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Senate Intel: Russia Tried to Help Trump; CNN: Pruitt "Inching Forward to the Tipping Point"; Cave Rescue Options. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 4, 2018 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:01] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The Senate Intel Committee with a sharp break from the White House. It says Russia did try to help Donald Trump win the election. Will the president admit as much and be ready for his summit with Vladimir Putin?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Is Scott Pruitt at a tipping point? The president evaluating ethics lapses for the EPA administrator. CNN has also learned he's suggested replacing Jeff Sessions himself.

ROMANS: And a youth soccer team remains trapped in a Thai cave. No clear way out. Diving is considered a huge risk, but more rain could force rescuers to act, literally bracing against time.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to a special holiday edition of EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Do or die from "The New York Post".

It is July 4th. Happy 4th of July, everybody, 5:00 a.m. in the East. Independence Day.

We start with President Trump and the first lady who celebrated at the White House hosting military families for an afternoon picnic. No shortage of headlines, though on this holiday morning.

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee breaking dramatically with their house colleagues. The Senate panel says the intel community was correct in its assessment. Russia tried to boost candidate Trump's chances by meddling in the 2016 election. The Senate panel issued a bipartisan report, Tuesday, saying it had no reason to dispute the intel conclusion that Vladimir Putin, quote, aspired to help Trump's election chances.

That assessment, by the way, affirmed by the president's entire national security team even though the president himself has repeatedly refused to say Russia was meddling to help him.

ROMANS: Meantime, the lawyer for Peter Strzok says he may not comply with a House Judiciary Committee subpoena ordering him to appear early next week.


AITAN GOELMAN, ATTORNEY FOR PETER STRZOK: My client will testify publicly soon, somewhere, sometime, and forced them to conclusion that this is not a search for truth. It is a chance for Republican members of the House to preen and posture before their most radical conspiracy-minded constituents.


ROMANS: Strzok was interviewed behind closed doors last week for 11 hours. Republican lawmakers have been pounding Strzok for months over text messages he wrote disparaging Mr. Trump during the campaign.

BRIGGS: A senior administration tells CNN, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is, quote, inching to the tipping point, with all the ethical questions he now faces. CNN has already learned the embattled EPA chief lobbied President Trump to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions this spring and put him in charge of the Justice Department, according to three sources. Pruitt proposed temporarily replacing Sessions under the Vacancy's Reform Act and told President Trump he would return to Oklahoma afterward to run for office. White House advisers quickly shot down the idea.

The administration is not commenting. Officials at the EPA initially refused to discuss the story. Pruitt later put out a statement calling the report, quote, false.

ROMANS: The Trump administration moving ahead with dismantling Obama era policies by rescinding the guidance that promoted using race to achieve diversity in college admissions. The move does not change U.S. law, but it does refocus a spotlight on admission standards, especially with the departure of Justice Anthony Kennedy from the Supreme Court.

Also notable, Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrawing guidance documents on immigration. The documents offered easy to follow explanations of complicated immigration laws.

BRIGGS: All right. Joining us now from Washington, CNN politics digital director, Zach Wolf.

Good to see you, sir. Happy Independence Day.

ROMANS: Hi, Zach.


BRIGGS: All right. So, let's talk about this Senate intel finding. And here is the exact wording from the Senate Intelligence Committee. We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influenced campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.

Russia's goals were to undermine public faith. It goes onto add a clear preference for President-elect Trump.

What's the impact of this given the House does not necessarily agree with this finding and we're not sure what the president believes?

WOLF: Well, we know the president wants to spread a lot of innuendo. He's been tweeting about how Russia has said they didn't meddle, and maybe we should believe them -- and maybe we should believe them, which goes against now the entire U.S. intelligence apparatus, and the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The House Intelligence Committee broke a little bit. They've been definitely more -- it's felt on the president's side in this. It's been a much more partisan at fear over there for the entirety of these investigations. The senate, on the other hand, the Republicans and Democrats have been working together.

[05:05:00] And it's interesting that this is a bipartisan committee putting this out, that there is a Republican's name attached to this finding is an incredibly important thing. And it just shows you that there are not -- not all Republicans have sort of bought into questioning the intelligence community in the way the president has.

ROMANS: But we know the president for years believes what he believes and he has supreme confidence in his own gut instincts and he has said again and again, he's cast doubt on whether Russia had anything to do with this election. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I mean, it could be Russia but it could be China or lots of other people. It could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?

Maybe there is no hacking but they always blame Russia. And the reason they blame Russia because they think they're trying to tarnish me with Russia. I know nothing about Russia.

They have no idea if it's Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed someplace. I mean, they have no idea.

As far as hacking, I think it was Russia, but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.

Knowing something about hacking, if you don't catch a hacker, OK, in the act, it's very hard to say who did the hacking.

