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Trump Attacks Sessions, Comey & Mueller; Called to Testify; McCain Has Brain Cancer. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 20, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:10] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.


DAVID BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump on a tear against the officials connected to the Russia investigations. His comments both undermining his attorney general and warning the special prosecutor.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner all called to testify before Congress. What this all means after revelations of their secret meeting with a Russian attorney and others.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: God knows how this ends, not me. But I do know this: this disease has never had a more worthy opponent.


BRIGGS: And words of hope and encouragement across the political world for Senator John McCain diagnosed with brain cancer.

We have reporters this morning in Washington, Moscow, Virginia and Nevada on all of these top stories.

And our thoughts and prayers are with Senator John McCain this morning.

You will be hard pressed to find anyone who sacrificed more for their country than the Arizona senator.

ROMANS: Toughest guy out there.

BRIGGS: No question about that.

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, July 20th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's begin here with the president. President Trump lashing out at a trio of top current and former officials, all with connections to the Russia investigations. In an interview with "The New York Times", the president says he would have picked someone else to be attorney general if he knew Jeff Sessions would accuse himself on Russia- related matters. The president also attacking former FBI Director James Comey, telling "The Times", he thinks Comey tried to leverage a dossier of supposed compromising material on him in order to keep his job.

BRIGGS: President Trump also took aim at special counsel Robert Mueller, saying it would be what he called a violation for Mueller to start looking into Trump family finances. The president said, quote: Look, this is about Russia.

Jeff Zeleny begins our coverage this morning from the White House.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, there's no question that today is going to be filled with questions about the president's own words about his own attorney general. In an extraordinary interview posted last night on "The New York Times" Website, President Trump was really delivering some of strongest words yet about someone who works for him.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was one of his earliest supporters, in fact, the earliest Republican to sign on to his campaign -- the president expressing in no uncertain terms his displeasure for Attorney General Sessions recusing himself in the Russia investigation.

TRUMP: Sessions should have never recused himself and if he want -- if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.


TRUMP: Zero. So Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have -- which frankly I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, thanks, Jeff, but I can't -- you know, I'm not going to take you.

ZELENY: The president going on to say in that interview that, I'm not under investigation. He said, I have not done anything wrong. But clearly, this Russia investigation is at the top of his mind. It's what he spent a lot of times in that "New York Times" interview, about 50 minutes or so long, talking about this -- Dave and Christine.


BRIGGS: Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you.

We recommend reading the entire transcript of this "New York Times" interview.

A source familiar with Attorney General Sessions thinking says he has no intention of stepping down in the wake of the President Trump's comments to "The New York Times."

ROMANS: Joining this morning to discuss these late developments, CNN politics reporter Tal Kopan in Washington. Here in New York, we have political analyst Ellis Henican. He's author of the "Trump's America" column for "Metro Papers".

So, Ellis, let me ask you first. You heard some of those sound bytes from the president. You read the transcript and saw the stories about the interview. What do you make of his demeanor --


ROMANS: -- his mindset here, what's your headline?

HENICAN: Wow. Just -- I mean, you guys are going to have trouble the next two hours fitting all this in. There's just so much here. I mean, the Russia stuff is obviously the thing to focus on. It seems what's top of mind for the president. Pretty much whatever the topic is, he's somehow or another ends up back with Russia and he's deeply troubled by it. He's made it almost everybody around him.

BRIGGS: Yes, he did talk health care, but only in relation to how he stacks up to Hillary Clinton and President Obama. It was about me primarily when you look at the overall theme of this.

And, Tal, let me bring in on Jeff Sessions. Jeff Sessions was the first U.S. senator to come out in support President Trump. I have talked to a lot of conservatives now and during the campaign that said he was the sole reason they came on board with President Trump.

[04:05:07] He gave him --

ROMANS: Legitimacy, right.

BRIGGS: -- give them legitimacy in conservative circles, and now, he's turned on his attorney general. Where does that leave the A.G. and every other employee of the Trump administration who he demands loyalty of but offers none?

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, it's truly remarkable. And, you know, this is something we've been hearing for some time now. That, you know, Trump has been steaming a bit over the decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Although it's pretty amazing when you think about all the things that an attorney general does that Jeff Session has not recused himself from, that he continues to do, including implementing a lot of President Trump's agenda as it relates to immigration, to seeing this steamed that he would not offer the job in relation to the Russia investigation.

