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Sessions Testifies Today; Will Trump Fire Mueller?; Trump's Weird Cabinet Meeting; Dennis Rodman Arrives in North Korea; Cosby Trial Jury Begins Deliberations. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired June 13, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:09] JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: In retrospect, I should have slowed down and said, but I did meet one Russian official a couple of times.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Today, a major day for the Trump White House. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be under oath, testifying about his meetings with the Russian ambassador and the involvement in the firing of James Comey.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Is President Trump really weighing whether to fire special counsel Robert Mueller? A close friend to the president says that option is on the table.

BRIGGS: And it's being called the weirdest cabinet meeting of all time. President Trump's cabinet secretaries all taking turns to lavish compliments on the president. What is happening here?

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

Well, basically, it's child psychology 101 being practiced on a 70- year-old man.

ROMANS: It was so weird, I watched it twice, just to make sure that it was as weird as I thought it was, and it was. I'm Christine Romans. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Today could be one of the most crucial days yet for the Trump White House. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies at 2:30 this afternoon in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Among many critical questions, Sessions will likely be asked to respond directly to an accusation from fired FBI Director James Comey.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: My impression was something big is about to happen, I need to remember every single word that is spoken. And again, I could be wrong, I'm 56 years old. I've seen a few

things. My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn't be leaving, which is why he was lingering, and I don't know Mr. Kushner well, but I think he picked up on the same thing, and so, I knew something was about to happen that I needed to pay very close attention to.


ROMANS: Just one of the many questions that could be posed to the attorney general.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has the very latest.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, tough and intense questioning is expected today when the attorney general testifies. Several questions linger, including what role did Jeff Sessions have in the firing of James Comey, especially since Sessions had recused himself from the Russia investigation. Also, what is Sessions' response to Comey's contention that Sessions left him alone with the president and then didn't respond when Comey told the attorney general it was inappropriate?

And perhaps most pressing, did Jeff Sessions have a third undisclosed meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in April 2016? That's something that James Comey told senators in a closed-door session last week that investigators are looking into. So, all of these questions swirl, all as the White House is weighing whether to exert executive privilege. Press Secretary Sean Spicer would only say that it would depend on the scope of the questions.

But a senior administration official is telling our Sara Murray that the White House actually might hold back and hope that Jeff Sessions actually restrained on his own. So, there is a lot of anticipation for what will likely be another largely watched round of public testimony. It all begins this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. and senators, meanwhile, they're still deciding whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be asked to testify in a classified briefing after that public hearing -- Dave and Christine.


BRIGGS: Jessica, thank you.

The White House pushing back hard this morning against a claim by a longtime friend of the president that Mr. Trump is considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller. Press Secretary Sean Spicer rejecting the claim by "Newsmax" CEO Chris Ruddy that the president was weighing the option.

Spicer issued a statement overnight, saying: Mr. Ruddy never spoke to the president regarding this issue. With respect to this subject, only the president or his attorneys are authorized to comment. ROMANS: In the wake of FBI Director James Comey's firing, the mere

suggestion President Trump might terminate Mueller is drawing rapid fire from Capitol Hill. The top Democrat on the House Intel Committee, Adam Schiff tweeting: If President fired Bob Mueller, Congress would immediately re-establish special counsel and appoint Bob Mueller. Don't waste our time.

For the very latest, let's bring in senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, a friend of the president said Mr. Trump is considering the possibility of firing special prosecutor Robert Mueller. "Newsmax" editor Chris Ruddy told PBS the president is actually weighing such a dramatic move, but a source close to the president told CNN, there are many people advising the president to not fire Mueller.

Here's what Ruddy told PBS.

RUDDY: I think he's considering perhaps terminating the special counsel. I think he's weighing that option. I think it's pretty clear by what one of his lawyers said on television recently. I personally think it would be a very significant mistake.

ACOSTA: White House deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders did not deny what Ruddy is saying, only telling CNN that he speaks for himself. And a White House official also told CNN that Ruddy did not see the president before making these remarks -- Dave and Christine.


BRIGGS: Jim Acosta at the White House.

Well, if there are tapes of the president's conversations with former FBI Director James Comey, they could be a critical piece of evidence in the Russia investigation.

[04:05:07] After hinting he might have them, the president is now being coy about whether they even exist.

And White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer not exactly clearing things up.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president made clear in the Rose Garden last week that he would have an announcement shortly.

REPORTER: Do you have any sort of timeline on when that announcement will be?

SPICER: When the president is ready to make it. I think the president made clear what his intention is on Friday.

REPORTER: I mean, it's an open question.

SPICER: I understand that, and he said he would answer that question in due time. He's not waiting for anything. When he's ready to discuss it, he will.


BRIGGS: Republican Senator Lindsey Graham sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. CNN asked him if he thinks the Trump Comey tapes do exist, he said, quote, I don't think so. And then he added: If there are, I'm on them.

