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Reports: Trump Lawyers Looking to Limit Mueller Probe; Trump Legal Team Shuffled; Simpson to Go Free; Earthquake Rocks Greek Island & Nearby Turkey. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired July 21, 2017 - 04:30   ET



[04:30:18] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Will the special counsel probe lead to presidential pardons? The new reports breaking down the White House's new battle plan.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Shaking things up. The big reason behind big changes in the president's legal team.

ROMANS: And he is set for parole but still creating controversy. What O.J. Simpson said about his past before a panel decided his future.

Welcome back to EARLY START this morning. I'm Christine Romans.

MARQUEZ: It's Friday. Happy Friday to you. I'm Miguel Marquez. It is 30 minutes past the hour.

Up first, explosive new reporting this morning. The president's lawyers are looking for ways to undermine the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. "The Washington Post." and "New York Times" report attorneys and aides are scouring the backgrounds of Mueller and his staff, searching for conflicts of interests they can use to undercut the Russia probe. The paper cites several sources familiar with the research effort.

ROMANS: "The Washington Post" reporting the president has asked about his power to pardon aides, family members, even himself. One adviser told "The Post" the president was simply curious about the reach of his pardoning authority. This follows the president's earlier attacks on Mueller and other officials connected to the Russian investigation.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more this morning for us from the White House.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Miguel, President Trump and the White House increasingly focused on that special counsel's investigation, that independent investigation into the Russian meddling of the 2016 election. There are indications that the investigation is spreading beyond simple election meddling. President Trump made that's indication in his interview with "The New York Times" earlier this week when he talked about special prosecutor Robert Mueller and the idea that he could be looking into the Trump family's finances.

Now, the president said he thought that would be outside of the purview of that. But this is increasingly dominating much of the conversation here at the White House, as the legal team is look at strategies here. "The Washington Post" and "New York Times" are both reporting this morning that the president is also looking into ways to disrupt this investigation. They're looking into the background of the attorneys working on this investigation. It just shows how much time and attention here at the White House is being focused on this.

So much fallout reverberating from that interview with "The New York Times" earlier this week about the president expressing his blistering disappointment with the attorney general. It has sent shockwaves throughout the West Wing of the White House largely because the attorney general is one of the most loyal soldiers in the Trump army. He was one of the earliest supporters. He was in fact the earliest Republican senator to sign on. But as we end this week, the sixth- month mark of this presidency is Russia investigation dominating many things here at the White House -- Christine and Miguel.


MARQUEZ: Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

As for the attorney general, he's shrugging off President Trump's attack. The president said he should have hired someone else if he knew Sessions would recuse himself in the Russia probe. The attorney general is determined to stay put for the time being.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have the honor of serving as attorney general. It's something that goes beyond any thought I would have ever had for myself. We love this job. We love this department. And I plan to continue to do so, as long as that is appropriate.


MARQUEZ: Now with more on the attorney general's response and damage control at the White House, CNN's Jessica Schneider in Washington.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Miguel, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he seems to be rebuffing speculation that he might resign in the wake of President Trump's harsh words about him in "The New York Times". Well, of course, the president expressed his anger at Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation back on March 2nd. The president saying in that "New York Times" interview that the decision was, quote, unfair to the president, and that President Trump wouldn't have asked him to become attorney general if he knew Sessions would remove himself from overseeing the investigation.

Of course, those comments drew a lot of speculation. But White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she's clarified, in part, saying that the president does have confidence in Sessions. But really was just disappointed in the decision Sessions made to recuse.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Clearly, he has confidence in him or he would not be the attorney general. I think you know this president well enough to know that if he wanted somebody to take an action, he would make that quite clear.

SCHNEIDER: Well, Sarah Huckabee sanders added to the comment saying the president does not intend to fire Mueller, that the president believes the special counsel should not move outside the scope of the investigation. Though the scope of that investigation is up for interpretation about how broad it might be -- Christine and Miguel.


[04:35:04] ROMANS: All right. Jessica, thank you for that.

Now, with all that in mind, the president is reshuffling the legal team charged with helping him navigate this Russia probe. Two sources tell CNN the president's long time personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, will see his role as lead lawyer on the Russia investigation diminish. And now, veteran Washington attorney John Dowd, and another Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow will lead the president's personal attorneys as on that Russia inquiry.

MARQUEZ: The sources say by working outside the White House, Dowd and Sekulow's dealings with the president will be protected by the same attorney-client privilege afforded all U.S. citizens. Inside the White House, Attorney Ty Cobb will take the lead on legal and communications strategy for Russia. He'll be effectively replacing communications strategist Mark Corallo who resigned on Thursday.

