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Mueller Zeroes In on Flynn & Comey Firings; Trump Asked McCabe to Reveal Vote; Kentucky School Shooting; LeBron James Joins 30,000- Point Club. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 24, 2018 - 05:00   ET


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: New developments in the Russia investigation. The special counsel narrowing his focus. Why Michael Flynn and James Comey's firings could be critical.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: New reports say the president asked the acting FBI director who he voted for in 2016, in the Oval Office.

[05:00:04] It comes as the White House beats back claims Andrew McCabe's job was targeted by the attorney general.

BRIGGS: And a Kentucky community reeling after yet another school shooting. Two teens are dead as the epidemic of shootings continues in 2018.

Good morning, everyone. Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, January 24th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's begin with the Russia investigation. The Russian special counsel Robert Mueller is focusing on the firings of former FBI director James Comey and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, as he prepares to interview President Trump. Now, two stories confirming a story to CNN a story reported by "The Washington Post" that Mueller is aggressively scrutinizing efforts by the president or others to hamper that investigation. CNN sources say the terms for questioning the president are far from set.

BRIGGS: Mr. Trump's lawyers want him to answer in written form only but understand there may be in-person interviews.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked why the president has not simply fired Mueller. She said in part because of how the media would react.


REPORTER: Why doesn't the president just get rid of Bob Mueller, just fire him? Mr. Gidley also said it's wasting taxpayers' money. In that regard, why doesn't he just end the investigation? Because it's wasting the taxpayers' money.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We want to see this come to a complete and full conclusion. I think we all know what everybody in this room would do if the president did that, and I don't think that's helpful to the process.


ROMANS: The report on Mueller's plans come as we learn two critical players in the probe have already spoken to Mueller's team, including a member of the cabinet. More now from CNN's Jessica Schneider in Washington.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, we do now know that both the attorney general and former FBI Director James Comey, they have both been interviewed by the special counsel's office. The attorney general was questioned for several hours by Mueller's team last week on Wednesday. That's according to a source close to Sessions.

And former FBI Director Comey, he spoke with investigators last year. Now, the interviews, we know, focused on two things. First, Russia's meddling in the election. And second, whether or not President Trump obstructed justice since taking office, especially as it concerns his firing of James Comey back in May.

Jeff Sessions and James Comey, they are of key interest. Sessions for his meetings with the Russian ambassador during the campaign, and, of course, the fact that he was involved in the firing of James Comey. Of course, as for former FBI Director James Comey, he took many notes that he's talked about, about his interactions with the president, and, of course, the special counsel will be interested in Comey expanding upon those.

The president actually weighed in on Sessions' interview on Tuesday.

REPORTER: Are you concerned about what the attorney general told the special counsel?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: No, I'm not at all, Kristen. Not at all.

REPORTER: Did you talk to him about it?

TRUMP: No, I didn't, but I'm not at all concerned.

SCHNEIDER: Jeff Sessions' interview is a major development in shoot probe. The White House has continually said that it is cooperating with Mueller's investigation -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: All right. Jessica Schneider, thank you for that.

BRIGGS: All right. Joining us this morning, making his long-awaited EARLY START debut, CNN political analyst Errol Louis.

Errol, I know you've been long waiting to get up at 3:00 in the morning to join us here but we appreciate it, nonetheless.

Especially on a huge day in this Russia investigation. Among the developments we can put up on the screen -- hard to put them all on one graphic. But Bob Mueller seeks to question the president, some written, some verbal. Jeff Sessions was interviewed last week. James Comey was interviewed last year.

Andrew McCabe was asked in the oval office who he voted for.

How in your eyes did yesterday change at least the perception or the direction of the investigation?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's certainly among other things putting to rest any lingering notion that this is a witch hunt, a fabrication, that this is politically motivated and there's nothing there. Throughout the last year really, the president has not acted like somebody who has nobody to hide.

