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The President Asked DNI to Intervene?; Suspense Builds Ahead of Comey Testimony; Comey on Deck; NBA Finals Game 3: "Must Win for Cavs". Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired June 7, 2017 - 05:00   ET



DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I don't feel it's appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Director of National Intelligence may take a different approach today. It comes as a new report says President Trump asked Dan Coats to intervene with the FBI on the Russia probe.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Does the president have confidence in his attorney general? Still no answer from the White House on that and we've learned Jeff Sessions offer to walk away during some heated talks with the president.

BRIGGS: James Comey's testimony to Congress is only a day away. New details this morning about what he'll say and what he won't as obstruction questions loom over the president.

We understand if you have that Washington whiplash every day, it's another head-spinning story.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, June 7th. It is exactly 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Good morning, everyone.

We are just one day away from that testimony by the former FBI Director James Comey and, suddenly, the undercard is part, is usurping the main event here. At this morning's Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, a line of intel community all-stars. You got the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, NSA director, Admiral Mike Rogers, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, all set to testify today.

[05:00:08] BRIGGS: Overnight, DNI Dan Coats at the center of breaking news. "The Washington Post" reporting President Trump asked Coats if he could intervene with James Comey to urge the FBI director to back off his investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Unnamed officials tell "The Post" private interaction came after a briefing on March 22nd. Now, that's just two days after Comey told Congress the FBI was, in fact, investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russia.

ROMANS: The officials say Coats decided complying with the president's request to intervene would be inappropriate. CNN has already reported the president asked Coats and the NSA Director Mike Rogers to publicly deny his campaign cooperated with Russia in the 2016 election. Sources told CNN both Coats and Rogers were uncomfortable with the president's request and they refused to comply.

BRIGGS: Also this morning, the White House still can't or won't confirm that President Trump has confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions. This as a source close to Sessions tells CNN the AG offered to resign after a series of heated exchanges between two. The frustration brewing since Sessions recused himself from the Russian probe three months ago, starting a chain of events that led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.

For more now, we get CNN's Jim Acosta at the White House.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, the White House still cannot say whether President Trump has confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Earlier in the day at the briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked that question and said he could not answer it.

REPORTER: How would you describe the president's level of confidence in the Attorney General Jeff Sessions?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have not had a discussion with him about that.

REPORTER: Last time you said that, there was a development.

SPICER: I'm asking -- I'm answering a question, which is I have not had that discussion with him.

REPORTER: So you can't say that he has confidence in his attorney general?

SPICER: I said I have not had a discussion with him on the question. I don't -- if I haven't had a discussion with him about a subject, I tend not to speak about it.

ACOSTA: Now, flash forward until later on in the evening, a White House official was asked once again. That official could not say whether the president has confidence in Sessions. There has been friction between Sessions and the president for several weeks over Sessions' initial recusal in the Russia investigation. At one point during their conversation, Sessions offered to step aside and the president did not take that offer. However, we are told by Justice Department spokeswoman that Sessions

is not being fired and he has not offered to resign -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Jim Acosta.

Let's discuss the latest with CNN politics digital managing editor Zachary Wolf, and Sarah Westwood, White House correspondent for "The Washington Examiner", both live this morning from Washington.

I want to start here with this headline, that the president asked the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to get Comey to back off the Flynn investigation. And that's reported from "The Washington Post" overnight.

You know, Zach, what kind of a pattern is this showing about the president and his obsession with Comey investigating the Russian angle?

ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL, MANAGING EDITOR: I think it shows it sort of falls into the pattern of Trump not being very happy with the investigation and trying to influence Comey. And we'll hear a lot more from Comey about that later this week. I think that's sort of the blockbuster everybody is waiting for. But this Coats testimony could be very interesting indeed, although when he's talked before he's been less likely, you know, inclined than Comey to say something.

