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Video Released in Oil Tanker Attack; Republicans Avoid Criticizing Trump on "Dirt" Comment; White House Stands Behind Kellyanne Conway; Mexico to Announce Plan to Control Illegal Immigration; Lineup for First Democratic Primary Debate Announced. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired June 14, 2019 - 04:30   ET




[04:32:13] MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: The Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. says surveillance video of a damaged oil tanker points to Tehran.


REP. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): That would be simply unthinkable for a candidate for president.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): He gets picked at every day over every different aspect of it.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Republicans slamming, spinning or even defending President Trump's comments about foreign dirt on political rivals.


LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: They are on the wrong side of history. We will win this battle.


ROMANS: The president's economic adviser defiant as hundreds of companies take a stand against his trade war with China.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a new NBA champion. And it's a team from Toronto, Canada.


BRIGGS: The Raptors capture the NBA title in a nail-biter.

Happy Friday, congrats to our friends north of the border watching this morning. And a tough morning for the Golden State Warriors. More on that ahead.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 33 minutes past the hour this Friday morning. And let's begin with this.

The U.S. military releasing video last night that it says shows an Iranian Navy crew removing an exploded mine attached to one of two tanker ships attacked in the Gulf of Oman. The tankers were attacked in international waters near the Strait of Hormuz. U.S. officials believe the Iranians were trying to recover evidence of their involvement in the attack.

Senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman joins us live from Abu Dhabi with the latest -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine. What's interesting in this video that we've seen released by the Pentagon is that it does appear to show an Iranian boat in which men are taking an object from the side of this tanker, the Kokuka Courageous. Now this -- the Americans are saying that is a limpet mine, that's a mine that's attached to ships using magnets.

Now what's interesting is that the Japanese company that owns the tanker is saying that one of the crew members on board saw what he said was a shell being fired in the direction of the tanker, and that the owners do not believe that the damage caused to the tanker itself was from mines because they also say those mines were well above the water line.

So a continuing mystery as to what exactly happened yesterday in the Gulf of Oman. Not surprisingly, the Iranians are denying any involvement with this incident. We did see Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, is saying that this -- it looks plan team B is at work here.

[04:35:03] Clearly he is referring to the current American administration and those who are the point men. That's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security adviser John Bolton, in this current escalation between Iran and the United States -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Ben Wedeman, thank you for that.

BRIGGS: OK. Back to politics, Republicans have begun to respond to President Trump's comment that he'd accept dirt on an opponent from a foreign government. A possible violation of U.S. law. The president telling ABC News that he might go to the FBI if he received such an offer and casting doubt on the idea that it would be election interference.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not an interference. They have information. I think I'd take it. If I thought there was something wrong I'd go maybe to the FBI.


BRIGGS: Maybe. On Thursday some Republicans joined Democrats in blasting the president. Many more offered no comment or even deflected with the dubious claim that Hillary Clinton's campaign did the same thing.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty has more from Capitol Hill.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave. Lawmakers up here on Capitol Hill responding to that admission from President Trump, his willingness to take dirt from foreign adversaries potentially, and much of the reaction rather predictably falling down party lines with Democrats outraged and blasting President Trump for saying he would not immediately report that to the FBI.

Here's speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Yesterday the president gave us once again evidence that he does not know right from wrong.


SERFATY: And Republicans as we have seen in the past have been very hesitant to wade into this. Here's Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Yes, I think it's a mistake. I think it's a mistake of law, I don't want to send a signal to encourage this. And I hope my Democrat colleagues will be equally offended by the fact that this actually did happen in 2016 where a foreign agent was paid for by a political party to gather opposition research. All those things are wrong.


SERFATY: And that is very similar to what we are hearing from many Republicans up here on Capitol Hill. The ones that would take a question and answer this, they said that they personally would not take oppo from a foreign adversary, but tried to steer and stay very far away from being very critical of President Trump's comments themselves and tried to quickly pivot to redirect attention to the Democrats. Republicans, Christine and Dave, very clearly walking a political tightrope in their response to this.

ROMANS: All right, Sunlen Serfaty, thank you for that. On Capitol Hill it seemed like there were almost as many different

shades of reaction as there are Republicans. Take Utah Senator Mitt Romney.


ROMNEY: That would be simply unthinkable for a candidate for president to accept that involvement, to encourage, to participate with it at any way, shape or form. It would strike at the very heart of our democracy.


ROMANS: Now contrast that with Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell immediately turning attention back on Democrats.


MCCONNELL: He gets picked at every day over every different aspect of it. But the fundamental point is they're trying to keep the 2016 election alive. I would ask the Democrats in the House this, is there anything you're willing to do other than harass the president for the next two years? Anything at all?


ROMANS: One last point from the chairwoman of the Federal Elections Commission, Ellen Weintraub. She issued a statement, quote, "Let me make something 100 percent clear to the American public and anyone running for public office. It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election."

