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EARLY START

Senate Intel Panel Says Russia Meddled To Help Trump; Republicans In Moscow; EPA Administrator Pruitt "Inching Forward To The Tipping Point; Boys Trapped In Thailand Cave Learning To Scuba Dive. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired July 4, 2018 - 05:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:31:03] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The Senate Intel Committee with a sharp break from the House. They say Russia did try to help Donald Trump win the election. Will the president admit as much as he readies for his summit with Vladimir Putin?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Is Scott Pruitt nearing a tipping point? The president is evaluating ethics lapses for the EPA administrator. CNN has learned he also suggested replacing Jeff Sessions with himself.

BRIGGS: And that youth soccer team remains trapped in a Thai cave with no clear way out just yet. Diving considered a big risk but more rain could force rescuers to act. And a fascinating development we have for you shortly concerning perhaps a way out straight up.

Welcome back to a holiday edition of EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

A live report from Thailand straight ahead.

ROMANS: Happy birthday, America. I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour and no shortage of headlines 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 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.

BRIGGS: Meantime, the lawyer for Peter Strzok says the embattled FBI agent may not comply with the House Judiciary Committee subpoena ordering him to appear early next week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AITAN GOELMAN, ATTORNEY FOR PETER STRZOK: My client will testify publicly soon, somewhere, sometime. We've been forced to come to the 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

ROMANS: A rare trip to Moscow for Republican members of Congress. Eight GOP lawmakers meeting with Russian officials ahead of a summit later this month between presidents Trump and Putin.

Let's go live to Moscow and bring in CNN's Matthew Chance -- Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and it's been years really since there's been such a high-level congressional delegation to Russia from the United States and it's interesting because of that. And Russians are seeing it as a hopeful sign because we had John Bolton here visiting -- the U.S. national security adviser -- last week.

Now, this congressional visit and also leading up to the summit that's being planned between Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and U.S. President Donald Trump in Helsinki in Finland on the 16th of July. And so the hope here in Russia amongst many Russian officials is that the corner has been turned in the very sketchy relationship between Washington and Moscow.

The nature of discussions here quite interesting. These senators, led by Sen. Shelby of Alabama, of course, and mixed messages on what the tone of those discussions were. They're all Republicans.

There's no Democrats amongst this congressional delegation. That's been noted by the Russians. The Russians saying that Democrats are clearly too critical of the Russians, essentially, to come here.

But the tone of discussion is difficult -- depends on who you listen to you. Senator Shelby saying he'd not come here to criticize, saying we could be adversaries between Moscow and the United States but there's no need for them to be enemies.

But, Gov. Neely Kennedy (sic) of Louisiana saying that he asked his counterparts here in Russia not to interfere in U.S. elections this year in the midterms and he asked them to get out of Ukraine and help in bringing peace to Syria. And so, his remarks indicating the tone was a little tougher than was indicated by the other senators, like Sen. Shelby, who are visiting here.

[05:35:13] So again, meetings with various people including Sergey Kislyak, who you may remember was the former Russian ambassador to the United States implicated in so much of the collusion allegations with the Trump team. He was meeting these senators, too.

ROMANS: Fascinating. All right, Matthew Chance for us in Moscow this morning. Thank you.

BRIGGS: OK. A senior administration official telling CNN EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is quote "inching to the tipping point" with all the ethics questions he now faces.

CNN has also 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 Reforms 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 not commenting. Pruitt put out a statement calling the report false.

ROMANS: The Trump administration discouraging the use of race to achieve diversity in college admissions. The administration rescinding Obama-era guidance that promoted race as a factor -- affirmative action.

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. Now, those documents offered easy-to-follow explanations of complicated immigration laws.

We have seen this again and again and again. If it was guidance or a policy or a rule put in place by the Obama administration, the first rule of business of this administration is to unwind it -- first thing.

BRIGGS: And some feel an attempt to divide further along racial lines but we shall see.

ROMANS: All right.

Let's bring back "CNN POLITICS" digital director Zach Wolf. Zach, good morning.

Let's talk about this intel committee -- Senate intel committee finding here because a fascinating report here. Let me read to you from it.

"We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Sec. Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.

We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for president-elect Trump."

There, that's settled -- maybe not.

ZACHARY WOLF, DIGITAL DIRECTOR, CNN POLITICS: Yes.

ROMANS: Does the president accept it?

WOLF: Well I think, first of all, it's interesting you said 'we'. The quotes there are all 'we' and it's Republicans and Democrats on that committee both signing on to say that they agree with the intelligence community.

