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Attorney General Sessions Testifies Before Congress Today; Will White House Exert Executive Privilege?; Friend: Trump "Weighing" Firing Mueller; Trump's Weird Cabinet Meeting. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired June 13, 2017 - 05:30   ET


[05:31:10] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 HOST: Again, it's all eyes on a Senate hearing from the Trump White House as Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be under oath testifying about his meetings with the Russian ambassador and any involvement in the firing of James Comey.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST: Is President Trump really weighing whether to fire the 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. Trump's cabinet secretaries all taking turns to lavish praise upon the president.


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.


BRIGGS: Positive reinforcement. Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans, and that was one for the record books -- that one yesterday in that cabinet meeting. Not what you usually see.

BRIGGS: Privilege of a lifetime to anchor alongside you, Christine Romans.

ROMANS: It's a blessing to anchor alongside you. Today could be one of the most crucial days yet for the Trump White House. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies at 2:30 p.m. 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 been -- 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: CNN's Jessica Schneider joins us from Washington with the 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 will 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 is 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 Schneider, thank you. The White House pushing back hard this morning against the claim by a longtime friend of the president that Mr. Trump is considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller. "Newsmax" CEO Chris Ruddy claiming the president is considering firing the Russia election meddling investigator as one possible option.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRIS RUDDY, NEWSMAX CEO, TRUMP FRIEND: 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.


BRIGGS: Press Secretary Sean Spicer rejecting Ruddy's claim in a statement overnight. "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." In the wake of the FBI director James Comey's firing, the mere suggestion President Trump might terminate Mueller is drawing rapid fire from Capitol Hill. The top Dem on the House Intel Committee, Adam Schiff, tweeting "If president fired Bob Mueller, Congress would immediately reestablish independent counsel and appoint Bob Mueller. Don't waste our time."

[05:35:27] ROMANS: Republicans calling the fairness of the special counsel into question following reports three members of Robert Mueller's legal team have donated almost exclusively to Democrats. A CNN analysis of Federal Election Commission records shows $56,000 in donations to Democrats over the years, more than half from just one of the attorneys. Two of the lawyers gave the maximum $2,700 to Hillary Clinton last year.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich tearing into Mueller with a tweet pointing to those FEC records. It says, "Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair. Look who he's hiring. Time to rethink." This is a sharp reversal for Gingrich, who last month tweeted, "Robert Mueller is a superb choice to be special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity. Media should now calm down."

I want to bring in CNN political analyst David Drucker, senior congressional correspondent for the "Washington Examiner."

BRIGGS: And the best-dressed man in Washington.


BRIGGS: Fabulous, brilliant -- all those things as well.

ROMANS: I like the pocket square. He had a couple of pocket squares here.

BRIGGS: Yes, yes.


ROMANS: Yes, yes. Oh, there you go. There you go.

BRIGGS: Yes, yes, yes. That's good.

ROMANS: Let me ask you first about this -- we just -- the story we just read to you about the --


ROMANS: -- donations almost exclusively to Democrats.


ROMANS: Is it just bad optics?

DRUCKER: It's bad optics, it doesn't look good. Then again, it's not about Mueller and he's overseeing the investigation. So, either you can trust Mueller to run a credible nonpartisan investigation, as much as any of these things are nonpartisan, or he's going to let all of these appointees run wild. He's simply going to take, you know, what they bring to him at face value and do nothing about it. So, bad optics, but you know, in Washington it's very hard to find somebody who is completely divorced from politics.

ROMANS: Well, it's also part of your -- it's your civic -- your responsibility --

DRUCKER: Yes, but I do understand why --

ROMANS: And you can give up your civic responsibility.

DRUCKER: Yes. I do understand why it would bother some people on the right. I think people on the left would be bothered if the roles were reversed.

ROMANS: Of course.

DRUCKER: We saw a lot of donations --


DRUCKER: -- to Republicans. But we're not talking about Mueller here and I think that's --


DRUCKER: -- the key.

BRIGGS: But you can understand Newt Gingrich praising Bob Mueller but then questioning the angle of these Dems. We want to move on to the potential firing of Bob Mueller. Adam Schiff says they would reappoint Bob Mueller as special counsel. How would Republicans react if the president fired the special counsel?

