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EARLY START

Trump Contradicts Aides On Comey Firing; President Reveals Details Of Dinner With Comey; Sessions In Legal Trouble?; Colbert Trolls Trump. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired May 12, 2017 - 05:30   ET

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


[05:31:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president took strong and decisive leadership here.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: And 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, ANCHOR, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS: But you had already made the decision?

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN HOST: The newest timeline on James Comey's firing straight from the president and it contradicts everything this staff and his own letter has said. Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody, I'm Dave Briggs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST: And I'm Christine Romans. It's 31 minutes past the hour. It is Friday, folks, and up first, contradictions -- confusion from this 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 go against what aides have been saying since Comey was dismissed on Tuesday.

BRIGGS: After saying for days the move was based on recommendations from his deputy attorney general, Trump now says the call was his and 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 had made the decision before they came in the room.

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

HOLT: Because in your letter you said I accepted their recommendations.

TRUMP: Yes. Well, they also --

HOLT: But you had already made the decision.

TRUMP: Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation. They -- he made a recommendation. He's highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy, and 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. And, 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. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: There was a possibility of a visit by the president to FBI headquarters today. That has been nixed by the administration after being told Mr. Trump would not be greeted warmly. The White House now claiming that trip was never even finalized though. 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 in 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 very early on.

HOLT: He asked you to dinner?

TRUMP: Dinner was arranged. I think he asked for the dinner. And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head and I said, you know, I'll consider -- we'll see what happens. But we had a very nice dinner and at that time he told me "you are not under investigation." So he said it once at dinner and then he said it twice during phone calls.

HOLT: 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, will you let me know am I under investigation?" He said, "You are not under investigation."

JONES: So there you heard the president acknowledging that he had several conversations with the FBI director that included discussions about an ongoing investigation. 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: 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. That reaffirms reporting from CNN's Jake Tapper that the president fired Comey, in part, over that lack of loyalty. The "Times" reports that dinner took place on January 27th.

[05:35:13] ROMANS: All right, that's 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 his NBC interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: My White House counsel, Don McGahn, came back to me. It did not sound like an emergency of any -- it 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, in my opinion, a very good person. I believed 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 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: All right. Let's discuss this with "CNN POLITICS" reporter Eugene Scott. Let's stay on that particular sound bite there. You heard him say that Flynn was a very good person and that there was no emergency. That Flynn -- the suspicion of the agency that Flynn could be compromised by the Russians was not --

BRIGGS: Your national security adviser.

ROMANS: Right -- was not an emergency. What does this say about the frame of reference of the President of the United States?

EUGENE SCOTT, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: It seems like he is, quite frankly, out of touch with the American people. We have polling that supports that many people -- the majority of people, in fact, do think that this is a national emergency and something of significant concern. So whether or not he thinks it rises to the level of meeting this type of attention, he disagrees with many people. Now granted, once we control those points for his base, perhaps that's why he doesn't think it's very important.

But I think what's more telling is if you see how he spoke about Flynn it was very personal. It was about his character. This isn't really about your friendship with Flynn. This is about his performance as a national security adviser during the campaign and even once he got into the White House.

ROMANS: I think President Trump -- we've seen this before. He doesn't like to be wrong --

SCOTT: Yes.

ROMANS: -- and he doesn't admit when he's wrong.

SCOTT: Yes.

BRIGGS: Well, he's --

ROMANS: And he's holding on to the Flynn case as, you know, Flynn was -- he -- you know, Flynn was his pick.

BRIGGS: The senior --

SCOTT: No one likes to be wrong but this isn't making him look better in not responding the way that many people involved with more information are saying he should.

BRIGGS: To that point though there was a senior administration official that told "Time" magazine one of three rules of Trump is never apologize. But I want to get what's on "The New York Times" that we just mentioned a short time ago confirming Jake Tapper's reporting that loyalty was at the heart of all of this. That the president demanded a loyalty pledge multiple times to the FBI director. How chilling is that? What are the implications of that?

