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Report: Trump Asked DNI to Intervene on Russia Probe; Sources: Sessions Offered to Resign and Tensions with Trump; Iran State Media: 12 Dead, Dozens Injured in Terror Attacks; Russia Planted Fake News Behind Qatar Crisis. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired June 7, 2017 - 07:00   ET


CAMEROTA: ...and that includes director of national intelligence Dan Coats. "The Washington Post" is reporting that Coats told associates if President Trump asked him, that he could intervene in James Comey's FBI probe of a top Trump advisor. This comes as the drama builds towards tomorrow's main event, and that of course, is James Comey's testimony. The fired FBI director is expected to refute President Trump's claims that Comey told him multiple times that he was not under FBI investigation.

[07:00:36] CUOMO: Also this morning, sources say Jeff Sessions offered to resign after a series of heated exchanges with the president.

And we have a CNN exclusive. U.S. officials suspect Russian hackers planted a fake news report that led to a diplomatic crisis among close American allies in the Middle East. We have all of these stories covered the way only CNN can. Jessica Schneider live on Capitol Hill with the top story -- Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, the Senate Intelligence Committee is gearing up for what's expected to be a riveting two days of testimony. It begins today with top intelligence officials testifying and, of course, tomorrow with fired FBI Director James Comey.

Now, today's hearing is actually scheduled to focus on the reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. However, CNN has learned that senators plan to delve in much more deeply into president Trump's controversies and, of course, the Russia probe.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): America's top intelligence official Dan Coats set to testify today amid new "Washington Post" reporting that President Trump asked Coats to intervene and get the FBI to back off its probe of national security advisor Michael Flynn just two days after then-FBI Director Comey confirmed the bureau's investigation into potential collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia.

This after CNN reported last month that President Trump asked Coats to publicly deny the existence of evidence supporting the probe, a conversation Coats declined to comment about last month. DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I don't feel it's

appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president.

SCHNEIDER: Coats is one of four top intelligence officials set to face a grilling today over their encounters with President Trump, including deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who will answer questions publicly for the first time about the circumstances surrounding the letter he wrote recommending Comey's firing.

The administration originally pinned the president's decision to oust Comey on Rosenstein's letter before Trump conceded that he'd been contemplating the move for weeks, in part because of the handling of the Russia investigation.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He made a recommendation. But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, what message do you have for Jim Comey ahead of his testimony?

TRUMP: I wish him well.

SCHNEIDER: Sources tell CNN tomorrow Comey will refute the president's claim that Comey assured him three times that he was not under FBI investigation.

TRUMP: I said, "If it's possible, will you let me know, am I under investigation?"

He said, "You are not under investigation."

SCHNEIDER: One source says it is possible President Trump misunderstood the meaning of Comey's words, which were nuanced. Another source familiar with Comey's testimony telling CNN the former FBI director will describe the interactions with the president that made him uncomfortable, including a meeting where Comey says Trump pressured him to drop the Flynn investigation. But he will not say whether this amounts to obstruction of justice.

According to "The New York Times," that meeting prompted Comey to confront Attorney General Jeff session a day later, telling him he not want to be left alone with the president again.


SCHNEIDER: And "The New York Times" also records that James Comey did not reveal to Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he felt pressured by the president to drop that investigation into Michael Flynn. "The Times" does report that's because Comey just didn't know who he could trust at the Justice Department -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Jessica. Thank you very much for that reporting.

Now to the tension between President Trump and his attorney general. A source close to Jeff Sessions says the two men have had a number of heated exchanges in recent weeks, with the attorney general even offering to resign.

CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House with more. What's the latest, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, offered to resign. Heated exchanges. It all paints a picture of a president who was furious after losing control of the Russia investigation, and it happened after his hand-picked attorney general, his longtime political supporter, removed himself from the process, setting up a chain reaction that led to the appointment of a special counsel. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): Amid a series of heated exchanges in recent weeks between President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, sources tell CNN that the president's long-time ally threatened to resign if the president no longer wanted him in the position.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would you describe the president's level of confidence in the attorney general, Jeff Sessions?

JOHNS: White House press secretary Sean Spicer declining to answer when asked on Tuesday.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.

[07:05:06] JOHNS: The White House still has not clarified the president's position. One official telling CNN they wanted to avoid giving a definitive answer.

