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EARLY START

Michael Cohen Claims President Trump Knew About Trump Tower Meeting; North Korea Hands Over Remains of U.S. War Dead; Deadline to Reunite Separated Families Expires; President Threatens Turkey with Sanctions. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 27, 2018 - 04:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[04:00:17] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: That breaking news, the 2016 Trump Tower meeting was no secret to Donald Trump. The latest bombshell from Michael Cohen. And he's willing to say the same to Robert Mueller.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Sixty-five years after the Armistice was declared, North Korea has handed over remains of troops killed during the Korean War. Home to the United States.

BRIGGS: And the biggest selloff in stock market history. Facebook loses $119 billion in market value. Why and what's next week for the tech giant?

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

ROMANS: Good morning. It is Friday.

BRIGGS: Good morning.

ROMANS: Friday, right? Friday, July 27th. I'm Christine Romans. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. But let's begin here, a very busy news morning.

Breaking overnight, a revelation that could change the course of the Russia investigation. Sources telling CNN President Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen claims Mr. Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower. The meeting where the Trump team expected Russians to deliver campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Cohen's claim, if true, would contradict no fewer than 15 denials by the president, his administration, his family and his lawyers. For example, these.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Did you know at the time that they had the meeting?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I didn't know anything about the meeting.

SCHMIDT: But you know --

TRUMP: It must have been a very unimportant meeting because I never even heard about it.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Did you tell your father anything about this?

DONALD TRUMP JUNIOR, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: No. It was such a nothing, there was nothing to tell.

JAY SEKULOW, PRESIDENT TRUMP' ATTORNEY: Let's focus on what the president was aware of, nothing. He was not aware of the meeting, did not attend the meeting, and was only informed about the e-mails very recently by his counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: The president's critics have long doubted the denials. They point to phone calls Donald Trump Junior made before and after the meeting to a blocked number. The kind the president has. Critics also note two days before the meeting, the president mysteriously announced plans for a, quote, "major speech about the Clinton scandals." A speech that never happened.

For more, let's check in with Jim Sciutto in Washington.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, sources with knowledge tell myself and Carl Bernstein that Michael Cohen claims that then-candidate Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower in which Russians were expected to offer his campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton. Crucially, these sources tell us that Cohen is willing to make that assertion to special counsel Robert Mueller.

Cohen also alleges that he was present, along with several others, when Trump was informed of the Russians' offer by Donald Trump, Jr. By Cohen's account, Trump approved going ahead with the meeting with the Russians.

We should note that our sources said that Cohen does not have evidence such as audio recordings to corroborate his claim. And a source familiar with Cohen's House testimony said that he did not testify then that Trump had advanced knowledge. Cohen's claims also were not mentioned in separate reports issued by both Republicans and Democrats on that House Intelligence Committee.

Now we have reached out to a number of lawyers representing people involved. Alan Futerfas, an attorney for Donald Trump, Jr., he told CNN, quote, that "Donald Trump, Jr. has been professional and responsible throughout the Mueller and congressional investigations. We are very confident of the accuracy and reliability of the information that has been provided by Mr. Trump, Jr. and on his behalf." Christine and Dave.

ROMANS: All right. Jim Sciutto, thank you for that reporting. President Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani was pretty quick on the attack

as the news broke on CNN, questioning Michael Cohen's credibility, and calling Donald Trump's longtime fixer a pathological liar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: He's been lying all week, I mean -- or for two weeks. He's been lying for years. I don't see how he has any credibility. I mean, this is basically if you had a trial and there won't be a trial, even if you had a trial you'd say but which lie do you want to pick? You want to pick the first lie, the second lie or maybe some new lie?

This is the kind of witness that can really destroy your whole case because any finder of fact loses confidence in the case when you rely on a guy like this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Lanny Davis, one of president -- one of Michael Cohen's attorneys, declined to comment when contacted by CNN.

Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, responded in a tweet saying, "If allegation Trump OK'd June 9 meeting is true, it means he not only publicly appealed to Russia for help but privately approved receiving it. The conspiracy case may have just gotten stronger."

BRIGGS: As part of the investigation into Michael Cohen, "The Wall Street Journal" reported the longtime finance chief of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, has been called to testify in front of a federal grand jury.

[04:05:03] The "Journal" reports he is a witness in the probe of possible bank fraud or campaign finance violations by Cohen. Weisselberg's name also came up in the recording of Trump and Cohen that Cohen's lawyer gave CNN this week. The two men talked during the campaign about possibly buying the rights to a former Playmate's story claiming she had an affair with Mr. Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY TO DONALD TRUMP: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David, you know, so that -- I'm going to do that right away. I've actually come up and I've spoken --

TRUMP: Give it to me.

COHEN: And I've spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up. I'm all over that. And I spoke to Allen about it when it comes time for the financing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Neither Weisselberg, the federal prosecutor, nor the Trump Organization responded to "The Wall Street Journal's" request for comment.

