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EARLY START

Attorney General Sessions Fights Back At Senate Hearing; Special Counsel Still Has Job, For Now; A Number of Fatalities In Huge London Fire. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired June 14, 2017 - 05:30   ET

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


[05:30:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: There are none.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN HOST: A testy day on Capitol Hill as a defensive Jeff Sessions denies -- vigorously denies any collusion with Russia.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN HOST: Now, that's a passionate attorney general. Good morning everyone and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday. It is June 14th, 30 minutes exactly past the hour. First, to our breaking news overnight from London. Hundreds of firefighters battling a blaze that has consumed a 24-story apartment building in West London. (Video playing) These are live pictures now of this huge fire. We've been watching this all morning. So far, authorities say there have been a number of fatalities -- there have been fatalities. The cause of this fire is still not known. It broke out about 1:00 a.m. local time. We're told 125 families live in this building. CNN is on the scene and we're going to get a live update from there in just a moment.

BRIGGS: Boy, has London been through enough in the last several weeks.

Elsewhere, 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 repeatedly declined to talk about his private conversations, however, with President Trump, leaving Democrats fuming with frustration accusing their former Senate colleague of "stonewalling."

ROMANS: 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. And 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)

ROMANS: For the very latest let's bring in senior congressional reporter Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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 that he had two meetings with Russian officials and maybe a third meeting with the Russian ambassador. After he was asked about this during his confirmation proceedings he said there was nothing campaign-related at that time.

Since then he's recused himself from running the Russia investigation but appearing in public yesterday before the committee for the first time, now 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 Sen. Ron Wyden.

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

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

WYDEN: We can -- we can --

SESSIONS: You tell -- this is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me and I don't appreciate it.

RAJU: Now, Sessions did not respond to a number of questions that Democrats asked, particularly about his interactions with President Trump, what he did discuss with President Trump in the run-up to the firing of James Comey. Whether or not the Russia investigation was discussed in any way. 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 would prohibit him from discussing this matter with the committee. Democrats will 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 hearing Democrats very frustrated they did not get their answers to some key questions, but Republicans trying to move on to other areas of this investigation -- Dave and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Manu, thanks. While Democrats fumed over Sessions' testimony, Republicans used, well, a lighter touch. Here's Sen. Tom Cotton downplaying the collusion allegations while nodding at Sessions' taste for espionage thrillers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

SESSIONS: Yes, Alan Furst, David Ignatius. Just finished the Ignatius book.

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

SESSIONS: No. Yes, I do. (Laughter)

COTTON: Have you ever in any of these fantastical situations heard of a plot line so ridiculous that a sitting United States senator and an 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?

[05:35:08] SESSIONS: Thank you for saying that, Sen. Cotton. It's just like through the looking glass. I mean, what is this?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

ROMANS: All right. With all eyes trained on Capitol Hill, the president flew to Wisconsin promoting his Workforce Development Week with first daughter Ivanka. On Tuesday, they visited a technical college in Waukesha promoting apprenticeships. Today, Ivanka by her father's side again as they visit the Labor Department, again focusing on the president's workforce initiative. That's about 3:00 this afternoon. It so interesting because there's $90 million in his budget for apprenticeships, the same as the Obama administration, and he guts job retraining programs and the like because one of the philosophies of the president and others in his team is that those retraining programs just don't work.

BRIGGS: Well, perhaps like health care the president wants added money to this as well.

ROMANS: Maybe.

BRIGGS: We'll hear --

ROMANS: Maybe. BRIGGS: -- what they plan to do at the Labor Department today. With insight on all this, let's bring in Michael Moore, former U.S. attorney from the Middle District of Georgia, and the managing editor of "CNN POLITICS DIGITAL" Zachary Wolf. Good morning, gentlemen.

ROMANS: Hi, guys.

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA: Good morning.

ZACHARY WOLF, MANAGING EDITOR, CNN POLITICS DIGITAL: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Let's start with you and let's start with this passionate defense of these collusion allegations from Jeff Sessions. On the front cover of the "Post" it's "Lies, Damn Lies." Do you expect Democrats to turn the page now given that passionate defense from him, at least the collusion part?

MOORE: Who are we starting with?

BRIGGS: Zach?

WOLF: No, I don't expect the Democrats to turn the page on anything after that hearing. I mean, they got the -- you got the fiery, you know, Jeff Sessions defending himself but other than that he didn't give much of a -- much in the way of answers about these questions they have and, you know, questions -- we get more questions, et cetera, et cetera, so I'm not looking for this to go away anytime soon.

