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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. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 27, 2018 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: -- 3 percent after hours.

The Papa John's saga continues with Papa John suing Papa John's. Ousted founder John Schnatter wants access to company documents. He's investigating what he calls the, quote, "unexplained and heavy handed way" Papa John has treated him since he was revealed he used a racial slur on a conference call. Papa John's asked Schnatter to resign as executive chairman. He did. A move he says he later regretted. Papa John's said it was saddened by the lawsuit calling it needless and wasteful.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: He shall not go quietly.

All right. EARLY START continues right now with the latest on the Carr fire in California and breaking news on Michael Cohen and that Trump Tower meeting.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ROMANS: 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.

BRIGGS: While you were sleeping, North Korea handed over remains of troops killed during the Korean War to the United States. A live report straight ahead.

ROMANS: And the Carr Fire in Redding, California, has claimed its first victim. Now babies are being evacuated from a hospital as flames closed in.

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

BRIGGS: Evacuations in order. I'm Dave Briggs. Friday, July 27th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East. The good news-bad news Friday for the president. A big GDP number expected, but bad news could be top of mind.

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 that 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.


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.


ROMANS: 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 major speech about Clinton's scandals, a speech that never happened.

For more we go to CNN's 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.

BRIGGS: Jim Sciutto, with that breaking news. Thank you.

President Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani 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.


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.


BRIGGS: Lanny Davis, one of Michael Cohen's attorneys, declined to comment when contacted by CNN. Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, had much to say in a tweet, "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."

[05:05:15] ROMANS: As part of the investigation into Michael Cohen, "The Wall Street Journal" reporting the longtime finance chief of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, has been called to testify in front of a federal grand jury. 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.


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.


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

BRIGGS: 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 to help Democrats.

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 a phishing attack targeting her office mirroring tactics used successfully against Hillary Clinton's campaign manager John Podesta. McCaskill said in a statement, I will not be intimidated.

ROMANS: All right. 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. She joins us live from outside the air base -- Alex.

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. There were certainly questions about whether North Korea would honor its commitment to return these remains right up until the moment that they did. U.N. officials were aboard that cargo plane. They loaded the 55 boxes and brought them here to Osan which is the U.S. air base that is closest to the DMZ.

The boxes were met by an honor guard. They're being taken to a hangar on base where there will be a preliminary forensic investigation. That will be followed by another ceremony next week, and then the remains will be sent on to Hawaii. That's where a military lab will do the difficult work of the DNA analysis on these remains. Depending on the condition of these remains, this is work that could take months and the identification process could take years when you look at the totality of this. This is something the family members have waited decades for.

North Korea is believed to have the remains of more than 5,000 U.S. service members who were involved in the conflict on this peninsula. The fighting stopped some 65 years ago. The commitment to bring every soldier home has never wavered.

President Trump tweeted his appreciation for the gesture from North Korea. This is not just a personal move, though, not just a personal step for these families, this is also politically significant. This is a commitment that North Korea made at the Singapore summit to President Trump. It appeared that they could be wavering on this commitment. The process took longer than it was expected to. Ultimately they did return these remains. And certainly this would appear to be a sign of good faith, a positive gesture from North Korea at a time when there has been so much difficulty in proceeding with talks to denuclearize. So a good gesture here from North Korea. One that's certainly going to be celebrated and appreciated back there at home -- Christine.

ROMANS: Sure. I know there are so many families who are really looking forward to begin this process again.

Alex Field, thank you so much for that.

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


[05:13:28] ROMANS: All right. For Facebook, it was the worst day in stock market history. Shares plunged 19 percent yesterday after Facebook said it will spend billions on security cutting into profit for years. Facebook lost about $119 billion in market value. Just unbelievable. That makes it the biggest single day loss in value for a public company ever. $119 billion is more than the value of most companies in the S&P 500 including big names like Costco, American Express, Caterpillar, Lowe's, Starbucks, CVS.

The drop also took $16 billion off CEO Mark Zuckerberg's fortune. He is now at number six on the most richest person list, not number four. Facebook plans to put privacy first, a direct result of its recent data scandal. It will invest billions to combat election meddling, fake news, hate speech, conspiracy theories. Facebook says it's already working to improve its platform but it's going to cost money. In fact it just removed four videos posted by Infowars and its founder Alex Jones. Infowars is notorious for spreading hateful conspiracy theories. Infowars did not respond to a request for comment.

BRIGGS: About 1 in 3 children taken from their parents at the border remained in government custody as a court ordered deadline to reunite families expires. The government offering no timeline for tracking down hundreds of parents deported or unaccounted for.

With more, here's our immigration reporter 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.

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.

[05:15:42] 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.

BRIGGS: Tal Kopan, thank you.

