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Report: Trump Asked DNI to Help Him with Comey; Attorney General Drama; Comey on Deck; Simultaneous Attacks Rock Tehran. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired June 7, 2017 - 04:30   ET




[04:30:26] DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I don't feel it's appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: But Dan Coats may be ready to do just that. The Director of National Intelligence set to testify. New report says the president asked Coats to intervene on the Russia probe.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Growing signs of strain between the president and his attorney general. Why won't the White House give Jeff Sessions a vote of confidence and why did Sessions threaten to walk?

BRIGGS: And James Comey's testimony to Congress. We're a day away. What he will say, what he won't say, and why he asked not to be left alone with the president of the United States?

They are calling his testimony the Super Bowl in Washington, D.C.

ROMANS: That's right.

BRIGGS: It's tomorrow.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. Thanks for joining us this morning.

Just one day away now from testimony by the former FBI Director James Comey, suddenly the undercard is part of the main event. At this morning's Senate Intelligence Committee hearing a lineup of intel community all-stars, the 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.

BRIGG: 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" private interaction came after a briefing on March 22nd -- that's just two days after Comey told Congress that the FBI was, in fact, investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russia.

ROMANS: The officials say Coats decided complying with the President Trump's request to intervene would be inappropriate. CNN has already reported the president asked Coats and the NSA director, Admiral Mike Rogers, to publicly deny his campaign cooperated with Russia in the 2016 election. Sources told CNN both Coats and Rogers were uncomfortable with the president's request and they refused to comply.

BRIGGS: 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 close source close to Sessions tells CNN the A.G. offered to resign after a series of heated exchanges between two. Frustration brewing since Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe three months ago, starting a chain of events that led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.

We get now 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.


ROMANS: All right. Jim Acosta at the White House -- thanks, Jim.

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

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

[04:35:00] ROMANS: With all that as a backdrop, we're counting down the hours to the Comey Senate testimony. CNN has learned Comey will dispute the president's interpretation of their conversations 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.

On Tuesday, the president was asked at the 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?



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

We get more from CNN's Jessica Schneider.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 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.

Back to you.


ROMANS: All right, Jessica, thanks.

BRIGGS: Thank you, Jessica. Yes.

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, we get an early, early, early head start beginning at 3:00 a.m. Eastern Time, 12:00 Pacific.

ROMANS: Will you bring the coffee?

BRIGGS: I will bring a pot of coffee, my friend. No worries.

ROMANS: All right. You bring the coffee.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer directly contradicting the position of top administration officials have been trying to sell all week. Listen to the press secretary 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: So, that comment by Sean Spicer counters what several members of the administration had been saying since the president's travel ban tweet storm. For the record, listen to the White House spokesman Sebastian Gorka's comments yesterday with Chris.



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.


ROMANS: Sorry, I said yesterday. It was Monday.

BRIGGS: But, look, we often criticize Sean Spicer for not being honest with the media. In that case, he should be applauded about telling the honest truth what these tweets are, especially in the wake of the president tweeting himself that these are my honest and unfiltered messages to the American people.

ROMANS: They're the president's words, and a president -- every word a president utters becomes part of the historical record. It goes to the history books. You know, Donald Trump when he says something off cuff, or he tweets off the cuff, it's part of the record.

BRIGGS: It is part of American history, folks, whether you like it or not.

A lot of political observers are wondering if the president just 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 when he made this remark about his embattled son-in-law.

Listen carefully.


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


I'm a little bit upset about that.


BRIGGS: Uncomfortable laughter. Does that comment have a familiar ring? Well, it should because the

last time the president complained about somebody becoming more famous than him, well, you know what followed.


TRUMP: Oh, there's James. He's become more famous than me.



BRIGGS: That, of course, 6'8" James Comey, the former FBI director. So that is the kiss of death.

But, look, the president does not fire family members.


BRIGGS: I think that much we know.

ROMANS: There's a big difference.

BRIGGS: Huge difference between those two.

ROMANS: Two tall guys, but one he's related to.

All right. Anthem is pulling out of Ohio's Obamacare exchange, putting new pressure on Republicans as they try to replace the Affordable Care Act. Ten thousand five hundred Ohio residents in 18 counties will have no exchange option next year. That's according to the state's Department of Insurance. Anthem blames lack of predictability in the market for the move and is reviewing the 14 other states it is involved in.