Well, I think it was Russia and I think it could have been other people in other countries. It could have been a lot of people who interfered.

I believe that President Putin really feels and he feels strongly that he did not meddle in our election. What I did there is I believe he believes that, and that's important for somebody to believe.


ROMANS: All right. So, I mean, that's a sampling.

BRIGGS: That was lengthy.

WOLF: That's incredible.

ROMANS: That's a sampling. But it shows you -- it shows you just the extent to which the president will try to cast doubt on Russia and it's -- or at least distract. How does that play? How does the president even address this when he sits down with Vladimir Putin, do you think?

WOLF: Well, you know, I think they've talked about it before, and Trump said after their first kind of side meeting on the side of one of those international events, and Trump said -- Putin said he didn't meddle and I believe him, and then there was kind of a back and forth there. It's been -- this has been one of the overriding things of his presidency. It's something we'll come back to and remember about it.

It's incredible, all of those pieces of video you put together spanning over two years, essentially of him saying the same thing, that he doesn't believe the government he now leads. It's incredible.

BRIGGS: Given the length of that sound mashup, we don't have time to go over all of Scott Pruitt many ethical lapses. That would take the rest of the program.

But let's talk about this latest theory that Scott Pruitt proposed replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions with himself, presumably he doesn't think he can survive a Senate confirmation. Let's just be clear: no way he survives a Senate confirmation.

But given all that's happened, a tweet from Laura Ingraham might sum up his position, if Pruitt is the swamp, drain it.

Again, many, many, many ethical lapses. Can he survive this? If he does, what does it tell you?

WOLF: If you're a Trump administration cabinet official and you've lost Laura Ingraham, it's not a good sign. That said, this guy has continued to hang on long after anybody, I think, thought he would be able to.

He's had his home state senator who was kind of pushing for him to get the job in the first place has questioned whether he should still be there. So, it's -- this is the remarkable survivor's story of the Trump White House so far. And, you know, his gall knows no bounds if he did indeed ask to be attorney general. That's incredible given his own ethical problems.

ROMANS: And a senior administration saying telling CNN Pruitt is, quote, inching to the tipping point. So, we shall see.

BRIGGS: Don't hold your breath. This guy has survived everything.

ROMANS: How many lives does Scott Pruitt have?

All right. Nice to see you. Thanks, Zach. Come back in about a half an hour.

Nine minutes past the hour this Fourth of July morning.

Ohio Republican Congressman Jim Jordan denying an explosive report he ignored, ignored, sexual abuse allegations when he was a wrestling coach at Ohio State. Now, the school said in April, it is investigating abuse allegations against Dr. Richard Strauss, who died in 2005. Three former wrestlers tell NBC News it was known the doctor touched students inappropriately and showered with them regularly.

Congressman Jordan telling "Politico" overnight, I never knew about any type of abuse. If I did, I would have done something about it. But wrestlers Jordan coached don't buy that.


MICHAEL DISABATO, FORMER OSU WRESTLER: For whatever reason, he's made the decision to deny something that was absolutely happening. He had knowledge of it. I have personal knowledge. His locker was next to Doc Strauss locker.

He's not telling the truth, because he did know.

[05:10:02] He has knowledge. He was there over eight years. It's impossible to ignore the training environment.


ROMANS: Ohio State says it reached out to Congressman Jordan repeatedly. That directly contradicts a statement from Jordan's office saying, quote, he has not been contacted by investigators.

BRIGGS: All right. There is no clear solution for re rescuing a youth soccer team stuck in a cave in Thailand. Some think the effort may have to wait until October.

We're live in Thailand with an update, next on EARLY START.



ANMAR MIRZA, CAVE RESCUE EXPERT: Cave diving is an incredibly dangerous activity for people who are very experienced doing it, and now you're looking at taking people who have no experience or very little experience with diving and putting them into a complete blackout situation.


ROMANS: Terrifying. Now that rescuers in Thailand have finally reached those 12 trapped boys and their soccer coach, there's a frantic effort now to try to get them out.

The area where they're stranded can only be accessed through a narrow flooded channel. So far, attempts to pump water out or to find a natural opening at the top of the chamber have failed. Now, teaching the boys how to scuba dive is a top priority, although it's not considered an ideal solution. Other options are waiting for the rainy season to end in October to begin a rescue operation, but with heavy rain expected in the coming days, rising water levels could force rescuers to move quickly. CNN's Anna Coren live at the cave site in northern Thailand.

And, you know, that initial euphoria of finding the boys, now confronted -- rescuers confronted with just a bunch of bad options.


You mentioned the diving option. Well, the boys inside the cave have been trying on these full-face oxygen masks. They look like a gas mask, but it's connected to an oxygen tank. Now, the navy SEAL divers would wear the masks while the boys are let out -- guided out of the cave.