Meanwhile, just recently, this week, President Trump has been tweeting Russia says they didn't do it and essentially we must believe them.

So we have basically two narratives that you can choose from in this country right now.

There's the one put out by the very apparatus of the U.S. government and endorsed by a bipartisan committee. Not endorsed by a partisan apparatus over at the House side but endorsed by a bipartisan committee in the Senate. Or you can choose sort of the innuendo trail that President Trump has been putting out like crumbs on Twitter.

Those are kind of the two options I think that we have to trust right now.

BRIGGS: But again, your point that the word 'we' might be the most --

ROMANS: Bipartisan.

BRIGGS: -- important part because bipartisan findings that they meddled trying to help the president. Not much is 'we' today.

It also appears that we, both sides, are beginning to agree that Scott Pruitt, at some point, has to go. His ethical lapses, his scandals -- there's about, at this point, one for every hot dog Joey Chestnut will eat later today on Coney Island.

ROMANS: Look at the scroll -- the slow scroll. We have to scroll it so you can see all of it.

BRIGGS: But there's only 20 minutes left in the program so we can't get to all of them. But the latest, he suggested replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions with himself. Yes, the chief law enforcement in terms of the United States with a man with those ethical lapses.

And even the right maybe now turning. Laura Ingraham, conservative radio host and Fox News host, tweeting, "Pruitt is the swamp. Drain it."

Can he continue to survive? If he does, what does it tell you?

WOLF: It's incredible to me that he has continued to survive. I mean, that list -- the scroll that you just put out -- we've been talking about Pruitt and his ethical problems for months -- for five or six months now since we first heard that he was getting that apartment -- the cheap apartment from lobbyists which it's -- it is mindboggling that he still has a job. If he's inching towards the tipping point how has he not gotten there yet? It's a -- it's a -- it's a marvel of Donald Trump's Washington and I think it says something about either the work that he's doing or the fact the president doesn't want to cave to sort of the chattering --

[05:40:12] ROMANS: Yes.

WOLF: -- in the media about this. It's one of those two things and I'm not sure which.

ROMANS: I think it's -- or it's both of them because you've heard them say as long as he's gutting regulations that they find onerous, that that's the most important thing with the work that he is doing. Plus, the president doesn't like to be told what to do, right? We know that.

WOLF: Right.

ROMANS: He wants to make his --

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: -- own calls.

But just the most recent scandals for him, he's got a whistleblower talking about how young staffers were told to use their personal credit cards to get hotel rooms for him. And then, these young staffers who presumably don't make very much money were like you got -- you got to pay us back, among many other things that he's -- that have come to the front. It's like a scandal a day.

BRIGGS: Yes. I mean, look, he loves himself a good reality show -- the president. If the SCOTUS is "THE APPRENTICE" this is "SURVIVOR" so we will continue to watch that space.

ROMANS: Oh, well done.

BRIGGS: Yes. Zach Wolf --

WOLF: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- thank you, sir. Appreciate it. Happy fourth. Enjoy the holiday.

WOLF: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right.

Ohio Republican Congressman Jim Jordan is denying an explosive report he 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 say Jordan did now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

He's not telling the truth because he did know, he has knowledge, he was there over eight years. It's impossible to ignore the training environment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

BRIGGS: President Trump firing up the Twitter account to remind everyone he is a best-selling author and highly-skilled writer. But all that patting himself on the back just backfired.

Look at the president's now-deleted tweet from last night in which he writes, "The fake news constantly likes to pour (P-O-U-R) over my tweets looking for a mistake."

That's right. In a tweet about spelling, the president misspelled the word pore. It's P-O-R-E.

That sparked some Internet fun. The folks at Merriam-Webster tweeting out the definitions of pore over, pour over, and comb over for good measure, along with a cute little emoji resembling the president.

ROMANS: J.K. Rowling, you know that --

BRIGGS: J.K. Rowling also.

ROMANS: -- of "Harry Potter" had some really funny things to say about it.

BRIGGS: I think it was just ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha retweeted --

ROMANS: Yes --

BRIGGS: -- about 50,000 times.

ROMANS: -- and then she said -- yes, and then she said something like somebody told him how to spell the word "pore" correctly -- but, oh my, OK. So there we go with that.