[04:40:03] Anthem is one of the biggest Obama players, withdrawing would leave at least 275,000 Americans with no insurance option. Anthem joins a growing list of insurers exiting Obamacare next year. They all blame uncertainty and losses, big money losses.

Health insurers leaving the exchanges fuel both sides of the GOP health care debate. Republicans say it proves the need for new legislation. Democrats say it shows concern the GOP plan won't include cost-sharing. The current Obamacare subsidies help pay for lower income enrollees.

BRIGGS: It's tough, right, because both sides clearly, Obamacare is imploding. But maybe some of that is because of the uncertainty of the future of health care.

Forget the politics. Think about the people involved here and their actual health care. Something needs to be done.

Did Russia plot a fake news report to drive a wedge between U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf? U.S. intelligence says yes. CNN with exclusive reporting on that this morning. We're live in Doha, next on EARLY START.


[04:45:18] BRIGGS: 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 reached Qatar's state news agency to plant a fake news report. That contributed to the crisis among American allies in the Persian Gulf.

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

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

And I think it's really important. I mean, this is something that's moved financial markets. It has really rattled international diplomacy here and we're going back again to misinformation, a fake news report.

JOMANA KARADSEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. A lot of concern about where all this is headed, what the end game of this current crisis is.

Now, if you recall, a couple of weeks ago, we saw these reports coming out through the state news agency here in Qatar with quotes attributed to the country's ruler, the emir, basically praising Iran as an Islamic power, criticizing Gulf neighbors like Saudi Arabia and also as you mentioned, criticizing President Trump, saying he won't last in office. At the time we heard from Qatari officials, saying that the agency, their news agency had been hacked.

Now, what we are learning, according to CNN's exclusive reporting, is U.S. investigators believe that it was Russian hackers behind this hack of the state news agency, and that they had planted this fake news story on the site. Now, U.S. investigators don't know if -- yet if this is criminal organization hackers or if we're talking about government hackers, but they believe that the intent here was to create this rift between U.S. allies here in the region. We've heard from the Qatari, we heard from the U.S. saying an FBI team was sent, that they are working closely with the Qatari government to get to the bottom of this.

And company officials say that they will make the findings of this investigation public once it's concluded, Christine.

ROMANS: Jomana, the Pentagon, the State Department, they have tried to remain neutral on this issue, but the president of the United States, President Trump seems to be taking credit for nations deciding to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar.

KARADSEH: And this, Christine, is sending mixed signals to a country like Qatar that is a vital U.S. ally in this part of the world, hosting about 11,000 U.S. troops based just outside of Doha. The U.S. central military's -- Central Command, former headquarters also here in Qatar. You're talking about ISIS, the fight against ISIS, talking about coalition, planes that take off from Qatar to hit targets in Syria and Iraq. And a lot of concern about these mixed signals and how that impact that.

You had senior U.S. officials in the past couple of days coming out and saying that they are grateful for Qatar's role, that they want to see this whole crisis resolved. And at the same time, the Qataris are seeing the president of the United States tweeting yesterday, and that's just a couple of weeks after he met with the emir of Qatar during his visit in Saudi Arabia, shook hands with the emir and called him a friend of the United States. Then coming out and basically taking credit for this regional move to isolate Qatar and signaling out this country as a financier of terror.

So, a lot of questions about where this is all headed and where the United States really stands here, Christine.

ROMANS: That's right. And whether the president is on the same page as his foreign policy team.

All right. Thank you so much, Jomana Karadsheh in Doha this morning.

The Trump administration faces new ethics questions concerning Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's meeting with an oil industry group at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Zinke addressed the American Petroleum Institute back in March. That same day, the president killed an Obama era regulation toughening standards on how much fossil fuel companies owe the government for drilling and mining on federal land. Administration officials defending Zinke's appearance at the event saying there's nothing unusual about a secretary speaking to stakeholders.

BRIGGS: New details about the NSA contractor arrested and charged with leaking classified information. Twenty-five-year-old Reality Winner complained about the Trump administration and posted about leaks on what appears to be her public Twitter account.

[04:50:01] On February 11th, she referred to the president as an orange fascist.

Winner follows 50 other Twitter accounts. Among them, Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks.

ROMANS: Her mother tells CNN's Anderson Cooper she fears for her daughter's safety.


BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS, MOTHER OF ALLEGED NSA LEAKER REALITY WINNER: My biggest fear in all of this is that she's not going to get a fair trial, she's not going to be treated fairly, she's going be made an example of, and that's my biggest fear.