The president has frequently contradicted his aides in the past. A Justice Department spokeswoman telling CNN Sessions is not stepping down.

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign.

JOHNS: Tensions between the two men have been brewing since Sessions announced he would step aside from any Russia investigation in March. After failing to disclose two meetings with the Russian ambassador.

SESSION: I didn't have -- not have communications with the Russians.

JOHNS: Trump was reportedly furious with the recusal, believing it triggered a chain of events that ultimately intensified the Russia probe, leading to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller last month. The president's anger on display this week when he slammed his Justice Department publicly for watering down his original travel ban. Something the president had to approve. (END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: Sources say the president would not accept a resignation from Jeff Sessions. The optics would be bad. A potential backlash. It would be difficult finding a replacement. And the short-term replacement would even be a problem in some terms here at the White House, because that's Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, the person who named the special counsel in the first place -- Chris and Alisyn.

CUOMO: All right, Joe. There's a lot to get through. Let's bring in the panel: CNN Politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza; associate editor and columnist for Real Clear Politics, A.B. Stoddard; and CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd.

Phil Mudd, the Comey hearing tomorrow getting all the hype, but this is big, this FISA oversight hearing, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Those wiretapping claims that the president made. What the standard is for the warrant they got for Carter Page. One of the extended members of his team. A lot could come out with Coats before he even gets to whether or not he, too, was asked to back off the investigation by the president. True or false?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: No, I agree with you, Chris. I think -- my concern about the hearing today with all the congressional hearings that are going on on what happened with the election last year is it will get diverted from a question that would have been critical a year or two ago.

Americans would have been focused on this like a laser before this controversy about Russia. And the reason is simple. This is a conversation about the authorities the U.S. intelligence community has to intercept communications, including potentially communications of U.S. Citizens. Some of the authorities are debated. Including the ability to do that without a warrant.

So I hope the focus today doesn't divert too quickly to what the president said when and focuses instead on what authorities do the people who represent Americans want to give the U.S. intelligence community, especially when they're collecting against U.S. persons.

CAMEROTA: OK. A.B., it could be that. It could be very interesting. There could be a lot of information, or it could not be. Because Dan Coats in the past, when he has been in a public session, has not been that forthcoming, other than to say that he will cooperate with the Mueller investigation.

A.B. STODDARD, COLUMNIST AND ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: When he was giving testimony a few weeks ago, he just backed off of giving details of that conversation when the president reportedly asked him to come out and publicly declare there was no evidence of collusion, and he said he's just going to talk to Bob Mueller. I expect the same response from him today.

I think more heat will be brought on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who I think will probably speak to the writing of his memo in which he described why then-FBI director Comey could no longer effectively lead the agency. He'll probably talk a little bit about naming special counsel Bob Mueller.

But this new focus on the tension between the president and Attorney General Sessions and whether or not, from these other reports, James Comey felt that maybe Jeff Sessions couldn't be trusted could become, obviously, a very tense discussion, line of questioning I expect the Democrats to pursue with Rod Rosenstein. Whether or not he answers those questions is -- I doubt it. I doubt that he will.

But that -- I think, this new focus on the attorney general raises the stakes of how independent an attorney general he was and what the relationship was between the FBI investigation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice.

CUOMO: Chris Cillizza, adding some more context to the stakes involved. Not so much today with Coats, but tomorrow with Comey. You know, the predecessor to Dan Coats, James Clapper, speaking down in Australia. And I'm reading what he was just quoted as having said. He says that Watergate pales compared to the Russia scandal. Now, what do you think that means for him?

[07:10:00] CILLIZZA: Golly. That's a pretty direct statement, Chris. I don't know that it takes all that much analysis. Clapper has been critical of Trump. Remember that Clapper went and said very soon after Donald Trump made the claim that Trump Tower had been wiretapped and ordered by Obama. That simply had not happened. He was sort of the leading first voice out there to do that.

So that seems like more than what he said before. But he has been a Trump critic.

At some point, though, Coats, Comey, Sessions, Clapper, there are others. Donald Trump clearly is a bull in a china shop. Right? That's why people voted for him at some level, because they wanted him to be that guy.

