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Peak Chaos At the White House; Congress Reacts to Trump Jr. Emails; Trump Returns to Europe Tonight. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 12, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:11] DONALD TRUMP, JR., PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP'S SON: In retrospect, I probably would have done things differently.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump Jr. on the defensive after releasing emails showing he was ready to accept Russia's help during the election. Now, all accounts suggest the chaos in the White House is reaching peak levels.

EARLY START's coverage begins right now.

It is another big news day here on EARLY START. Good morning, everyone. I'm Dave Briggs.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, July 12th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

This morning, an already fractious White House in escalating chaos coping with the fallout from Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer and his release of the e-mail setting it up.

Now, "The New York Times" out front on all this reporting says the president's aides and lawyers have formed what the paper calls a circular firing squad, slamming each other for the decisions made since Don Jr.'s decision meeting with the Russian came to light. The younger Trump's own emails ahead of the meeting providing the most direct evidence he was willing, even eager to accept help from a foreign adversary.

BRIGGS: An email from publicist and Trump associate Bob Goldstone made the pitch. Very high level and sensitive information, part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump.

Don Jr.'s response: I love it.

Now, he's speaking out on his own defense, telling FOX News: in retrospect, he would have done things a little differently.


TRUMP JR.: This is 13 months ago, before I think the rest of the world was talking about that, trying to build up this narrative about Russia. So I don't even think my sirens went up or the antennas went up at this time because it wasn't the issue that's been made to be over the last, you know, nine months, 10 months.

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

TRUMP JR: No, it was such a nothing. There was nothing to tell. I mean, I wouldn't have even remembered it until you start scouring through the stuff. It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame.


ROMANS: So far, Don Jr. has not spoken to the FBI, nor handed over documents. But his lawyer says he is willing to talk to any investigators.

Last night, new reporting from "The Times", new reporting from "The Times" says that the president signed off on Don Jr.'s initial statement crafted by Trump advisors late Saturday, a statement that made no reference to the meeting being about damaging information on Hillary Clinton. "The Times" also reporting the president is frustrated with his attorney, Marc Kasowitz, while Kasowitz and his team are frustrated with what they see as meddling by Trump's son-in- law Jared Kushner. A lawyer for the president denies this reporting.

BRIGGS: The president himself preparing to head back to Europe later today, posting a new tweet of his support for his son, reading in part, he's a great person who loves our country. That's a notably stronger endorsement of Don Jr. than the one earlier in the day that came through the White House, which is where we find CNN's Jim Acosta with the latest.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, the White House didn't offer a very forceful defense of Donald Trump Jr., the deputy press secretary read a brief statement from the president off camera to say that he believes his son is handling this e-mails transparently, despite the fact that Trump Jr. has changed his story about his meeting with a Russian lawyer.

Here's what happened when Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about this.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have a quick statement that I'll read from the president.

My son is a high quality person and I applaud his transparency and beyond that I'm going to have to refer everything on this matter to Don Jr.'s counsel and outside counsel and won't have anything else to add beyond that.

ACOSTA: Sanders also responded to a question about whether members of the president's team could also be brought up on charges of perjury or even treason. She said that would be, quote, ridiculous -- Christine and Dave. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Jim, thank you.

The emails stated that clearly, the Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. last summer was acting on behalf of the Russian government in its effort to hurt Hillary Clinton. But the attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, she denies having any links to the Kremlin and her account of that meeting, that 2016 meeting differs on some points of what the president's son has been saying.

CNN's Matthew Chance has spoken to her. He joins live from Moscow.

What a story. What is she saying?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, she's obviously been absolutely handed by the media her to try and get her interpretation of why she had this meeting because that e-mail says quite clearly that she was a Russian government lawyer with potentially damaging information to the Clinton campaign. She categorically denies all of that saying, look, you know, I'm not a government lawyer. The Kremlin has distanced themselves from her saying they've never heard of her.

She denies giving damaging information to Trump Jr. and she denies even saying that she had damaging information to gain access to the Trump campaign team.

[04:05:13] But, you know, she -- she is somebody clearly who's at the center of this. Take a listen to what she said when I approached her yesterday.