ROMANS: All right. And here's this unique, official first cabinet meeting with President Trump and his entire cabinet, all together for the very first time, and it turns into, quite frankly, something we've never seen before, a bizarre competition to see who could lavish the most praise on the boss. One by one, each secretary tried to outdo the last as the president listened without comment.

Chief of Staff Reince Priebus also heaping on the flattery.


TOM PRICE, HEALTH AND HOUSE SERVICES SECRETARY: I can't thank you enough for the privilege that you've given me and the leadership that you've shown.

ELAINE CHAO, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: I want to thank you for getting this country moving again and also working again.

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you've given us to serve your agenda and the American people.


ROMANS: So, those of us who cover politics say, we've never seen anything like that.

BRIGGS: No, never.

ROMANS: Usually in a cabinet meeting, usually what happens is the president makes very quick opening remarks and then each cabinet secretary goes around and says we're working on this, we've got to fix this, you know, this is our priority, and that's what it is. It's like more of a business meeting than a love fest.

Now, this cabinet session is being mocked by Democrats, of course, right? Take a look at Senator Chuck Schumer's video parody.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: I want to thank everybody for coming. I just thought we'd go around the room.

Lucy, how'd we do on the Sunday show yesterday?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your tone was perfect. You were right on message.

SCHUMER: Michelle, how'd my hair look coming out of the gym this morning?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have great hair. Nobody had better hair than you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before we go any further, I just want to say thank you for the opportunity and blessing to serve your agenda.



BRIGGS: I don't know. I don't know what to say. Look, it is highly unusual. But if the Senate minority leader is making fun of the Trump cabinet meeting, you just know late-night talk shows could not resist either.


STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: This is next-level weird. This is an unprecedented public stroke fest for an emotionally frail man, OK? That is absolutely chilling, right, Mark?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, boss, it's absolutely true! Whatever you say! It's an honor, sir!

SETH MEYER, COMEDIAN: That's right, there's never been a president who's done more. Even Bill Clinton took six years to get impeached. I might do it in six months, you guys. We are racing. We are racing ahead.


BRIGGS: All right. Another legal setback, meanwhile, for President Trump's travel ban. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirming a Hawaii judge's ruling that blocked the ban, the judge citing the president's own tweets in making this decision. Once again, tweets like this one: People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a travel ban.

And the Justice Department should have stayed with the original travel ban, not the watered-down, politically correct version they submitted to Supreme Court.

And we will speak with Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin in the next hour. He filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday opposing the DOJ's request to put the revised travel ban into effect.

ROMANS: The Democratic attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia are suing President Trump, saying he personally is violating the Constitution. The lawsuit says the president is violating the emoluments clause, barring the president from taking payments from foreign powers. They claim President Trump's worldwide network of luxury hotels and golf courses creates a conflict of interest, and they say his Washington hotel unfairly competes against properties in their jurisdictions.


KARL RACINE, WASHINGTON D.C. ATTORENY GENERAL: And what are we to do, sit back and allow the president to police himself? This is America. We have a Constitution. Our Founding Fathers were concerned about corruption. They were concerned about a president of the United States not focusing on the people's business, but being worried about personal business.


ROMANS: Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh says they will seek Trump's personal tax returns as part of this suit. Press Secretary Sean Spicer says the White House will move to have that suit dismissed.

BRIGGS: Today's also a critical day in the fight to repeal and replace Obamacare.

[04:10:02] Senate Republicans meeting behind closed doors to learn key, new details of their health care plan. Senate Republicans meeting behind closed doors to learn key, new details of their health care plan. They'll offer feedback to staffers who are working to triangulate between conservative and moderate demands.

New questions, though, about this secretive process for developing this plan. Senator Bernie Sanders mocking it on Instagram with this photo captioned: Senate Republicans just released the schedule of the hearings committee, mark-ups and public testimony for their health care bill -- none.

ROMANS: All right. President Trump promised to do a big number on Dodd/Frank, remember? Now, he is following through. The administration unveiled its plan to dismantle banking regulations, many put in place after the financial crisis. The Treasury Department report covers everything from mortgage lending to trading, and many proposals read like a Wall Street wish list.

Among them, easing up rules on risk-taking for big banks, lightening their annual stress test, and reducing the powers of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That's a watchdog agency created under Dodd/Frank.

For example, the agency won't be able to constantly monitor financial firms, and it allows the president to fire its director. The Treasury proposals resemble many aspects of the House financial bill passed last week, except for its endorsement of the Volcker rule, one of Wall Street's least favorite regulations. That ban, thanks from making risky bets with taxpayer-backed money. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says this plan eases restrictions

that hurt growth and critics argue it helps big banks at the cost of consumers. In particular, consumer watchdog advocates very concerned about weakening the consumer protection agency, CFPB. That's something that has gone -- you know, they're starting to look at car loans, having a look at payday lending, starting to regulate collection agencies. Things that have been a real problem for many consumers over the years.

BRIGGS: We've heard that it's been difficult to lend money. Is that true?