ROMANS: All right. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley threatening to subpoena both Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort to appear before his committee.


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: We asked them for voluntary appearance. I've indicated that we would subpoena if they don't come.

REPORTER: Is there a deadline associated with that?

GRASSLEY: We are having hearings next Wednesday. So, obviously, we want to hear right away.


ROMANS: Trump Jr. and Manafort are scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. But neither has publicly confirmed he will appear. The top Democrat on the committee, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, also reiterating the subpoena threat.

MARQUEZ: Now, we're also learning this morning, Jared Kushner's closed door session with the Senate Intelligence Committee next week will be with staff. It's not yet clear when he will meet with senators themselves. This is now being called an interview, not testimony.

ROMANS: Meantime, CNN has exclusively learned Jared Kushner's status as a top aide for President Trump is still being used to lure Chinese investors to his family's New Jersey development. Kushner's name being used on an online promotion by two businesses working with Kushner companies, describing him in Chinese as, quote, the celebrity of the family and Mr. Perfect, Jared Kushner. It comes after his family apologized in May for using Kushner's name during a sales pitch.

I thought you were Mr. Perfect.

MARQUEZ: I am Mr. Perfect. They clearly have it wrong.

A confidant of President Trump now under consideration for White House communications director. Two senior administration officials telling CNN, Anthony Scaramucci has been interviewed for the job and was spotted at the White House Thursday night. The hedge fund manager was an adviser for the President Trump's transition.

If he is hired, the big question, what happens to other key members of the communications team? Sean Spicer, the press secretary, has stayed mostly behind the scenes in the search for the communications director search. It is unclear what happens once that post is filled.

ROMANS: All right. The U.S. is fining ExxonMobil for violating Russian sanctions while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was still in charge. The Treasury Department is slapping a $2 million fine on ExxonMobil, claiming it demonstrated reckless disregard for the sanctions. It stems from a 2014 deal between Exxon executives and this man, Igor Sechin.

Sechin runs the state-run oil company Rosneft. He is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. His assets were blocked as part of U.S. sanctions in 2014 on Russia for annexing Crimea.

MARQUEZ: Now, the Treasury Department did not specify the Exxon executive involved and they didn't name Tillerson. Tillerson stepped down as CEO last year, but had personal business dealings with Sechin when he ran ExxonMobil. And this move raises concerns again over his deep business ties in Russia. Exxon says the fine is fundamentally unfair.

ROMANS: All right. Another record high for the NASDAQ, a third in a row, the longest win streak since 2015. It is evidence investors are unfazed by President Trump's political troubles, higher corporate profits and a strong earning season. More on this in a few moments, but a stunning string of record highs in the stock market.

It is still Made in America Week, and the president is wrapping it up by touting deal between these three companies, pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Merck, and manufacturing Corning. Together, they will produce a new type of glass for injectable drugs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Pharmaceutical drug packaging will now be made in America. That's a big step. That's a big statement. I'm very proud of that. Thank you very much, by the way. I know they wouldn't have done it under another administration.


ROMANS: It is an important deliverable for Made in America Week. Something to show about made in America. Until now, 98 percent of pharmaceutical glass packaging was made overseas.

In terms of giving credit to any other administration, this program, Miguel, has been in the works since 2012. So, these companies have been working on this for five long years. But Corning will invest $500 million initially. The investment is expected to grow to $4 billion, creating at least 4,000 new high tech jobs job.

[04:40:07] The CEOs of Pfizer, Merck and Corning were present at this announcement. The company still needs federal government approval to move forward with the deal, including the FDA.

MARQUEZ: O.J. Simpson will soon be out of prison, a little later this year.


O.J. SIMPSON, FORMER NFL STAR: I've done my time. You know, I have done it as well and as respectfully as I think anybody can.


MARQUEZ: Next, see the moment when Simpson found out he would be able to walk free.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Simpson, I do vote to grant parole when eligible. And that will conclude this hearing.

SIMPSON: Thank you.


ROMANS: Happy O.J. Simpson. He will soon be a free man. The Nevada parole board granting the 70-year-old early release from prison now that he has served nine years behind bars.

[04:45:05] He's expected to be released by the fall. So, what's next for the former football star?

CNN's Sara Sidner has more from Carson City, Nevada.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Miguel, the O.J. Simpson parole hearing got off to a pretty light start actually, when the chairwoman of the parole board actually made a mistake and said that O.J. Simpson was 90 years old and then corrected herself, reminding him that he was 70. Everyone laughed.

