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Jeff Sessions Fights Back at Senate Hearing; "A Number of Fatalities" in Huge London Fire; Will NBA Champion Warriors Skip White House Visit? Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired June 14, 2017 - 05:00   ET



JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: To suggest that I participated in any collusion is an appalling and detestable lie.

I am not stonewalling.

I recused myself from any investigation into the campaign for president, but I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations.

Why don't you tell me? There are none, Senator Wyden. There are none.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Certainly was a testy day on Capitol Hill. A defensive Jeff Sessions denies any collusion with Russia.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody, this Wednesday morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Breaking news: overnight from London, hundreds of firefighters battling a blaze that has consumed the 24-story apartment building in West London.

[05:00:01] You're looking at live pictures of the huge fire as we stand now. So far, authorities being tight-lipped, saying only that there have been a number of fatalities.

The cause of the fire still not known. CNN's Oren Liebermann is on the scene. We'll go live to him shortly.

ROMANS: Let's talk about this top story. Attorney General Jeff Sessions angrily denouncing claims he may have colluded with Russian officials during the election, calling them detestable lies at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Tuesday.

Sessions repeatedly declined to talk about his private conversations with President Trump, leaving Democrats fuming and accusing their former Senate colleague of stonewalling. BRIGGS: The attorney general did confirm that he left then FBI

Director James Comey, alone with President Trump in the Oval Office on February 14th.


SESSIONS: I was standing there and without revealing any conversation that took place, what I do recall is that I did depart. I believe everyone else did depart. And Director Comey was sitting in front of the president's desk and they were talking. So, that's what I do remember.

I believe it was the next day that he said something, expressed concern about being left alone with the president. But that in itself is not problematic. He did not tell me at that time any details about anything that was said that was improper.


BRIGGS: All right. For the latest, let's bring in senior congressional reporter Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.



Now, Jeff Sessions appearing in public before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the first time he has testified publicly since becoming confirmed as attorney general and since he belatedly disclosed he had two meetings with Russian officials and maybe third meeting with the Russian ambassador after he was asked about this during his confirmation proceedings and said there was nothing of campaign- related at that time. Since then, he's recused himself of running the Russia investigation, but appearing in public yesterday before the committee for the first time, answering a number of questions and pushing back rather aggressively on the idea that he may have helped Russian officials try to sway the election for Donald Trump, including this very testy exchange with Oregon Senator Wyden.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Mr. Comey said there were matters with respect to the recusal that were problematic and he couldn't talk about them. What are they?

SESSIONS: That -- why don't you tell me? There are none, Senator Wyden. There are none. I can tell you that for absolute certainty.

WYDEN: We can -- we can --

SESSIONS: This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there by me and I don't appreciate it.

RAJU: Now, Sessions did not respond to a number of questions that Democrats had particular about his interactions with President Trump, what he discussed with President Trump with regard to the firing of James Comey, whether or not the Russia investigation was discussed in anyway. Question after question, Jeff Sessions would not answer and he would not say if there was executive privilege that was claimed by the White House, instead saying that there was some sort of Department of Justice policy that prohibited him from discussing this matter with the committee.

Democrats said -- would point to that provision within the Department of Justice guidelines. Jeff Sessions struggled to do that and also would not commit to answering questions behind closed doors. So, after the hearings, Democrats are very frustrated they did not get their answers to some key questions. Republicans are trying to move on to other areas of this investigation -- Dave and Christine.


BRIGGS: Manu Raju with the latest.

While Democrats fumed over Sessions testimony, Republicans used a lighter touch. Here's Senator Tom Cotton down playing the collusion allegations while nodding to Sessions taste for espionage thrillers.


SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Do you like spy fiction? John le Carre? Daniel Silva? Jason Matthews?

SESSIONS: Yes, Alan Furst. David Ignatius, just finished Ignatius' book.

COTTON: Do you like Jason Bourne or James Bond movies?

SESSIONS: No. Yes, I do.

COTTON: Have you ever in any of these situations heard of a plot line so ridiculous that a sitting United States senator and ambassador of a foreign government colluded in an open setting with hundreds of other people to pull off the greatest caper in the history of espionage?

SESSIONS: Thank you for saying that, Senator Cotton. Just like through the looking glass. I mean what is this?


BRIGGS: Meanwhile over at the White House, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders weighed in on President Trump's behalf, saying she thought Attorney General Jeff Sessions did a, quote, very good job.

ROMANS: All eyes trained on Capitol Hill. President Trump flew to Wisconsin promoting the administration's workforce development week with First Daughter Ivanka Trump.

On Tuesday, they visited a technical college in Waukesha promoting apprenticeships. Today, Ivanka by her father's side again as they visit the Labor Department again focusing on the president's workforce initiative.

A lot of details we're wondering about in the workforce initiative. You know, his budget has $90 million for apprenticeship. It's exactly what the Obama budget had for apprenticeships and cuts funding for job retraining programs. So, what exactly is the administration going to offer companies to get them to do these apprenticeships?

