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President Attacks Sessions, Comey & Mueller; Don Jr., Manafort & Kushner Asked to Testify; McCain Has Brain Cancer; Trump Demands Health Care Action. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 20, 2017 - 05:00   ET



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've picked somebody else.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. President Trump on a tear against officials connected to the Russia investigation. His comments both undermining his attorney general and warning special prosecutor.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Also, 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 the Russian attorney and several others.


[05:00:02] 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.


ROMANS: And words of hope and encouragement across the political word for John McCain. The senator diagnosed with brain cancer.

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

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

And that's fair to say, we all here at CNN are wishing John McCain and his family the very best, toughest guy out it there.

BRIGGS: Yes, several nailed it when they said cancer has never met a more worthy opponent. One of the toughest guys who sacrificed everything for his country.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Dave Briggs. Thursday, July 20th, it is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

We start with the president, though. President Trump lashing out a trio of top and current former officials all with connections to the Russia investigation. In a staggering 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 recuse 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.

ROMANS: 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.

Our Jeff Zeleny begins 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.


ROMANS: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

A source familiar with Attorney General Sessions thinking says he has no intention of stepping down in the wake of the president's comments about him to "The Times".

BRIGGS: He will speak in a press conference today at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time alongside Rod Rosenstein, who has also received some critical comments from the president. Again, that's 10:00 a.m. We'll bring you that.

Joining us to discuss all this, this morning, CNN politics reporter Tal Kopan in Washington and right here in New York, political analyst, Ellis Henican, author of the Trump's America column for "The Metro Papers".

Tal, let me just start with you. In the general overall narrative, OK? This is Made in America Week when health care is supposed to be the central focus of the president. Ty Cobb, his attorney brought in to focus the president and still some discipline. The president said the word Russia 27 times with the failing "New York Times" who's been reporting on the fake news of Russia for months now.

What does it say about the focus of the president?

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, you know, one, I mean, he's going to respond to the questions asked, but I think it speaks to a larger picture of President Trump, which is he doesn't shy away from topics that maybe are not advisable for him to talk about. And, you know, he probably could deflect the questions, but clearly this is something e he wants to talk about and expand on and, you know, certainly when this president feels under attack, he lashes out. He does not seem to have a reflex to let some things go.

And so, you know, the combination of these issues continuing to be raised and sort of an open forum for him to opine on him certainly got him talking in this interview.

ROMANS: Sure did.

I know, Ellis, you say, wow is the word that comes to mind for you when you look at this interview. When you read the transcript, where I think is really interesting is, you know, he was asked about health care first in this, with these "New York Times" reporters, and it took him 14 words before he was bashing Hillary Clinton.

He keeps going back. It's as if the default position on all matters is to go back and relitigate the election.

[05:05:02] HENICAN: Well, Hillary and Russia now you got to put in the same category.

ROMANS: But, Russia is part of that.

HENICAN: Right. But, you know, it's almost -- Tal mentions the word deflection. This is almost the reverse of deflection, right? No matter what the topic is, you find a way to steer back to the things that are clearly gnawing at the president --

ROMANS: Is that a hysterical fake news media who can't let Russia go or is that the president and the White House who cannot be transparent and get this off the page by putting everything out there?

HENICAN: Well, yes, and it's also a president who personally keeps coming back. We know that he's railing frequently with his aides and old friends he's calling back in New York on the phone. And it seems he can't have three reporters into the Oval Office for an interview and not spend the vast majority of it talking about those two topics.

BRIGGS: Of course, the headline, Tal, has to be this Jeff Sessions part, that he had chosen someone else if he'd known he was going to recuse himself, which makes no sequential sense. But get back to before that, Republicans called for Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the Russia investigation including Senators Rob Portman and Susan Collins, including the Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Darrell Issa who's lock step with the president.

So, where does that leave the Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others in the administration questioning how their decision makes goes moving forward?

KOPAN: That's right, Dave. And one of the things I find remarkable about this particular piece of the interview is Trump sort of talks about it as if he recused himself from his job. And keep in mind, you know, the attorney general does quite a bit of work including very aggressive change of direction in criminal justice being the tip of the spear on President Trump's immigration policies.

I mean, Jeff Sessions is up quite a bit, but Trump has said that deal breaker is that he's not involved in the Russia investigation and you're right, that is because after his confirmation, it became clear that he did not disclose meetings he had with Russian officials that took place during the campaign. That's why even his Republican colleagues said he couldn't be involved in this particular issue anymore. So, it's a really interesting swirl of factors that Trump seems to undermine his agenda over this one particular piece of his job?