ROMANS: Let's listen to a little bit of what the attorney general said, Michael Moore, about the legal justification for refusing to answer many questions. I guess he didn't really give a legal justification but listen to his wording here about why he wasn't going to talk about his private conversations with the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS: My judgment that it would be inappropriate for me to answer and reveal private conversations with the president when he has not had a full opportunity to review the questions and to make a decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Fair, legal?

MOORE: No, I don't think it's fair or legal. I think it's a preposterous position for him to take. I mean, I take some exception, too, that Tom Cotton making jokes during the hearing. I mean, essentially, we're talking about -- and think about what the issue is. We're here talking about whether or not Russia attacked us in a cyber way to influence our election.

Here you've got Jeff Sessions talking in a way where he's saying well, you know, I'm not going to invoke -- the privilege really wasn't invoked. It's not mine to invoke anyway, only the president can invoke it. He hadn't done it. And so, I think while you're asking me this question I'm just going to wait a while and not answer it, and just give him a chance in case it's something that he wants to make an intelligent decision about whether or not he should invoke the privilege.

That baffles the mind and it's not founded in law. It's not what the executive privilege is for. There's a purpose behind the executive privilege, that is to make sure the delivery of process is protected. It is not there to somehow cover up conduct that's improper or illegal. And to suggest that I'm going to wait and let the president think about the questions and decide whether or not he might at some point want to assert the privilege, I think that's not founded in the law at all.

BRIGGS: OK, so that happened in an open hearing.

MOORE: Right.

BRIGGS: Behind closed doors, Zach, they continue to hash out a health care plan, or we think. Senators met with the president over lunch and the president, according to reports, described the House health care bill, one celebrated in the Rose Garden, he called a great plan, high fives all around -- he told GOP senators it was "mean." What are the politics of that and what does that tell you about the direction the Senate might take?

WOLF: I -- well, it tells you that number one, they're having some trouble in the Senate writing a health care bill. We still haven't seen text. It's being written behind closed doors. Nobody's seen --

ROMANS: Right.

WOLF: -- you know, how it will affect the insurance market. None of this stuff has come to pass but that was a good -- you asked me the exact right question, what direction is this going? I think if he's calling the House health care bill "mean" I think that means the bill might be moving ever so slightly towards the middle, which is going to frustrate that conservative base that was so hard to get on board with elements of the House bill. So, you know, welcome to Washington.

ROMANS: Right.

WOLF: From the House to the Senate it's a totally different body over there.

BRIGGS: I tell you what, the House members that are campaigning for 2018 --

MOORE: Right.

BRIGGS: -- that word "mean" is going to stick to campaign ads across the country --

ROMANS: Oh, yes, but I also --

BRIGGS: -- unfortunately for them. ROMANS: I think it also shows you the president is watching television and reading newspapers and he does not like it when he hears analysis like the age tax. That AARP, and health care providers, and senior citizens, and women, and all these different groups saying wait a minute, this is not good for me, this House bill. And I think he reads that -- I think he reads that and he -- and he absorbs that. He doesn't like that criticism.

[05:40:18] Quick last question about this "New York Times" story, Michael Moore, about Bob Mueller and this idea that the president keeps this idea out there that maybe he doesn't support him --

MOORE: Right.

ROMANS: -- maybe he does support him. He won't say whether he has his confidence. The "Times" saying this is by design. "The president was pleased by the ambiguity of his position on Mr. Mueller and thinks the possibility of being fired will focus the veteran prosecutor on delivering what the president desires most, a blanket public exoneration." What effect, if any, do you think that has on the investigation?

MOORE: You know, I think it's going to have no effect as far as a deterrence to Bob Mueller. He's somebody who's a consummate professional and he's not going to be influenced by tweets or by efforts by the White House to somehow control the media cycle. The president does like, I think, to lobbed these things out there to sort of throw bombs and keep people guessing and control the cycle but you never know where he stands and you don't know what his words mean.

I mean, even if you just talk about the health care bill, think about where the Republicans are in the House now that he's saying -- he's called their bill "mean." He was out there championing them. He was -- they were, you know, slapping each other on the back on the White House lawn after that. But now they don't know where they stand because he's essentially turned and call it, what they did,"mean." So I think he just kind of puts things out there but it's going to have no impact at all on Bob Mueller. He'll be moving forward, putting his head down, and getting to work.

BRIGGS: All right. Tom Cotton put it out there, Bond versus Bourne. We've got to get one word. Do you want Bond films or Bourne films, Zach?

WOLF: Bond.

BRIGGS: Bond. Michael?

MOORE: Bond, absolutely.

BRIGGS: Clean sweep. Bourne films are very good, though. Very good.

ROMANS: Poor Matt Damon.

BRIGGS: He's a good actor.