So, I'm not sure we're going to get a lot out of Coats today. But, you know, it certainly fits in, it doesn't not make sense, in other words.

BRIGGS: All right. Sarah, so you see that pattern that the president was angry at Jeff Sessions, attorney general, for recusing himself led to the special counsel, that DNI Dan Coats was asked to intervene and that the president asked James Comey or said, I hope can you fine it in you to let this go. If you did nothing wrong, the obvious question is, why this pattern?

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, all the reporting points to the fact that Comey, at least, believed that President Trump didn't understand the inappropriateness of his comments. Comey tomorrow is not expected to accuse the president of obstruction of justice. He's not expected to accuse the president of pressuring him to drop the investigation, but he is expected to outline comments that he found inappropriate.

And I think Zach is right, Coats has already denied this "Washington Post" story through a spokesman and has previously been reluctant to speak about it. So, we probably won't expect any revelations in today's testimony. But Comey at least is not expected to accuse the president of anything other than lacking the understanding of how his comments are perceived in the law enforcement community.

ROMANS: And it's so interesting some of this reporting, Zach, that Comey told his boss Attorney General Jeff Sessions, look, don't -- I don't want to be alone in a room with Donald Trump.

[05:05:04] You know, I need to take away sort of that, you know, that one-on-one influence that the president was trying to exert.

WOLF: Yes, you know, it goes back to that first meeting they had after Trump took office where Comey was, you know, basically trying to fit into the drapery in his blue suit. It's clear that he was kind of uncomfortable around Trump. You know, from the get go and didn't want to be near him. That also kind of makes sense in the context of everything that was going on.

But, you know, to go to Jeff Sessions and it's not clear if that happened, I think when -- before or after he had been recused. But this sort of uncomfortableness. It seems very clear that working for Donald Trump, if you're in law enforcement is very awkward.

BRIGGS: And, clearly, it is awkward at this time for Jeff Sessions who according to reports now essentially said, all right, if you don't want me here, I will resign. So, Sean Spicer asked yesterday if the president has confidence in his attorney general.

Here's the press secretary's response.


REPORTER: How would you describe the president's level of confidence in the Attorney General Jeff Sessions?

SPICER: I have not had a discussion with him about that.

REPORTER: Last time you said that, there was a development.

SPICER: I'm asking -- I'm answering a question, which is I have not had that discussion with him.

REPORTER: So you can't say that he has confidence in his attorney general?

SPICER: I said I have not had a discussion with him on the question. I don't -- if I haven't had a discussion with him about a subject, I tend not to speak about it.


BRIGGS: All right. This begs a lot of questions, clearly, Sarah. One is, is the press secretary even communicating with the president of the United States, the man he is, in fact, speaking for? But look what does this mean? If he has no confidence in the attorney general, the first senator that cannot support him and really the conservative credentials, you can say of this White House, the man many say is the reason they continue to support President Trump, how significant is this?

WESTWOOD: Obviously, it would be very significant if President Trump had lost confidence in his attorney general. You're right the first sitting senator to come out on a limb and endorse President Trump before the rest of the GOP had come around to the fact that Trump would likely be their nominee.

We don't know whether the president lost his confidence in Sessions, though. I think Sean Spicer was being overly cautious yesterday because in the past, White House spokesmen and women have gotten themselves in trouble when they presume the president has confidence in someone that is later dismissed or leaves the White House shortly afterward.

But it's interesting because just about a week ago, Spicer was asked a similar question about whether the president still had confidence in Jared Kushner, amid these new allegations that Kushner was involved in suspicious Russian activity, and there was no hesitation to say that the president, indeed, does still have confidence in Jared Kushner. So, the hesitation when asked the same question about Sessions raised a lot of eyebrows yesterday.

ROMANS: We're showing, Zach, up there, the questions Sean Spicer can't answer. Does he have confidence in Jeff Sessions? Does he believe in climate change? Does the president have recordings of James Comey? Every day, that questions Spicer can't answer gets longer, Zach.

