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Trump Tower Meeting; North Korea Watch, "Bleacher Report." Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 17, 2018 - 05:00   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Rudy Giuliani claiming the special counsel told the White House legal team he cannot indict the president. One year into the Mueller investigation, what does that mean for the probe and the president?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): 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.

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

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS (voice-over): Good morning. I'm Dave Briggs. Thursday, May 17th. 5:00 am in the east and the one-year anniversary of the special counsel investigation.

Today, Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel in the Russia investigation one year ago today. Important new developments in this 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 cannot indict. At least they acknowledged that to us after some battling. They acknowledged that to us."

It's the point Rudy Giuliani reiterated last night on FOX.


RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY: We will see what 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. The same reason they cannot indict him, they cannot issue a subpoena to him. Remember Clinton opposed a subpoena and then he voluntarily complied. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Even if Mueller's team said if the president cannot be indicted, he is 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 if 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 but of course they declined to comment.

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

ROMANS: The meeting has been a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe. Sara Murray with a closer look at the newly released documents.


SARA MURRAY, CNN 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 information 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.

The documents make one point clear. The meeting did not go the way the Trump team expected. When the Russian lawyer talked 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."

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

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. accepting the meeting in the first place.

As the special counsel probes the meeting and the statement that followed, it is 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.

A major break from their House colleagues, the Senate Intel Committee says the intelligence community is correct in its assessment that Russia favored President Trump in the 2016 election. Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican, saying, "Committee staff have spent 14 months reviewing the sources ,tradecraft and analytic work and we see no reason to dispute the conclusions."

The House Intelligence Committee did not find the Russians favored Trump and cited, quote, "significant intelligence tradecraft failings."

Republican Congress member 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 --


ROMANS: -- 2016 election. In a new financial disclosure, Mr. Trump does 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.

The president's representatives claim they listed the payment in the interest of transparency. The Office of Government Ethics seeing it differently perhaps, sending a letter to deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, saying this, 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.

BRIGGS: "The Washington Post" reporting that 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 the Qatari official approached by Cohen and other 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 first national security adviser.

The Qatari government is not commenting and neither is Cohen.

ROMANS: The president hopes NATO attorney general Jens Stoltenberg at the White House today. It is not clear if we will hear from them. The White House is not listing a news conference anywhere on its schedule. NATO's website, though, says a joint news conference is scheduled for 3:00 pm Eastern.

Ahead of this meeting, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, with some harsh words. He said the E.U. should be, quote, "grateful to President Trump because, thanks to him, we have got rid of all illusions. He has made us realize, if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.

"Looking at the latest decisions of Trump, someone could even think, with friends like that, who needs enemies?"

It goes on. This was a prepared remarks to reporters. There has not been a daily White House briefing since Monday. There is one 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 you decide who you think he's talking about here.


REX TILLERSON, FORMER U.S. 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.


BRIGGS: Some hear Laurel, some hear Yanny. But everyone hears President Trump there.

The former secretary went on to say the pursuit of America's future must be fact-based and not built on wishful thinking. ROMANS: The U.S. and China launch round two of trade talks. But 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, the Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin will lead the talks along with the Commerce secretary and USTR, the U.S. trade representative. Navarro has a longstanding rift with Mnuchin over trade. Navarro was the administration's protectionist voice, a real China hawk. 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 but negotiations are far from over.

BRIGGS: Will we get some more clarity on what the president is doing with ZTE?

Because he says nothing has happened with ZTE on Twitter. But his own Republican senators, Marco Rubio have been very critical of the president's --


ROMANS: And the president himself said we will do something to help ZTE. Then he says we have not caved on ZTE. We haven't done anything on ZTE. So, no, it is not clear what the position is there.

OK. The counter-puncher in chief showing rather remarkable restraint when it comes to North Korea. What President Trump says about threats to cancel talks. We're live in Seoul next.






SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), S.C.: 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 can do is sit down and meet with President Trump then try to play him because if you do that, we will have a war and you will lose it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: Stark warning from Republican senator Lindsey Graham. Like a lot of other lawmakers, he is frustrated by North Korea's threat of pulling out of next month's Singapore summit. President Trump showing no considerable restraint when asked about the status of his face-to- face meeting with Kim Jong-un.


TRUMP: We haven't seen anything. We haven't heard anything. We will see what happens. Whatever it is, it is.


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

Ivan, we will see what happens.

What is South Korea's reaction to all this?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They have been trying to play this down, Dave. They called North Korea's decision to pull out of high level talks on Wednesday amid complaints and protests about U.S. and South Korea joint military exercises.

The South Koreans call that growing pains. They had a National Security Council meeting. There have been talks with U.S. counterparts. But it is a wait-and-see attitude. That is what it sounds like from Washington as well at this stage. I think all we can conclude is the U.S. and South Korea are pretty heavily invested --


WATSON: -- in the peace process and they don't want to scrap it just yet. I think that's what we're seeing with considerable restraint coming from President Trump himself.