Every piece of information we get suggests that there's been active directive sort of interference in this investigation, attempts to discredit anybody who touches it. And a president who doesn't I think fully at -- at best I think you'd have to say doesn't fully understand his role compared to that of the FBI and the Justice Department, that these are not just a bunch of investigators and lawyers who work for him. That their oath is to the United States, that their independence is critical to the proper functioning of those agencies.

And over and over again, you see the president kind of stomping all over that. Again, for anybody who is maybe tuning in to this for the first time -- we talk about it every day -- but it's like, are these the actions of a man with nothing to hide?

[05:05:03] And the answer to that to me is obvious.

ROMANS: When you look at who has been interviewed in the probe at this point, it is a long list now. What does it tell you about where they are here? Look at -- look at that. We've got the first cabinet member, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, now interviewed. What does it tell you about whether this is winding down or a crescendo?

LOUIS: Well, it's a crescendo I think and winding down, frankly. I mean, the two things to remember about Mueller is that he's a prosecutor. This is not an abstract academic investigation into what might have happened with Russian hacking. This is a guy who locks people up for a living and has spent his whole career doing it, who is looking for evidence of crimes and trying to track down where and when and who might be involved in any crime, broadly conceived, including obstruction.

So, I -- knowing that and then looking at the speed -- that's the second thing to know about him, the speed with which he works. He didn't want to draw this out. He's not looking to draw a salary or to spend years doing this. And you move further and further up the chain.

And when you get to the point of where you're talking to the attorney general and you're negotiating to talk with the president, that is the conclusion. That we will know I think fairly soon -- by that I mean, say, in the next six months, everything that he's been able to find, charges have already been brought against several people. There may be more charges.

And that last conversation with the president is one you don't want to rush. So, if he's talking about it now, that means he's talked to absolutely everybody that he need to to try and make a case.

BRIGGS: The president focusing his ire on the missing text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page which he repeatedly spread the falsehood that there are 50,000 missing. Mr. President, there are not. That is the total cache between the two. We're not sure how many are missing.

But some of them are problematic in that Peter Strzok essentially said, well, I don't want to be part of the special counsel because there's no there there, which makes you think he was only interested in taking the president down, not in proving that he's innocent.

There's also word of a secret society which to me harkens images of Homer Simpson's stonecutters. I'm not sure what that is in reference to --


ROMANS: Harry Potter actually, but yes, that's good.

BRIGGS: Or perhaps "Dead Poet's Society" and Robin Williams. Of course, the many theories about the release the memo.


BRIGGS: Any of this concern you about the Department of Justice and how they've gone about their business?

LOUIS: Only a little bit, to be honest with you. The reality is, because we know where the release of the memo was coming to. That hashtag we know by people who track these things is being pushed forward by Russian bots.

This is something that, as far as I can tell, is part of a larger effort to discredit the Mueller investigation. To draw attention away from the president, to sort of muddy the waters, undermine public confidence in our institutions, including the FBI and including the Justice Department. To the extent that we play along with it, we're doing the bidding of these bots.

ROMANS: But the president is playing along with it.

LOUIS: Well, it benefits the president. This is sort of troubling.

BRIGGS: He could declassify it himself. He has the power to do that.

LOUIS: He could and possibly will. And it's -- look, there's one theory about this memo which is that it draws on classified information specifically so that it cannot be released, so that people can use the talking points. The bots can push it forward. The distraction, the discrediting can go on without anybody actually seeing it. And once you see it, there may be nothing there.

The reality, you almost couldn't make this up which is that in the course of trying to get to the bottom of Russian meddling, you have Russian meddling in our public conversation. And to the extent that the president, members of Congress or anybody else is playing along with that, that should be a cause of concern for people.

ROMANS: The whole the secret society conspiracy theory is exactly what you see totalitarian regimes do when they're trying to clean out their intelligence services or clean out their military, too, which is kind of an interesting parallel, I think.