2:16 in Redding, California, and the breaking news there, a bulldozer operator has died battling the raging Carr wildfire. At least three firefighters are also injured. The California National Guard is now assisting with the use of their aircraft. Five babies are being evacuated from intensive care at Mercy Medical Center. One mom-to-be was reported to be in active labor. The hospital is not under mandatory evacuation yet.

So far the fire has scorched nearly 29,000 acres and is only 6 percent contained. Officials say 20 structures have been destroyed or damaged, nearly 500 more directly threatened. The area is under excessive heat and flag warnings today with an expected high of 110 degrees.

ROMANS: All right. A new storm threat along the East Coast today. Derek Van Dam has the weekend forecast.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Christine and Dave. After all the rain we saw earlier this week, yesterday was a nice break. But guess what, there's more precipitation in store for us later this afternoon and evening. A cold front dropping south across the East Coast. And that's going to help trigger out a few showers and storms. Some of which could be strong to severe. So keep an eye to the sky from New York right through Philly and into Washington.

Large hail, damaging winds, can't rule out the potential for an isolated tornado as well. It's not the only area with the potential of severe storms. We look westward towards the plains. This is the area that the storm prediction center has put an enhanced risk of severe storms, Nebraska into Kansas and parts of Colorado. Large hail, damaging winds and isolated tornadoes also possible.

Temperatures today 86 for New York. The nation's capital at 91. Still hot and muggy across the Deep South. But not as hot as what we've experienced across the southwest. 20 million Americans under an extreme heat warning from Vegas just to the outskirts of Los Angeles. Look at triple-digit heat continuing with a, quote-unquote, cool down for Palm Springs this weekend. Back to you.

ROMANS: All right, Derek. Thanks for that.

BRIGGS: OK. A major blow to the Yankees hopes of catching the Red Sox in the AL East. Oy. Coy Wire has the story in the "Bleacher Report," ouch.


[05:23:20] BRIGGS: Yankees slugger Aaron Judge out at least three weeks after getting hit by a pitch last night.

ROMANS: Coy Wire has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report." Hi, there.

BRIGGS: Hey, buddy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Christine. Good morning, Dave. You ever get hit in that little bone right here, you sit on your desktop? It hurts. Right? New York tried to catch the red hot Red Sox just got tougher. The tenet race is heating up just over nine weeks until the playoffs and all-star Aaron Judge, 26 homers on the season takes a 93-mile-per-hour fastball to a little knob on his wrist there during the first inning against the Royals yesterday. He would stay in the game. Made some plays until the fourth inning. But eventually taken to the hospital for an MRI and a CT scan which showed a fracture. The good news, it won't require surgery.

Let's take a look at this in slow motion again. Bad news. Still 4 1/2 games back at Boston. The Yankees are without their homerun leader for at least three weeks before he can swing a bat in game competition.

All right. The Green Bay Packers, they're celebrating their 100th season this year and for that time, players and young fans have shared a unique training camp tradition. Dozens of pint sized Packers fans lining up with their bikes hoping that their heroes would choose their bikes to ride to the practice field. I got to do this as a Buffalo Bills player when we practiced there one season. And it is incredible. This has been going on since the days of Vince Lombardi. Texan superstar JJ Watt grew up in Wisconsin and he remembers going to train camps as a kid. Listen.


JJ WATT, HOUSTON TEXANS DEFENSIVE END: Every single time I see it it's still one of the coolest things in the world. You know, when I was a kid, I went up Green Bay to watch the Packers training camp and see them ride the kids' bikes down to practice. And I stood outside asking for autographs. I still remember that feeling. When I got an autograph from a player and I had no clue who he was.


[05:25:04] WIRE: All right. Here's your Friday funny. "Washington Wizard" star John Wall got roasted on Twitter so hard for this photo taken for Team USA. NBA stars are in Vegas reporting for mini-camp for Team USA. And the Wizards were proud and tweeted this photo but there were so many memes clowning it that they had to take it down. They deleted it.

Here's a before and after. You could see John Wall's a good looking dude. And Wahl admitted to "Bleacher Report" that it was so bad he told his mom and said it looks like he just got to jail. People were saying it looks like Craig's dad from Friday. Oh, my goodness.

BRIGGS: Dude, look, I feel you, John Wall. Every morning I wake up at 2:00 a.m. and I'm just, like, awful.

WIRE: You scare yourself awake, don't you?

BRIGGS: Thank God for the makeup artist here. But look, he was in Vegas. OK.

WIRE: Right.

BRIGGS: He was in Vegas. That happens. That is how you look when you wake up in Las Vegas.


WIRE: I love that he was smiling, though. He was trying, baby.

ROMANS: All right, Coy.

BRIGGS: He should have owned it. Don't delete that tweet. Thank you, Coy.

ROMANS: Thanks. Nice to see you.

BRIGGS: Good stuff.

ROMANS: All right. 26 minutes past the hour. 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.