The question to me is does he know he's a bull in a china shop or does he not? So is there intent here? Does he know when he's talking to Jim Comey, he has to meet privately with Jim Comey, asks him whether he's under investigation. Does he know he's breaking protocol?

When he asks Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, to you know, be a -- say he's not under investigation, be a character witness, essentially, does he know he's breaking protocol there? You know, I don't know. Presumably, someone has told him these are sort of the boundaries at which you operate in. Whether he listened to that or not is up in the air and is always the question with him. It may not matter in the long run. But I think you have a -- you have a pattern of behavior here.

He does not think there are rules that apply to him, and he repeatedly puts people who work for him and people who don't in very uncomfortable situations.

CAMEROTA: Chris, I mean, isn't the answer to that he thinks that he has a mandate to shake it up and to break the rules and to do things differently than the way Washington used to run. He campaigned on that. People voted for him on that record -- on that accord.

CILLIZZA: So breaking the rules sort of metaphorically and symbolically is one thing, Alisyn. Breaking the rules in a more literal sense is more problematic. No, there's no allegation of that. I just mean he has no boundaries. That may be fine for the people who supported him. But it has gotten him into repeated trouble. This is -- this is not just Democrats.

CUOMO: But trouble winds up taking on a defining term. Right? Phil Mudd, we've talked about this a bunch on and off TV. You know, Comey can come down tomorrow, and he can create headlines for the next two or three days. But that doesn't mean that there will be any more substance there that could wind up in charges or any kind of major development by the investigation, by the special counselor or otherwise. Right?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That's right. Here's what to watch for, Chris. You're right. If you're sitting at the FBI now, every FBI officer, I would be saying the same thing when I sat there, would be saying, "Please don't talk about the current case against U.S. citizens." That the case that would be led by special counselor Robert Mueller.

There's a whole second half of this story that Comey will speak about. And that is Russian involvement in the election, and presumably his conversations with the U.S. president. If you like doing jigsaw puzzles during summer vacation, watch this one. When he speaks about what Russia did, I'll be sitting there saying who was at the other end of those Russia conversations? And can we fill in the jigsaw puzzle pieces to determine who he's referring to when he talks about Russia? Because I don't think he's going to use any U.S. person's name. That would interfere with the investigation.

CAMEROTA: So A.B., there's "New York Times" reporting that James Comey has -- had asked Jeff Sessions not to leave him alone with Donald Trump. I mean, I know that sounds awfully sensational. But the point is that just what Chris Cillizza was saying, which is that Donald Trump doesn't play by the normal rules; and James Comey generally does. And so he thought that he didn't want to be in the situation of being on the receiving end of this lack of boundaries and being asked questions. So he didn't want to be left alone with him.

STODDARD: Right. I think this is why these revelations about Sessions are so profound in terms of the politics of this and potentially some kind of investigation of obstruction if there is any. I mean, people obviously think that Mueller is looking at that.

Jeff Sessions left the room when the president of the United States asked him to leave him alone with the FBI director. If Jeff Sessions -- there are questions about whether or not he should have left the Oval Office. But also, why did he not immediately follow up with James Comey about whether or not the president was asking him about the investigation, which he was not supposed to do. James Comey felt uncomfortable enough to -- with Trump to tell

Sessions, "I don't want to be left alone with the president." But he didn't feel uncomfortable enough with Sessions to tell him about the conversations that he'd actually had with the president.

That makes -- you know, leads to the conclusion that perhaps he didn't trust the independence of the attorney general. James Comey was trying to protect the integrity of the FBI and the FBI investigation by not sharing that with Jeff Sessions.

[07:15:04] This obviously is a huge issue for whether or not Jeff Sessions can hang on, and also this investigation. Forget Trump getting mad at Sessions. It's how much Sessions might have done for Trump.

He recused himself from the Russia investigation and then engaged from start to finish on the firing of James Comey. He left the Oval Office when the president, you know, wanted to be alone with him. He knew the president likely was firing Comey over the Russia investigation. That calls into question his independence.

So that is one thing that could be sort of a surprise revelation tomorrow, is if James Comey answers questions about why he refused to share this hesitance and this nervousness with the attorney general.

CUOMO: He's going to be asked. That's for sure. Because it just doesn't go to the context you're referring to. It goes to credibility. Credibility is going to be a big part are this contest. It will be interesting to see how the return questions are when Comey says whether or not he told the president of the United States he wasn't under investigation.