WOLF: That's right. I got say, I got to side with Sean Spicer here. I think if you work for Donald Trump and you haven't specifically asked him a question, if you don't know the answer, don't wing it, because, you know, as she said, Trump will tweet, you know, in an hour or so that something about Sessions or, you know, he will come out and make the news basically undercutting whatever his spokesman says.

So, if that's -- if there's one rule of thumb for being his spokesperson I think is don't make stuff up.

BRIGGS: You just wonder what the trickle down is. If he doesn't have confidence in Jeff Sessions, what everyone else in that administration feels uncomfortable because Jeff Sessions has been that loyal soldier?


BRIGGS: It should have some trickle down. Guys, we'll check back with you in 30 minutes. Thank you.

CNN with exclusive reporting this morning on the diplomatic mess in Qatar. Did Russia plant a fake news report to deepen the divide with massive foreign policy implications? U.S. intel says yes. We're live in Doha next on EARLY START.


[05:13:20] ROMANS: CNN reporting exclusively U.S. investigators believe Russian hackers breached Qatar's state news agency to plant a fake news report and that contributed to crisis among American allies in the Persian Gulf. More on that in a moment, live from Doha.

But that possible Russian interference is not just affecting Mideast politics, it's moving global markets. Stocks, oil, the dollar, are all shifting over these geopolitical concerns, including the upcoming U.K. election and the Senate testimony of former FBI Director James Comey. Comey may report the president interfered in the Russia investigation and investors worry that could further delay the White House's economic agenda, specifically tax reform.

Stocks are down this week, while the U.S. dollar's Trump bump is over. The dollar fell to a seven month low, against the basket of currencies. That erases the last of the post-election gains.

Uncertainty specifically in the Middle East is driving investors to safe haven like bonds and gold. Gold is up 13 percent this year. It could go higher especially if Qatar and Arab states continue their feud. The Mideast rift is also affecting oil prices.

There's, of course, a global oversupply. Investors worry the current tension could undermine a deal to cut oil output. Crude prices fell 6 percent in the past two weeks.

BRIGGS: All right. As we mentioned there, at least some of the blame for the diplomatic crisis facing Qatar may fall to a familiar foreign power, Russia. CNN exclusively learning U.S. investigators believe Russian hackers breached Qatar's state news agency to plant a fake news report. The Qatari government says that fake report falsely attributed remarks to the nation's ruler remarks seen friendly as Iran.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is live in Qatar's capital of Doha.

Good morning to you, Jomana? What's the latest?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. If you recall a couple of weeks ago, we saw this story coming out on the Qatar state news agency with quotes attributed to the country's ruler, the emir, basically criticizing neighbors like Saudi Arabia, praising Iran, as an Islamic power, and also criticizing President Trump, saying that he was not going to last in office.

And we've heard from Qatari officials since saying this was a hack of this news agency and that story was fake. What CNN is learning exclusively is that U.S. investigators believe that it was Russian hackers who planted this fake story on the Qatari news agency. Now, what they say is unclear at this point is whether this was hackers from a criminal organization in Russia or if this was a government agency involved in this hack.

And they say that the intent here is to create a rift between the allies of the United States in this region. We've heard from Qatari officials and U.S. officials saying an FBI team was sent here to Doha, that an investigation was going on. Qatari officials say once that investigation is complete, they will make the results of that public, Dave.

BRIGGS: So, Jomana, the Pentagon and State Department have tried to remain neutral on the issue but the president has not. How have his tweets perhaps further muddied the waters on this situation?

KARADSHEH: It's really added to the uncertainty when it comes to this crisis, David, that we're seeing in the region. Qatar and even others in the region say they finding these mixed signals coming from the United States. You have senior U.S. officials over the past few days coming out and saying that, you know, Qatar, they are grateful for the effort it has done, for its partnership with the United States. Of course, Qatar has really close ties to the United States when it comes to military cooperation between the two.