NATALIA VESELNITSKAYA, RUSSIAN LAWYER WHO MET WITH DONALD TRUMP JR. (through translator): When it was suggested that I meet with Donald Trump Jr., I met him in a private situation. It was a private meeting, not related at all to the fact that he was the son of the candidate.


CHANCE: Well, Veselnitskaya says that she was there primarily to lobby for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act. It's a U.S. act of law which aims to punish suspected human rights abusers and corrupt officials in Russia. That's what she says she was there to talk about. And clearly, she said that, you know, that Donald Trump Jr. wasn't interested in discussing that.

So, you know, it doesn't seem any problematic or damaging information was passed on during this. But again, as we've said time and again, the fact that the Trump campaign or Donald Trump Jr. was apparently willing to take this meeting on the basis it could offer potentially damaging information about their political opponent is the real issue. That's what this is really a smoking gun about. ROMANS: Yes, just a fascinating story, all of the characters

involved. You heard it there from her, she says that she's not, you know, working on behalf of the Russian government. This investigation will continue. No question.

Thank you so much for that, Matthew Chance.

BRIGGS: All right. Joining us to discuss now, CNN law enforcement analyst, James Gagliano, a retired FBI supervisory special agent.

Good morning to you, sir.

ROMANS: Good morning.


BRIGGS: All right. Donald Trump in this latest FOX News infomercial -- interview not infomercial, said this about his defense.


TRUMP JR.: In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently. Again, this is before the Russian mania. This is before they were building it up in the press. For me, this was opposition research. They had something, you know, maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I'd been hearing about, but they were probably underreported for, you know, years, not just during the campaign. So, I think I wanted to hear it out, but really, it went nowhere and it was apparent that that wasn't what the meeting was actually about.


BRIGGS: That is the closest thing you'll ever get from Donald Trump or any of his children. "The New York Post", very Trump friendly, says this was criminally stupid, but was there anything illegal that transpired?

GAGLIANO: Well, I think it's interesting to see how chasten now. It's kind of reminiscent of the 1988 presidential campaign in Gary Hart. Remember when he taunt the Fourth Estate and said, hey, follow me. So, you've had this drum beat now for a year of him saying there's nothing there, no ties to Russia. And then you read Goldstone's e-mail exchange with him.

And, Dave, to go to your question, is it collusion and is this something that would be prosecuted? I've listened to a number of legal experts talk about this and basically they're in unison when they say there's not a federal statute per se that's going to attack that. Now, is it unseemly? Is there a political mechanism to go after it via impeachment? Certainly.

BRIGGS: There's campaign finance law though.


BRIGGS: There is and I've heard that also put out there, because if a foreign state -- if a foreign state actor comes to a campaign and says we have something of value to offer you, now, it could be money, but in this instance, it could be derogatory information about an opponent. Yes, I think that's an angle that the Mueller folks are going to be looking into.

ROMANS: And I've listened to our Jeffrey Toobin talked about, you know, there's very legal precedent for actually -- you know, in legal case where it got on that. But it does raise some big questions.

I want to listen to a little bit more of Don Jr. in that Hannity interview because, you know, he's talking about how he is happy to be transparent in what has been a White House that has been nothing but transparent by all accounts. Listen.


HANNITY: Did you hand over any and all documents?

TRUMP JR.: Well, I will. I've said it publicly, I said it yesterday. More than happy to cooperate with everyone. I just want the truth to get out there.

And that's part of why I released all the stuff today. I want to get all out there. They're trying to drag out the story, in fairness. You know, they have -- they want to drip a little bit today, drip a little bit -- and I was like, here it is. I'm more than happy to be transparent about it and I'm more than happy to cooperate with everyone.

HANNITY: So, as far as you know, as far as this incident is concerned, this is all of it?

TRUMP JR.: This is everything. This is everything.


ROMANS: OK. Well, in all fairness, "The New York Times" was going to report all of this stuff, and then the transparency happened, to get out ahead of 'The New York Times" is what it looks like. You know, is this it? Is this it? I mean, that's the big question that Bob Mueller and his team are going to have to discuss.

GAGLIANO: Well, understand, Christine, the special prosecutor has amazing powers. He's got subpoena powers, which Congress does as well. So, I imagine that anyone in that transition team that has any kind of contacts with any folks associated with Russia can have their e-mails subpoenaed.