BRIGGS: Ahead, no clear solution for rescuing that youth soccer team stuck in a cave in Thailand. Some think the effort may have to wait until October. But an interesting sign ahead in our live report from Thailand, next on EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:47:37] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 of diving and putting them into a complete blackout situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Now that rescuers in Thailand have finally reached those 12 trapped boys and their soccer coach, there is a frantic effort to figure out how to get them out. The area where they're stranded can only be accessed through a narrow, flooded channel.

Teaching the boys how to scuba dive now a top priority, though it's considered less than ideal. Other options include waiting for the rainy season to end in October to begin a rescue operation.

CNN's Anna Coren live at the cave site in northern Thailand with an update. Good morning, Anna. What are you hearing?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave, I can tell you those kids do not want to stay in that cave until October. Yes, they are weak. Yes, they need time to rebuild their strength, but they certainly don't want to be stuck in the dark -- in the blackness for the next few months.

It has been 11 days now since they were trapped inside that cave and we know that authorities are doing everything they can to look at the best options as to how to extract them.

Obviously, their being focused very much on the diving method. That being these boys wearing full-face oxygen masks.

Navy SEALs would be wearing the oxygen tanks, guiding them through those very narrow passageways. Some areas they'd be able to walk; other areas they'd be able to float. But by and large, we know that it would be extremely challenging.

Now, interestingly enough, Dave, we got word that one of the boys told the divers that he heard a rooster. Now, initially, they thought he was hallucinating but roosters live in this jungle and he said I grow up -- I grow up on a farm. I know what a rooster sounds like.

So they now believe that there could be an air hole close to where the boys are situated. So a team have gone up that mountain today and they are looking for those air holes because if they can find it that would just be a so much safer and easier way to bring those boys out of the cave. BRIGGS: Just an incredible story minute-by-minute, yet teaching these kids to scuba dive and getting out these narrow passageways difficult if not impossible.

[05:50:05] Anna Coren, thanks so much for your live reporting. You'll have more updates throughout "NEW DAY," which is about 10 minutes away.

Alisyn Camerota joining us. Alisyn, happy Fourth of July.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Happy birthday, America, and to you.

BRIGGS: Something occurred to me when walking through the halls of CNN this morning and it was the evolution of your co-host John Berman's facial expression over the years that really struck me. And a former co-host, Christine Romans, navigate this for me.

ROMANS: Yes. So look, we're showing you the publicity photos of John and his anchor teams. As you can see, he's had --

BRIGGS: First, with Poppy, he's --

ROMANS: John sort of gets around, right? So let me show you first, John and Poppy. You can see his big smile --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

ROMANS: -- if you can see that, everybody.

There's John -- no, that's --

CAMEROTA: That's with me.

ROMANS: That's --

BRIGGS: That's a smirk.

CAMEROTA: That's a sour smile.

ROMANS: That's a smirk.

There's John and Poppy.

BRIGGS: That's a smile with Poppy.

ROMANS: And then I found this because I keep this as a -- as a testament of our time together. This one that is my publicity photo --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

ROMANS: -- with John.

CAMEROTA: Where is it?

ROMANS: Here it is and he's got a big, broad smile there, too. CAMEROTA: Look how happy he is there.

BRIGGS: Well, that's a half-smile.

ROMANS: You think that's a half-smile?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: No.

BRIGGS: I think it was biggest with Poppy --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

BRIGGS: -- in the middle with you, and smirking with Camerota.

ROMANS: Yes, and Alisyn --

CAMEROTA: John --

ROMANS: -- what do -- what do you make? Read this body language for us Alisyn and tell us what you -- what you make of it.

CAMEROTA: John, why are you so sad?

BERMAN: First of all, Romans got the picture, I got the kids in the separation. Let me tell you that.

Second of all, it's because I'm smiling on the inside --

CAMEROTA: Are you?

BERMAN: -- with you.

CAMEROTA: Are you?

BERMAN: I guess -- no, you know what it is?

CAMEROTA: What is it?

BERMAN: It's just I'm just going to devour the news. I look hungry in that photo.

CAMEROTA: Yes, you're a voracious news consumer.

BERMAN: I am voraciously going to go eat the news.

CAMEROTA: Also, I do appreciate --

BERMAN: Yes.

CAMEROTA: I mean, even if he's not smiling he is peddling "Amanda Wakes Up" every minute of the day and that's better than a smile, OK? That is much better because America wants to know what John Berman is reading and for his beach read it's "Amanda Wakes Up."

BRIGGS: "Amanda Wakes Up."

ROMANS: I love it, I love it. I know John --

BRIGGS: That makes us all smile.