ROMANS: She's due in federal court in Georgia tomorrow, raises big questions about the scrutiny that the contractor, the government contractor and its hiring procedures put on her because clearly you can see the social media account.

BRIGGS: Impossible to imagine a 25-year-old openly complained about this president, talked about leaks and leakers, had access to these sensitive type of national security documents. How are we not purging social media, checking these people social media before giving them access? Impossible to understand.

ROMANS: All right. Fifty-one minutes past the hour.

Amazon launches its latest move in the ecommerce battle with Walmart. CNN "Money Stream" next.


[04:55:17] BRIGGS: Breaking news: two attacks unfolding simultaneously in Iran's capital: a bomb attack and shooting spree at a shrine and a shooting at the parliament building.

CNN's Muhammad Lila monitoring events from Abu Dhabi. He's live with the latest.

Good morning to you.


And this is still very much a fluid situation on the ground. In fact, there are even conflicting reports among Iranian media itself. But we can confirm, two separate attacks according to state media. The first in Iran's parliament, the second at a shrine known as the Imam Khomeini Shrine. It's where the late leader of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, is buried. Certainly, very symbolic target there.

There are images that have been put out by the custodian group of the shrine that showed the body of what they say was the attacker neutralized outside the shrine. And, of course, inside parliament itself, it's an ongoing situation. Iran's press TV is reporting that there's an attacker who has taken hostages inside of parliament.

Other Iranian media reporting that one of the attackers has detonated himself. It's unclear if that person who detonated himself was that same attacker who was inside taking hostages. But again, a very fluid situation.

We do know that Iran's own -- Tehran's own city security council is meeting at this very moment to go over the response to the attack. But, of course, you know, this is extremely rare to happen in Iran. Firearms are heavily regulated. There aren't shootings like during day-to-day things the way you would see in other countries.

And certainly these targets, of course, are very symbolic as well. Attacking the parliament and attacking the home of the burial site of the founder of the modern Republic of Iran. Certainly, this appears to be very well-orchestrated and sophisticated indeed.

BRIGGS: Again, during the holy month of Ramadan.

All right. Muhammad, we'll check back with you next hour. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Fifty-seven minutes past the hour.

Let's get a check on "CNN Money Stream" this morning. Global stock markets and U.S. stock futures mixed this morning after Wall Street finished lower yesterday. You got stocks, oil, the dollar all shifting here over geopolitical concerns, including the upcoming U.K. election and the Senate testimony of former FBI Director James Comey. The U.S. dollar fell to a seven-month low against a basket of currencies.

While investors shift to safe-havens, they are going into bonds and gold. Gold is up 13 percent this year. The Mideast rift is affecting oil prices. Crude prices fell 6 percent the past two weeks.

In economic news, the Labor Department says the U.S. has a record 6 million open jobs in April. I must say that again: 6 million open jobs in the United States, a record high.

Uber fires 20 employees as a result of its sexual harassment probe. Uber was rocked by allegations earlier this year of systemic sexism at the company that prompted an internal investigation. The company looked into claims of sexual harassment, discrimination, unprofessional behavior, and bullying. Twenty firings so far.

Amazon is fighting Walmart for lower income shoppers. It's offering a discount on prime memberships for anyone on government assistance. Amazon will charge them $5.99 per month. That's half the price of a regular subscription.

This move takes aim at Walmart. Walmart's digital sales are skyrocketing. It's up 63 percent this year. Thirteen billion dollars of Walmart's overall sales last year came from shoppers on government assistance.

BRIGGS: Quite a battle brewing there.


BRIGGS: They got the structure.

All right. EARLY START continues right now.


COATS: I don't feel it's appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president.


BRIGGS: 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. ROMANS: Does the president have confidence in his attorney general?

Still no answer from the White House on that and we've learned Jeff Sessions offer to walk away during some heated talks with the president.

BRIGGS: James Comey's testimony to Congress is only a day away. New details this morning about what he'll say and what he won't as obstruction questions loom over the president.

We understand if you have that Washington whiplash every day, it's another head-spinning story.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, June 7th. It is exactly 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Good morning, everyone. We are just one day away from that testimony by the former FBI Director James Comey and, suddenly, the undercard is part, is usurping the main event here. At this morning's Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, a line of intel community all-stars. You got the 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 today.