All right. Errol, come back in a few minutes. We'll talk about immigration and the hard work to be done yet on immigration. Thank you.

BRIGGS: And the president off to Davos, as well.

ROMANS: That's right.

BRIGGS: First, Democratic Senator Steve Manchin of West Virginia telling colleagues he will run for reelection this year. That's according to "The New York Times". Manchin's flirtation with retirement triggered a lot of anxiety among Democrats who feared losing his seat to a Republican in solid red West Virginia. Manchin has been vocal about his disclosure with Washington and admits to telling Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, quote, this place sucks. But he plans to file paperwork before Saturday's deadline. Democrats must defend ten seats in November, in states President Trump carried.

ROMANS: Tonight, the president heads to Davos in Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, says the president will sell his accomplishments and remind world leads the U.S. is open for business.

[05:10:02] Many cabinet members are going to Davos are already there including the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. He sent this morning the response from business to President Trump's tax cuts has been better than expected.

There are also planned meetings with the British Prime Minister Theresa May and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It comes at a time when trade tensions are running high.

It comes at a time when trade tensions by the way are running high. The TPP is back on, but not for the U.S. just as President Trump restricts Asian imports, as well. Trump ditched the Trans Pacific Partnership one year ago. But the remaining 11 Pacific nations are forging ahead without the U.S. Japan, Canada, Mexico, and others say their new trade pact will help combat rising protectionism.

There's concern the U.S., a long-standing leader in global trade, is turning inwards as other world leaders preach globalization at Davos this week. Trump will defend his America first policies. Here's the president yesterday.


TRUMP: My administration is committed to defending American companies. They've been very badly hurt from harmful import surges that threaten the livelihood of their workers, of jobs actually all over this country.


ROMANS: Trump slapped tariffs on foreign solar panels and washing machines to help U.S. companies this week. It could hurt consumers. Americans buy washers from other countries, lots of washers. So, a tariff will make all washers more expensive. Foreign makers will need to offset higher import costs. And with less competition, U.S. companies can hike prices. The administration says they're doing it to create and protect U.S. jobs.

BRIGGS: "The Wall Street Journal" typically supportive of the president, not so much of these policies, say it will hurt more companies and people. That's before these other countries begin to retaliate.


BRIGGS: You wonder how he will be greeted at Davos regarding that.

Tammy Duckworth about to become the first sitting U.S. senator ever to give birth. The Illinois Democrat announcing she's expecting her second child in April. Nine other women have had babies while serving in Congress, but none in the Senate. Duckworth says her daughter Abigail is ecstatic to welcome home her baby sister, adding, as tough as juggling the demands of motherhood and being a senator can be, I'm hardly alone or unique as a working parent.

Duckworth is a retired army lieutenant colonel who served as a helicopter pilot in the Iraq. She was elected in 2013 and was critical of the president the other day. I think labeled him cadet bone spur in a very memorable, pointed comment.

ROMANS: We wish her well. I'm on the record saying women having babies at work is a very good thing.

BRIGGS: We need more in the Senate you're suggesting?

ROMANS: I would say so.

All right. A Kentucky community is mourning the loss two of students after a shooter opened fire. More than a dozen kids hurt.


[05:16:54] ROMANS: All right. Sixteen minutes past the hour.

A 15-year-old student facing murder and attempted murder charges after police say he opened fire at Marshall County high school in western Kentucky. Two students were killed. Police identified as 15-year- olds Billy Holt (ph) and Preston Cape (ph).

Fourteen teenagers, fourteen overall were hit by gunfire and four more suffered other injuries.


GOV. MATT BEVIN (R), KENTUCKY: These children belong to this community and to specific families in this community. And this is a wound that is going to take a long time to heal.


BRIGGS: It will. Mourners held vigils last night. Students attending a basketball game between two other Kentucky high schools wore Marshall County high orange and blue as a tribute to the victims. Police have yet to reveal a motive.