ROMANS: And criticizing the man who is overseeing the investigation into all of this, Bob Mueller. You know, the special counsel, former FBI director, the president, you know, basically I guess you could say, drawing a red line, saying keep my family out of this. Listen.


MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: 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: What do you think of that, Ellis? I mean, I would assume that everything is fair game in this investigation. This is why people don't like special counsels and special investigators, prosecutors, because it opens up a whole --


BRIGGS: It's all fair game.

ROMANS: It's all fair game.

HENICAN: Right. I have a sense that line has already been crossed, that Mueller's investigators are already poking around about the financial relationships between the family and Russians. We know that Eric Trump in a business conference spoke what a huge import, Russian investments were to the family business. I think he's got to know this is coming and it's already there.

And you know what, it's not that big a leap, right, to go from Russian involvement in the election, to asking the question, what is it that explains this closeness between the Russian government and Donald Trump? And we still don't really have a good answer to that question.

BRIGGS: Yes, and it's interesting. Really his son has the president in the most hot water, not Jeff Sessions. His son is scheduled to testify in front of the Senate next week along with Paul Manafort, along with Jared Kushner.

How significant, Tal, should that testimony be next week? Should they all agree to testify, which they have not done yet?

KOPAN: I don't know what their lawyers are telling them about agreeing to testify, but certainly, I think the American public wants to hear from them and hear in their words how they explain not only taking this meeting despite what President Trump says, most politicians of any party agree if a foreign government comes to you with opposition research, that is something fundamentally different from the normal type of digging that politicians do into other candidates.

And so, not only is the question taking the meeting, but then why we didn't hear about it for over a year until some reporters actually began to dig it up. And then they went ahead on the record and began to confirm details not all at once, remind you, but sort of in drips and drabs.

Those are the types of questions that the American public and senators who are investigating this issue absolutely want to hear.

ROMANS: Well, the interview transcript is a good read. The story of "The New York Times" is a good read. Maggie Haberman I think is going to be on "NEW DAY". She's one of the authors of this piece.

And I think, you know, it's not -- I guess it's not news flash to me that he's critical of the overseers of the investigation, but lashing out, breaking publicly with one of his first supporters, someone who helped legitimize him with the Republican base.

[05:10:11] BRIGGS: And still does to that it day.

ROMANS: That to me is a big headline here.

BRIGGS: No question about that. Tal, Ellis, we'll see you in about 20 minutes. We are following breaking news, though, regarding Senator John McCain diagnosed with brain cancer. Lab results to remove a blood clot last week and found the presence of a brain tumor.

ROMANS: Brain scans following surgery to remove a blood clot show the cancerous tissue has been completely removed, we're told.

CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a practicing neurosurgeon, he spoke exclusively with Senator McCain'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 McCain recovering, quote, amazingly well. According to a statement from his office, the 80-year-old's doctors say he showed no neurological problems before or after the operation. As you'd imagine, the news drawing stunned reaction across the political spectrum.

President Trump releasing a statement saying 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, he became emotional, describing a phone call he had with McCain, his closest friend in the Senate.


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 the 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 posted their wedding picture on her Instagram account. Her caption reading in part, he is my hero and I love him with all my heart.

You know, great American, tough fighter. And optimistic and positive person overall.

BRIGGS: Yes, find a person who sacrificed more for their country, you'd be hard-pressed to that.

ROMANS: We wish him and his family well.

BRIGGS: No doubt about that.

ROMANS: We got your back.

BRIGGS: We are praying for you.

That eighth person in the meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer, he's met with President Trump before seen here in this 2013 video. Now, there are incriminating questions about his past. We're live in Moscow with the details, next on EARLY START.


[05:17:53] ROMANS: The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower last June tells CNN she is willing to testify before the U.S. Senate. In a text message, she tells us, I'm ready if I will be provided with guarantees for my safety. It comes as more details emerge about the eighth person including links to a money laundering investigation.

Let's sort this out this morning with CNN international correspondent Claire Sebastian live in Moscow with the latest.

Eight people in that meeting, we have heard from the attorney and now we're hearing more about this eighth individual. Tell us what we know.

CLAIRE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine. This eighth man is Irakly Kaveladze. The first thing you need to know about him is he is a senior executive at Crocus Group, that is a real estate firm run by now familiar names, Aras and Emin Agalarov. They are the people who were the root causes of this meeting in Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. Emin, the son, according to his publicist, was the one who originally requested that Donald Trump Jr. meet with that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

And Irakly Kaveladze is -- was sent to the meeting apparently, according to his lawyer, to be a staffer there, an envoy for those two to check that it happened and to provide any kind of logistical support. Now, we know he's met with Donald Trump, before this company was the one that basically brought the Miss Universe, Trump's Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013. Mr. Kaveladze was pictured with Donald Trump in Las Vegas prior to that in 2013.