But then things got quite serious. O.J. Simpson spoke for himself, so did one of his friends, and his eldest daughter. They all testified, trying to get him released from prison.

Some of the things that O.J. Simpson said were itself self- aggrandizing. He talked about how great he was in prison. How he led a conflict-free life. Some of those things disputed if you look at his history.

SIMPSON: I've done my time. You know, I've done it as well as respectfully as I think anybody can. I think if you talk to the wardens, they'll tell you. I've been -- I gave them my word. I believe in the jury system.

I've honored their verdict. I've not complained for nine years. All I've done is tried to be helpful and encourage the guys around me. Hey, man, do your time. Fight in court. And don't do anything that's going to extend your time.

And that's the life I've tried to live, because I want to get back to my kids.

SIDNER: The parole board decided that what he had done in prison, the programs that he had taken part in, the help that he had given to some other inmates, and the fact that he never got in trouble in his nearly nine years while he was in prison, on that armed robbery and kidnapping charge. He was charged with 12 counts.

It all involved the situation in Las Vegas, back in 2008, where he had decided to go and try to take back what he said was property, memorabilia, that was stolen from him, personal items, he said.

As it turned out, he went in. He was with several other men. Two of those men had guns. And so, in the end, O.J. Simpson and one other man was convicted in the case. Now, O.J. Simpson has been granted parole, which means that he will get out of prison but not immediately. He's scheduled to get out in October -- Miguel, Christine.


MARQUEZ: Our thanks to Sara Sidner.

A stunning loss in the music world. The lead singer of the rock band Linkin Park has died.

Forty-one-year-old Chester Bennington was found dead Thursday. According to a spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner, authorities say they are treating this case as a possible suicide. Bennington had been open about his troubles in his life, including drug addiction.

Linkin Park's latest album "One More Light" was released in May. The ban was set to kick off the tour in Boston next week.

ROMANS: So sad.


ROMANS: The police chief of Minneapolis speaking for the first time, saying the officer who killed bride-to-be Justine Ruszczyk failed to protect and serve.


JANEE HARTEAU, MINNEAPOLIS POLICE CHIEF: Justine didn't have to die. Based on the publicly released information from the BCA, this should not have happened. On our squad cars, you'll find the words, to protect with courage and serve with compassion. This did not happen.


ROMANS: Pinning blame solely on Officer Mohamed Noor, the police chief said the shooting resulted from the actions and judgment of one individual that failed to meet department expectations. The chief also admitting that officer's body cameras should have been on, pledging to review the department's policy.

Last night, mourners gathered in the alley where Ruszczyk was shot. They marched through the neighborhood, calling for justice. Her relatives, they say they are stunned by the killing and they've hired an attorney who has experience in handling police-involved shootings.

MARQUEZ: Now, a group of Florida teens who taunted and filmed a man as he drowned will not face criminal charges, according to police. In a video more than two minutes long, five teenage boys can be heard laughing as 31-year-old Jamel Dunn struggles to stay afloat in a pond. They can be heard laughing and warning him that he was going to die and they were not going to help him. Police are calling the boys' actions beyond heartless, but there is no law in Florida requiring a citizen to summon help for someone in distress.

ROMANS: That is the most disturbing story. Just disturbing.

MARQUEZ: Oh, yes.

ROMANS: All right. Forty-nine minutes past the hour. Who doesn't care about all the Russia headlines? Wall Street. The stunning winning streak for investors, next.


[04:53:57] MARQUEZ: At least two tourists were killed when an earthquake struck the Greek island of Kos this morning. Officials say the quake registered magnitude 6.7, with its epicenter about ten miles north of the island. An estimated 200,000 people in Greece and Turkey felt some degree of shaking. CNN producer Gul Tuysuz is live in Turkey with the latest -- Gul.

GUL TUYSUZ, CNN PRODUCER: Well, this -- Turkish authorities just came out about half hour ago, releasing a bit more information after the initial assessments have been done. They're saying that 80 people were injured on the Turkish side, and that there was no loss of life. And that there are more than 160 aftershocks that took place, as well as a small tsunami, between 30 to 40 centimeters that washed a bunch of waters up into the shores.

People that were there during the earthquake posted on social media showing about a foot of water just washing up on to the beaches and going further on and going into the resorts and hotels.

