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EARLY START

Trump Contradicts Comey Timeline; Colbert Trolls Trump; White House: Russia "Tricked" Us! Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 12, 2017 - 04:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

[04:00:10] MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president took strong and decisive leadership here.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: He took the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: To remove James Comey from his position.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: You already made the decision?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump directly contradicting his top advisers, let alone his own letter with the new timeline for the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

Good morning, everybody, and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday, May 12th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. And let's begin here with the contradictions, with confusion from the White House over the firing of FBI Director James Comey. In a revealing interview with NBC's Lester Holt, President Trump giving answers that directly contradict go against, directly contracts what his aides have been saying since Comey was dismissed on Tuesday.

BRIGGS: After saying for days the move was based on the recommendation from his deputy attorney general, Trump now says the call was his and was made long ago. The president also undercuts the idea that Comey was fired over the Hillary Clinton investigation, admitting Russia was on his mind.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: What I did is I was going to fire Comey. My decision. It was not --

HOLT: You made the decision before they came in the office?

TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey. There is no good time to do it, by the way. They --

HOLT: In the letter, I accepted their recommendation. You already made the decision.

TRUMP: Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.

He made a recommendation. He is highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him. The Republicans like him. He made a recommendation.

But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: There was the possibility of a visit by the president at FBI headquarters today. That's been nixed by the administration after being told the president would not be greeted warmly. The White House now claiming the trip was never really finalized.

CNN's Athena Jones with more of the president's interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave.

The president made news on several fronts in his interview with NBC. The president also revealed a little bit more, shed more light on his claim on the note delivered to Comey, the note that was his dismissal note, in which he said that the director had told him on three separate occasions that he wasn't under investigation.

Lester Holt of NBC asked him to talk about that. Here's what he had to say.

TRUMP: I had a dinner with him. He wanted to have dinner because he wanted to stay on. We had a very nice dinner at the White House --

HOLT: He -- he asked --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: -- very early on. That dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner.

And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And I said I'll, you know, consider. We'll see what happens.

But we had a very nice dinner. And at that time, he told you are not under investigation.

So, he said it once at dinner and then he said it twice during phone calls.

HOLT: Did -- did you call him?

TRUMP: In one case, I called him, in one case, he called me.

HOLT: And did you ask am I under investigation?

TRUMP: I actually asked him, yes. I said, if it's possible, would you let me know am I under investigation. He said you are not under investigation.

JONES: So, there you heard the president acknowledging he had several conversations with the FBI director and included discussions about an ongoing investigations. That is something that critics are saying is unwise at the very least. Of course, we will be watching to see what he says and does next -- Christine, Dave.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Pretty sure will. Athena, thank you.

New details emerging this morning from that private dinner between President Trump and the former FBI director. Now, according to "The New York Times", Comey is telling friends Mr. Trump demanded a pledge of loyalty from him twice during their meal. Comey says he declined, but assured the president he would be honest with him.

Now, that reaffirms supporting reporting from CNN's Jake Tapper that the president fired Comey in part over that lack of loyalty. "The Times" report that dinner took place on January 27th.

ROMANS: That is one day after former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates issued a strong warning to the White House about Michael Flynn's contacts with Russia. The president addressed the firing of his former national security adviser in that NBC interview. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: My White House counsel Don McGahn came back to me and did not sound like an emergency of any -- he didn't make it sound like he was, you know -- and she actually didn't make it sound that way, either in the hearings the other day. Like it had to be done immediately.

This man has served for many years. He's a general. He's a, in my opinion, a very good person.

[04:05:02] I believe that it would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we don't even know and immediately run out and fire a general.

We ultimately fired -- but we fired for a different reason.

HOLT: You're talking about General Flynn? TRUMP: General Flynn, yes.

HOLT: Because -- because of lying to the vice president.

TRUMP: Yes, but everything plays in -- everything plays into it. But we fired him because he said something to the vice president that was not so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Two government officials in the FBI headquarters say Comey's office has been cordoned office with yellow crime scene tape. It's not an actual crime scene. It seems the yellow tape was all the bureau had on hand to keep the curious out of Comey's office.

BRIGGS: Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe heaping praise on his former boss for the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, while also assuring lawmakers the Trump administration is not interfering with the bureau's Russia investigation. He's vowing to let lawmakers law immediately if that changes. Much of McCabe's testimony directly contradicting a number of White House claims.