Certainly, you mentioned other folks in the administration I think it sends shock waves. And you're absolutely right, when you talk about not just conservatives, but a particular type of conservative that really makes up Trump's base. Jeff Sessions is their guy in the administration. And so, undermining his sort of relationship with the White House can send some very scary concerns through that base.

ROMANS: He did not speak very highly of James Comey. In fact, he said he thought the James Comey used a dossier of, you know, supposed dirt on him to try to keep his job, to leverage to keep his job when, you know, the view from the Comey side when this stuff was out there. And then he drew a red line, frankly, a red line for Bob Mueller, the special counsel, about what is fair game and not fair game in this investigation. Listen.


NYT REPORTER: If Mueller was looking at your finances, and your family's finances unrelated to Russia -- is that a red line?

HABERMAN: Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?

TRUMP: I would say yes. I would say yes.


ROMANS: Don't look at my family finances. I think it's pretty fair to say, Ellis Henican, that they can look at anything. I mean, these investigations can lead anywhere. I mean, you look at the Whitewater investigation, you know, they started investigating Whitewater before Monica Lewinsky even came into the White House.

HENICAN: That's right. And you wonder what's the psychological here from Trump's point of view, right? The minute you tell a prosecutor they don't look here, where do you think they are going to look?

I mean, plus, we already know, right, that there is some poking around by Mueller and his team into Trump family finances. We know that the bank is asking -- being asked questions. We know that -- you know, the question of money laundering is lurking out there. So, the more he talks about it, the more Bob Mueller and his people are going to be poking into that very topic.

BRIGGS: Yes. Tal, is this the equivalent of telling the police officer, don't look in the trunk?


KOPAN: Yes, I mean, to Ellis' point, that's absolutely true. And, you know, when you think about what might actually be investigated, you can absolutely make the case that the family finances are completely fair game if someone is looking into whether there was a relationship between Russia and the campaign and the family members and surrogates of the campaign and if you're trying to figure out at what point did some of these relationships start, I mean, the Trump organization is where you look.

So, it's not even that far field, but Christine is absolutely right. The special prosecutor goes wherever the facts sort of lead them. That's sort of the hallmark of a special prosecutor. And it probably gets back into why Trump is so steamed about Jeff Sessions' recusal because that's part of what, in addition to his firing of James Comey, which he probably wouldn't take the blame for as much, but that's part of what led to a special prosecutor in the first place.

ROMANS: He's also talked a little bit about that second Russia meeting that was just revealed. We talked a lot about this yesterday, where he sat down and talked to Vladimir Putin, we're told, for some 55 minutes at the end of that dinner at the G20. He did not have a translator. He did not -- it was just these two leaders. It caught a lot of people in the room by surprise.

Here's how he explained that meeting with Vladimir Putin.


TRUMP: She was sitting next to Putin and somebody else, and that's the way it is. So the meal was going, and toward dessert I went down just to say hello to Melania, and while I was there I said hello to Putin. Really, pleasantries more than anything else. It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes. Just talked about things.


ROMANS: Just talked about things. And that's been -- the White House has been downplaying the significance of that meeting for the past couple of days now. The president says he just went down to talk to his wife and was seated next to Vladimir Putin.

Do you buy that? Is that ample explanation for you, Ellis Henican?

HENICAN: It's like, hi, honey, and look who is sitting next to you.

[04:10:02] Oh my goodness, hey.

Listen, I don't care so much about the time. I mean, I have had 15- minute conversations that might have been an hour. That doesn't worry me.

It is a little odd that we have somewhere approaching three hours of conversation between these two. Not a single foreign policy aid there. No talking points. No real idea of what was said between these two.

We were on some risky territory here I think.

BRIGG: Tal, among the list of grievances that the president took aim at Jeff Sessions, at the number two at the Justice Department, Rod Rosenstein, at Bob Mueller, as we mentioned there, the special counsel, at the acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, at James Comey, as we mentioned. Do you sense a common thread here, is there concern for party? Is there a concern for country? Or is there concern for something else entirely?

KOPAN: Well, I'm not going to get into what may or may not be in his head or heart, but certainly it's another sort of example of you get what you were promised, right? Throughout the campaign, Trump characterized himself as a counterpuncher, and, you know, he may have pledged to be so presidential he's now coined modern day presidential.