SCOTT: I think one of the big implications of that they're not paying a lot of attention to is if he demanded loyalty from Comey and didn't get it, he's likely going to do the same thing from Comey's replacement to put someone in that position. And so the question becomes whoever's coming after Comey, will their loyalty primarily be to Donald Trump or will it be to the American people and the multiple cases at the FBI that need to be investigated and that we need answers and solutions to?

ROMANS: Where does the investigation go from here? I mean, we heard from other guys -- you know, the acting director yesterday was on the Senate Intel Committee, I think -- it was a committee hearing. He said, you know, the investigation is going to go forward. They're still working on it. But what does this mean for the investigation into Russia ties? You know, the president has called it a charade that needs to end.

BRIGGS: Right.

SCOTT: Right. We had his boy Roger Stone on yesterday calling it the scandal in search of evidence. It's very clear from some of our sources in the White House that the Trump administration wants this investigation to end. It's not that they had a problem with how Comey was handling the investigation, they wanted out. Now the reality is that people who are critical of Russia and Trump campaign's relationship want this to continue. Depending on who will make the strongest argument and be able to put forth the most evidence saying that this needs to continue and this is why, I think that's how we're going to be able to determine what happens next.

ROMANS: Or as long as they don't let the Russians in the Oval Office. Imagine what the optics would be of that. Oh, wait, they did.

BRIGGS: For the man at the center of the entire scandal, Sergey Kislyak. But look, if the intention of the president was to do away with this Russia investigation, to lessen its impact, this was an enormous, enormous backfire, but at the center of it is Jeff Sessions.

SCOTT: Sure.

BRIGGS: The attorney general who recused himself from the investigation because he wasn't entirely honest with Congress, and "The Washington Post" has a good article about this, this morning, by Jennifer Rubin. In this story -- we'll put up some of it for you -- but in this story Norman Eisen, who is an ethics expert, says "The fact that he broke his recusal commitment violates an agreement and can sometimes, in itself, be an ethics violation." Is there trouble for Jeff Sessions on the horizon?

[05:40:18] SCOTT: It certainly seems like it. We've had Norm here and he knows way more about ethics than I, but we certainly also had some Democratic lawmakers. One of them, Kamala Harris, who is a lawyer in her own right and involved in these type of matters at the state level, and has said that Sessions' actions -- his involvement definitely go against what he told the Senate when he testified. He said he would recuse himself. It seems like he has clearly been involved in the decision to remove Comey and so that definitely is a conflict of interest right there.

But the reality is critics of Sessions have said this has been the issue all along. It's not like Sessions was not involved in the Trump campaign from the earliest days and so we should not be surprised that he handled this situation in a way that his critics think make him look more favorable than not.

ROMANS: All right, Eugene Scott. So nice to see you this morning.

SCOTT: Always.

ROMANS: Thanks, have a great weekend.

SCOTT: You, too.

ROMANS: All right. The downward spiral for retail continues. Sales at Macy's, Kohl's, Dillard's all plunged last quarter. Retailers blamed weak consumer spending at the start of the year. While experts expect a rebound in shopping dollars they don't think it's going to help traditional stores. They're still losing the sales battle against online shopping giants. You know, Amazon sales jumped 23 percent during the same time period. Walmart sales have had a real renaissance since Walmart boosted its digital shopping experience.

But as brick and mortar stores struggle to grow sales, investors lose confidence. Look at the stocks in some of these. Macy's stock down 17 percent after announcing that drop in sales. Really, all of these did poorly here yesterday. Kohl's, JCPenney, Sears all finishing much lower. It's not just Wall Street here. Retail companies employ one in 10 Americans and that industry has shed tens of thousands of workers in recent months, so that has been a part of the job market that's been very important to watch here.

