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EARLY START

Trump Tower Meeting Transcripts Released; Trump Shows Constraint on North Korea's Threat to Cancel Summit; Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 17, 2018 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[04:00:13] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Rudy Giuliani claiming the special counsel told the White House legal team he cannot indict the president.

One year now into the Mueller investigation, what does that mean for the probe and the president?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Duly released testimony lending an intriguing look at the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer. What was revealed, what wasn't, and how it ties into the Russia investigation.

BRIGGS: And breaking overnight. New video from the Pentagon of that deadly ambush that killed four American soldiers in Niger. It provides new insight to what went wrong.

Good morning, everyone. And welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Good morning to you.

BRIGGS: Good to see you. I'm Christine Romans. It is Thursday, May 17th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

One year ago today, Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel in the Russia investigation. And there are important issues marking the milestone. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani telling CNN Mueller has informed the president's legal team he cannot indict a sitting president.

Giuliani claiming, quote, "All they get to do is write a report. They can't indict. At least they acknowledged that to us after some battling. They acknowledged that to us." It's a point Rudy reiterated last night on FOX.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: We're going to see what kind of legal remedies are available to us, including if they subpoena us, challenge the subpoena. But I don't think they agree to the process question which is the same reason they can't indict him, they can't issue a subpoena to him. And remember, Clinton opposed the subpoena and then he voluntarily complied.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: Now even if Mueller's team did say the president can't be indicted, he's not necessarily in the clear. Longstanding Justice Department guidelines say a sitting president cannot be indicted. That has never been tested in court. Not clear whether Mueller's team is prepared to take on that challenge if it has criminal evidence against President Trump.

CNN reached out to special counsel's team but they declined to comment.

ROMANS: A few questions answered, plenty of new ones raised after the release of thousands of pages of interviews with participants in that 2016 meeting in June in Trump Tower between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer.

Now five of the eight people at that meeting including Donald Trump Jr. explaining to investigators what they thought the meeting would be about, what it turned out to be, how they reacted and what they did when news of the meeting went public.

BRIGGS: The meeting has been a focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe. What did the president know about the meeting and when?

Sara Murray with a closer look at the newly released Senate Intel documents.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave.

Donald Trump Jr.'s excitement over getting dirt on Hillary Clinton quickly turned to frustration for top members of the Trump campaign, when the quest for damaging info came up short.

The Senate Judiciary Committee releasing approximately 2,000 pages of interviews, shedding light on the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer and Trump team members, including Trump Jr., Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Now the documents make one point clear. The meeting did not go the way the Trump team expected. When the Russian lawyer started talking about Russian adoptions rather than delivering dirt on Clinton, one of the witnesses testified that Kushner appeared, quote, "agitated."

After the meeting, Trump Jr. testified that the man who arranged it apologized for, quote, "wasting our time."

Now the president's son also insisted that he didn't tell his father about the meeting beforehand or the offer of incriminating information on Clinton because, quote, "I wouldn't bring him anything that's unsubstantiated."

Now while Trump Jr. says he never told his father about the meeting, on June 6th, shortly after that meeting was arranged, Trump Jr. made an 11-minute phone call to a blocked number. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski testified to House members that the president's primary residence has a blocked number.

When the meeting first came to light more than a year later in July 2017, that was in a "New York Times" story, the Trump team was flailing for a response. Ultimately they crafted a misleading one aboard Air Force One as the president was returning from the G20 summit in Germany. It said the meeting was primarily focused on adoptions. There was no mention of dirt on Clinton, the reason that Trump Jr. accepted the meeting in the first place.

As the special counsel probes the meeting and the statement that followed, it's still unclear how involved the president was in crafting it. Trump Jr. testified his father, quote, "may have commented through Hope Hicks." That's the former White House communications director. And he was casting it as a collaborative effort with attorneys.

He said he did not request his father's assistance, saying, Hicks, quote, "asked if I wanted to actually speak to him, and I chose not to because I didn't want to bring him into something that he had nothing do with."

Back to you guys.

ROMANS: All right. Sara Murray, thanks so much.

The Senate Intel Committee breaking with House colleagues by backing the intelligence community's assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.

[04:05:03] Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican, saying committee staff have spent 14 months reviewing the sources, trade craft, and analytic work, and we see no reason to dispute the conclusions.

The House Intel Committee disagrees with the intelligence community's findings that Russian president Vladimir Putin was trying to help Trump. In their report finding, quote, "significant intelligence and trade craft failing." Republican Congressman Mike Conaway of Texas ran the House Russia investigation. He told CNN he supports the conclusion and downplayed the differences with the Senate as narrow.

BRIGGS: President Trump acknowledging for the first time that he repaid his lawyer Michael Cohen more than $100,000 for expenses incurred during the 2016 election. In new financial disclosures, Mr. Trump does not specify what the repayment was for, what the president's lawyers have confirmed he reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 hush money payoff to Stormy Daniels.