You have 11,000 U.S. troops who are based here just outside of Doha. The United States military's CentCom, the Central Command headquarters are based here in Qatar. So, you have that on one hand. And then a couple of weeks ago, you had President Trump during his visit to Saudi Arabia praising the emir of Qatar as a friend of the United States.

But then, yesterday, we saw these tweets, really signaling out Qatar as a financier of terror and pretty much the president taking credit for these countries in the region isolating Qatar. So, a lot of confusion on what the real U.S. stance is when it comes to this crisis, Dave.

BRIGGS: Stop me if you heard that before, the president's tweets causing confusion around the world.

Jomana Karadsheh live for us in Qatar -- thank you.

Just yet again one reason we need to sit back and let the facts play out before on Twitter.

We'll talk sports next. Game three of the NBA Finals tonight. Can LeBron James and the Cavs save the entire NBA and get back on home court?

Andy Scholes has this morning's "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:22:44] BRIGGS: All right, folks. Tonight, the entire future of the NBA is on the line. I'm telling you.

Andy Scholes is going to explain that in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

ROMANS: Hey, Andy.

BRIGGS: The NBA desperately needs the Cavs to get back in the series.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: We do, Dave. We don't want to see the Warriors win the next 100 playoff games in a row without ever losing, right? I mean, but you know, the chance of the Cavs, though, even if they win tonight and come back and win the next four out of five against these Warriors, it's unlikely.

But to make this a series again like you said, Dave, they got to win game three tonight.

And LeBron, he's been here before, down 0-2. But ,you know, he didn't sound very confident about a Cavs come back yesterday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: I hate to continue to put yourself in these position. But at the end of the day, it still is just basketball, man. And that's what gets me comfortable about it, because it's just a game, you know? And I prepare myself, I'm going to go out and do my job and then the results.


SCHOLES: And apparently the Q Arena in Cleveland may be haunted. You got to check out what happened during Kevin Durant's news conference.




REPORTER: Are you saying you learn from him?


REPORTER: I don't know what those sounds are.

DURANT: That's scaring me a little bit.

REPORTER: Might be the plumbing.

DURANT: Yes. That's shaking a little bit, buddy.


SCHOLES: Love Durant. A moment yesterday in Bermuda during the semifinals of America's cup, the oldest most prestigious boat race in the world. Team New Zealand running into some trouble in their race. The boat capsized at the start. Three crew members were thrown off the boat, but, luckily, everyone was OK. The boat was not severely damaged.

That's good news for New Zealand who is hoping to take on the U.S. in the finals. Team USA are the defending champions.

Finally, what a day for Scooter Gennett. He had not one, not two, not three, but four home runs last night against the Cardinals. And get this, Gennett had only three home runs the entire season coming into the game. He called the performance just short of a miracle. [05:25:00] Two months ago, Gennett, he was out of a job. He got cut

by the Brewers, but he got picked up by his hometown Reds, which makes the story even better, guys. He's just a 17th player in Major League Baseball history to hit four home runs in a game and he thought it was beyond cool. His jersey, his cleats, his bat, they're all headed to Cooperstown to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But he thought, you know, he was one of the most unlikely people for that ever to happen.

ROMANS: That's awesome.

BRIGGS: Right. You know, I mean, it's impossible to do it. That's why 17 have done it. But usually no one pitches to a guy after he's gone deep three times. It's part of the reason it's impossible to do it.

SCHOLES: Yes, but you know what? Yes, have a good one guys.

BRIGGS: Enjoy game three. Let's hope this is a series at some point.

SCHOLES: Fingers crossed.


All right. Speaking of a series of major developments, out of Washington, the nation's intelligence chief asked to intervene on the Russia probe. The attorney general threatened to resign. And James Comey ready to refute a big claim from President Trump.

The latest on all of that next on EARLY START.