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EARLY START

A.G. Jeff Sessions Pushes Back; "A Number of Fatalities" in Huge London Fire; Otto Warmbier Back in the U.S.; Cosby Trial Jury Deliberations. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired June 14, 2017 - 04:30   ET

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


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[04:30:16] JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: To suggest that I participated in any collusion is an appalling and detestable lie.

I am not stonewalling.

I recused myself from any investigation into the campaign for president, but I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations.

Why don't you tell me? There are none, Senator Wyden. There are none.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Wow, it's a testy day on Capitol Hill. Defensive Jeff Sessions denies any collusion with Russia.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Another wild day on the Hill, no question.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is 30 minutes past the hour.

We start with breaking news overnight from London as hundreds of firefighters are battling a blaze that's consumed a 24-story apartment building in West London. You're looking at live pictures of this huge fire so far. Authorities tight-lipped, saying only that there have been a number of fatalities. The cause of the fire still not known.

CNN is on the scene and we'll go there with Oren Liebermann shortly.

ROMANS: All right. To politics here, Attorney General Jeff Sessions angrily denouncing claims he may have colluded with Russian officials during the election, calling them detestable lies at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Tuesday. Sessions declined to talk about his private conversations with President Trump, leaving Democrats fuming with frustration and accusing their former Senate colleague of stonewalling.

BRIGGS: The attorney general did confirm that he left then FBI Director James Comey alone with President Trump in the Oval Office on February 14th.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS: I was standing there and without revealing any conversation that took place, what I do recall is that I did depart. I believe everyone else did depart. And Director Comey was sitting in front of the president's desk and they were talking. So, that's what I do remember.

I believe it was the next day that he said something, expressed concern about being left alone with the president. But that in itself is not problematic. He did not tell me at that time any details about anything that was said that was improper.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: For the latest now, let's bring in senior congressional reporter Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

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

Now, Jeff Sessions appearing in public before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the first time he has testified publicly since becoming confirmed as attorney general and since he belatedly disclosed he had two meetings with Russian officials and maybe third meeting with the Russian ambassador after he was asked about this during his confirmation proceedings and said there was nothing of campaign- related at that time. Since then, he's recused himself of running the Russia investigation, but appearing in public yesterday before the committee for the first time, answering a number of questions and pushing back rather aggressively on the idea that he may have helped Russian officials try to sway the election for Donald Trump, including this very testy exchange with Oregon Senator Wyden.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Mr. Comey said there were matters with respect to the recusal that were problematic and he couldn't talk about them. What are they?

SESSIONS: That -- why don't you tell me? There are none, Senator Wyden. There are none. I can tell you that for absolute certainty.

WYDEN: We can -- we can --

SESSIONS: This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there by me and I don't appreciate it.

RAJU: Now, Sessions did not respond to a number of questions that Democrats had particular about his interactions with President Trump, what he discussed with President Trump with regard to the firing of James Comey, whether or not the Russia investigation was discussed in anyway. Question after question, Jeff Sessions would not answer and he would not say if there was executive privilege that was claimed by the White House, instead saying that there was some sort of Department of Justice policy that prohibited him from discussing this matter with the committee.

Democrats said -- would point to that provision within the Department of Justice guidelines. Jeff Sessions struggled to do that and also would not commit to answering questions behind closed doors. So, after the hearings, Democrats are very frustrated they did not get their answers to some key questions. Republicans are trying to move on to other areas of this investigation -- Dave and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Manu Raju, thank you.

While Democrats fumed over Sessions' testimony, Republicans used a lighter touch.

[04:35:01] Here's Senator Tom Cotton downplaying these allegations while nodding at Sessions taste for espionage thrillers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Do you like spy fiction? John le Carre? Daniel Silva? Jason Matthews?

SESSIONS: Yes, Alan Furst. David Ignatius, just finished Ignatius' book.

COTTON: Do you like Jason Bourne or James Bond movies?

SESSIONS: No. Yes, I do.

COTTON: Have you ever in any of these situations heard of a plot line so ridiculous that a sitting United States senator and ambassador of a foreign government colluded in an open setting with hundreds of other people to pull off the greatest caper in the history of espionage?