ROMANS: We love you, Matt Damon, anyway. All right, thanks, guys. Nice to see you Michael Moore, Zach Wolf.

MOORE: It was good to see you all.

ROMANS: Have a great day, guys. Are you buying a home? Do you have credit card debt? Pay attention. Your borrowing costs may go up. The Fed is expected to raise interest rates today. This would be the fourth time since December 2015. Before that, rates were near zero for a decade to aid a faltering economy and now the Central Bank thinks that crisis is over. The economy is strong enough. It doesn't need the help. It's time to start raising interest rates.

What does it mean for you? Well, higher borrowing costs on things like car loans, credit cards, and mortgages, but maybe not immediately on the mortgages part of it and here's why. Thirty-year mortgage rates have been falling this year, even as the Fed has been raising rates. That's because of low bond market yields. I mean, the money rushing into the bond market pushes rates down. They are at historic lows, below four percent nationwide. Now investors are expecting that hike. They're looking to the future. They want to know how the Fed's going to reduce its $4 trillion balance sheet.

They're also talking about the fate of Fed Chief Janet Yellen. Her term ends next February. President Trump has both criticized her and has praised her, most recently criticizing her in the last months of the campaign. It's unclear if he will nominate her for a second term. A great piece in the "Wall Street Journal" this morning -- front page of the "Wall Street Journal" about how Gary Cohn is heading up sort of like the select committee to see who they will pick.

BRIGGS: Depends on the day --

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: -- depending on whether she stays or goes. All right, ahead in the show tragedy in London this morning as a massive fire tears through a 24-story apartment building. A number of fatalities have been confirmed. We'll go there live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:47:35] BRIGGS: Turning to our breaking news now. (Video playing) In London, more than 200 firefighters working to put out a huge blaze in a 24-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 have been a "number of fatalities." CNN's Oren Liebermann on the scene for us in West London just before 11:00 a.m. there. Oren, what's the latest?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dave, it's worth noting and perhaps you can see this behind me that there's a fire hose more than halfway up the building within some 10 or 12 floors of the top of the building and that is the highest we have seen fire crews able to get water so far today. That has been part of the challenge here. This is a 24-story building and the fire reached all the way to the very top. At the beginning, of course, firefighters had to work on the bottom of the building. Now it seems they're making progress, able to get a hose on the higher floors of the building but they still have a very long way to go.

As you pointed out, the London fire commissioner said that there have been a number of deaths inside this terrible fire that started at about 1:00 this morning local time, and as you can see from the smoke still coming out has not yet been put completely out, and that speaks to how devastating this fire was for the building, of course -- for the 125 or so families that lived inside. We know, having spoken to witnesses, that there was at least some evacuation, perhaps many evacuated, but we also know that not everyone got out and the question remains at this point how many did not get out.

We spoke just a little bit ago with a former head of the residents' association here who left about six months ago, at least partly because of safety concerns he had and he says that others here had -- other residents had. He felt like they weren't properly addressed. He felt that there should have been an investigation at the time. He says there will almost certainly be an investigation now, Dave, as the question remains what was the cause of this fire. That will be the next stage for emergency crews out here.

BRIGGS: All right. Oren Liebermann live for us, 10:49 a.m. there in West London. Thank you, sir. Time now for a look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY." Alisyn Camerota joining us. Alisyn, I pose a question to you, my friend. After the flattery fest on Monday, how does President Trump's cabinet top that given today is his 71st birthday?

ROMANS: Oh.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Oh, my gosh. I don't know who's going to be jumping out of a cake --

BRIGGS: Reince.

CAMEROTA: -- in the cabinet meeting --

[05:50:00] BRIGGS: Reince.

CAMEROTA: -- but we do need to stay tuned for that. You're so right, Dave. All right, so I'll tell you what's coming up on the program. What happened to Otto Warmbier? He, of course, is the American student who has been in a North Korean prison for 17 months and he's just come home and he's in a coma. We have Sanjay Gupta here with us to try to explain what may have happened that allowed this American student to slip into a coma and his parents only found out about it a week ago. So we'll give you an update on all of that.

Also, we will have Sen. Al Franken on. He, of course, is the man that Jeff Sessions said asked a particularly rambling question and that's why Attorney General Sessions said he did not give a straightforward answer. So, we'll find out what Al Franken has to say about Jeff Sessions' testimony yesterday when Chris and I see you in 10 minutes.

ROMANS: OK.

BRIGGS: Sounds good.

ROMANS: Bond or Bourne, by the way? Bond or Bourne?

CAMEROTA: Bond or Bourne? Bond or Bourne?

ROMANS: No, are you a Bond?