ROMANS: President Trump set to meet with his National Security Council today on the subject of election security. One official says the meeting may include an update on Russian interference efforts. This week, the president tweeted Russia may try to affect the midterms pushing very hard he says to help Democrats with no evidence.

One Democrat vulnerable in the midterms, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, says Russia did try to hack her Senate computer network last year unsuccessfully. The "Daily Beast" reports there was phishing attack targeting her office mirroring tactics used against Hillary Clinton's campaign manager John Podesta. McCaskill said in a statement, I will not be intimidated.

BRIGGS: Also breaking overnight. North Korea handing over the first set of possible remains of U.S. troops killed in the Korean War. A U.S. Air Force plane carrying 55 cases of remains arrived at the Osan Air Base in South Korea.

CNN's Alexandra Field was there for the arrival and she joins us live from outside the air base.

Alex, good morning.

ALEXANDRA FIELDS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. 65 years after the fighting stopped, families back in the United States have never given up on the hope that their loved ones remains would be returned. It's believed that 5,000 sets of remains are in North Korea today. But now a small step forward, a cargo ship was sent to Wonsan, North Korea this morning. It picked up 55 boxes from North Korean officials, brought them back here to Osan Air Base to the DMZ.

The boxes were received by an honor guard. They're now being taken to a hangar on base where there will be a preliminary forensic investigation. Next week, a formal ceremony to honor these fallen service members before the remains are taken to Hawaii and that's where a military laboratory will do the forensic work, the DNA testing. Depending on the condition of these remains, it's work that could take months and it could be several years before all of the remains are identified.

But certainly so many families in the United States holding out hope that their loved ones' remains will be among those boxes that had been returned by North Korea. This isn't just personal, though. It is political. It is a sign of Kim Jong-un making good on part of the commitment that he made to President Donald Trump in Singapore.

President Trump has tweeted out his appreciation for the gesture from North Korea and underscore the importance of all this to the families. Of course, North Korea is saying that they believe that these are the remains of 55 U.S. service members. But it will take extensive DNA testing to determine whether or not these are in fact all U.S. service members' remains -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Certainly a significant step between these twp. Alexandra Field live for us this morning. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Facebook shareholders. Wow. You know what happened yesterday. The worst day in stock market history for Facebook shares. It plunged 19 percent after Facebook said it would spend billions of dollars on security putting privacy before profits. And that will cut into earnings for years. Facebook lost about $119 billion in market value. $119 billion. That's the biggest single-day loss for a public company ever.

$119 billion is more than the value of most companies in the S&P 500. What it lost is more than the value of most companies in the S&P 500 including Costco, American Express, Caterpillar, Lowe's, Starbucks, CVS. The drop also took $16 billion off CEO Mark Zuckerberg's fortune. He is now the sixth richest person. Not the fourth. He lost two spots.

Facebook plans to put privacy first. A direct result of its recent data scandal. It will invest billions to combat election meddling, fake news being spread and conspiracy theories on its platform. Hate speech. Facebook says it's already working to improve its platform. In fact it just removed four videos posted by Infowars and its controversial founder Alex Jones. Infowars is notorious for spreading hateful conspiracy theories. Facebook says the videos violated community standards against bullying and hate speech. Infowars did not respond to our request for a comment.

[04:10:02] BRIGGS: Wow. Big day. OK.

ROMANS: It really was.

BRIGGS: Also breaking overnight. The Carr Fire in Redding, California. Claiming its first victim. Now babies are being evacuated from a hospital as flames close in. We'll have the latest for you straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIGGS: About 1 in 3 children taken from their parents at the border. Some 700 of them remain in government custody as a court ordered deadline to reunite eligible families expired. The government and the group that brought the lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Unions, disagreeing over some points of eligibility. The hard work is only beginning, though. The government offering no timeline for tracking down the hundreds of parents deported or otherwise unaccounted for.

Here is CNN's Tal Kopan.

TAL KOPAN, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, the deadline for reuniting families that the government separated at the border has now come and gone and we have new numbers on exactly how many of those were reunited on time. The government last night gave us an update that roughly 1400 of those families were eligible and reunited by Thursday evening.

[04:15:08] They also said that another almost 400 of those children that they identified were released from Health and Human Services custody. But they didn't specify whether those were to a parent or some who went to family members or friends who are also in the country. Now that leaves about 700 children who were not reunited with a parent by the court deadline. And that breaks down sort of mostly with parents who are actually no longer in the country. Presumably deported.

There are also parents that they say declined to be reunified and those that they found criminal or safety issues with during the background process. Now we're going to have a new court hearing before the judge today, later this afternoon. And we'll get to hear what the judge thinks about whether the deadline was met. But although the government says it's fulfilled its obligations in terms of what it could do by this point in the process, the ACLU, which brought the lawsuit, says they that did not meet the deadline.

They argue that many of these parents who were declared ineligible are in fact eligible. The government has simply created a situation where they could not be reunified on time -- Christine and Dave.

ROMANS: All right, Tal, thank you so much for that.