BRIGGS: That is scary. All right. Stephen Colbert taking on President Trump after the president took aim at the late-night host.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Oh, no. Oh, no. Please, oh, please, don't make me trend on Twitter again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: More of Colbert's Trump-trolling when EARLY START continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:46:30] ROMANS: Stephen Colbert is trolling President Trump. It all started when the president personally attacked the late-night host along with members of the media in a wide-ranging interview with "Time" magazine. He referred to Colbert as "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 claimed his appearance on Colbert's show led to the highest rating ever. Here now is 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 -- yay. Don't you know I've been trying for a year to get you to say my name? And you were very restrained -- admirably restrained, but now you did it. I won. You're not wrong. I do occasionally use adult language and I do it in public instead of in the privacy of an "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD" bus. And it's true the night you appeared on the show, right over there, it 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. But don't worry, you won the ratings college. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The president also attacked CNN anchors Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon. CNN releasing a statement saying Mr. Trump's comments are "beneath the dignity of the office of the president."

BRIGGS: The president also taking to Twitter to tweet his old nemesis, Rosie O'Donnell. Yes, really. 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 for real. They have the proof you are a sadistic man."

ROMANS: So he found a tweet from her from December and --

BRIGGS: It popped up on Reddit yesterday. But how is the president using his time? Clearly not so well. It's time for a look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY." Chris Cuomo joining us this morning. Chris --

ROMANS: You lunatic.

BRIGGS: -- I guess the world awaits your rebuttal to the president, himself.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: The president can say what he wants. It is completely his prerogative. We just got to do our job and it gets harder every day. But look, I mean, I think what you're seeing with him lashing out is his desire to try to control a situation which has completely gotten out of his control. We're breaking down President Trump's latest interview and what you see now is a collapsed timeline. What the White House wanted you to believe about Jim Comey's firing is simply not true and we're going to talk about why that matters as the administration moves forward.

Plus, he's calling out the attorney general and demanding emergency hearings. Why is this happening on the political side now? What will be the reaction to the firing of Jim Comey? We have some big-time Congressmen on. Elijah Cummings is going to join us to tell us what he's going to do to hold the White House accountable. What do you do to ensure the administration of justice in this country as fair? You know, it sounds like a pretty simple proposition but it's gotten very complex, so we're going to look at through that lens today.

And, you know, in terms of -- look, the president -- his unique style must be seen as a plus and a minus. No, please, go back to Dave and Christine. It is their show. But, you know, his unique style is what -- is a plus-minus for him. It just is. I really wish he would come on the show, do more interviews with us. It makes it easier for coverage, it's better for the audience, and frankly, I think that the president is never better than when tested. So we'll see how it develops, but they've got themselves in a big hole with credibility and credibility counts.

[05:50:24] ROMANS: Yes.

BRIGGS: There you have it, Mr. President. An invitation to join Chris Cuomo --

CUOMO: Open invite.

BRIGGS: -- anytime.

ROMANS: Thanks, Chris.

BRIGGS: All right, see you in a bit.

ROMANS: All right. Good news for drivers. The cost of gasoline for your summer vacay just got cheaper. CNN Money Stream is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIGGS: Steve Harvey has no regrets after a stunning memo to his show staff was leaked by a blogger this week. The memo warned employees not to speak or approach him. We're quoting here. "Do not come to my dressing room unless invited. Do not approach me while I'm in the makeup chair unless I ask to speak with you directly." Sorry, I'm trying to keep a straight face here. This is real, though. Harvey also insisted that all those intending to communicate with him

schedule an appointment, writing in all caps, "IF YOU OPEN MY DOOR, EXPECT TO BE REMOVED."

Harvey now tells "ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT" the memo was meant to ask everyone to honor and respect his privacy. Harvey's talk show is ending its five-year run in Chicago. His new L.A.-based show premieres in September.

[05:55:37] We always talk about optics and why they matter on Capitol Hill and in the White House. The optics of this -- you're supposed to be the everyman talk show. You're not the cable news king who's by no means supposed to be the nice guy. This is some brutal optics.

ROMANS: And all I ask for is a couple of sugars in my tea.