SESSIONS: Thank you for saying that, Senator Cotton. Just like through the looking glass. I mean what is this?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Bourne or Bond, I'm Bond over Bourne personally.

BRIGGS: Would you?

ROMANS: Yes. Are you really Bond over Bourne?

BRIGGS: Yes, absolutely.

ROMANS: All right. Over at the White House, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders weighed in on President Trump's behalf, saying he thought that Attorney General Jeff Sessions did, quote, a very good job.

BRIGGS: I think it's our generation, though.

(LAUGHTER)

BRIGGS: But we digress.

After a day of headlines, questioning whether President Trump might fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel still has his job for now but when Deputy Press Secretary Sanders was asked if the president has confidence in Mueller, she said, I don't have anything more to add. "New York Times" reporting this morning that gray area is by design, citing a source who spoke to President Trump on Tuesday. Paper says the president was pleased by the ambiguity of his position on Mr. Mueller and thinks the possibility of being fired will actually focus the veteran prosecutor on delivering what the president desires most a blanket public exoneration.

But the man who directly controls Mueller's fate, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told a Senate committee yesterday that as long as he holds his job, Mueller won't be fired without good cause.

ROMANS: The Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare may have hit another roadblock, this one placed there by the president himself. At a lunch meeting with the Republican senators, the president called the health care bill passed by the House, quote, too mean, and said the solution may be to, quote, add more money.

The problem with that suggestion is that doing so would likely lose crucial conservative votes for the measure. That's right. Too mean, the House bill that the president called a White House rose garden press conference to celebrate.

BRIGGS: Complete with high fives.

ROMANS: That's right. CNN's Phil Mattingly has more from Capitol Hill.

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PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, Christine and Dave, it was conceived as a status update of sorts. More than a dozen Republican senators going to the White House, sitting down with the president and the vice president, talking about where they currently stand on their version of the repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act.

Now, this is a really crucial time in those negotiations. Republicans working in a purely partisan basis, trying to figure out a path forward. But there might be a problem and that's coming from the president, himself, something he hinted at, at the top of the meeting.

Take a listen.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Senate is working very, very hard, and specifically the folks in this room I really appreciate what you're doing to come out with a bill that's going to be a phenomenal bill for the people of our country. Generous, kind, with heart. That's what I'm saying. And that may be adding additional money into it.

MATTINGLY: Now, guys, let me explain why that's an interesting comment. I'm told that behind-the-scenes after the cameras left, he reiterated that point over and over again, specifically referring to House to bill as, quote, mean, saying it didn't go nearly far enough to be generous to the people. One source telling me the president made very clear that what the House did simply wasn't sufficient and the Senate needed to head in a different direction.

At this point, there's still no clear pathway forward. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear he wants to have a vote on this bill before the Fourth of July recess. That will give them exactly 13 days to try to figure this out. I'm told by multiple people they aren't there yet. No question they are working towards it.

The bigger question right now might be what the president said in that closed door meeting. Did he hinder the entire process entirely? Christine and Dave?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Phil, thank you.

A close call, meanwhile, for former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie in his bid to become the next governor of Virginia. Gillespie narrowly defeated former Trump campaign chairman Corey Stewart in the state's Republican primary last night. Stewart made preserving Virginia's confederate history a top campaign issue.

According to most polls, he was expected to lose by double digits. But take a look at the final numbers, came within one percentage point of upsetting Gillespie, the establishment candidate far better financed in this race well.

And in the Democratic primary, also yesterday, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam defeated former Congressman Tom Perriello by nearly 12 points.

[04:40:00] ROMANS: All right. Are you buying a home? Do you have a credit card debt?

Pay attention, your borrowing rates may go up. The Fed is expected to raise interest rates today, the fourth time since December 2015.

Before that rates were near zero for a decade. This was emergency aid for a faltering economy. But the Central Bank thinks today's economy doesn't need all that help. What does it mean for you? Higher borrowing costs on things like car loans, credit cars, mortgage rates, but not immediately.

For example, 30 year mortgage rates fell this year even as the fed raised interest rates. That's because of low bond yields and rates are at historic loss, less than 4 percent nationwide. If you're buying a home, this chart is your dream chart right now.