[04:55:06] On the Greek side, of course, we have the two people who lost their lives. One, a Swedish national. Another, a Turkish national. Five people are seriously injured there. Authorities have said. Three of them in critical condition with one man having had both of his legs unfortunately amputated already.

And this part of the Aegean really is so beautiful. People go there in the summertime to enjoy a good time. To have fun at the beach and to go into these beautiful turquoise waters of the sea. This is cutting their vacations short and creating a nightmare scenario for so many of them, Miguel.

MARQUEZ: Shocking pictures there. Gul Tuysuz for us, live in Istanbul, thank you very much.

ROMANS: All right. Back in the U.S., no relief from the heat today, an Eastern half of the country. More than 75 million people under excessive heat warnings or advisories.

Let's bring in meteorologist Karen Maginnis.


KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, we're starting out pretty hot. And it's still early in the morning. But by this afternoon, those temperatures will feel like 90s are going to feel like triple digits in some areas like Washington, D.C. It may feel like 103 degrees.

So, the heat is on. Not just in the Northeast along the I-95 corridor but into the central United States. Wichita, Kansas City, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, to Dallas. It is going to be oppressively and excessively hot.

A little break in Washington, D.C., but more so going into Tuesday when we back the temperatures off into the 80s. So, that will be good news. St. Louis, you go from triple digits to the upper 80s by Monday. So, a bit of a break there. But watch out, severe storms could affect areas across the northern Mississippi River Valley from Aberdeen to Minneapolis. Minneapolis, by 4:00, you could see some of those pretty big storms rumbling through your area.

So, have a great weekend but still going to be pretty hot. Back to you, guys.


ROMANS: I know. OK, Karen, thank you. Check on your elderly neighbors, please. It's really important to be a good neighbor.

Let's get a check on CNN "Money Stream" this morning.

Global markets lower. But the NASDAQ, wow, hitting another record high. The third high in a row. This is the longest winning streak for the NASDAQ since 2015. Wall Street's string of records is the latest evidence that investors are simply unfazed by President Trump's political troubles.

So, even as his economic agenda stalled, the economy still remains strong here and corporate profits are pushing stocks higher. Remember, the stock market is a reflection of how much money companies are making, and companies are making loads of money. Earning season has within a strong one so far and more earnings are on the way. Among others , General Electric and Honeywell report today.

Amazon has been crushing Sears. Sears even telling investors recently it may not be able to stay in business. Turns out Amazon could be its savior. Sears is striking a deal to sell its Kenmore appliance line on Amazon and it will connect its smart appliances with Amazon's personal assistant Alexa. This could boost sales, as foot traffic dwindles. Dwindles is a new word.

Seers has closed more than 20 percent of its stores. Competitors are feeling the heat. Shares for Home Depot, Whirlpool, and Lowe's also fell.

How would you like to get to New York, from New York to D.C. in 29 minutes? Tesla founder Elon Musk wants to make that a reality. Twenty-nine minutes New York to D.C.

In a series of tweets, Musk says he has a verbal agreement from the government to build his Hyperloop. He has permission. That's Musk's design for an ultra high speed underground rail system. No government agency has actually confirmed this officially, but he's out there tweeting he's got verbal approval to do it.

Musk later walked back his claim a little bit, tweeting that they still have to work to get formal approval. They're moving forward. He would like the move forward.

Can you imagine?

MARQUEZ: In a tube, D.C. to --

ROMANS: Underground.

MARQUEZ: And we could do it all the way around the world.

ROMANS: It would be awesome.

MARQUEZ: It would be awesome. I want to be --

EARLY START continues right now.


ROMANS: New this morning, reports the president's legal team is looking to undercut the special counsel on Russia. It could set up a major conflict between the White House and Robert Mueller.

MARQUEZ: And the president's legal team shaken up. Who is stepping away from the spotlight and why?

ROMANS: And O.J. Simpson is set to go free. After nine years behind bars. What he's saying about his past as he looks forward to life on the outside. I guess October is when that happens.

MARQUEZ: October, indeed.

ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome to early start. I'm Christine Romans.

MARQUEZ: I'm Miguel Marquez. It is Friday. July 21st.

ROMANS: Say it one more time.

MARQUEZ: Happy Friday to you.

ROMANS: Friday.

MARQUEZ: It is 5:00 here on the East Coast.

Up first, explosive new reporting this morning, the president's lawyers are looking for ways to undermine the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. "The Washington Post" and "New York Times" report attorneys and aides are scouring the backgrounds of Mueller and his staff, searching for conflicts of interest they can use to undercut the Russia probe.