BRIGGS: Well, and for salty chips.

ROMANS: Thanks for the sugar. Thank you -- and some chips.

BRIGGS: Which I provided to you earlier this morning.

ROMANS: This is true. Yes, your job is to get me chips once a day.

BRIGGS: I like buttered toast. Could I get some of that? The president wants two scoops of ice cream. We found out that in a "Time" magazine interview yesterday.

ROMANS: All right, 56 minutes past the hour. Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream before we let you go this morning. U.S. futures lower. Global markets are mixed. Wall Street closed down after retail stocks tanked the market. Don't feel too bad, though. Markets are still near all-time highs and investors are already looking forward to more earnings today in a very strong earnings seasons. Companies have been doing well. Also on the radar, a weekend meeting of the finance chiefs from the world's top economies. That happens in Italy.

Are you driving this summer? You're getting a break at the pump. Gas prices have fallen every day -- every single day for the past three weeks. The average right now for a gallon of regular, $2.34. That's an eight cent drop and that's unexpected here. You know, gas prices usually rise, Dave, in the summer because refiners switch to a more expensive blend. But you've got this glut in the oil market that has pushed down prices. Oil has now fallen about 11 percent in the past month and that has concerned OPEC so much that it's asked the U.S. to cap its output to help balance the market. But falling oil prices, those act as like a tax cut for consumers --

BRIGGS: Sure.

ROMANS: -- so the real-feel temperature there is good for folks.

Now, Tennessee -- you're looking at Tennessee students. It is the first state to make community college free for all adults. State lawmakers are expanding a 2014 program to include all adults with no college education, free. This was originally designed for recent high school grads but they're broadening this out. The goal here in Tennessee is to increase the number of residents with degrees to 55 percent of the population by the year 2025, and the reason is simple, jobs. The most recent weekly earnings for a person with a high school degree is $702. Someone with a college degree makes $1,280 -- the idea being if you can help get more education they can get better jobs. Those better jobs pay more and the state wins in the end, right?

BRIGGS: OK. No such thing as a free lunch.

ROMANS: No, so they're paying with it with the lottery. They have a state lottery and they're using some of the lottery funding to pay for that.

BRIGGS: Which falls on the burden of low-income Tennessee residents.

ROMANS: You are always looking for the --

BRIGGS: I need the right blanket. Just fiscal responsibility.

ROMANS: There you go. Well, you know -- you know how I feel about the lottery in general. I think it's --

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: I think -- your chances of winning the lottery are just about as good if you don't win it -- play it as if you do play it, you know, so -- anyway --

BRIGGS: Indeed.

ROMANS: Thanks for joining us this morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now with Chris Cuomo and Poppy Harlow filling in for Alisyn Camerota. It should be a fascinating show -- enjoy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey -- my decision.

ROMANS: The president's timeline contradicts everything the White House has been saying.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Nobody was in the dark.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When was the decision made to fire Mr. Comey?

TRUMP: He's a showboat, he's a grandstander.

ANDREW MCCABE, ACTING DIRECTOR, FBI: Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI.

TRUMP: Am I under investigation? He said you are not under investigation.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't see that as a conflict of interest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This investigation will go forward and will be complete.

TRUMP: I said to myself, Trump and Russia is a made up story.

MCCABE: Simply put, sir, you cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing.

TRUMP: So if Russia did anything having to do with our election I want to know about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CUOMO: All right. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Friday, May 12th, 6:00 here in the East. Alisyn is off, Poppy Harlow joins me this morning --

POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: Good to be here.

CUOMO: -- and this is a big day. It is good to have you. Up first, the initial explanation for why President Trump fired Jim Comey was untrue. The president contradicting himself. And worse, in an interview we're going to bring you this morning, the president acknowledging he actively tried to interfere in the Russian investigation and that it was his displeasure with that probe that drove his ouster of the FBI director.

HARLOW: The president also detailing for the first time those three conversations he claims he had with Director Comey about the Russia investigation.