And now, investors expect that there will be a hike. They are looking to the future. They want to know how the Fed will reduce its $4 trillion balance sheet and the fate of the Fed chief, Janet Yellen. Her term ends next February. President Trump has both praised and criticized the Fed chief. It is unclear if he will nominate her for a second term.

BRIGGS: Does she stay on?

ROMANS: I don't know. I doubt it.

BRIGGS: It's really tough one to read, right?

ROMANS: I doubt, I doubt. I mean, he's so rejected anything that came from the Obama administration. He just has charted his own path. So, I think maybe no.

Forty-one minutes past the hour. American college Otto Warmbier has arrived in the United States after 17 months of detention in North Korea. But what happened to him in captivity? A grave medical problem and why was he released now?

We're going to discuss, next.

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ROMANS: After more than 17 months in detention in North Korea, American college student Otto Warmbier is back in the United States. His parents say he's been in a coma for more than a year, a year in a coma.

Questions swirl this morning about his health and what exactly happened to him while he was in captivity.

I want to get the latest from CNN's Paula Hancocks live in Seoul.

And was just very recently his family found out he was so gravely ill. What do we know?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Christine.

It was just last week that Fred and Cindy Warmbier discovered that their son had been in a coma since at least March 2016. Now, we know that he had an hour long trial in that month. He was convicted of hostile acts against the North Korean regime and sentenced to 15 years hard labor. And nothing was seen of him since.

For many months, U.S. State Department officials say that they have been pushing to able to visit or at least for the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang to be able to visit as they work on behalf of the U.S. who has no diplomatic ties with North Korea. And then eventually, last month, that was granted. There was a meeting between North Korean officials and a State Department representative, we understand Joseph Yun. And that is when they found out. So, just one week ago was when it was known that he was in a coma.

North Korean officials claim that he contracted botulism while in North Korea. They claim he took a sleeping tablet and then fell into a coma and never woke up.

A senior State Department official told CNN they don't necessarily believe the North Korean version of events but they can't say any more until they have them and able to get to have doctors look over him. We know, of course, he is in the United States.

But bear in mind, there are still three Americans detained in North Korea. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying that it's very sensitive matter and obviously they are still trying to work to get those three Korean Americans released as well -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that, Paula. You know, after all those months, now he's home, but has a medical issue to deal with at this point. Thank you.

BRIGGS: All right. An intense manhunt under way at this hour for two inmates accused of gunning down two Georgia correction officers. Police say the suspects broke out a locked gated section of a bus carrying other inmates.

They say Donnie Russell Rowe and Ricky Dubose somehow grabbed the officers' weapons and shot them dead Tuesday morning. Authorities say the suspects then carjacked a 2004 Honda Civic before ransacking a house stealing food and clothes. The duo are considered dangerous beyond description.

ROMANS: The Pentagon is expected to announce soon that Secretary of Defense James Mattis will have authority over U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan without the formal approval of the White House. According to a U.S. official, Mattis will have command over the number of troops deployed but he must keep President Trump fully informed. The White House and Pentagon are now considering sending 3,000 to 5,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan in advisory and training role.

All right. Forty-eight minutes past the hour.

It's an end of an era for Yahoo. The Internet icon no longer an independent company. Marissa Meyer walking a way with a hefty severance. We'll tell you just how much on CNN "Money Stream", next.

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[04:53:14] BRIGGS: Returning to our breaking news this morning in London, about 200 firefighters working to put out a huge blaze in a 27 floor West London apartment building. These are live pictures as emergency crews have been evacuating residents but it's feared many are still trapped inside. Officials right now only saying there has been a, quote, number of fatalities.

CNN's Oren Liebermann on the scene for us in West London joining us live.

Oren, what's the latest?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We just got an update from the London fire commissioner who said there are firefighters still inside searching for people who may have remained inside the building. That means whatever the number of deaths is at this moment, it could very well rise, and it is important to note the fire commissioner has not yet put a figure on that. He won't be specific on how many people died in this horrific fire early in the morning hours of London here.

And part of that may be because we haven't gotten a definitive number of how many people were inside this building. We know from a local official that there were some 125 families who lived here, but the total number of people we don't know. We know some evacuated.

Having spoken to eyewitnesses, we have heard horrific accounts of those evacuated, running by bodies on the ground, seeing people jump out of the windows trying to save their own lives, because that is simply how bad the fire was here. It is just a fraction of what it was this morning, even smoke still pours from the building.