BRIGGS: Right. Perhaps Labor Secretary Acosta gives us those answers today --

ROMANS: This afternoon.

BRIGGS: At the Labor Department.

For some expert analysis on all this, let's bring in Michael Moore, former U.S. attorney from the middle district of Georgia, and the managing editor of CNN politics digital, Zachary Wolf.

Good morning to both of you.

ROMANS: Hi, guys.


BRIGGS: We learned a lot yesterday. Jeff Sessions in particular, detestable lies, what he called the collusion allegations, very strong and pushed back, not so strong when it comes to characterizing these conversations with president Trump. Was it executive privilege? Was it not?

Here's what the A.G. said in front of the Senate committee.


SESSIONS: My judgment that it would be inappropriate for me to answer and reveal private conversations with the president when he is not had a full opportunity to review the questions and to make a decision.


BRIGGS: Michael Moore, is he in good legal standing there?

MOORE: No, I don't think so. I'll tell you this. I mean, I watched some of his testimony and when you listen to him, it's a clear example of what we would call the kicked dog barking. He clearly got his feathers ruffled by some of the questions.

But think about what's happening, and he's right. It's like looking through the looking glass. I mean, we essentially have a situation where the attorney general of the United States is invoking a privilege that's not his to invoke. And he's doing it just in case somebody later decides they might want to invoke it.

That's preposterous. And so, I don't think he has good legal standing to do it. I would be interested to know from him if he feels every criminal defendant that's questioned by the FBI now has a right to say, well, I don't think I'm going to answer any questions in case somebody later on will invoke a privilege for me. That's ridiculous. And I think he's just trying to delay and I think the characterization

of stonewalling is probably spot on.

ROMANS: Zach, I want you to weigh in on the same topic, because it's interesting to me that this is somebody who has spent years in front of these panels on the other side. So, one can, he knew exactly what he was doing and exactly how he wanted to play this, Zach.

ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL, MANAGING EDITOR: Oh, yes, he's been the master of the Senate hearing for a long time, you know, obfuscating. He's seen the best of people do this. He clearly learned quite a bit about it.

But, you know, the idea that you cannot answer questions essentially for, you know, some possible reason in the future is -- I was going to say pretzel logic. I like the kicked dog barking analogy. That one might be better.

You know, he did a good job being frustrated and having these complaints logged at him and any kind of impropriety, no, no, no. But when it got down to what exactly happened, he really was unable, you know, that obfuscation. And there's no other way to look at it, I think will hurt him.

BRIGGS: And was though a passionate defense of this collusion allegations.

We want to talk about the rumor spread by "Newsmax" CEO, Chris Ruddy, a friend of President Trump's, that spread this rumor that the president was considering firing special counsel Bob Mueller and then comes the "New York Times" report yesterday that this is actually by design, the president was pleased by the ambiguity on this position of Mr. Mueller and thinks the possibility of being fired will focus the veteran prosecutor on delivering what the president desires most, a blanket public exoneration.

Michael, you know Bob Mueller well. You have worked with him. Is that tactic likely to succeed?

MOORE: No, absolutely not. If the president thinks that he's going to somehow influence Bob Mueller by taking some action or making a statement or having his administration leak out something about it, he's just wrong. Bob is going to put his head down. He's going to get to work. He's a professional, a consummate professional. And he's going to get to the bottom of this.

One thing that's interesting too and I think the administration has taken notice of this now, Bob Mueller is putting together a team of professional prosecutors and investigators to look at this issue. This is about something where he's got just public appointees out there or people who are sort of milquetoast prosecutors. These are career folks, these are people who understand how to run an investigation, how to look at a case, and how to get to the bottom line.

The beauty of that the public at the end of the day will able to have confidence if Mueller says, look, there's something here and this is what it is, or if he says at the end of the day, we looked at it, there's just not enough there, then, you know, he -- we could -- so, well, we had a professional guy look at it.

[05:10:08] But I think Trump is wasting his time if somehow he's going to influence Mueller. Donald Trump has been a professional at sort of controlling the media cycle, throwing lob and bombs, putting it out there. But Bob Mueller is one who, my guess is probably this helps spurred him on and makes him dig a little deeper, at least in the background makes him keep working.

ROMANS: Laser focused.

MOORE: That's exactly right.

ROMANS: Laser focused.

You know, Zach, just one quick thought this ambiguity is almost a reality show-ish, you know, when you read that "New York Times" article about ambiguity by design. In almost every instance, you see the president there are tapes, don't have tapes, you know, I'll have a announcement in a couple of weeks, a couple of weeks comes and goes.

You know, this is the way he plays it.

WOLF: Right. You know, if you go back to even before he was president, things like questioning the President Obama's birth certificate.

ROMANS: Oh, that.

WOLF: There's a little bit of innuendo, just a little bit of question to keep the media guessing, to keep people wondering what's going on, except now, he's doing it with a full weight of the White House behind him.