DRUCKER: I think Adam Schiff is a little over his skis there. I don't think you'd see the Republican House and the Republican Senate move to rebuke the president with a bill to authorize a special counsel.

BRIGGS: Would they stand by it?

DRUCKER: I think that they would be upset by it. I think it would worry them. I think the politics would worry them. I think they would feel like this was thrown directly back on their plate. But I don't think they would rebuke the president if he took the extraordinary move to do this. I think that they would try and sort of --

ROMANS: Right.

DRUCKER: -- just get past it. I just don't see -- again, how extraordinary would it be for them to pass a law that was going to be veto-proof where they were going to have all these votes because you're not going to have Republican leaders --


DRUCKER: -- working as a handful with Democrats? I mean, this would be a sharp rebuke. I just don't see it.

ROMANS: And you think this whole Chris Ruddy thing is some kind of a trial balloon --

DRUCKER: I think it's --

ROMANS: -- and it's been, you know --

DRUCKER: I think it's a trial balloon and the thing about the Trump orbit is there are so many different circles, you know, around the president that sort of touch the president. We know Chris Ruddy is a, you know, a friend of his and a sort of confidant of his so it's hard to tell if this is a group of Trump's friends sort of floating this --

ROMANS: I see.

DRUCKER: -- and for what reason or if this is an officially sanctioned, of sorts, trial balloon. It's something we don't know.

ROMANS: Since you mentioned this orbit of people around Trump, let's talk about that cabinet meeting yesterday -- really interesting. I'm reading the transcript and I've watched it twice. You know, the president began this by saying he's the best president ever except for maybe FDR in terms of getting stuff done in the early days. And he, you know, launches into all of their -- the accomplishments, and then you hear his cabinet secretaries, one after another, trying to outdo each other with praise. Can we listen to a little bit of that?


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Mr. President, and it's just the greatest privilege of my life is to serve as vice president to a president who's keeping his word to the American people.

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

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

PRIEBUS: 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: David, you are a seasoned hand in Washington. I've never seen anything like that.

DRUCKER: Look, I've never seen anything like this, period, and I covered Arnold Schwarzenegger's recall campaign and the first couple of years of his administration. Here we had a Hollywood -- a bonafide Hollywood movie star used to being feted and praised to no end, and I've never seen anything like this and it's -- and look, I understand why it won't bother some people and they'll say, you know -- they don't even know why we're talking about it and I get that, but it is outside of the usual norm for an American leader to be praised in such a personal way without sort of enveloping the praise about the country and his leadership and his agenda.

[05:40:34] And what I mean by that is -- let's step -- let's go back a couple of years and remember how upset and how it rubbed Republicans and people on the right the wrong way when President Obama so often referred to himself -- said things like "I." You know, they used to count up the number of times he said "I" and "my team" in a speech and ridicule him to no end. And even look, that was a little off-putting and I understood that. This is -- this is just weird in a sense because it's something that we are used to seeing from, you know -- let's just say regimes or governments that are less than democratic and more based on the cult of the personality of the leader.

And -- but I would say that this is something we've actually seen in drips and drabs when people -- when his senior team has discussed him at other points --


DRUCKER: -- it's always made it a point of saying that this president is the greatest at this or that. And so what does all this mean? I think it actually undermines the president's agenda and what his achievements are when they try and overdo the praise so much. It's not necessary. He has used the Congressional Review Act to undo Obama-era laws in a way that no president ever has, and all they have to do is say look what we did, look what we're trying to do, and let it rest out there and I think it would do just fine on its own.

ROMANS: Yes, interesting.

BRIGGS: This is child psychology on a 70-year-old man. I mean, it's positive reinforcement. It's what parents are taught --

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: -- with their young children.

ROMANS: Jeff Sessions -- will he use executive privilege or is he going to answer these questions today?

DRUCKER: I think he'll use it for some questions. It depends what they are, yes.

BRIGGS: He did volunteer to be in front of the Senate panel.

DRUCKER: Right, so he has nothing to hide, but it doesn't mean he's going to anything to undermine his boss or the administration --


DRUCKER: -- which obviously he wants to see succeed.