ROMANS: Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, herself a victim of a mass shooting, says this is the 13th mass shooting this year. It is only January 24th.

Formal sentencing expected later today in the trial of disgraced USA gymnastics Dr. Larry Nassar. First, more of Nassar's sexual abuse victims are scheduled to deliver impact statements. There have been 163 so far, including an 18-year-old who demanded an apology and got one.


EMILY MORALES, LARRY NASSAR ACCUSER: I believe in forgiveness, Larry. You and I are human beings. We make mistakes. Although you have hurt me, I want to forgive you and feel closure and move on to healing in my life. I want you to apologize to me right here. I want to forgive, but I also want to hear you tell me that you regret all the hurt that you've caused.


MORALES: Thank you.


BRIGGS: Powerful. The NCAA is now investigating Michigan State University for its role in the scandal. Nassar was also a doctor for student athletes there.

ROMANS: Florida voters will decide in the fall whether a million and a half felons will get their voting rights back. If 60 percent of voters approve, the petition amendment would restore voting rights to state residents with felony convictions after they complete their sentences, including parole or probation. The petition would not apply to anyone convicted of murder or sexual offenses.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead, a milestone for LeBron James. Find out why the King is congratulating himself.

Andy Scholes with the "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:23:51] BRIGGS: All right. To King LeBron James joining an exclusive club last night. LeBron become the youngest NBA player ever to reach 30,000 points.

ROMANS: Wow. Andy Scholes has more in the "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Andy.


You know, LeBron now the seventh player in NBA history to reach the 30k mark, joining the likes of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. In San Antonio last night, LeBron reaching the milestone with this jumper here at the end of the first quarter. Despite the special night for LeBron, the Cavs are losing again, 114-102 to the Spurs. It was their 10th loss in the past 13 games.

LeBron saying afterwards one day he's going to sit around and enjoy his records, but that time is not now.


LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: I'll never fully appreciate what I do any time I accomplish something, no matter a win or loss. Looking forward to the moment when I'm basically done with the game and I can sit back with my family and friends. We can sit back, drink some wine, talk about all the accomplishments that I had and things that I'm able to accomplish.


SCHOLES: Now, before the game in an odd Instagram post, LeBron congratulated himself before reaching the 30,000-point mark. LeBron was basically speaking to the high school version of himself in the post. Let's say social media had a field day with this.

All right. The NBA announcing the all-star reserves for this year's game last night. And there were some notable snubs. Chris Paul of the Rockets left off despite Houston having the second-best record in the league. The Thunder's Paul George also not making the Western Conference squad which reigning MVP Russell Westbrook called outrageous. The sentimental favorite left off this year was the Clippers' Lou Williams. He responded to the snub on Twitter saying simply, "LOL."

Andre Drummond of the Pistons seemed a little more upset tweeting, you've got to be kidding me.

LeBron and Steph Curry are rosters for this year's game. Those are going to be announced on TNT tomorrow.

All right. The New England Patriots will be the home team when they take on the Eagles in Super Bowl 52. That means they get to pick which jersey they were and the team opting for the road white jersey. They may be thinking, why does this matter? Well, the team wearing white has won 12 of the past 13 super bowls.

And guys, Tom Brady is a perfect 3-0 when wearing white in the Super Bowl.

BRIGGS: Most important --

SCHOLES: So, if your superstitious, there you go.

BRIGGS: The two losses to the giants came while wearing blue. Let's hope they keep an eye on Tom Brady's jersey, right?

SCHOLES: Don't want to lose it again, because you don't have to go through that.

BRIGGS: I don't know what the FBI got going on, plenty.

SCHOLES: They seem busy, right?

BRIGGS: They're busy.

All right. Andy, thank you, my friend.

ROMANS: All right. The firings of James Comey and Michael Flynn under renewed scrutiny by shoot special counsel. Rapid developments this morning in the Russia investigation. More next.