The latest now from CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Good morning, Christine and Dave.

Now, the FBI trying to reassure the Senate Intelligence Committee that its investigation into Trump campaign and any of the contacts that may exist with Russian officials is still moving forward despite the stunning firing of FBI Director James Comey earlier this week.

The acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee saying that there's been no interference by the White House, saying that they have enough resources to move forward and they plan to do just that. And also contradicting the White House by saying this is a highly significant investigation, even as the White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier this week that this is really not a high priority for the FBI.

Now, at the same time, McCabe strongly pushing back at the White House's assertion saying the rank and file deeply support Mr. Comey.

ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: I can tell you also that Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day. I can confidently tell you that the majority, the vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.

RAJU: Now, this comes as Comey was invited to testify on Tuesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. No word yet if he's actually confirmed that appearance, but this would be a classified closed session and that means it would be off limits to the public. But we do know that other people in the administration plan to talk about some senators, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who also was at the center of the controversy involving the Comey firing invited to come to an all senators briefing next week to discuss the Comey firing.

So, this issue not going away anytime soon -- Christine and Dave.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Manu, thank you.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein denying reports he threatened to resign in the aftermath of the Comey firing. "The Washington Post" reported Rosenstein was angered that his memo was being used as the prime justification for dismissing the FBI director. But if he was ready to quit, he is not acknowledging it publicly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Mr. Rosenstein, did you threaten to quit from the Comey fallout?

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: No, I'm not quitting.

REPORTER: Did you threaten to quit?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Despite the denial, CNN sources say Rosenstein is unhappy with the way the White House handled the Comey firing. And those some close to him saying that he felt used.

BRIGGS: Yes, "The Wall Street Journal" has reporting that we cannot confirm. But that Rosenstein said to the White House, set the record straight. Make it clear how this went and it looks like they listen.

Meanwhile, after several days away, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer returns to the podium today. He missed the White House briefings the last two days for naval reserve duty, replaced by Sarah Huckabee Sanders. That fueled speculation Spicer was being demoted, especially after he held a bizarre briefing the other night with reporters by the White House bushes.

The administration has been under intense fire for its contradictory accounts of FBI director Jim Comey's firing in case you didn't notice, Spicer bushes great Twitter stream the other night. Some great GIFs online if you can Gooogle that..

ROMANS: All right. Stephen Colbert fighting back after the president insults him in an interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: Since all of my success is clearly based on talking about you, if you really want to take me down, there's an obvious way. Resign.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: More of the Colbert takedown, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:14:02] BRIGGS: Stephen Colbert trolling President Trump. This all started when the president personally attacked the late night host, along with members of the media in a wide-ranging interview with "TIME." He referred to Colbert as, quote, filthy and a no talent guy and claims the late show is still alive only because Colbert keeps mentioning the name Trump. The president also said his appearance on Colbert show led to the highest rating ever.

Here now, Colbert's rebuttal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLBERT: The president of the United States has personally come after me and my show and there's only one thing to say.

(LAUGHTER)

Don't you know I've been trying for a year to get you to say my name. And you were very restrained. Ad I won.

You're not wrong. I do occasionally use adult language, and I do it in the public, instead of in a privacy of an "Access Hollywood" bus.

[04:15:02] And it's true, the night you appeared on this show, right over there, was very highly rated. In fact, the only episode that got better ratings was the night I had Jeb Bush on.

That's right. You got beat by low energy Jeb. Don't worry. You won the ratings college.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Wow. The president also attacked CNN anchors, though, Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon. CNN releasing the statement saying Mr. Trump's comments are beneath the dignity of the office of president.

The president also talking to Twitter to tweak his old nemesis, Rosie O'Donnell. She tweeted fire Comey back in December. Mr. Trump responding, we finally agree on something, Rosie. O'Donnell firing back, tweeting, you don't even realize the kind of trouble you are in. Comey's people believe in him. They have the proof. You are a sadistic man.

No doubt the CNN statement reflects a lot. This is beneath the office of the president. No matter who you agree with, that a world of trouble is coming down on the White House. Their credibility is being questioned and he is going after a comedian?

ROMANS: Credibility. Dignity. A lot of words that you use in the opposite of the presidency that are under assault here right now.