ROMANS: All right, David Drucker. Nice to see you this morning. Thank you, sir.

DRUCKER: Same here.

BRIGGS: All right. The president and Ivanka Trump heading to Wisconsin today to promote apprenticeship programs.

ROMANS: The White House says such programs can help close the skills gap. Anxiety over factory jobs is high in Waukesha, Wisconsin where the president's going. More than 300 factory workers there are losing their jobs. General Electric is moving one of its plants to Canada. "CNN MONEY" visited those workers. Many of them voted for President Trump, hoping he would save their jobs.


BRET MATTICE, GE FACTORY WORKER: This was actually the first time I ever voted. He was saying the things that the average person who wants to see more decent-paying jobs that somebody could support a family on.

JOE BARLOW, GE FACTORY WORKER: I don't believe there's hope for our plant. My hope is companies like that that offshore all of the work and I hope he follows through on his 35 percent tax and punishes those businesses.

JOE ACKER, GE FACTORY WORKER: I don't know if you want to call it corporate greed but it seems like everybody's always trying to, you know, how can we make it cheaper and faster and put more money in the CEO's pocket, whereas, you know, we're the ones who create the product.

MATTICE: To find a job that we -- kind of money we make now is going to be pretty impossible.

ACKER: Next to impossible, yes.

BARLOW: I don't own anything GE anymore. I don't even have a GE light bulb in my house anymore.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROMANS: GE's Wisconsin employees join a growing list of unemployed factory workers in that state -- more than 125,000 since the year 2000. You know, they say they voted for Donald Trump. They're not even really sure he's going to be able to reverse all of this for them and, you know, they kind of -- some of them blame Paul Ryan -- they're right in the shadow of his congressional district -- for holding out on the import -- the import-export bank that, you know, caused -- was one of the reasons why GE moved its factory to Canada. That is the anxiety that got the president elected. Now, will he be able to show results for those workers, not just Wall Street investors? Investors are loving the Trump candidacy -- or the Trump presidency.

BRIGGS: Wisconsin delivered the White House.

ROMANS: That's right, so will he deliver for those -- for those factory workers?

BRIGGS: Today, he's there with Ivanka praising that message -- Workforce Development Week.

OK, Dennis Rodman is here to save the day, folks, arriving in North Korea this morning but why? Here's what Rodman told CNN about whether President Trump approves of this trip.


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


BRIGGS: More on Rodman's bizarre visit, next.


[05:49:00] BRIGGS: North Korean nukes, have no fear, Dennis Rodman is here. Yes, Rodman has landed in North Korea and 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 Jon Un, and while the State Department insists his visit is not official, Rodman is hinting President Trump approves. CNN's Will Ripley joins us live from Pyongyang, North Korea. A very fascinating trip. Always interesting to have you in Pyongyang, Will. What in the world is Dennis Rodman doing there, though?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the big question, isn't it, and there are two ways to look at this. In one way, it does sort of make sense that Dennis Rodman could pass some sort of a message along from the Trump administration. He's friends with President Trump. He's appeared on "CELEBRITY APPRENTICE" twice, and he's also friends -- and even endorsed, by the way -- he endorsed President Trump for president back in 2015 -- and he's also friends of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He's visited this country -- now, this is his fifth visit and he even put on a basketball game with ex-NBA players playing North Korean players and he sang "Happy Birthday" to the North Korean leader.

[05:50:12] But he was also wearing a t-shirt for a U.S. digital currency company specializing in legalized marijuana and in the video that that company put out they had a lot of pitches for that company. The company put out a statement calling this a mission -- a mission to open doors.

When I saw Dennis Rodman at the airport here in Pyongyang a few hours ago he -- when I asked him if he actually had a message from President Trump to deliver to the North Korean leader he said he's just here to see some friends and have some fun and didn't give any specifics. And again, the State Department is insisting that this visit is not in any official capacity.

Dennis Rodman's previous sponsors on other North Korean trips dropped him because his behavior here in the country was, quite frankly, out of control. He was drunk much of the time. He got into angry rants, including yelling at CNN's Chris Cuomo during a live T.V. interview. So is this a publicity stunt or is there some sort of backchannel diplomacy going on? Will he discuss the case of those four detained Americans being held here? We just don't know but it will certainly be an interesting next few days, Dave.