ROMANS: John has a lot of homework to do before each of these shows and I think that's -- all of these are home --

CAMEROTA: That's how he does it.

ROMANS: These are homework pictures -- the homework faces --

CAMEROTA: That's how -- yes.

ROMANS: -- in each of these.

BERMAN: It's naughty homework in this book. I'm just saying.

CAMEROTA: John likes the naughty part.

BERMAN: There's naughty parts in this book.

ROMANS: There was some racy -- I like the racy part of that book, too.

BRIGGS: One thing is clear, John gets around here at CNN.

CAMEROTA: Yes, that --

BRIGGS: I mean, that --

CAMEROTA: That is really what the message is. He can't keep a co- host. That's the message here, OK? What -- how do you alienate women?

BERMAN: It's funny because it's true. I don't know. The thing is -- the thing is I've been with one -- in real life, I've been together with my wife since the Reagan administration.

CAMEROTA: Prove it.

BERMAN: And--

CAMEROTA: Has anyone ever seen her?

BERMAN: My wife --

CAMEROTA: Wife -- where is --

BERMAN: -- that I met a Niagara Falls.

CAMEROTA: -- she?

BERMAN: We get together on the weekends.

BRIGGS: We have come off the rails.

BERMAN: Yes. ROMANS: Happy birthday, America, guys. Nice to see you this morning.

CAMEROTA: You, too. Have a great holiday.

ROMANS: All right. Bye, guys.

BRIGGS: See you in a bit.

ROMANS: You're paying more for gas this Fourth of July. How much more and why. We have that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:56:57] ROMANS: A record 47 million Americans will hit the road today fueling up on the highest gas prices in several years. The average price per gallon is $2.87, the highest July Fourth in four years and 63 cents more expensive than last year.

You can blame rising oil prices. Crude oil prices have the biggest single impact on what you pay at the pump and crude is up more than 20 percent this year. For years, major oil countries cut production to nudge prices higher so global supply is tight.

BRIGGS: Fourth of July fireworks celebrations canceled in at least a half a dozen cities and towns in Arizona due to drought conditions and extreme fire risk.

Five cities in Colorado also calling off fireworks for the same reason. Colorado officials say the Spring Creek fire has jumped by a third to about 80,000 acres in the last 24 hours.

Some are replacing fireworks with drone displays --

ROMANS: Oh, interesting.

BRIGGS: -- in particular, at Travis Air Force Base outside San Francisco. A really interesting development in order to guard against things like canceling them in Colorado and Arizona.

ROMANS: All right, to weather now. There's been another death from the extreme heat, this time in New York City. Dangerous heat persists this Fourth of July along with some scattered storms.

Here's meteorologist Ivan Cabrera.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, guys, good morning and happy fourth and another day here with steaming weather. Temperatures in the 90s and it will feel like it's in the 100s because of the humidity. It's going to be expansive across the east.

That humidity and heat though will save us a little bit here in the fact that we'll get some showers and thunderstorms. Of course, nobody wants that by 9:00 or 10:00. Severe storm potential -- we're watching that across the Midwest once again -- millions of us. Although less across the Northeast so we're getting a little bit better each and every day. A hundred to 105 though still the heat index for a good chunk of the Midwest as well. And into the south, temperatures about 100 to 105 for the feels-like.

We do have that front that's going to be coming in. It will take a while but it will get here. We've been talking about for the weekend.

Highs from the 90s to 70s in New York. That's going to feel great. Same in D.C.

And then we're going to continue to see, of course, showers and storms in the afternoons and temperatures typical for this time of year in the upper 80s to lower 90s in places like Atlanta -- guys.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right, Ivan Cabrera. Thank you so much for that.

All right, happy Independence Day, everybody. Really enjoy your day.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

A smiling John Berman is next with Alisyn Camerota. Happy Fourth of July, everybody. We'll see you tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Putin was trying to compromise our election to try to help Trump to win.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's ridiculous. I think it's just another excuse. I don't believe it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would be very surprised if President Trump pushed hard on this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're running out of options. Diving this cave is a Mount Everest of cave diving.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are expecting heavy rains in the next couple of days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know how (INAUDIBLE). This is only the beginning of the actual rescue phase.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

CAMEROTA: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is a special holiday edition of NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, the fourth of July.

BERMAN: Happy birthday, America.

CAMEROTA: Happy birthday, America. You don't look a day over 225.

BERMAN: What do you get for the country that has everything?

CAMEROTA: Wow. Well, you dress. You emblazon the flag on your anchor's outfit.