Our reporting from Gloria Borger and Jake Tapper suggests that he's going to say, "I never said that. It was a more nuanced conversation." This is going to be a credibility contest.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much for helping us sort through it all.

So tomorrow's testimony is going to be appointment viewing. NEW DAY will be live, starting at 5 a.m. Eastern tomorrow for CNN's special coverage, which begins at 9 a.m. Comey breaks his silence at 10 a.m.

CUOMO: All right. We're also following a very disturbing story out of Iran. Twin bombings and a shooting in the capital of Tehran. Iran's state media now reporting the attacks have killed at least 12, injured dozens. This is the scene outside the parliament building right now.

State media reports a suicide bomber detonated explosives inside the building. The attack, they say, is over now. They're just trying to figure out what happened and deal with the injured.

Take a look at this image. A man lowering a child from a window in the parliament building window amid this frantic rush to evacuate. The incident unfolding at the same time as a second attack involving a

bomb and a shooting spree at the Khomeini Shrine just south of Tehran. At least two people were injured. A woman was arrested there.

CAMEROTA: OK. Now to a CNN exclusive for you. Concerns intensifying that Russia is trying to create rifts between the U.S. and its closest Gulf allies after U.S. investigators say that Russian hackers planted a fake news report with Qatar's state news agency that has spurred this new Mideast crisis. Now Russia is responding to our report. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is part of the CNN team that broke this story, and he joins us live from Washington. Tell us about all of your reporting.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Russia just put out a statement, and we'll get to that in a second.

But the story here, basically, is that U.S. investigators believe Russian hackers were behind a cyber breach against Qatar's state news agency. The hackers planted a fake news report friendly to Iran and critical of President Donald Trump that is now being used by Saudi Arabia and other U.S. Allies as a reason to carry out an economic and a political blockade of Qatar.

U.S. and Qatari officials tell us that the FBI sends a team of investigators to Doha to help the Qatari government investigate the alleged hacking incident, which was reported in late May.

Now, the intelligence that has so far been gathered by U.S. security agencies indicates that Russian hackers were behind the intrusion. The alleged involvement of Russian hackers would add to concerns by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies that Russia continues to try to use some of the same cyber hacking measures on U.S. allies that it used to meddle in the U.S. 2016 elections.

Now, U.S. officials say they are not sure here whether this was Russian criminals behind this hack or whether or not this was state sponsored by the Russians.

And lastly, I just want to add the statement that the Kremlin spokesperson just issued, essentially just denying this report and calling it fake news -- Alisyn.

CUOMO: All right. Shimon, thank you very much. Let us know what else you develop on this story. We'll be checking in with you later in the morning.

So the world is awaiting James Comey's blockbuster testimony. And what does that mean about what's weighing on the president's mind? We have a Congressman who was part of a small White House dinner party with the president last night. What was the table conversation? Next.


[07:23:16] CAMEROTA: Today top intelligence officials are expected to testify about their private interactions with President Trump. Then tomorrow, fired FBI Director James Comey will share his story. How is the president responding to all this?

Joining us now is Republican Congressman Francis Rooney of Florida. He was part of a small group who had dinner with the president last night. Good morning, Congressman.


CAMEROTA: What was the president's state of mind on the eve of these two blockbuster days in Washington?

ROONEY: Well, I think we're fortunate to have a leader right now who is capable of facing the challenges that the world presents us. You know, we've had eight years of what I consider to be moribund foreign policy. And President Trump, his team has taken it on in all areas.

CAMEROTA: And did he tell you how he was feeling, about to hear the top intel chiefs testify about Russian meddling and whether or not there was any attempt at obstruction of justice from the White House?

ROONEY: Well, we had a wide-ranging discussion about all the challenges facing the United States in the foreign policy area, as well as a discussion about our penultimate infrastructure project in South Florida and the restoration of the Everglades.

CAMEROTA: Did you talk about the hearings that are happening today and tomorrow?

ROONEY: No, but you know, I'll tell you about something about those hearings. The big game here -- the big gamesman is Comey. I mean, I hope they get into what he did about Hillary Clinton and the whole thing about Loretta Lynch meeting on the airplane and all that. That's the big story here.


