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EARLY START

Trump Tower Meeting Transcripts Released; Trump Shows Constraint on North Korea's Threat to Cancel Summit; Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 17, 2018 - 04:30   ET

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


[04:30:17] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Rudy Giuliani says the special counsel's own team admits it can't indict the president. One year into the Mueller investigation, what does that mean for the probe and the commander-in-chief?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And newly 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 all ties with the Russia investigation.

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

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

BRIGGS: Good morning. Good morning to all of you. 4:30 Eastern Time. No anniversary cakes. But a lot of new developments.

One year ago today, Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel in the Russia investigation. And there are important new developments marking this 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)

ROMANS: Even if Mueller's team did say the president cannot be indicted, he's not necessarily in the clear. Even though 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 the special counsel's team and they declined to comment.

BRIGGS: All right. A few questions answered and plenty of new ones raised after the release of thousands of pages of interviews with participants in that famous 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. 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, and how they reacted and what they did when news of the meeting went public.

ROMANS: The meeting has been a focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe. What did the president know about that 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.

BRIGGS: Sara Murray, thank you.

In a major break from their House colleagues, the Senate Intel Committee says the intelligence community is correct in its assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.

[04:35:04] 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 Intelligence Committee report found, quote, "significant intelligence trade craft failings." Republican Congressman Mike Conaway ran the House investigation. He told CNN he still supports their conclusion and downplayed the differences with the Senate as narrow.

ROMANS: 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 a new financial disclosure, Mr. Trump did not specify what the repayment was for, but the president's lawyers have confirmed he reimbursed Cohen for the $130,000 hush money payoff to Stormy Daniels.

BRIGGS: The president's representatives claimed they listed the payment in 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 in 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 this financial disclosure.

ROMANS: The "Washington Post" reports Michael Cohen solicited at least $1 million from the government of Qatar in late 2016 in exchange for access and advice about the incoming Trump administration. The offer was declined. The "Post" cites Qatari official approached by Cohen and others with knowledge of the incident. This all reportedly coming after a December 2016 meeting between the Qatari Foreign minister and Michael Flynn who went on to become the president's National Security adviser. The Qatari government is not commenting and neither is Cohen. 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 you decide who you think he's 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: The former secretary went on to say the pursuit of America's future must be fact based and not built on wishful thinking.

ROMANS: Tax cuts left corporate America flushed with cash and one of tax reforms' biggest cheerleader says companies will spend that money on themselves. Here's former Home Depot and Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB NARDELLI, FOUNDER AND CEO, XLR-8: I think they're reinvesting in their companies through CAPEX or adding more research and development for innovation. In today's world, you either innovate or you will evaporate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: We know they've been paying their shareholders but new numbers back up what Nardelli is saying. S&P 500 companies are spending more on things like factories and equipment otherwise known as capital spending, CAPEX, as he said. $166 billion during the first three months of 2018. That's a 24 percent jump. Capital spending helps the broader economy. And the biggest spenders include all kinds of companies like tech, oil, telecoms, carmakers.

Nardelli credits tax reform for the spending boost but he did criticize companies' initial rush to spend tax savings on their shareholders. Noting that buy backs, share buy backs, are unpopular with the public. Companies have spent a record $375 billion this year buying back their own stocks. In raises it's been more -- and bonuses, it's been more like $6 billion or $7 billion. And then you could see in that CAPEX spending about $166 billion. So that's where that windfall from tax reform is going.

BRIGGS: So good news if you're a Republican running on the tax cuts or --

ROMANS: I think --

BRIGGS: -- it's muddled?

ROMANS: I think it's -- I think it's good news. I'm glad that these companies are spending this money.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: This could be the best first quarter in history because they got the biggest gift they've been given.

BRIGGS: Hopefully we see more of it.

All right. The counter-puncher in chief showing remarkable restraint when it comes to North Korea. What the president says about their threats to cancel talks. We're live from Seoul next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[04:43:35] 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)

ROMANS: Senator Lindsey Graham like a lot of other lawmakers frustrated by North Korea's threat to pull out of next month's Singapore summit. President Trump showing considerable restraint when asked about the status of his face-to-face meeting 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)

ROMANS: "We will see what happens." We've heard that before from this president.

