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Reports: Trump Concerned Russia Probe is Widening; Trump Legal Team Shuffled; Simpson to Go Free; Ole Miss Football Head Coach Resigns. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 21, 2017 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

[05:00:13] 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 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: Thanks to Jeff Zeleny.

Now, with all that in mind, the president is reshuffling the legal team charged with helping him navigate the 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 take thee lead the president's personal attorneys as on that Russia inquiry.

ROMANS: 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.

MARQUEZ: Now, helping us understand all this, bring it into sharp focus this morning is political economist, Greg Valliere, chief strategist as Horizon Investments.

ROMANS: Good morning, Greg.


Hi, guys.

MARQUEZ: There is a lot of movement at the White House. I take it this doesn't have much of an effect on the stock market or how the economy is going?

VALLIERE: It's affected the dollar. Finally, after months and months. Oh, no. I do think the dollar's weakness is because of this. Things have gotten worse this week for the agenda in particular, which the markets really care about.

ROMANS: Well, talk to me a little bit about Russia fever and how each of these developments, you know, kind of puts the agenda further on the back page, if you will. Where are we on health care? Where are we on tax reform?

VALLIERE: Well, first of all, Christine, I think this obsession that the president has with picking the scab. When we were kids, our parents told us, don't pick scabs. He keeps picking the scab on Russia.

And now you have the situation in the last 48 hours where, you know, maybe he's being investigated for obstruction of justice. What does he do? He indicates he would like to obstruction justice.

So, I think the story has gotten a lot worse for tax reform, certainly for a budget deal. I think the health bill cannot be resurrected.

MARQUEZ: Even if everything was going peachy keen at the White House. And they had a setback with the health care bill dying. They were counting on that in order to get to tax reform. Where does this leave things now?

VALLIERE: Absolutely right. The progression was going to be health reform, budget, taxes, those were the three. Well, if health reform is dead. That does not set a very good stage for the budget fight, which has the Republicans equally divided.

ROMANS: Right.

VALLIERE: So I'm not sure this very radical house budget will even make it through the Senate. If they don't get a budget, that means there's not a reconciliation resolution -- sounding wonky this morning.

[05:05:03] But you need that resolution to move ahead on taxes.

So, if this progression is now derailed, I think we're looking at 2018 before we get anything done on taxes.

ROMANS: If you can't be wonky with us at 5:08 in the morning, you can't be wonky anywhere, right?

VALLIERE: Yes. ROMANS: There are three months to open enrolment. This is what is so

shocking to me. There are three months to open enrolment, where 10 million people are going to have to sign up for health care. And another 22 million who are uninsured right now, could be or should be under the law, they should be finalized to get a little fine on the tax return next year for not getting insurance if they don't, right?

So, this is still the law of the land. Yet, we have no idea what the next step is going to be in terms of fixing it. And indeed, the president keeps going back to the Russia scab. I think that's a really good analogy. In particular, we heard yesterday from Sarah Huckabee Sanders about Mueller and whether he would stay in the job. Let's listen.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Look, I mean, I can't predict everything that could possibly take place in the future and what Mueller could potentially do that might create -- outrageous, you know, reason not to take action. So -- I'm not going to talk about hypotheticals. I can talk about where we are today. That's the position of the president.


ROMANS: Knowing what you know about the demeanor of the president, about how thick or thin his skin is if regards to Russia, how dangerous politically, I mean, both for the political economy and the overall economy and for just stability in Washington is this Mueller situation?

VALLIERE: It's huge, Christine. I think that this extraordinary interview with "The New York Times" made it clear that if Mueller goes to Trump's finances, gets close to Trump's family, he could get fired. I think if he gets fired, that could lead to a real crisis, an impeachment crisis.

As the summer began, I told everybody including you that maybe there was a 5 percent chance of impeachment. It could be up to 20 percent, 25 percent the way things are unfolding right now.

MARQUEZ: You said something a second ago about the budget and tax reform being moved into 2018.


MARQUEZ: Is that really -- I mean, the whole idea of getting this done now was to do it ahead of the midterm elections. Is anything really going to get done in 2018 in Washington, D.C.?

VALLIERE: Oh, I do think there will be a modest tax bill in 2018. I just think it will take a long time. And the budget fight will complicate this.

Christine is right. For the insurers, they're going have to announce their rates. I think for Donald Trump to say, I don't own health reform, oh, no, he owns health reform. I think the Republicans are going to have to go to Democrats and say, we need to help the insurers.

So, there will be some things happening later this year. The timetable is greatly delayed because Trump can't stay on message.

ROMANS: He has so much leverage. I mean, he holds all the cards in what happens with health care. I mean it, because his agencies are the once that have to pay for the advertising and do a -- public relations campaign to roll out, remind people, it's open enrollment. This is the number you call. These are the options for you.

His IRS has to do the fines and subsidies. It is incredibly important. This is happening right now. And it affects millions of people.

VALLIERE: And make no mistake, Christine, he owns it.

ROMANS: Yes. Quickly. Does he also own the stock market rally? Privately, he tells people, in Bedminster this weekend, people were thanking him for making them richer of the stock market. Does he own this, too?

VALLIERE: You got to be fair. I mean, there's a real pro-business climate here in the city. And he has a lot to do with it. But the fundamentals are great, low inflation, low unemployment, stead interest rates, good corporate earnings. There's a lot that goes into that.