But the thing we keep seeing is when he feels attacked, he doesn't sit back and take it as most politicians do and let it roll off their shoulders. He attacks back. And so, you know, whether or not these actually are people attacking him, he feels very threatened by the investigation. He feels like it's undermining his agenda. And anyone he associates with being the cause of that, he's clearly lashing out against.

BRIGGS: All right. Tal Kopan and Ellis Henican, thank you both. We will check in with you throughout the morning.

We're also following breaking news this morning on Senator John McCain diagnosed with brain cancer. Lab results to remove a blood clot last week confirmed the presence of a malignant brain tumor.

ROMANS: Brain scans following the surgery to remove a blood clot showed the cancerous tissue has been completely removed.

CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a practicing neurosurgeon, he spoke exclusively with the 80-year-old senator's doctors.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine and Dave, with Senator McCain's permission, I was able to talk to his doctors at the Mayo Clinic. I got a better of idea of what's transpired over the last several days with his care. As, you know, he had an operation this past Friday to remove a blood collection within his brain, just above his left eye.

Well, we now know that that blood collection was caused by a type of brain tumor known as a glioblastoma. This is a primary brain tumor that is quite aggressive and will require further treatment in the form of chemotherapy and radiation.

We know the senator had been feeling fatigued for the last several months, had complained about an intermittent bout of double vision and that's what causes doctors to get the scan of his brain in the first place. Just over the last day now, they have found this information out about what caused this bleeding again, this glioblastoma. Discussions now taking place, Christine and Dave, between Senator McCain and his doctors as to how to proceed next, when to proceed, what type of therapy in the form of chemo or radiation, and how that's all likely to happen.

Christine, Dave, back to you.


BRIGGS: Sanjay, thanks.

Senator John McCain recovering, quote, amazingly well, according to a statement from his office. The 80-year-old's doctor say he showed no neurological problems before or after this operation. As you'd imagine, the news drawing stunned reaction across the political spectrum.

President Trump releasing a statement saying: Senator John McCain has always been a fighter. Melania and I send our thoughts and prayers to Senator McCain, Cindy, and their entire family. Get well soon.

ROMANS: Former President Barack Obama tweeting about his 2008 presidential opponent: John McCain is an American hero and one of the bravest fighters I've ever known. Cancer doesn't know what it it's up against. Give it hell, John.

South Carolina's Lindsey Graham is McCain's closest friend in the Senate and frankly, he was overcome with emotions.


GRAHAM: We talked about five minutes. It's going to be a tough way forward, but he says, I have been through worse. And basically, then we started talking about health care and NDA, literally, it went five minutes until he turned away from what I think most people would have a hard time absorbing and focused on what he loves the best.

So pray. I don't know -- God knows how this ends, not me. But I do know this. This disease has never had a more worthy opponent.


ROMANS: Senator McCain's wife Cindy posting their wedding picture on her Instagram account. Her caption reading in part: He's my hero and I love him with all my heart.

Just a terrific American.

BRIGGS: Yes, a fighter, and John McCain has really been vintage John McCain in recent weeks.


BRIGGS: He's been the maverick once again, willing to buck his own party indeed.

ROMANS: Get well son.

BRIGGS: There are new details about that eighth person in a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer.

[04:15:01] Incriminating questions about his past. Live from Moscow, next.


BRIGGS: The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower last June telling CNN she is willing to testify before the U.S. Senate. In a text message, she told us: I'm ready if I will be provided guarantees for my safety.

It comes as more details emerge about that eighth person, Ike Kaveladze, including links to a money laundering investigation.

CNN international correspondent Claire Sebastian live in Moscow with the latest.

Good morning, Claire.


Yes, that eighth man is Ike Kaveladze who we know is a senior executive at Crocus Group, that real estate firm run by familiar names, Aras and Emin Agalarov. Emin Agalarov, according to his publicist, Rob Goldstone, was the one who originally requested that meeting at Trump Tower last June with Donald Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer.

[04:25:00] But the lawyer for Mr. Kaveladze says that he was simply there as a staffer, essentially an envoy for the Agalarovs, to make sure that meeting happened and to provide logistical support.

But the reason this is raising eyebrows, A, because it wasn't disclosed until a week after the news broke about that meeting, and B, because Mr. Kaveladze has been in the U.S. government sights before. In the year 2000, a Government Accountability Office investigation looked into the shell company in the U.S. and their bank accounts.