BRIGGS: The Trump administration coming to the defense of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. They are rejecting calls from a federal agency for her to be fired for criticizing political opponents while in her official government capacity. Conway's violations center around TV interviews in the run-up to a special Senate election in Alabama in 2018 when she said this about Democrat Doug Jones.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don't be fooled, he'll be a vote against tax cuts. He's weak on crime, weak on borders, he's strong on raising your taxes, he's terrible for property owners.


CONWAY: And Doug Jones is a doctrinaire liberal which is why he's not saying anything and why the media are trying to boost him.

DOOCY: So vote Roy Moore?

CONWAY: I'm telling you that we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax -- this tax bill through. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: We get more now from CNN's Abby Phillip at the White House.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A federal watchdog is recommending that President Trump fire counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway claiming that she repeatedly violated the Hatch Act which prohibits government employees from using their official offices to do political work.

And now this office, the Office of Special Counsel, which is not related to the Mueller report office, is saying that Kellyanne Conway has repeatedly used her office to disparage political candidates to promote other candidates, and even on one occasion she flouted this in the face of that office and said essentially when does the jail time start?

[04:40:13] Listen to what she said a couple of weeks ago.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The Office of Special Counsel which says that you impermissibly mixed --

CONWAY: I don't know -- listen.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- official government business with political --

CONWAY: I'm sorry, are you talking about something from a year and a half ago? So if you're trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it's not going to work.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I'm not trying to silence you. The Office of Special Counsel said you violated it.


CONWAY: Let me know when the jail sentence starts.


PHILLIP: But the White House is pushing back on this ruling. The deputy press secretary Steve Groves said in a statement that the office's ruling is deeply flawed and violates Kellyanne Conway's constitutional rights to free speech and due process.

The White House is rejecting the notion that she did anything improper in her role as counselor to the president when she made these statements on social media and even on television appearances from the White House North Lawn.

But ultimately none of this might actually matter because the Hatch Act is one of those provisions that is rarely enforced. And in fact President Trump himself is responsible for enforcing it. Sources say that the president is very unlikely to fire Kellyanne as a result of something like this, particularly when it comes to these sorts of ethical violations which multiple White House officials at this point have been dinged by this very same office over the last several months -- Christine and Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes. We will not hold our breath. Abby, thanks.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders stepping down at the end of the month after just shy of two years on the job. President Trump heaping praise on Sanders.


TRUMP: She has been so great. She has such heart. She's strong but with great, great heart. And I want to thank you for an outstanding job.


TRUMP: And thank you.


BRIGGS: Sanders was unapologetic in terms of defending the president on cable TV. She also stayed behind the scenes far more than any modern press secretary. Her resignation coming on the 94th day consecutive day without a White House briefing longer than any stretch in the last two decades. She told reporters off camera she has no regrets about that.


SANDERS: No, I don't. I still contend that we are the most accessible White House and certainly the president is the most accessible president. And I think it's far more important for me to have played a role in facilitating direct contact with the president of the United States to the American people to hear from him and in his voice than it is to hear from me and mine.


BRIGGS: Sanders also took plenty of heat for some of the answers she gave to reporters. Last March she contradicted herself about hush money paid to women who alleged affairs with the president.


SANDERS: There was no knowledge of any payments from the president and he's denied all of these allegations. The first awareness I had was during the interview last night. And I've given the best information I had at the time.


BRIGGS: Sanders will return to her native Arkansas where she has said privately she may run for governor. The president said he hopes she does so. ROMANS: All right. A new warning to President Trump about the damage

a trade war with China could cause. More than 600 companies including Walmart, and Costco, and Target wrote a letter that more tariffs will have a significant negative and long-term impact on American businesses, farmers, families and the U.S. economy.

The Trump administration, though, is devoted to its tariffs strategy, defending it. The chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said people don't have to buy goods from China so they don't have to pay the tariff and he's confident about the future of this strategy.


KUDLOW: The world's trading system is broken and President Trump is the guy that's trying to fix it. And it's not easy. But he believes it will help, you know, America's long run. They are on the wrong side of history. We will win this battle.


ROMANS: "They" being China. And there are some corporate moves that might be proving the administration right. RH, formerly known as Restoration Hardware, said it is moving production out of China to avoid paying for tariffs. Nintendo and Google are reportedly looking to move production as well.

BRIGGS: The Toronto Raptors are NBA champs for the first time in team history.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a new NBA champion and it's a team from Toronto, Canada. We the north are now we the champions.


BRIGGS: Toronto beating the two-time defending champions, Golden State Warriors 114-110 in an incredible game last night to win the NBA Finals series in six games. They are the first Canadian team to win an NBA title. The Raptors' Kawhi Leonard was named the Finals' MVP. Superstar free agent to be averaged more than 28 points a game against Golden State.

[04:45:03] Kawhi also becomes the first player in league history to win Finals MVP with teams in both conferences.


KAWHI LEONARD, RAPTORS PLAYER: This is what I play basketball for, this is what I work out for all summer, during the season and I'm happy that my hard work paid off.