BRIGGS: James Bond --

ROMANS: Or Jason Bourne?

BRIGGS: -- or Jason Bourne?

CAMEROTA: Oh, Bond or Bourne? I thought that was your new name -- Bond or Bourne.

BRIGGS: It's the Tom Cotton debate.

CAMEROTA: I like -- I like Bourne because I like Matt Damon.

BRIGGS: Matt Damon --

ROMANS: All right.

BRIGGS: -- scored one there.

ROMANS: You are the only Matt Damon supporter of the morning. Everyone else went for Bond.

BRIGGS: We all love Matt Damon --

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: -- we're just Bond fans. Ali, thanks.

ROMANS: It's the end of an era for Yahoo. The internet icon no longer an independent company and Marissa Mayer walking away with a hefty severance. We'll tell you how much on CNN Money Stream, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[05:55:35] ROMANS: OK, it's that time of the morning, time to get a check on CNN Money Stream. Global stock markets and U.S. stock futures mostly higher right now. There was a rebound on Wall Street. The Dow and the S&P 500 rebounded and both hit record highs as tech stocks bounced back from that ugly two-day decline. Tech companies have been fueling the market's rally over the past year so that prices fell over concerns, simply, they'd run too high, too fast. All eyes today on the Fed -- the Federal Reserve. A 99 percent chance it will hike interest rates today, the fourth time since the financial crisis. The economy is strong enough for a rate hike.

After more than two decades, Yahoo no longer an independent company. Verizon officially completed its deal to buy Yahoo for $4.5 billion. It will combine Yahoo with AOL to form a digital -- a new digital company, shedding 15 percent of its staff, by the way, in the process. Yahoo has struggled to remain, frankly, relevant after its heyday of the dotcom boom brought down by failed management, costly acquisitions under current CEO Marissa Mayer. She will resign. She receives a hefty $23 million severance package on her way out. That has -- that has been a long road for Yahoo, no question, and Marissa Mayer, the longest serving CEO there of the last, I think, nine or 10.

BRIGGS: Yes.

ROMANS: They just went -- they cycled through management for a long time.

BRIGGS: That's a nice parting gift.

ROMANS: All right, thanks for joining us this morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Happy birthday to President Trump.

ROMANS: He's 71.

BRIGGS: "NEW DAY" with Cuomo and Camerota starts right now.

ROMANS: Seventy-one.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your new day. We do begin with breaking news for you. An inferno is engulfing a 24-story apartment building in London. (Video playing) As you can see on your screen, flames are shooting out the windows and this is a fast-moving blaze. It broke out in the middle of the night. Fire officials say several people are dead. We don't have the exact numbers right now but dozens are hurt.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Right. We're showing you pictures from the beginning part of the blaze. They've obviously been fighting it but they're dealing with a lot of complexities here. Many of the residents are missing. People are describing watching victims jump from the building, hearing cries for help. CNN's Phil Black is live at the scene in West London with the breaking details -- Phil.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Chris, this fire started in the middle of the night around 1:00 a.m. local time and what made it so devastating by all witness accounts was its speed. It moved through building incredibly quickly and, of course, at an hour when most people were at home sleeping. We understand there were 125 families living in that building. And as the fire moved through, well, of course, panic and fear set in. A lot of people realized something was going on, smelled the smoke, heard the commotion, and simply ran, and have told us incredible stories about their flight from the building.

Other people in the neighborhood, well, they're the ones that had to witness things from a distance -- terrible things -- knowing that people could very well be dying and not be able to help. Take a listen now to a couple of people we spoke to earlier today who witnessed all of this unfold.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was just horrific. It just was so awful to see and I'm watching people at their windows waving and shouting for help and screaming, and then just seeing their flats engulfed with smoke.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were actual bodies there -- kids, women, men. There are bodies all there that have -- the result of them jumping out and trying to save themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACK: So around nine hours after the blaze first broke out you can see that the firefighters are still trying to deal with flames within the building itself. They've made a lot of progress because through the night the flames were leaping out of the windows for much of the night. But even now, it's still burning, still smoldering. Crucially, we do not know what the human cost of all of this is. The authorities here have confirmed that people have died. They have not yet discussed numbers. They are still sweeping that building to try and determine that terrible detail -- Chris, Alisyn.

CUOMO: And we know that there's been just a tremendous amount of resources and coordination trying to make it through there. We've heard different accounts from the firefighters, Phil. I'm sure you have, as well, about the hell that they're dealing with inside that building. This is far from over. We'll check back with you. Thank you for the reporting. Stay safe.

All right, now to our other stop story this morning. Attorney General Jeff Sessions vehemently denying that he or anybody in the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.