ROMANS: The president's representatives claimed they listed the payment in the interest of transparency. The Office of Government Ethics seeing it differently, firing off a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, saying, quote, "You may find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing." Rudy Giuliani says he revealed the president's Stormy Daniels' repayment on FOX News a few weeks ago to get ahead of the financial disclosure.

All right. The president hosts NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House today. It is not clear whether he will hear from him after -- whether we will hear from him afterward because the White House is not listing a news conference on its schedule. And NATO's Web site says there is a joint news conference scheduled for 3:00 p.m. There has not been a daily White House briefing since Monday. There is on scheduled for this afternoon.

BRIGGS: Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson taking a not so subtle jab at his former boss. Telling graduating cadets at the Virginia Military Institute, "Respect for truth is paramount to democracy." Tillerson did not mention the president by name but pretty clear who he was talking about here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: If our leaders seek to conceal the truth or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom. When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth, even on what may seem the most trivial of matters, we go wobbly on America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: "Wobbly on America." The former secretary went on to say the pursuit of America's future must be fact based and not built on wishful thinking.

ROMANS: All right. The U.S. and China launched round two of trade talks today, this time the administration's toughest China critic won't have a leading role. The White House says trade adviser Peter Navarro will not be a principal player during negotiations. Instead Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin will lead the talks, along with the Commerce secretary and the Trade representative.

Navarro has a longstanding rift with Mnuchin over trade. Navarro was the administration's protectionist voice. Mnuchin favors free trade. A clash that hit new levels during their Beijing trip two weeks ago. Sources tell CNN Navarro fought with Mnuchin, shouting and cursing at him over the direction of trade talks. The argument took place out of view of Chinese officials.

As China's top economic officials meet with Trump's team, the U.S. will likely miss the deadline for another trade deal, NAFTA. The due date for an agreement is today. That gives Congress enough time to vote this year. The negotiations are far from over and the writing on the wall is there will not be a new NAFTA rewrite this year.

BRIGGS: That is -- the clash, though, between Navarro and Mnuchin seemed months in the making.

ROMANS: Yes. Yes.

BRIGGS: And not a real surprise.

ROMANS: But, you know, the president likes to hear what Peter Navarro has to say. You know, the president has been -- BRIGGS: No question.

ROMANS: Has had these protectionist tendencies for years and years, especially vis-a-vis China. So some of the reporting is that, you know, the president says where is my Peter?

BRIGGS: But not many other allies for Navarro.

ROMANS: Exactly.

BRIGGS: All right. U.S. Surgeon-General Jerome Adams coming to the aid of a passenger with a medical emergency on board a Delta flight. Adams tweeting that on his flight from Atlanta to Jackson, Mississippi, Wednesday the crew asked if there was a doctor on board and there was. It was him. Adams says he was glad to be able to assist, though it's not clear exactly what happened on the flight. The airline says Adams intervened when a passenger became ill. Adams is an anesthesiologist. He has served in the Trump administration surgeon general since last September.

ROMANS: All right. The counter-puncher in chief shows some restraint. What the president says North Korea threatening to cancel talks. Live from Seoul next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If you're not serious about doing a deal with the president, if you are not willing to give up your nukes for a better life, for North Korea, don't meet with the president. The worst thing you could do is sit down and meet with President Trump, then try to play him because if you do that, we're going to have to war, and you're going to lose it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Stark warning there from Lindsey Graham. Frustrated by North Korea's threat to pull out of next month's Singapore summit. President Trump showing, though, considerable restraint when asked about the status of his face-to-face with Kim Jong-un.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We haven't seen anything. We haven't heard anything. We will see what happens. Whatever it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Dialogue is ongoing to keep the summit on track.

Let's go live to Seoul and bring in CNN's Ivan Watson.

Ivan, good morning. A familiar refrain there from President Trump. But what's the dialogue, back and forth? We understand is there any? IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't know.

I mean, there may be something going on behind the scenes that we don't see. So we're left to try to infer what's going on here, Dave. On the one hand, North Korea clearly has asserted itself by pulling out of these talks with South Korea on Wednesday and threatening to pull out of next month's summit with President Trump. They've shown that they are not pushovers and that the negotiating process will not be as easy as perhaps some had expected.

[04:15:04] And second, with President Trump's response, that says something, too, I think. He didn't do his trademark counter-punch. He hasn't been blasting Kim Jong-un on his Twitter account. He was pretty restrained considering North Korea called the national security adviser John Bolton repugnant and accused the Trump administration of repeating the same mistakes of past American presidents.

So that suggests a kind of wait-and-see approach, which we're kind of also seeing from the South Koreans who called North Korea's sudden hush rhetoric on Wednesday growing pains. Bolton himself who is the target of such criticism, he has made a bet in a FOX radio news interview that the summit is probably still going to go ahead, but it will be very short if North Korea is not willing to give up its nuclear weapons. So I think, you know, in the end, we just really have to wait and see who blinks first now -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes. And Bolton says about the name calling. Nothing new. They've been calling him names since 2003. So not taking any offense there.