Breaking news in California. A bulldozer operator has died battling the raging Carr wildfire in Redding. At least three firefighters are also injured. Five babies are being evacuated from intensive care unit at Mercy Medical Center. One mom-to-be was reported in active labor. The hospital is not under mandatory evacuation yet.

Now there are scattered power outages in the area. So far the fire has scorched nearly 29,000 acres. It's only 6 percent contained here. Officials say 20 structures have been destroyed or damaged and nearly 500 more are directly threatened.

Two Georgia police officers have been fired after using a coin flip phone app as they decided whether to arrest a woman. In April Courtney Brown and Christy Wilson pulled over Sarah Webb on suspicion of reckless driver in a video recorded by their own body cameras. The officers discussed using the app. In the end they appeared to ignore the coin flip and they arrest Web anyway.

BRIGGS: In a memo to the ex-officers, Roswell, Georgia, police chief Rusty Grant writes, "Police must be kind, considerate and patient." No comment so far from either Brown or Wilson. CNN affiliate WSB reports charges against the driver were dropped.

Seth Rogen's Wikipedia page will be getting an update. The actor, comedian, director and producer embracing his new role as the voice of public transit in Vancouver, British Columbia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SETH ROGEN, ACTOR-COMEDIAN: Any opportunity to enrich the lives of the Canadian people is an opportunity I will take.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: Rogen is from Vancouver. Has a terrific laugh. He says he grew up taking public transit and still rides it whenever he is in the city. The idea for Rogen to voice announcement on TransitLink BC was born from a social media campaign. He'll replace fellow actor Morgan Freeman who was pulled as the transit voice after a CNN investigation found a pattern of alleged harassment and inappropriate conduct toward women. A super good idea to have Seth Rogen as the voice.

ROMANS: And he's donating his time. So that's also nice, too, for his city.

All right. President Trump threatened sanctions against Turkey if an American pastor is not released. Now word that Turkey reneged on a deal that would have freed Andrew Brunson. We go live to Istanbul.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:22:56] ROMANS: President Trump threatening, quote, "large sanctions" against Turkey unless the NATO ally releases an American pastor who is now under arrest. Turkey suspects Andrew Brunson of involvement in a 2016 coup attempt. Now there's word Turkey did not follow through on deal that would have set Brunson free.

Joining us now live from Istanbul, CNN's Jomana Karadsheh.

Jomana, what can you tell us about this case?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, you know, relationship between the United States and Turkey has been strained for a few years now and the issue of Pastor Andrew Brunson has been one of the key issues at the heart of all of this and there were signs in recent weeks that relations may be improving. You see movement on several other fronts with the United States going ahead with the delivery of F-35 fighter jets despite Congress' objections to that.

Also the Pentagon and the Turkish military reaching an agreement for a road map on northern Syria. Another contentious issue. So there were signs that Andrew Brunson may be released. We also saw Senator Lindsey Graham who visited earlier this month saying that he was optimistic about this after meeting with President Erdogan as he was trying to resolve this.

And we know that President Trump has spoken to Erdogan a few times about this including during their meeting at the NATO summit earlier this month. Now we're learning really interesting new details according to reports being confirmed to us by Israeli officials. A deal was agreed upon between the United States, Turkey and Israel was involved in this for the release of Andrew Brunson.

President Trump spoke to the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on July 14th asking him to release a Turkish woman who was detained by Israel on terrorism charges. Accused of supporting or being a smuggler for Hamas. The following day, July 15th, the woman was deported to Turkey.

[04:25:03] July 18th, the trial of Andrew Brunson resumed here in Turkey. And while there was expectation to see him being released, he was not released. A few days later a court released him from prison but into house arrest. Something that seemed to have enraged U.S. officials as Turkey seems to have backed down from its end of the bargain here.

Quite extraordinary developments. We have one NATO country now threatening another with sanctions and backing President Erdogan into a corner. Something the strongman -- doesn't really go well for President Erdogan.

ROMANS: And Jomana, we're learning about this because of sources in the Israeli government because the United States has stopped these readouts of call with the foreign leaders. So we're not getting anything from the U.S. side here about phone conversations or meeting between -- the President Erdogan, the deal with President Erdogan and Benjamin Netanyahu. This is coming from Israeli sources.

KARADSHEH: That is indeed coming from Israeli sources, Christine. Reported earlier today Israeli officials confirming this to our colleagues in Jerusalem. And, you know, you've had several phone calls between President Trump and President Erdogan. And we've only heard few lines about this from Turkish officials without going into the details of what was being discussed. So and then you're not hearing it from the United States which is also quite worrying.

ROMANS: Yes. Absolutely. All right. Jomana Karadsheh, thank you so much in Istanbul for us this morning.

So much for transparency in the largest economy, the biggest democracy in the world.

BRIGGS: Well, yes. That's been closing for quite some time now.

Ahead, the denials were everywhere, but now Michael Cohen is ready to tell Robert Mueller Donald Trump knew about the infamous Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer during the campaign.

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