ROMANS: Well, you know, lending -- it hasn't been difficult to lend money. I mean, in some cases, the president says it all the time, but when you look at bank lending, bank lending is up since the financial crisis. And you look at bank stocks, bank stocks are up. Banks are making record amounts of profit.

So, how is Dodd/Frank holding them back? Many parts of Dodd/Frank haven't even been implemented yet.

BRIGGS: Right, and that's the argument, that they haven't really made those changes yet.

All right. Ahead, Dennis Rodman arriving in North Korea. Yes, the former basketball player, Dennis Rodman. But why?

Here's what Rodman told CNN about whether President Trump approves of his trip.


DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER: Well, I'm pretty sure he's pretty much happy with the fact that I'm over here.


RODMAN: Trying to accomplish something that we both need.


BRIGGS: What is he trying to accomplish? We'll have more on Rodman's visit, next.

ROMANS: Some kind of product placement.


[04:16:48] ROMANS: All right. Dennis Rodman has landed in North Korea. The eccentric NBA hall of famer was spotted by CNN last night connecting through Beijing's airport. Rodman would not say whether he plans to meet with Kim Jong-un.

And while the State Department has said his visit is not official, Rodman is hinting, hinting President Trump approves.

CNN's Matt Rivers spoke to the former NBA star and joins us live now from Beijing.

I got to -- the product placement on the t-shirt is a little -- it makes me feel kind of an elaborate joke or something here. But walk us through your encounter with Dennis Rodman.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, to get that out of the way first, this trip is actually being sponsored by the company that you saw on the t-shirt there. It's a financial services company for the marijuana industry, believe it or not.

But we were able to catch up with Dennis Rodman when he arrived. Everyone has to transfer through Beijing before they go to North Korea. So, obviously, we were very interesting in seeing what Dennis Rodman had to say.

Let's play you a little bit of what he told us earlier this morning here in Beijing.


RIVERS: Are you here just as a private citizen? Have you spoken to President Trump at all?

RODMAN: Well, I'm pretty sure he's pretty much happy at the fact that I'm over here trying to accomplish something that we both need.

RIVERS: And what are you trying to accomplish, sir? From this dialogue?

RODMAN: Just open the door, to open the door, that's it.

RIVERS: Are you going to talk at all about the detained Americans?

RODMAN: Well, that's not my purpose right now.


RIVERS: Now, he didn't -- he didn't answer specifically as to when we asked him was he going to meet with Kim Jong-un directly, he didn't answer. We also said is he bringing specifically a message from the Trump administration, he also wouldn't answer that. But it's worth noting here that the State Department said they are aware of Rodman's visit, but he is not making this trip in any sort of official capacity. He is only traveling as a private citizen.

But Dennis Rodman is in a very unique position. He has a relationship with Kim Jong-un. He's met him personally several times and also knows Donald Trump. He was on "The Celebrity Apprentice" two different times. So, he's one of the few people in the world that can claim to know both men personally.

ROMANS: And that's just the world we live in, isn't it?

Matt Rivers, thank you. Nice work at the airport. Dennis Rodman in this duty-free. Thanks, Matt.

BRIGGS: Extraordinary times in which we reside.

All right. Jurors in Bill Cosby's jury trial could deliver a verdict today. Cosby is facing up to a decade in prison for aggravated indecent assault. More on what to expect at today's deliberations, next.


[04:23:48] BRIGGS: In just a few hours, jurors in Bill Cosby's sexual offense trial begin their first full day of deliberations. The jury of seven men, five women, got the case Monday afternoon after hearing four hours of closing arguments, and the defense resting its case after just six minutes. The 79-year-old comedian is charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

We get more now from CNN's Jean Casarez.


JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the jury had deliberated four hours Monday night when the judge called them into the courtroom and said, you've been here for 13 hours today, I think maybe we should call it a day. You will go back to your hotel room.

The day started off with Camille Cosby coming into that courtroom for the defense case, with her husband sitting in the front row of the defense side. The defense called only one witness, a detective, and then it was on to closing arguments. The defense really focused out on Andrea Constand, that you can't believe her, even calling her a liar. That her statements changed, they evolved, they were different, that it was a romantic relationship, and she didn't want anyone to know.

The commonwealth countered that by saying that you need to focus on Bill Cosby's words, listen to what he said, look at what he said.

[04:25:06] They also began to describe the elements of the crime -- intoxication, admitting and administering intoxicants. Deliberations will continue, and this is a new day and there could be a verdict in the criminal case of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania versus Bill Cosby -- Christine, Dave.


ROMANS: All right, and that could come today.

All right. Thank you so much, Jean.

BRIGGS: It would be a really quick verdict.

ROMANS: Sure would.

BRIGGS: Yes, it could.

ROMANS: All right. In what could be another stunning day of testimony. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies today before the Senate Intelligence Committee, but will Sessions invoke executive privilege and refuse to answer questions about the Russia investigation? More on what to expect.



SESSIONS: In retrospect, I should have slowed down and said, but I did meet one Russian official a couple of times.


ROMANS: All right, today, a major day for the Trump White House.