But again, guys. Watch the dollar. The dollar is really in free fall. I think one of the reasons is all of this dysfunction in Washington.

MARQUEZ: All right. Market reaction to the dysfunction into the Russia probe is the dollar. Meanwhile, people with money keep making money.


MARQUEZ: Working class, I don't flow if we have seen the recovery quite yet. Thank you, Greg. Talk to you in a couple of minutes.

VALLIERE: You bet.

ROMANS: 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 guy, Igor Sechin.

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

Now, the Treasury Department did not specify the Exxon executive involved and they didn't name Tillerson.

[05:10:00] Tillerson, of course, stepped down as CEO last year. He 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.

Exxon in response filed a complaint against the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, adding that the chargers are inconsistent with the explicit guidance the White House issued at the time.

MARQEUZ: O.J. Simpson, he will soon be a free man.


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: A Nevada parole board agreed. More on when Simpson will go free and what's next for the former football star.



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

SIMPSON: Thank you.


MARQUEZ: Orenthal James Simpson will soon be a free man.

[05:15:02] The Nevada parole board ruling in his favor, granting the 70-year-old early release from prison. The former football star making the case for himself.


SIMPSON: I've done my time. You know, I've done it as well and as respectfully as I think anybody can, I think if you talk to the wardens, them, they'll tell you.

I gave them my word. I believe in the jury system. I've honored their verdict. I have not complained for nine years.

All I have done is try 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. That's the life I've tried to live because I want to get back to my kids, my family.


MARQUEZ: Simpson was locked up in 2008 on charges including armed robbery and kidnapping related to the theft of Simpson memorabilia. He could be released as early as October 1st.

ROMANS: 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 band, Miguel, was set to kick off the tour in Boston next week.

Linkin Park climbed to success in 2000 with its album "Hybrid Theory". A couple of months ago, his friend, Chris Cornell, the frontman of Soundgarden, also committed suicide. He was really distraught about the death of his friend. He died on Chris Cornell's birthday. It's such a terrible, sad, swift.

MARQUEZ: 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.


MARQUEZ: 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.

ROMANS: 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.

MARQUEZ: It doesn't seem possible, does it?

There is breaking news. Two companies that operate tours in North Korea say the U.S. government is preparing to ban American tourists from visiting there. The U.S. has not yet confirmed the move. But the tour says it will be officially announced July 27th and will go into effect 28 days later. Another company, Young Pioneer Tours tweeted it has also been informed of the ban. Now, Young Pioneer is the agency that took American student Otto

Warmbier to North Korea. He was arrested there and sentenced to 15 years hard labor when Pyongyang released him in June, he was in a coma, he died a few days after returning to the U.S.

ROMANS: All right. Nineteen minutes past the hour. The head football coach at Ole Miss has resigned and its for allegations of personal misconduct. Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report". That's next.


[05:23:38] MARQUEZ: The head football coach at Ole Miss is resigning less than two months before the season because of allegations of misconduct.

ROMANS: Tell us more, Andy Scholes, for this morning's "Bleacher Report".


University officials at Ole Miss revealing in a news conference yesterday the head coach Hugh Freeze was resigning immediately due to a pattern of personal misconduct. According to multiple reports, Freeze made a phone call on a work phone to a number associated with a female escort service.

Now, Ole Miss's athletic director Ross Bjork said, the conduct was just not something we thought we could continue with him as our head coach. Bjork added that had Freeze not resigned, he would have been fired under the moral clause in his contract. In February, the NCAA charged Ole Miss' football program with 22 violations, including lack of institutional control. The team's self-imposed post-season ban after those violations were announced. Ole Miss though says Freeze's resignation had nothing to do with the NCAA violations.

The second round of the open championship under way in England. Jordan Spieth, your co-leader after round one, shooting 5 under. The 23-year-old Texan revealing yesterday that he and the most decorated Olympian of all time have recently become friends.


JORDAN SPIETH, TIED FOR LEAD AT OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP: Michael Phelps has been a tremendous new friend that I have had since really Phoenix this last year.

[05:25:02] And he invited myself and Michael over to their house. We talked for quite awhile. I enjoyed listening to him. He wanted to hear from my side of things, just about the good, the bad, everything that comes with what we do.


SCHOLES: Spieth tees off at 9:48 Eastern this morning. Weather not expected to be good. 80 percent chance of rain, with a high of just 68.

And lots of guys are plenty to do if they hope to make a cut today, including Japan's Hideto Tanihara. This rolls all the way back into the bunker. He tries the same shot again. And, oh, no, it's going right back where it came from.

ROMANS: That's how I golf.

SCHOLES: The third time was the charm, guys, for Tanihara. He got it out of the bunker, eventually. Unfortunately, though, he ended up with a trim bogey for that hole. But, you know, it's always nice to see these kinds of things from the pro golfers. It makes us feel better about our golf game, right, Miguel?

MARQUEZ: My life is a triple bogey. Thanks, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right. Have a good one, guys.

ROMANS: Andy, nice to see you.

SCHOLES: Happy weekend.

ROMANS: Would the president really use his pardoning power to undermine the Russia investigation? Reports this morning say the Trump legal team is exploring it.