When I got here earlier, there were flames pouring out of the windows. And when you can see into the apartment, all you saw was a ranging fire inside. The entire building gutted, and that became evident as the fire dissipated and the smoke dissipated.

Still, smoke pouring from the building. We're seeing hot spots flare up. This is still very much an active effort from all of the officials and firefighters here from the hospitals and from community centers trying to take care of the evacuees.

[04:55:06] Some 50 people being treated at five different hospitals. Again, we still don't know how many people died in this fire, but that number seems likely to rise at this point.

Dave, there has not been yet any speculation on a cause yet. That's still in the future, trying to figure out what started this horrible fire.

BRIGGS: Oren Liebermann, live for us in West London -- you read about a lot of reports about faulty wiring going back many years, but again, to his point, no cause of this fire reported yet. Thank you, Oren.

ROMANS: All right. Fifty-five minutes past the hour.

Jurors deciding the fate of Bill Cosby return this morning for a third day of deliberations. The panel has met behind closed doors now for more than 15 hours without reaching a verdict. The 79-year-old comedian is accused of drugging and molesting Andrea Constand. The defense claims it was a consensual sexual relationship. Cosby faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted on all accounts.

CNN's Jean Casarez has more on the state of the Cosby jury.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the jury will come back at about 9:00 this morning. They will start deliberating again. That is correct. There has been no verdict.

At this point, they deliberated about 16 hours, and last night, I watched them as they came into the courtroom. They were sullen. They were not happy. They looked exhausted, even the judge mentioned that you are exhausted.

Yesterday what happened all through the day, they wanted some read back of testimony. They wanted Bill Cosby's words from his deposition of 2005 of meeting Andrea Constand being interested in her and how he was going to approach her so they would be able to be romantic together, which he said was consensual the entire way. And very graphic descriptions in 2005 of what he said he did to her.

And then there was Andrea Constand's initial statement to police, the testimony from the Canadian police officer that came to her home that very first night and got her story. Much of it is consistent with what she said on the stand during the first week of this trial.

So, this jury will continue to deliberate. We'll see if they have any questions. We will see if something happens today, a verdict or saying they can't reach a decision, or Bill Cosby possibly gaining his liberty and acquittal.

Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Jean Casarez, thank you for that.

Let's get a check on CNN "Money Stream" this morning.

Global markets mixed after a rebound on Wall Street. U.S. futures right now -- stock futures in the U.S. higher. The Dow and S&P 500 both hit record high. These tech stocks bounced back from a two-day decline. Tech companies have been fueling, the market's rally but prices fell over concerns they ran too high too fast.

All eyes today on the Federal Reserve. Investors think there's a 99 percent chance it will hike interest rates today, the fourth time since the financial crisis.

Amid scandal, Uber's CEO is taking an indefinite leave. Travis Kalanick told staff he will take time off to grieve over his mother who recently died in a boating accident. The news came moments before Uber announced the result of its internal investigation into a corporate culture run amuck. The investigation was prompted by claims of sexual harassment. And their recommendations include re-evaluating Kalanick's responsibilities.

Months of scandal has caused a leadership crisis at Uber. Uber currently has no COO, CFO, or president.

After more than two decades, Yahoo is no longer an independent company. Verizon officially completes its deal to buy Yahoo for $4.5 billion. It combines Yahoo with AOL to form a new digital company, shedding 15 percent of its staff in the process. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is also resigning. She will get a $23 million severance package on her way out.

Love those golden parachutes.

BRIGGS: Not too bad.

All right. EARLY START continues right now. More on our breaking news out of London.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS: To suggest that I participated in any collusion is an appalling and detestable lie.

I am not stonewalling.

I recused myself from any investigation into the campaign for president, but I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations.

Why don't you tell me? There are none, Senator Wyden. There are none.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: Certainly was a testy day on Capitol Hill. A defensive Jeff Sessions denies any collusion with Russia.

ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody, this Wednesday morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Breaking news: overnight from London, hundreds of firefighters battling a blaze that has consumed the 24-story apartment building in West London. You're looking at live pictures of the huge fire as we stand now. So far, authorities being tight-lipped, saying only that there have been a number of fatalities.