Now, here's the thing too because this happened last June. This was not the president or the president-elect. There's no executive privilege here. So, those documents will absolutely be turned over. They can't hang that on executive privilege and say you can't have them.

[04:10:01] ROMANS: This leak, where did this come from? That's one of the sort of fascinating back stories here. BRIGGS: The inner circle.

ROMANS: You know, this is as Jared Kushner, the son-in-law, special adviser to the president, is reviewing his meetings with foreign nationals, according to reporting from our Gloria Borger. These e- mails come to light. He's having to amend some of his documents.

You know, what's happening in the inner circle that's so leaky? That's fascinating to me.

GAGLIANO: It is. I've been shocked. The political piece of this and the leaks coming out after, you kind of expect them. But once Robert Mueller was named, I think everybody was in concert with the notion that, hey, this is going to stop the leaks coming from the government. But it doesn't seem like that's the case. It seems like some of them are still coming out of some folks who either associated with the White House, as well as with government entities. And I trust and hope it's not the FBI.

BRIGGS: Well, this does not read like the intel community leaks that the Trump administration has hit so hardly at. This reads like a very inner circle of the president. Why might those types of leaks be coming at this point? We're talking six months in.

GAGLIANO: Dave, and this is speculation, but what if those documents had been subpoenaed by the special prosecutor? Now, Congress has subpoenaed those documents. That would have been leaked immediately. But what if they were subpoenaed by the special prosecutor and someone on the team ended up leaking it out there?

BRIGGS: The read of our reporting is that this has changed Bob Mueller's investigation which leads you to believe they did not have this e-mail thread prior to this "New York Times" investigation, but again, there's a lot from that special counsel investigation we don't know yet.

James, we'll see you in about 20 minutes. Thank you.

ROMANS: Yes, thanks for getting up early on this big news day for us.

All right. The top Democrat in the House Intel Committee is among the lawmakers angered by these developments.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: These aren't a series of meetings, events, denials, obfuscations regarding China or regarding Canada or regarding Britain or regarding France. They all come back to Russia.


ROMANS: It's not just Democrats venting. More from Capitol Hill next.



SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: These facts shown in the last 24 hours that there clearly was a Russian government effort to discredit Clinton and to help Trump and that Trump officials at the most senior level were aware of that. How high that goes, we've still got questions to ask.


ROMANS: All right. Members of Congress simply stunned by the release of Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mails. For Republicans, it's another disturbing distraction.

One senior GOP source telling CNN: This Donald Jr. Thing is just another depressing turn. We're just watching incompetence and stupidity like we've never seen before. And it's making the jobs for good people in government that much more difficult.

We get more this morning from CNN's Manu Raju.



Now, the reaction on Capitol Hill really has been all over the map. You have some senators and congressmen who are frankly concerned. Concerned that these leaks are becoming a major distraction at a key time when the Senate is trying to move a health care bill or frankly having a very difficult time getting their party behind. Some are punting on the matter altogether, including the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And others say this is just another problem in a growing controversy that some Republicans are even calling a scandal.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Any time you're in a campaign and you get an offer from a foreign government to help your campaign, the answer is no. So, I don't know what Mr. Trump Jr.'s version of the facts are. Definitely, he has to testify. That e-mail was disturbing.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Other shoes will drop. Other shoes will drop before this thing is over. I've said that for weeks.

REPORTER: How damning does this look?

MCCAIN: Have to see what it's all about.

RAJU: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer did say that Donald Trump Jr. should testify publicly and also said that he should turn over all relevant documents to the key committees investigating this issue.

Senator Richard Burr, who is running the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation to Russia meddling and this collusion, says they're very early in their investigation and clearly, this is an area, Christine and Dave, that they plan to look into much further -- Christine and Dave. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: I got to say that the -- you know, the congressional reaction has been all over the map. A lot of outrage quite frankly, puzzlement. But then some of the op-eds this morning, I mean, just make for fascinating reading, talking about either sloppy Keystone Kops or is part of something that is just more sinister and bigger. But it's just really a huge distraction for this White House.

BRIGGS: Yes, but, you know, the left -- there's a risk there with Tim Kaine saying this might be treason, that you go too far. Not focusing on what you do have.

ROMANS: And undermine your own -- undermine your own message.

BRIGGS: Exactly.