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

Ivan, what is the state of play this morning?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the most recent comments comes from John Bolton, the National Security adviser who the North Koreans singled out calling him repugnant. He spoke to FOX Radio and said that he still thinks the odds of having a summit are pretty good, but it would be really short if the North Koreans don't agree to denuclearize. He said their decision to scrap inter-Korean high level talks yesterday at short notice were an example of old thinking. Christine, I think there are two real takeaways here. Number one, the

North Koreans after months of a charm offensive have shown that they're not going to be pushovers. They've asserted themselves and indicated that negotiations could be kind of tough going forward.

[04:45:07] And second, without counter-punching the way he so typically does, President Trump has indicated that he is willing to try to hang on to this peace process. At least for the time being. He hasn't unleashed his Twitter account. He hasn't responded to some of the insults that came from the North Koreans in the last 24 hours. And that means we're kind of in a wait-and-see pattern which includes the South Koreans who've tried to argue that North Korea's intransigents yesterday is a growing pain, as they put it, in what is a very complicated peace process -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Ivan Watson in Seoul. Thank you so much for that. Yes, complicated indeed.

BRIGGS: All right. Some breaking news now.

For the first time we're seeing video from that deadly ambush that killed four American soldiers in Niger last fall. We do want to warn you. Some of this may be hard 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 a 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.

ROMANS: All right. A school resource officer in Illinois being hailed a hero for stopping a former student who opened fire in a graduation rehearsal.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:51:26] BRIGGS: All right, 4:51 Eastern Time. Just about 11:00 p.m. in Hawaii. The Kilauea Volcano still threatening a large-scale eruption and putting a real dent in tourism dollars. Keeping cruise ships away from the area. But Kilauea not stopping some local golfers. Check out this stunning image. A day at the course with ash plumes rising behind them. Crews are still monitoring fissures and toxic gasses. We'll keep you updated. Look at that.

ROMANS: All right. A racist tirade in New York City captured on video. It starts with this guy's complaint about workers at a Midtown lunch counter who were 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)

ROMANS: All right. He jumped from hearing Spanish to my country to undocumented to paying for their welfare. He finishes the rant by threatening to call ICE and making a crack about the weight of the woman shooting the video, told her she shouldn't eat her sandwich today.

BRIGGS: It took the internet just moments to identify the guy as a Midtown attorney. It turns out there are other videos of the same man ranting as well. CNN has reached out to him via Facebook Messenger and left a message at his law office but we haven't yet heard back. This now from ICE. It says its tip line should not be used as an instrument to intimidate or harass.

ROMANS: There is a basic piece of legal logic that this great legal mind has forgotten here.

BRIGGS: Do tell.

ROMANS: If these people are employed in Midtown Manhattan and working.

BRIGGS: That did just that. Yes.

ROMANS: How in the world is he paying their welfare?

BRIGGS: A bit of a flaw. Besides the vitriolic hate.

ROMANS: That's just one of the many --

BRIGGS: Hate in there. Yes.

ROMANS: One of the many, many, many parts that that is difficult to unpack.

All right. A school resource officer is being praised for his heroic actions after a former student opened fire at Dixon High School in Illinois. It happened as students and staff were gathered Wednesday morning and near the auditorium for a graduation rehearsal. Police say the officer Mark Dallas chased the gunman after he fled the school. The two exchanged fire before the suspect was wounded and arrested. The vice president called the officer's actions heroic. The alleged gunman, 19-year-old Matthew Milby, is facing charges of aggravated discharge of a firearm. And no one at the school was injured.

BRIGGS: The CEO of Bumble Bee Foods charged in a seafood price fixing scheme. A federal grand jury indicting 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.

ROMANS: 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.

BRIGGS: We hope.

[04:55:02] And 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 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)

BRIGGS: Gilstrap-Portley was arrested on a felony charge of tampering with government records. Police also investigating claims he was in a relationship with a 14-year-old girl at the school.