So, who doesn't care about the recent firing of FBI Director James Comey? Corporate America. That's according to real estate mogul and Trump supporter Sam Zell. I sat down with him to talk about what policies, business he cares about, and his thoughts here on the Comey story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAM ZELL, REAL ESTATE MOGUL: I think it is a great event for 24-hour news. It has almost no relevance to what is going on.

ROMANS: How do we pay for tax reform? Are you worried how we pay for it without adding to deficits?

ZELL: I think the chances of not adding further deficit is remote. So, some degree of deficit creation will occur. I think 15 percent is a great idea. I think the chances of a 15 percent rate are no. But if I'm negotiating a deal and if I want to start the conversation, I'll layout something that I'm willing to come off. Just like NAFTA. Just like China manipulator.

ROMANS: You don't see the president flip-flopping. You see the deal.

ZELL: Sure. How can you not?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: How can you not?

Zell also told me that unlike former President Obama, businesses like the Trump's administration's sensitive to the economics as he says. So, again, you know, all of this drama this week about Comey and the business world, you've got stocks sitting near record highs and business leaders, businessmen like Sam Zell are saying, we like this president.

BRIGGS: And if this president would stick to the economy and stick to tax reform and stick to trying to build business and create jobs, he'd be fine here.

ROMANS: And there is one worry.

BRIGGS: These are self inflicted wounds.

ROMANS: And are these wounds going to put him further away from tax reform, you know?

BRIGGS: No doubt about it. It hurts his political leverage, accountability.

All right. Ahead, Russian photographer rejecting claims by the White House that he tricked them by taking these photos of the president with two top Russian diplomats. One, an alleged spy. The latest on the dust-up, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:22:41] ROMANS: The Russian photographer who snapped those pictures of President Trump meeting with Russia's foreign minister and U.S. ambassador. That photographer is pushing back after the White House said it was tricked by the Kremlin. The photographer calls that claim nonsense.

Of course, the photos show Trump, the president, shaking hands with Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak. U.S. intelligence considered Kislyak a Russian spy.

Administration blocked U.S. media from taking the pictures, but there was a Russian, a White House photographer allowed inside, and the president apparently did not suspect the photos would be made public. They wound up appearing on Russian state media for the entire world to see -- a propaganda win for the Russians.

Trump claims he is not worried about the optics of the meeting with the Russians, meeting with the Russians, smiling and slapping each other on the back one day after firing the FBI Director James Comey who, of course, was investigating potential collusion with the Trump campaign during the campaign.

BRIGGS: Hard to believe, my friend.

Change of plans for the Kushner family. Jared sister Nicole and other company executives won't be in attendance when the family's real estate business makes its sales pitch to Chinese investors this weekend. It comes after Nicole Kushner Meyer raised eyebrows mentioning her brother and job as the White House adviser while courting Chinese investors for a New Jersey developing project. The company later apologized.

The president's son-in-law stepped away from the Kushner companies to be part of the Trump administration.

ROMANS: Military releasing a potentially catastrophic risk with the plane in the Air Force One fleet. According to their report, the oxygen system on board one of the aircraft now available to President Trump was contaminated and could have sparked a mid-flight fire. The discovery coming while the plane was undergoing maintenance at a Boeing plant in Texas last year. The mishap by three Boeing mechanics caused $4 million damage. It did not result in any injuries and Boeing reimbursed the government for the costs.

BRIGGS: A Philadelphia judge ordering prosecutors to reverse course and charge an Amtrak engineer in a 2015 derailment that killed eight passengers and injured hundreds more. It comes after the district attorney's office said the could not prove that engineer Brandon Bostian active with conscious disregard when the train jumped the tracks as he accelerated to 106 miles an hour on a fifty-mile-an-hour curve.

[04:25:05] The judge ordering Bostian be charged with criminal counts of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment.

All right. President Trump contradicting the vice president and communications team.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey. I -- there's no good time to do it, by the way. I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: President Trump's evolving timeline for James Comey's firing. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

PENCE: The president took strong and decisive leadership here.

CONWAY: He took the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.

SANDERS: To remove James Comey from his position.

HOLT: You already made the decision?

TRUMP: I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

ROMANS: President Trump's changing timeline for the firing of FBI director James Comey.