But you mentioned these passageways. These channels, we know how small they are and they're completely filled with water. These boys cannot swim and certainly have not dived before. So, this is not what they want to do, but the boys have been trying on these masks, Christine, and they are getting more comfortable.

We spoke to the governor today. He said it won't happen today because the boys are still not back to their full strength. It is going to be some time before they are, but it doesn't mean they can't extract them from the cave before then.

We saw the stunning video of them earlier today. They were interacting, introducing themselves. They said they were healthy, but you can see from the images, they are gaunt. They are very thin. They've lost a lot of weight.

We are now up today 11. That's how long these boys have been trapped inside the cave. The entrance of it is directly behind me.

Interestingly enough, Christine, there was a slight development. We got word that one of the boys had told the divers that he heard a rooster.

Now, stay with me. When I was doing live shots this morning, I, too, heard roosters, and they are roosters that live in this jungle. If this boy has, in fact, heard a rooster, that would mean that there is an air hole close to where they are.

So, there is a team up there right now looking around the side of the cave where they know where the boys are for the air holes.

They said if they can access that and find the right one, then that would be a safe way to bring these boys to safety.

ROMANS: And that would certainly be something. Remember the Chile minor disaster. They brought the men one by one through a narrow chute they were able to drill down to that site. So, clearly, they must be looking at all kinds of options.

All right. Anna Coren, thank you so much. We'll check back with you soon.

You know, the idea of bringing them out -- you know, I'm a diver.

BRIGGS: Scuba diver, yes, me too.

ROMANS: And I'm terrified of cave diving. It's scary. And when you're in the dark and breathing through the full mask, those boys could really -- their instinct would be to try to get out.

BRIGGS: You panic under there, you're gone.

And some of the passageways, you can't be side by side. They're narrow that only one at a time can go through. Imagine how difficult that is.

If you're experienced diver, if you know how to swim, which these kids don't. So, we'll stay on it for you throughout the program.

Ahead, the shootout curse is broken. England advancing to the World Cup quarterfinals. Andy Scholes has "Bleacher Report" and the celebration, next.


[05:23:27] ROMANS: Wow.

BRIGGS: Yes. Wow is right. It's been that kind of World Cup. England with a dramatic win over Colombia yesterday to reach the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time since 2006.

ROMANS: Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report". You know, big win yesterday for England, 242 years ago, not so much. We'll let them have it.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: The irony, 242 years ago, you know, we signed the declaration of independence and here we are this morning talking some England soccer.

I can say, guys, you know, England ending their penalty kick's curse yesterday against Colombia. They were 0-3 in their history when going to a shootout in the World Cup. Their goalie coming through with a great day right there. He was pretty pumped about it. Gave us the fist pump.

Then the hopes and dreams of the entire nation riding here. He delivered sending England through, the curse of penalty kicks over for the country. And fans back home going crazy when they win this game. As you can see, it was quite the scene. I imagine the party could still be going on there.

Prince William even tweeting about the win saying, I couldn't be prouder of England. A victory in a penalty shootout. You have well and truly earned your place in the final eight of the World Cup, and you should know, the whole country is behind you for Saturday. Come on, England.

All right. It was a sad day in downtown Cleveland yesterday. The iconic LeBron James' Nike banner was removed from the Sherwin Williams building. Over the last four years, it was downtown Cleveland's top landmark.

[05:25:03] Plenty of fans trying to get one last picture. Who knows? Maybe Nike will put up one of those banners somewhere in Los Angeles.

All right. Finally, it's July 4th tradition. The 102nd Nathan's hotdog eating contest is going to take center stage later this morning. Your depending champ, Joey Chestnut, weighing in yesterday. Not really sure why. Chestnut, he's won 10 of the past 11 titles. He downed a record 72 hotdogs last year, beating his previous record of 70.

The women get going at 10:50 Eastern this morning, followed by the men at noon. And, guys, I don't know about you, guys, but I love the Nathan's hotdogs eating contest, but I have a tough time watching.

BRIGGS: It's tough to keep it down. Really, though, to me it hasn't been the same since Kobayashi. You remember Kobayashi --

SCHOLES: Yes, when he got banned?

BRIGGS: Yes, we need him back. It's like Bouncy McGwire. Well --

ROMANS: How did life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness turn into hotdogs? I don't understand the line from revolution to hotdogs as a tradition?


SCHOLES: The American tradition. Just go with it.

ROMANS: Gluttony. All right. I got it. I'm overthinking about it.

BRIGGS: Happy Fourth, buddy.

SCHOLES: All right. Same to you, guys.

ROMANS: All right. Undermine democracy, denigrate Hillary Clinton and a preference for Donald Trump. That's the assessment from the Senate Intel Committee's Russia probe, contradicting the House. Will the president accept the findings?