ROMANS: The Yanny versus Laurel debate finding some bipartisan agreement. Republican lawmakers weighing in on the viral earworm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yanny. Yanny.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: What name do you hear, Senator?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I hear Laurel.

CAMEROTA: You hear Laurel?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Handsome and intelligent.

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: You agree with Chris. Well, here's more, can you believe --

KENNEDY: Well, can I reconsider?

CUOMO: No.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I'd like to declare something that is just so obvious. It is Laurel and not Yanny. All right? Come on. How many Laurel fans here, huh? Yes, right? OK. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: On the Democratic side, L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti released this official statement. Laurel.

BRIGGS: We don't agree.

ROMANS: No.

BRIGGS: On this very set.

ROMANS: And I heard it -- it must be different clips at different frequencies or something, the way that it's been --

BRIGGS: That's all it is. Yes. All has to do with the pitch in which you play it back.

ROMANS: Because I just heard Yanny, Yanny, Yanny, Yanny, and then all of a sudden in the middle of the day, I was listening to CNN and I heard Laurel.

BRIGGS: You heard otherwise.

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: Well, you've come around.

OK. Had enough rain? There is more on the way along the East Coast with flood watches now in effect for parts of New England.

Let's get right to meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, good morning, Dave and Christine.

What a week and certainly what a few days ahead of us as well. We have upwards of 25 million people underneath flood watches and really encompassing parts of Washington, Baltimore, Philly, where additional rainfall and pretty significant rains potentially in the forecast as well. And you take a look. The past 12 hours, yes, we've had quite a bit of rainfall. One to three inches generally, closer to one inch as you approach portions of a major metro cities of the northeast.

But really what's ahead of us here is what's most impressive. Philly getting some heavy rain showers this morning. New York, expect some of that later on into the morning hours. And all of this having to deal with this stationary funnel boundary in place. That's not only popping a lot of moisture in but to the south withdrawing moisture in as well from a tropical moisture in nature as well. So you take a look at this, an additional two to four inches, some areas across the Delmarva could get as much as four to six inches.

That's just through Friday across this region so the flooding concern remains very high. And of course the heavy rain becomes the theme of the forecast across much of the eastern U.S. at least the next couple of days -- guys.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that. And that's your weather.

Let's get to your money this morning. Global stocks mixed right now following a higher day on Wall Street. Investors ignored geopolitical concerns and rising interest rates. The 10-year Treasury yield hit 3.1 percent for the first time since 2011. But the stocks closed a little bit higher thanks to retailers. Retail stocks rose more than 5 percent. Credit Macy's. Yes, I said Macy's for the retail boom. Its stock rose nearly 11 percent. It turns out department stores aren't dead. Macy's sales surged during the first three months of the year. Digital sales grew double-digits thanks to upgrades to its Web site and app. But even Macy's physical stores sales pop. ; Macy's sales have slumped in the past few years. But it credits a few things for the new success to a new loyalty program, some better merchandise and big tourist bucks especially at its flagship New York store.

All right. Could the Senate save net neutrality? The FCC will end it June 11th. But yesterday the Senate passed a measure to keep the Obama-era rules in place. FCC chair Ajit Pai calls the rules unnecessary and harmful internet regulations. Internet providers say these rules stifle investment, but consumer advocates say they ensure a free and open internet and that your Web use isn't basically controlled by big companies preventing providers from blocking or slowing down access or charging consumers more for certain content. The Senate measure now heads to the GOP-led House where -- what do you think?

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: It's not likely to pass.

BRIGGS: I think this is pretty predictable where that's headed.

OK. EARLY START right now continues with the latest on the special counsel's one-year anniversary. ROMANS: Rudy Giuliani says the special counsel's own team admits it

can't indict the president. One year into the Mueller investigation, what does that mean for the probe and the president?

BRIGGS: Newly released testimony lends an intriguing look at the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer. What was revealed, what was not, and how it all ties into the Russia investigation.