Ivan Watson live for us this morning. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Breaking news. For the very first time we are seeing video from the deadly ambush that killed four American soldiers in Niger last fall. We want to warn you. Some of this may be difficult to watch.

The 23-minute video already seen by Congress was given to CNN by the Pentagon. It contains drone footage of the body of Sergeant La David Johnson being recovered from under the thorn tree 48 hours after he was killed. The video shows a group of seven American and four Nigerian troops who escaped the ISIS ambush and fled into a swamp.

The video suggests the team was going after a nearby ISIS commander even though their stated mission was to survey the area. A summary of a classified U.S. military report recently concluded the team was not authorized or equipped to conduct risky capture and kill missions.

BRIGGS: Wow.

All right. Ahead, a school resource officer in Illinois being hailed as a hero for stopping a former student who opened fire at a graduation rehearsal. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:21:40] BRIGGS: A racist tirade in New York City captured on video. It starts with a man's complaint about workers at a lunch counter speaking Spanish. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AARON SCHLOSSBERG, NEW YORK CITY ATTORNEY: Your staff keeps speaking Spanish to customers when they should be speaking English.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, sometimes they do that.

SCHLOSSBERG: Every person I listen to. He spoke it, he spoke it, she's speaking it. This is America. My guess is they're not documented, so my next call is to ICE to have each one of them kicked out of my country. If they have the balls to come here and live off of my money, I pay for their welfare, I pay for their ability to be here. The least they could do --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes? Yes? Now we're in welfare?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The least they could do is speak English.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Such an ignorant asshole.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You understand? If you intend on running a place in Midtown Manhattan, your staff should speak English, not Spanish.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: He then finishes the rant by threatening to call ICE and making a crack about the weight of the woman shooting the video.

ROMANS: It took the internet about five seconds to identify the guy as a Midtown attorney. It turns out there are -- it turns out there are more videos of the same man ranting in a similar fashion. CNN has reached out to him via Facebook Messenger, and we left a message at his law office but we have not heard back. And this from ICE. ICE says its tip line should not be used as an instrument to intimidate or harass.

BRIGGS: All right. The school resource officer being praised for his heroic actions after a former student opened fire at Dixon High School in Illinois. It happened when students and staff were gathered Wednesday morning near the auditorium for a graduation rehearsal. Police say the officer Mark Dallas chased the gunman after he fled the school to exchange fire before the suspect was wounded and arrested. In a tweet, Vice President Mike Pence called the officer's actions heroic. The alleged gunman, 19-year-old Matthew Milby, facing charges of aggravated discharge of a firearm. No one at the school was injured.

ROMANS: The CEO of Bumble Bee Foods charged in a seafood price fixing scheme. A federal grand jury indicted Christopher Lischewski alleging he conspired with rival companies to keep prices for packaged seafood sold in the U.S. artificially high. If convicted he faces a possible 10-year prison sentence and $1 million fine. Lischewski is the fourth person to be charged in the price fixing probe. In 2016, Bumble Bee's senior vice president of sales Walter Scott Cameron pleaded guilty for his role in that scheme. BRIGGS: Michigan State University reaching a $500 million settlement

with hundreds of women and girls assaulted by Dr. Larry Nassar. The settlement only deals with accusations against Michigan State. It does not address lawsuits against USA Gymnastics or the U.S. Olympic Committee. The plaintiff's attorney saying he hopes the legacy of the settlement will end the threat of sexual assault in sports.

ROMANS: A bizarre story out of Texas. A 25-year-old man faces charges for posing as a teenager so he could play high school basketball. Police say Sidney Gilstrap-Portley lied about being displaced by Hurricane Harvey and enrolled as a 17-year-old student at Dallas' Hillcrest High School under the name Rashaun Richardson. The ruse ended when a coach from 10 years earlier recognized him. Gilstrap-Portley exploited a loosen district policy that was meant to help disaster victims.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS BAYER, HILLCREST HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL: There was no indication on our side, even replaying it in my mind as far as what he portrayed himself as and to abuse that is just -- like you can't as I would say a normal thinking person process that. It's not something you would think about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[04:25:05] ROMANS: Gilstrap-Portley was arrested on a felony charge of tampering with government records. Police are also investigating claims he was in a relationship with a 14-year-old girl at the school.

BRIGGS: Wow. All right. The NBA's Western Conference Finals tied at a game apiece after the Houston Rockets blew out Golden State 127-105 in game two. Everything that went wrong for the Rockets in game one went right Wednesday night. The series now moves to Oakland for game three Sunday. The Warriors have now won 15 straight at home in the post-season. Tied for the longest streak in NBA history. Eric Gordon for Houston, 27 off the bench.

All right. Ahead, the president's lawyer says he's been told by the special counsel's team the president cannot be indicted. So what's Robert Mueller's move here if he does find wrongdoing?

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