ROONEY: It is to me. This guy has been playing games ever since the campaign.

CAMEROTA: But the campaign is over. And now President Trump is in the White House, and now the question is whether or not President Trump pressed him to back off the Michael Flynn investigation.

ROONEY: Well, we'll let everybody get all the words out. You know, there's been a lot of innuendo and vague statements and second guessing of statements. Like you just said on your show, did he mean this or did he not mean that? Director Comey.

[07:25:13] So once all the testimony is out, I think we're going to realize that this is a bit of a side show and that we really need to focus on making America stronger again in the world.

CAMEROTA: If Director Comey reads from the memos that he is reported to have that he took contemporaneously right after these meetings with the president where he says that the president pressed him to back off an investigation, is that a side show or does that concern you?

ROONEY: Well, let's see what the context is and what was really said.

CAMEROTA: But yes, I understand. We are obviously waiting. But there are reports out there that these memos exist and the content. Are you concerned at all by them?

ROONEY: Again, what I'm concerned with is every time this guy Comey speaks, it's a whole different story. So I'd like to get it all on the table and let's get the context of it and what was said or not said. You know, it's one thing to -- to apply pressure with -- which Deputy Secretary Rosenstein said was not done. And it's another thing to say, you know, maybe we ought to move on and save the world here, because the world is a dangerous place right now.

CAMEROTA: And what about the world in terms of Russia? Do you think that Russia meddled in the 2016 election?

ROONEY: Well, you know, disinformation is a very common aspect of intelligence gathering and espionage. And I imagine every country in the western world has an intelligence servicethat does their share of it.

CAMEROTA: So this is customary; there's no big deal? Russia does this all the time? We shouldn't be worked up about it?

ROONEY: Well, the thing is, you know, the old expression in intelligence is the people that know don't say and the people that say don't know. There could be a lot of agendas for wanting to make sure that this gets out. And I don't think we know all the sides of -- all the sides of the triangle right now. But we're going to get it triangulated sooner or later.

The fact is, the Qataris have been off the reservation for some time. And I hope that they will realize from whatever stimulus brings them to this point that they needed to -- they need to align with President Trump's Sunni-Arab initiative here and leave Iran.

CAMEROTA: So you're comfortable with President Trump inserting himself into this Saudi-Qatari-Arab state, some call it crisis today because of all the realignment that was possibly based on a fake news story that was planted by Russia?

ROONEY: Well, yes, but the crisis is the way the Obama administration enabled Iran and its axis of evil to perpetrate mayhem all across northern Iran and across Syria and into Lebanon and fortifying people like Hamas and Hezbollah. That's the crisis.

I think the initiative of reinforcing our Sunni allies and the -- coupled with the moderate Islamic messaging outreach that Saudi Arabia agreed to undertake is a very important development for our foreign policy.

CAMEROTA: Is Russia perpetrating any mayhem?

ROONEY: I think a lot of these countries always perpetrate whatever mayhem they can get away with. And that's -- Russia is not our friend. OK? But we have strategic interests to maintain, which means we have to balance a relationship with them just like we have to balance a relationship with China and other countries who have interests that are sometimes aligned with us and sometimes are not.

CAMEROTA: Here's the latest ABC News/"Washington Post" poll. It's just out in terms of how Americans are feeling. They asked, "Why did President Trump fire FBI Director James Comey?" Sixty-one percent of the American public believes it was to protect himself. Twenty-seven percent believe it's for the good of the country.

There's another question about President Trump's response to investigations that are ongoing. And 56 percent believe that he is, in fact, trying to interfere with those investigations.

ROONEY: I'll tell you, Alisyn, I'm not seeing that around the country and certainly not down where I'm from in south Florida. I'm seeing the people that fought hard to elect Donald Trump to change the course of the country are really glad that he fired Comey. They just can't understand why he didn't do it the afternoon of January 20.

CAMEROTA: OK, Congressman Francis Rooney, thank you for your perspective. It will be very interesting to see what unfolds today.

ROONEY: Thank you much.


CUOMO: All right. So former FBI director James Comey is going to answer a lot of these questions, and some hype will be blown away. What do people want to hear on that committee? It's going to be a function of what party they're with. We're talking to a member of the House Intel Committee next.