The senator behind that, now former Senator Carl Levin, says that that investigation uncovered 2,000 shell companies set up by Mr. Kaveladze, which moved more than a billion dollars through the United States. He called him a poster child for this practice of using hidden ownership of American companies to move money.

Now, it should be noted, Mr. Kaveladze himself has denied any wrongdoing. He was never charged with any crime. His lawyer has said that he is now cooperating with special counsel investigators, the office of Robert Mueller in Washington, who are seeking more details from him. But he has, according to his lawyers, no links to the Russian government. So, it is yet unclear how his presence in this meeting could alter or how it could alter the significance of it going forward -- Dave.

BRIGGS: A tangled web we weave indeed. Claire Sebastian live for us in Moscow, thanks.

ROMANS: All right. Twenty-one minutes past the hour this Thursday morning. Will O.J. Simpson get to leave prison early? We'll find out today. A parole hearing is on the schedule in Nevada, with a preview from Carson City.


[04:25:59] BRIGGS: All right. Turning now to health care. President Trump pushing Senate Republicans not to give up on Obamacare repeal, urging them to delay their August recess if necessary to pass a health care bill. At a White House luncheon, Trump told Republicans they must deliver on their promise, adding that any senators who vote against starting debate are really saying they are, quote, fine with Obamacare.

Two days after tweeting that Congress should repeal now replace later, Trump went back to calling for repeal and replace simultaneously. Listen.


TRUMP: We can repeal it, but the best is repeal and replace. And let's get going. I intend to keep my promise and I know you will too. We should repeal and replace and we shouldn't leave town until this is complete.


ROMANS: All right. The president also took half joking shots at particular senators. One source says the president invited Rand Paul golfing, kidding that that would keep the senator off TV where he's been criticizing fellow Republicans.

Listen to the president seeming to taunt, to taunt Nevada's Dean Heller, who was an early hold out against the Republican bill.


TRUMP: The other night I was very surprised when I heard a couple of my friends, my friends, they really were and are, they might not be very much longer, but that's Ok. This was the one we were worried about. You weren't there, but you're going to be. You're going to be.

Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn't he?


ROMANS: Republican senators met again last night to try to breathe life back into health care reform, but GOP aides are urging caution. One senior aide told CNN, be very skeptical.

BRIGGS: In the meantime, the replace-only bill is still headed toward a vote next week. Unveiled yesterday, it would effectively repeal Obamacare in 2020, giving lawmakers until then to hash out a replacement.

What would happen if they can't? Well, the Congressional Budget Office estimates 32 million more people would be uninsured by 2026. Premiums would roughly double. And here's the real stunner: the CBO says by that time, three quarters of the population would live in areas where no insurers, zero, would participate in the individual market.

ROMANS: By the way, three months to go until open enrollment for Obamacare. Obamacare is still the law of the land, in three months, people will be getting their open enrollment information in the mail and will have to get coverage for next year.

All right. We'll find out today whether O.J. Simpson will leave prison early. The former football star has a hearing before the Nevada parole board. He was convicted in 2008 of armed robbery and kidnapping. It stemmed from a confrontation with sports memorabilia dealers at a Las Vegas hotel.

Ashleigh Banfield, my friend Ashleigh, from our sister network HLN, has a preview for us.



A big day here in Carson City, Nevada.

This is where the parole commissioners of Nevada meet every day. And they hear thousands of cases of prisoners who want parole. But today, it is one very special prisoner. It's prisoner number 1027820 also known as O.J. Simpson, who will be pleading his case to them.

After almost nine years of living at the Love Lot Correctional facility about 100 miles from here, he will sit down in his prison blues and via telecom, he'll beg to be let out and say, I've been a model prisoner. I have done everything right. I have never had an infraction here.

I have done all the programs. I have taken the education. I have admitted my guilt for that robbery and that kidnapping in Las Vegas back, you know, nine years ago.

And that's really effectively exactly what prisoners are supposed to do if they want parole. It will take four votes of yes for those commissioners to actually be a unanimous decision and be the majority on the board. Those commissioners deliberate in private, in secret. It is not on the record what they discuss. Their vote however is on the record.

It should come about 20 minutes later and we should be all wrapped up within about an hour. Hard to believe after nine years of being an inmate, that's all it will take to decide whether O.J. Simpson should once again walk among us and maybe come to a golf course near you.

Dave, Christine, back to you.