ROMANS: Right. Fascinating.

BRIGGS: All right. I want to get your thoughts in about 30 minutes on the president characterizing the House health care bill as, quote, mean. We'll do that about 5:30. We'll see you guys in 30 minutes.

Coming up, though, tragedy in London this morning as a massive fire tears through a 24 story apartment building. Number of fatalities have been confirmed. We'll go there live, next.


[05:15:38] BRIGGS: We're turning to our breaking news now in London. More than 250 firefighters are working to put out a blaze in a 24- story West London apartment building. These are live pictures. Officials right now only saying there have been a number of fatalities.

ROMANS: CNN's Oren Liebermann on the scene in West London, joins us now. Oren, what can you tell us about the latest here? It looks like this

is a fast moving fire, started about 1:00 a.m. local time and quickly engulfed the building.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And by most eyewitness accounts, we've spoken with by 2:00, this entire 24-story building here behind me was engulfed. Flames poured out of every nearly window. Flames have since dissipated, making it a little easier for firefighters but this has been a difficult dynamic situation not only for them but for everybody, firefighters still trying to get this one control at this time.

Meanwhile, hospitals have treated some 50 patients across five different hospitals and community centers set up to deal with the evacuees who are effectively now homeless. It's not hard to see taking a look at the building behind me that it has been completely gutted.

The number we don't know right now is how many people died inside this fire. The London fire commissioner did say that there have been a, in her words, a number of fatalities, but she would not be any more specific about that point. She then came back about 20 minutes ago and gave us one more briefing, where she said that firefighters are still working inside, still searching for people trapped inside. So, whatever that number is right now, whatever the number of people who died in this fire is right now, that number seems likely, based on the fire commissioner's most recent statement, to increase.

Again, when we got here earlier in the day, the fire was still pouring out. At this point, its hot spots still flaring up. What we don't know yet, Dave and Christine, is a cause, what started this fire and where did it start? Firefighters not focusing on that just yet. First, it's trying to see and get this fire out.

ROMANS: All right. Oren Liebermann, just a tragic scene there. Keep us up to speed as you get more information from authorities there. Thanks.

BRIGGS: All right. Coming up, Steph Curry just won their second NBA championship in three years. Where you're going to go? Well, not the White House apparently.

Andy Scholes with more in the "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:22:15] BRIGGS: The Golden State Warriors celebrate their second title in three years but will they celebrate at the White House?

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning guys. You know, both warriors star Steph Curry and head coach Steve Kerr have been critical of president Trump in the past. Many do not expect them to go to the White House to celebrate.

Klay Thompson meanwhile, though, told CNN back in February that he probably would go the White House saying, I don't have to agree with everything the president does but at the end of the day he is still our president and he's the leader of the free world.

The team issuing a statement on the matter yesterday. It read: Today is all about celebrating our championship. We have not received an invitation to the White House but we'll make those decisions when and if necessary.

The Penguins meanwhile saying they would love to visit the White House. In a statement, the Stanley Cup champion said: The Pittsburgh Penguins would never turn down a visit to the White House and if invited, we would go as a team. We respect the office of the presidency of the United States and what it stands for. Any opposition or disagreement with president's policies or agenda can be expressed in other ways.

Penguins are set to have a championship parade in downtown Pittsburgh later on today.

All right. The Nashville Predators incredible and unlikely run in the Stanley Cup playoffs came to an end in the game six loss to Penguins. But one young fan want the predators and their fans to know it's going to be OK.


UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Hi. I'm sorry you didn't win. You know you're sad. I'm sad too. You shouldn't be sad because you did great.

We can't wait until next year. It's is going to be so much fun. You did a great job, guys. I'm so proud of you. I love you guys. Go Preds.


SCHOLES: Hey, guys, that's little 3-year-old Wrigley. And I'll tell you what, we should play that every morning, because it just brightens your day and gets you more excited about what's to come, right?

BRIGGS: I think she needs to do the new EARLY START open, yes. Get us fired up at 4:00 a.m. They got to bring her to the season opener. I would guess they probably are already on that.

ROMANS: She's adorable.

BRIGGS: Pred fans are outstanding. Other than the dominance of the Penguins, Pred fans are unique. They are passionate. National anthem. Pouring out in the streets. Great city.

ROMANS: Nothing will show you for the next 26 minutes will be as cute or good as that.

SCHOLES: Yes. BRIGGS: Wrigley, well done, Wrigley.

ROMANS: Thanks.

SCHOLES: Hello, Wrigley. That was awesome.

ROMANS: All right. Attorney General Jeff Sessions fighting back against allegations of collusion.


SESSIONS: I recused myself from any investigation into the campaign for president.

[05:25:00] But I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations.



SESSIONS: To suggest that I participated in any collusion is an appalling and detestable lie.

I am not stonewalling.

I recused myself from any investigation into the campaign for president, but I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations.

Why don't you tell me? There are none, Senator Wyden. There are none.