carefully.


TRUMP: Jared, Jared has become much more famous than me.


I'm a little bit upset about that.


ROMANS: Does that comment have a familiar ring? It should. Here's the last time the president complained about somebody becoming more famous than him.


TRUMP: He's become more famous than me.


ROMANS: That tall guy there, that's the former FBI Director James Comey, in that awkward moment.

BRIGGS: He's a key to surviving being more famous than Trump, and that's taking a step back and laying low and getting behind those curtains, if you will, because remember Steve Bannon was more famous than the president for a while, and he just tempered that. He took a step back.

But anyway, ahead: CNN with exclusive reporting this morning on the diplomatic mess in Qatar. Did Russia plan a fake news report to deepen a divide with big foreign policy implications? Well, U.S. intel says, yes, indeed, they did. We're live in Doha, next.


[04:13:50] ROMANS: At least some of the blame for the diplomatic crisis facing Qatar may fall to a familiar foreign power, Russia. CNN reporting exclusively, U.S. investigators believe Russian hackers breached Qatar's state news agency to plant a fake news report that contributed to the crisis among American allies in the Persian Gulf.

BRIGGS: The Qatari government says that fake report falsely attributed remarks to the nation's ruler, remarks seen as friendly to Iran and that questioned whether President Trump would last in office.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is live in Qatar's capital of Doha.

Good morning to you.

What is the latest?


You know, just to put this into context, if you recall a couple of weeks ago, there was this story that came out on the Qatari state news agency with quotes that were attributed to the ruler of Qatar, the emir, basically criticizing Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, praising Iran as an Islamic power and also criticizing President Trump. We heard from officials at the time, Qatari officials saying that they had been hacked.

Now, the new information we're getting what our CNN colleagues in Washington broke overnight is that they believe, U.S. investigators believe that it was Russian hackers that planted that fake news story on the Qatari news website.

[04:15:17] Now, we do not know according to U.S. officials whether it is government hackers or whether it is criminal organization, but according to one U.S. official, nothing like that happens without the blessing of the government.

Now, we've heard from Qatari officials, also from U.S. officials, saying an FBI team was sent to Qatar and was working closely with the government here to investigate the details of this hack, and we also heard from Qatari officials saying they will release the findings of this investigation once it's concluded, Dave.

BRIGGS: All right, Jomana. The Pentagon and the State Department have tried to remain neutral, but the president seems to be undercutting them on his own Twitter account. How has that played in?

KARADSHEH: Well, I think there's a lot of confusion here. There's this feeling that they are getting mixed messages from the United States. You had senior U.S. officials coming out and saying that they are grateful for Qatar's role. Qatar is a close U.S. ally. Of course, deep ties between both countries. As you know more than 11,000 U.S. troops are based here just outside of Doha.

And, you know, we hear from U.S. officials saying that they are grateful for this, that they want to see this crisis resolved and then, all of a sudden, the president of the United States a couple of weeks ago during his visit to Saudi shook hands with emir of Qatar during their meeting and called him a friend, comes out with this tweet taking credit for this move by the regional countries to isolate Qatar. There is this feeling here that that visit by President Trump to Saudi Arabia emboldened these countries, that they are using this call for eradicating and fighting extremist funding as a pretext to settle regional scores and differences here.

So, there's a lot of questions about where the U.S. really stands in all of this, Dave.

BRIGGS: And now, the State Department once again left trying to reassure our allies.

Jomana, thank you.

ROMANS: And, you know, that possible Russian interference in Qatar isn't just affecting Mideast politics. It's moving global markets. Stocks, oil, the dollar, all are shifting over geopolitical concerns, including the upcoming U.K. election and Senate testimony of the former FBI Director James Comey. Comey may report the president interfered in the Russian investigation. And investors worry that could further delay the White House's economic agenda specifically tax reform.

Stocks are down this week. The U.S. dollar Trump's bump is over. The dollar fell to a seven month low against a basket of currencies, erasing the last of the post-election gains.

And uncertainty is driving investors to safe havens like bonds and gold. Gold is up 13 percent this year. It could go up higher especially if Qatar and the Middle East states continue this feud.

The Mideast rift is also affecting oil prices. There's a global over supply. Investors worry the currents tension could cut oil output. Crude prices fell 6 percent in the past two weeks.

BRIGGS: Bill Cosby's accuser Andrea Constand resumes her testimony today under cross-examination at Cosby's criminal sexual offense trial. Constand took the stand Tuesday, telling jurors she saw Cosby as a friend and mentor. But all that changed in January 2004 when she says the comedian drugged and molested her at his home.

Constand says she felt humiliated and confused. The 79-year-old Cosby claims they had consensual sex. He faces three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

Ahead, British intel has the ring leader of the London attack in its sights. So, why weren't officials able to move on him or other extremists causing concern? We're live in London.


[04:23:47] BRIGGS: Overnight, a new arrest in the London attack investigation. This comes as big questions emerge for British intelligence. We learned the ring leader of Saturday's deadly attack was a high priority for law enforcement in 2015. It was part of an effort to dismantle a group of extremists in the U.K. who actively support ISIS.

Let's go live to London and bring in CNN's Nina Dos Santos.

Nina, good morning to you.

So, one of the attackers in a documentary entitled "The Jihadis Next Door" and now, this. So, what happened, obviously, the question this morning.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, big questions for security forces and that's been acknowledged by the government. Theresa May, she sent out her Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to conduct many interviews yesterday and he did acknowledge that there should be some kind of review into why this individual was missed because as you pointed out there, Dave, he was well-known in the media circle there. He obviously was a focal point of this documentary. And he was extremely well-known in this group you're mentioning, which is called al-Muhajiroun.

Now, al-Muhajiroun is thought to be behind about two-thirds of attacks that were plotted either by British individuals on British soil, many of those thwarted, but otherwise, British individuals who traveled elsewhere to commit attacks and to try and evade the eye (INAUDIBLE), if you like.

[04:25:04] Al-Muhajiroun actually changed its name a couple of times, once to Sharia (ph) for U.K. and also to Muslims Against Crusades.

But the group was eventually shut down in 2014, still it's believed, though, that Khuram Butt was a significant figure in this, and now, authorities also say they believe he was probably the ring leader behind this particular London Bridge attack. The big question is, why if he was on their radar, and they had felt there was enough evidence to set up an investigation into him in 2015, why was that investigation downgraded?

It seems it was downgraded because they couldn't find direct evidence he was planning anything imminent. So, big questions for security forces in this country as we head into the election. BRIGGS: And, of course, there are several thousand suspected

extremists being on watch lists in the U.K. Difficult to keep an eye on all of them.

Nina, live in London, thank you.

Coming up, a series of major developments out of Washington. The nation's intelligence chief asked to intervene on the Russia probe. The attorney general threatening to resign. And James Comey ready to refute a big claim from President Trump.

The latest on all of this on a head-spinning day in the nation's capital, next.