Here's some of the coverage you mentioned, in particular, "The New York Post", very Trump friendly, that's his paper, Donald Trump Jr. is an idiot.

We'll get more into the coverage as we continue here on EARLY START.

President Trump remains out of sight but is ready to fly back to Europe tonight. We're live in Paris with what to expect from that meeting with Macron.


[04:23:41] BRIGGS: As a political fire storm rages around Donald Trump Jr., his father out of sight for a third straight day. But whether he likes it or not, President Trump will be back in the spotlight in Europe tomorrow. He leaves for France tonight.

And CNN's Jim Bittermann joins us now live from Paris.

Jim, good morning to you. What's on the agenda here?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR EUROPEAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dave, I think the most important thing for the White House press corps is going to be that news conference that President Macron and President Trump will hold together tomorrow afternoon. It's said to be an open news conference, and no doubt the questions will come up to President Trump about all the things we've been hearing about the last couple of days. It's the first opportunity the press corps has actually had to ask the kind of questions they'd like to.

In any case, the major events here are to commemorate the 100th anniversary of America's entry into World War I. The American troops came and turned the tide of that war back 100 years ago. There'll be American troops featured in this parade.

This was long planned long before the presidential elections as a matter of fact, but Trump will come here, be honored by the French president. They'll probably talk of areas of mutual cooperation and maybe Macron will push back on a few of the concerns that the French have in terms of climate change and that sort of thing where they oppose Trump's views on things and world view.

[04:25:07] And there's likely to be as well some protests around. The colleges (ph), for example, on that climate change issue are planning a protest. There's a left wing protest that's being planned. So, there will be some protests to the Trump visit -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Jim Bittermann live for us. To your point, though, that two and two will be all eyes on the Donald Trump Jr.'s scandal. thanks for that live report.

ROMANS: In that recent election, there were also concerns and accusations about Russian meddling and fake news and the like.

BRIGGS: Right.

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

Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mails aren't just causing a political firestorm. They're also triggering a wild ride for American stocks. Within 30 minutes of the release of those emails, look at that, the Dow fell, boom, 150 points. It was a kneejerk reaction, though, because it came right back recovering all the losses by the closing bell. That's because overall, Wall Street ignores the turmoil in Washington and has been.

The current stock market rally began on the hope for tax cuts and deregulation and now, corporate profits are keeping the bulls running. Companies are making a lot of money and that's what drives stock market performance.

Second quarter earnings kick off this week, starting with a few big name banks on Friday and expectations for this quarter are high. Last seasons, profit grew at the fastest pace in years. Analysts predict this quarter, S&P 500 profits will rise at least 6 percent.

Investors were also keeping an eye on the Fed chair, Janet Yellen, today. She heads to Capitol Hill for her twice yearly testimony on the state of the economy. She has to go to Congress twice a year and tell them what's happening, not only could she offer clues about future interest rate hikes and plans for the Fed's balance sheet, but her own future.

This is Yellen's last address before her term ends in February. The president has not said if he will nominate her for a second term. We're told Gary Cohn, who runs the president's economic council, is looking at all the possibilities for who could succeed her, or whether they would reappoint her. She would be the first one not reappointed in years. Usually, they do get reappointed.

BRIGGS: What you got?

ROMANS: I don't know. I'm reading this "Politico" story. "Politico" has a story saying that Gary Cohn, if he wants the job, he could be the one to get the job. It -- they're naming sources close to the situation, but we don't have that reporting but that's getting a lot of buzz this morning. BRIGGS: Initially, you'd think the left would erupt over appointing

his own guy to run the Fed, but it's Gary Cohn, someone who comes from the left.

ROMANS: He's basically seen as the Democratic favorite free trade. So -- and conservatives like him.

BRIGGS: Yes, that'd be interesting to gauge that reaction.

ROMANS: He's not an economist though. Usually, you have a PhD on economics. On a few occasions, you've had somebody not economist run the Feds.

BRIGGS: Goldman Sachs running the globe.

ROMANS: Government Sachs.

President Trump has no idea a Russia lawyer met with top campaign aides. That is if you believe his son.


HANNITY: Did you tell your father anything about this?

TRUMP JR.: No. It was such a nothing, there was nothing to tell.


ROMANS: Is there nothing or is there another shoe to drop? And who's leaking all these e-mails?