He, his administration and national security adviser were directly insulted by the North Koreans in the last 36 hours. They called John Bolton "repugnant." They said that his comparison of a possible denuclearization process for North Korea to Libya's disarmament, of its nascent nuclear program more than a decade ago, they called this sinister.

So there was a lot of direct criticism of the Trump administration. And it speaks volumes that President Trump hasn't responded with his Twitter account in kind. So there is not an escalation of tension but a wait-and-see. Presumably waiting to see whether this peace process can go forward.

BRIGGS: Shaking it off to Brian Kilmeade, saying North Korea called me "human scum," "bloodsucker" and "very ugly fellow" all the way back in '03. So he's not worried about their criticism.

Ivan Watson, live in Seoul, thanks.

ROMANS: Breaking news: for the first time we are seeing video from the deadly ambush that killed four American soldiers in Niger last fall. We must 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 a thorn tree 48 hours after he was killed. The video also shows a group of American and foreign 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 the classified U.S. military report recently concluded the team was not authorized or equipped for such risky capture and kill missions.

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


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your staff is speaking Spanish to customers. (INAUDIBLE). Every person I listen to. He spoke it. He spoke it. She's speaking it. This is America. They are undocumented. My next call is to ICE to have them taken out of my country. If they have to come here and live off my money, I pay for their welfare. I pay for their ability to be here.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are running a place in midtown Manhattan?

Your staff should be speaking English.


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

ROMANS: It took the Internet all of like five hot seconds to identify the guy. He is a midtown attorney. Turns out there might be some more 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. We have not heard back.

This from ICE, by the way. It says that its tipline should not be used as an instrument to intimidate or harass.

And the "Daily News" has a message for him.

If you don't speak Spanish, that means --

BRIGGS: I don't.

Can you translate? ROMANS: "Screw you, idiot," is what the "Daily News" says.

Look, if it offends you to hear Spanish, welcome to New York. Every language in the street...

BRIGGS: Humanitarian of the year.

All right. The Houston Rockets dominating game 2 of the NBA's Western Conference finals. Lindsay Czarniak here with all the highlights in the "Bleacher Report."





BRIGGS: Houston, we have a series. The Rockets responding with a dominating game to performance even the series with the reigning champs.

ROMANS: Lindsay Czarniak is here. She's got more on this morning's "Bleacher Report".

LINDSAY CZARNIAK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here is the deal. The Rockets knew the series nearly over if they dropped two straight at home. They knew they had to do something drastically different. Golden State plays so fast.

They essentially gave the Warriors a taste of their own medicine. They changed the tempo from the start and it really paid off. The Warriors were left scrambling. You see that move there. They struck early and fast, Chris Paul playing with such confidence.

Look at this. The crossover on Steph Curry. P.J. Tucker scored 22 points and five 3-pointers. The Rockets with five players (INAUDIBLE) in double figures, three who had at least 22. Mike D'Antoni has confidence that his team's style of play all along.

And to the NHL we go. If you haven't seen this, the biggest (INAUDIBLE) pregame festivities, it is almost worth the ticket just for that. Last night, it looked kind of "Game of Thrones," that's scary if you're sitting in the stands.

Look at this, the arrows symbolizing the opponents they've eliminated. Struck them out one at a time.

We get to the game action now, game 3 of the Western Conference finals. Vegas made a statement early. They scored in the first minute. And then Marc-Andre Fleury, a remarkable night, 33 save, Vegas two wins away from advancing to the Stanley Cup finals.

I'm not going to share the move he just made. I know.


CZARNIAK: And they're proving everybody a little crazy. Sometimes the competition puts you over the edge. Tennis star Karolina Pliskova a serious set in the title open. She was upset because she fell to her opponent and then she took it out on her racquet. (INAUDIBLE) --


BRIGGS: Been there.



BRIGGS: Temper tantrums.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You got to contain it.


CZARNIAK: Anyway, we hope that she has a better day. Look at that. That is aggression. That's aggression.

All right. One of my favorites this morning. Yanny or Laurel? We were talking about this yesterday, so was the rest of the world after the audio clip went viral.

Which do you hear? It depends on decibels and frequency and all that, too technical. The NBA crew (INAUDIBLE) had fun with it. As usual, Charles Barkley in the midst of it all.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yanny. Yanny. Yanny.

CHARLES BARKLEY, ESPN: I thought I heard doughnut.



CZARNIAK: They were having some fun with him and really saying it in his ear, I think. But man, someone tweeted me and said that if you stand back farther, that you hear the different word. You can actually hear them both.

BRIGGS: This went around the world. My kids were baffled by it. Everyone was. But we decided it was Laurel.


ROMANS: It was a wonderful distraction. I'll be honest.


ROMANS: A nice distraction. BRIGGS: I think that the world needed it.

ROMANS: Yes, we sure did.

BRIGGS: Lindsay, thank you.

CZARNIAK: You're welcome.

ROMANS: All right, the president's lawyer says he's been told by the special counsel's team the president cannot be indicted.

So what is Robert Mueller's move if he finds wrongdoing?