BRIGGS: It's time for Rodman to serve as the U.S. ambassador to North Korea -- move him there. Will Ripley live in Pyongyang. Thank you, my friend.

ROMANS: I think somebody's making some money because that -- the --

BRIGGS: Well, yes. The pot coin (ph) wins the day.

ROMANS: Yes, this was pop this morning (ph). All right. Tech stocks raising the market to record highs but have they lost steam and is it permanent? CNN Money Stream, next.


[05:55:45] ROMANS: All right. Good morning, again. Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning. Global stocks and U.S. stock futures rebounding after U.S. tech stocks slumped for the second day. Tech's really strong year has brought the market to record highs, particularly these five -- oh, these five little companies. Have you heard of these? But concerns over their run, as well as a downgrade for Apple prompted a big sell-off. Investors also looking ahead to a Federal Reserve board meeting tomorrow. The Central Bank is expected to raise interest rates.

GE's CEO Jeff Immelt stepping down after 16 years. He will officially leave his post August first. He led GE out of its industrial past into a digital age. His tenure was defined by dramatic downsizing, including shedding NBC and GE Capital. But GE stock has struggled in recent years. It's down about 27 percent since Immelt took over.

Want a summer job? Look no further than Snapchat? McDonald's says it will use the social media app to fill its 250,000 summer positions. The company's rolling out "snap-lications," a 10-second ad that swipes right to its career website. The temporary positions are aimed at young people and will last from June through August of this year. A little summer job for you, Dave Briggs.

BRIGGS: Very good. I do need some summer work.

ROMANS: Do you want some fries with that, Dave Briggs?

BRIGGS: I'm off at 6:00 a.m. I'll go -- some Egg McMuffins?

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

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. The beautiful, talented, and brilliant Cuomo and Camerota with "NEW DAY" right now.

ROMANS: Flattery will get you everywhere.


RUDDY: He's considering terminating the special counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The echoes of Watergate are getting louder and louder.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president's been clear he wants this to get investigated as soon as possible and be done with it.

JEFF SESSION, ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's an honor to be able to serve you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The attorney general's involvement is highly questionable.

COMEY: My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn't be leaving, which is why he was lingering.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's up to the American public to decide whether they think that Sessions is telling the truth.

SPICER: He's going to testify. We're aware of it and we'll go from there.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Tuesday, June 13th, 6:00 here in New York, and we do begin with major developments in the Russia investigation.

Here's your starting line. A longtime friend of President Trump is doing him no favors, saying the president is considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller. The White House denies the conversation even happened. Now, in just a few hours, Attorney General Jeff Sessions will testify in public before a Senate panel about Russia and the firing of FBI director James Comey. The question, will Sessions invoke executive privilege to avoid answering some tough questions?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Meanwhile, the White House still will not answer a simple yes or no question as to whether President Trump has tapes of his conversations with Comey. And, President Trump's first full cabinet meeting is generating headlines this morning for the highly unusual spectacle where each member heaped praise on the president. Afterward, the top Democrat in Congress made his own video mocking that moment. So we have it all covered for you. Let's begin with CNN's Ryan Nobles. He is live on Capitol Hill. Give us the latest from there, Ryan.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn, good morning to you. Of course, another day, another major hearing here on Capitol Hill. This time around it is the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, scheduled to appear in front of a Senate Intelligence Committee, although it's not clear just how forthcoming the attorney general's testimony will be. And his testimony comes at a time where there are concerns that President Trump and his associates may be attempting to interfere in the efforts of special counsel Robert Mueller.


RUDDY: I think he's considering perhaps terminating the special counsel.

NOBLES: Just hours after leaving the White House, President Trump's longtime friend, "Newsmax" CEO Christopher Ruddy claims the president is considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller, the man in charge of investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

RUDDY: 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.

NOBLES: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisting Mr. Ruddy never spoke to the president regarding this issue, but hours earlier Spicer's deputy said that Ruddy "speaks for himself."