BRIGGS: The scene back in Toronto, one of jubilation. Raptors fans erupting after the team's first ever championship. Some 100,000 people including rapper super fan Drake jammed in Toronto's Jurassic Park to watch their beloved team make NBA history.

ROMANS: Good for them.

BRIGGS: And Klay Thompson in that loss for Golden State tore an ACL. He will be out for the foreseeable future, devastating for the Warriors.

ROMANS: Yes. Bad news for them.

All right. In just hours we expect to hear Mexico's plan to deal with the flow of migrants from Central America. We've got a report from Mexico next.


[04:50:09] BRIGGS: The president of Mexico set to announce today his new plan to contain the flow of migrants from Central America. Mexico committed to a 45-day plan to curb immigration to the U.S. during talks in Washington last week. President Trump has suggested what he calls phase two of tariffs against Mexico if it does not successfully step up immigration enforcement. He says phase two would be very tough.

CNN's Michael Holmes with more.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm standing here on the Mexican- Guatemalan border. I'm in Mexico. Behind me over there you see Guatemala. And if you see these pontoons back there, that gives you an idea of how difficult the task is going to be for Mexico to stop the flow of migrants from the so-called northern triangle, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador. All day long these pontoons have been going back and forth. For $1.20 you can jump on one and come over. It's that easy. Walk up into town and you're on your way.

The Mexican government says it's going to outline details of its plan to try to stop the flow of migrants heading to the U.S. border. They're going to do that on Friday. And it's going to be interesting to see how they plan to do it. You're talking about a 540-mile stretch of border with Guatemala. There's forest, there is river like this one, there are mountains. How are they going to police that? What are they going to do?

There are 200,000 migrants in this state, Chiapas State, alone and there are half a dozen states happen along this border, so you can see how difficult the task is going to be. They say they're going to put their National Guard in and try to use the National Guard. The National Guard was never designed for this kind of thing. You're going to see police, you're going to see troops. But how many people they're going to be able to get along here and stop this type of movement remains to be seen.

ROMANS: All right. Michael Holmes for us there on the border.

All right. Summer travel is getting more expensive. Find out which airlines are raising air fares. CNN Business is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:56:41] BRIGGS: Twenty presidential candidates have qualified for the first set of Democratic debates. Three candidates did not make the cut, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton and Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam. With the debates approaching, the candidates are back on the trail today.

CNN's Jessica Dean has that story.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave. 2020 Democrats are on the move today and throughout the weekend. Senator Kamala Harris is headed to Nevada for two days. That is a state that's increasingly important to her campaign. Mayor Pete Buttigieg will be in Virginia while Senator Elizabeth Warren will in New Hampshire.

And then over the weekend, attention turns to South Carolina. Beto O'Rourke and Senator Cory Booker will make that trip along with Warren and Buttigieg, all speaking to the Black Economic Alliance Forum. Now that trip of particular importance for Buttigieg as he works to connect with and grow support within the African-American community. That's a group of voters he's struggled to gain traction with so far.

All of this as we await to hear more details about the first Democratic primary debate that will take place over two nights later this month. The DNC will announce today who will be grouped with who. Sources tell CNN a drawing to determine the grouping will be held and each qualified candidate will be allowed to have representation present.

Now the big question there, what will the mix of candidates be on those two different nights and how will that affect the debate's dynamic and the candidates' dynamic with each other -- Christine and Dave.

ROMANS: All right. Jessica, thank you so much for that.

Let's get a check on CNN Business this Friday morning. This is a look at global markets around the world. You can see Asian markets mostly mixed here and London opening slightly lower. Asian markets mixed really amid that tension following the attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Oil prices spiked yesterday on the news and now oil prices this morning down slightly. I would say stabilizing.

And U.S. markets you're seeing a little bit -- a little of softness this morning. The Dow jumped yesterday as confidence increased that the Fed may cut interest rates. Both the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 closed up as well.

Checking in on mortgage rates also holding near a two-year low yesterday. So all of this interest in potentially the Fed cutting rates has lowered mortgage rates so if you're in the market to refinance or to buy a home, those rates, lock them in.

Summer travel plans might be getting a little more expensive, though. Airlines, including American, Southwest and Hawaiian are raising prices on tickets. Now the hike might be an issue for consumers but investors loved this news. It's the second hike in less than a month and investors could see that as a sign that despite the slowing U.S. economy, demand is still holding up for air travel. They can afford the hike the -- you know, hike the fees. Stocks across the industry rose yesterday on that news.

AT&T is canceling -- cancelling preorders for Samsung's Galaxy Fold. Samsung has now delayed the launch of the foldable phone after many of them, remember, broke when they were sent to tech reviewers? AT&T, CNN's parent company, said it would refund customers who had ordered the phone and throw in a $100 gift card for their trouble. Samsung has not said yet when the nearly $2,000 phone will ship.

BRIGGS: So many times I've said I won't pay that for a phone. I'm not saying again, because we always do. We also end up paying that for a phone.

EARLY START continues right now with the latest out of Iran.

POMPEO: The Islamic Republic.