But the reason why this is raising so many eyebrows that his presence in the meeting is, A, because it wasn't disclosed until more than a week after the news of the meeting first broken, B, because he's been in the sights of the U.S. government before, seventeen years ago, the Government Accountability Office conducted an investigation into the use of shell companies and bank accounts to move money through the U.S. And, according to former Senator Carl Levin, who was behind that investigation, Irakly Kaveladze, was one of those people who set up these companies.

Apparently, he opened 2,000 of them, moved over a billion dollars through the U.S. Now, Mr. Kaveladze himself has denied any wrongdoing. He's never bye-bye charged with any crime, and according to his lawyer, he has no links with the Russian government.

We know that special counsel investigated, have asked them for more information. He, according to his lawyer, is cooperating with them.

ROMANS: He is cooperating. All right. Claire Sebastian in Moscow for us -- thank you.

BRIGGS: Turning now to health care. President Trump pushing Senate Republicans not to give up on Obamacare repeal urging them to delay their August recess to pass the health care bill. At a White House luncheon, Trump told Republicans they must deliver on their promise. Two days after tweeting that Congress should repeal now and replace later, Trump went back to calling for repeal and replace simultaneously.



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: 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 Nevada's Dean Heller. Heller 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 healthcare reform. But GOP aides are urging caution. One senior aide told CNN: be very skeptical.

BRIGGS: 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 stunner. By that time three quarters of the population would live in areas where no insurers, none, would participate in the individual market. They need stability to keep --

ROMANS: Absolutely.

BRIGGS: -- in these markets. They would have none in that case.

ROMANS: Right now, Obamacare is the law of the land. I cannot stress enough how unbelievably critical this is. In three months it's open enrollment. Ten million people are going to be signing up for their plans. Another 22 million people do not have health care right now and the system is pushing them into Obamacare because that's the law.

BRIGGS: But it is failing. They need to find a way to fix it, at the least.

ROMANS: They have to fix it. And there are ways they can fix it. There's also huge leverage this president has to make it worse. He can take away the advertising for open enrollment so that people don't know what's coming up and how to do it.

BRIGGS: Not funding the cost-sharing subsidies.

ROMANS: Not funding the cost-sharing subsidies. And not enforcing the fines. So, all these things, what is he going to do? What is the federal government going to do? We just don't know yet.

BRIGGS: Should be the focus of the White House, you'd think. ROMANS: Yes. Twenty-three minutes past the hour.

Things can get a bit heated on the playing field, but a new level at last night's U.S. men's soccer game. One player taking a bite out of his opponent. Oh, my goodness.

BRIGGS: Mike Tyson of soccer.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more on this "Bleacher Report".


[05:28:01] BRIGGS: All right. Sports now. Golf's third major. The open championship teeing off this morning at Royal Birkdale in England.

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

Hey, Andy.


You know, we have had a first time major winner for the last seven majors. So, we'll see if this weekend, one of the big guys can finally put an end to that street. If Phil Mickelson wins, he'd be the oldest ever to win the open at 47 years old. He came in second last year.

One guy that may be nervous today, former duke golfer Julian Suri. He is playing in his first career major and showed up in England without his clubs. Suri claims it's actually the fourth week in a row his clubs have gotten lost on the way to a tournament. But Suri did tweet out his clubs did finally arrive and he put: better late than never. But never late is better. Suri tees later this morning at 6:15 Eastern.

All right. Team USA advancing to the Gold Cup semifinals last night, beating El Salvador, but it was not easy, especially for Jozy Altidore. Check this out, Salvador defender Henry Romero appears to tweak Altidore's nipple before that corner r kick. Altidore understandably knocks him down.

And moments later, if you watch closely, Romero bites Altidore in the back of his shoulder. Just not nice soccer.

Altidore and the U.S., they would get the last laugh with the 2-0 win.

All right. Finally, college football season is right around the corner. This season, Oklahoma State's Zach Sinor is campaigning to be the first punter ever to win the Heisman Trophy. Sinor was camping out, he has pretty cool flyers at Big 12 Media Day earlier this week.

Check out his Website, It looks like it's straight out of the year 1999. It's got a rotating tag and a dancing baby. It's even got a picture of him with the dolphin that said animals love him and opponents hate him. And, guys, you know what? I have a Heisman vote. I would have to say

right now, Sinor is in my top three.

BRIGGS: You have a Heisman vote. Well, hey, you know, he's not going to win the Heisman, but a career in marketing, digital marketing I think --

SCHOLES: I wonder if that was a project for a class or something.