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Oil Tanker Attack; Republicans Speak Out; Trade War Tension; Raptors Win! Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired June 14, 2019 - 05:00   ET


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: EARLY START continues right now with a latest out of Iran.



[05:00:08] MIKE POMPEO, U.S. 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.


SEN. 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.


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


LARRY KUDLOW, PRESIDENT'S ECONOMIC ADVISER: They are on wrong side of history. We will win this battle.


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


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

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRIGGS: The Raptors capture the NBA title in a nail biter of a game six, and devastating injury for Golden State in that Toronto win. We will have that for you later.

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

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday. Say it again. So nice I'll say it twice. It's Friday, June 14th, it's 5:00 a.m. in the East. It's 1:00 p.m. in the Strait of Hormuz.

And let's begin there, the U.S. military releasing video last night that says it shows an Iranian navy crew removing an unexploded mine attached to one of two tanker ships attacked in the Gulf of Oman. Now, 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.

This is an important global corridor for trade. Any kind of sabotage or shenanigans here have ramifications all around the world. What do we know?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. About 30 percent of the world's oil, Christine, passes through the Straits of Hormuz where this incident happened early yesterday morning.

Now, in this video that was released by the Pentagon, what we see is a boat coming up to the Kokuka Courageous, which is this Japanese owned tanker that was hit early yesterday morning. What we see is men seeming to remove an object from the side of the ship.

Now, the Pentagon says that is a limpet mine. That's a mine that's attached to ships via magnets. The Iranians are denying any involvement in this incident and, of course, the Japanese company that owns that tanker is saying they believe that the damage caused to it was not from a mine or a torpedo, but rather from some sort of flying object, a shell or a missile. This coming from the company itself which is quoting a crew member of that ship.

But whoever did it, whatever is behind this incident, it certainly has raised tensions to levels we have not seen in years -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Ben, so glad that you're there to follow-up for us. Thank you.

BRIGGS: To politics now. Republicans have begun to respond to President Trump's comment that he would 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 that would be election interference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 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 would go maybe to the FBI.


BRIGGS: 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 with more from Capitol Hill.



Lawmakers up here on Capitol Hill are 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 is 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 is Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

GRAHAM: 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.

[05:05:00] 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 op from a foreign adversary but tried to steer from being critical of President Trump's comments himself and tried to quickly pivot to redirect attention to the Democrats.

Republicans, Christine, they're very clearly walking a political tightrope in their response to this.


ROMANS: All right. Sunlen, thank you so much 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 it, to participate with it in 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 are 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 else running for -- 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: Case closed.

The Trump administration coming to the defense of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, 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 interview in the run up to a special election in Alabama in 2018 when she said this about Democrat Doug Jones.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: Doug Jones in Alabama, folks, don't be fooled. He will 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: -- doctrinaire liberal, which is why he's not saying anything and why the media are trying to boost him.


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


BRIGGS: More now from 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? Listen to what she said a couple of weeks ago.

REPORTER: The office of special counsel which says that you impermissibly mixed --

CONWAY: Listen --

REPORTER: -- official government business with political --

CONWAY: Blah, blah -- listen.

REPORTER: -- (INAUDIBLE) about candidates in the Alabama special election.

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

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.

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

A new warning to President Trump about the damage a trade war with China could cause. More than 600 companies including Walmart, Costco, Target issued a letter that said 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 tariff strategy. 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 is confident about the future of the strategy.


[05:10:03] 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, Americans in the long run. They are on the wrong side of history. We will win this battle.


ROMANS: Kudlow says the pain will shift to China not American consumers as companies move out of China and that's something that is slowly beginning to happen.

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 out of China 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 champion Golden State Warriors 114-110 last night in a terrific game to win the NBA finals series in six games. They are the first Canadian team to win an NBA title. The Raptors Kawhi Leonard named finals MVP. The superstar free agent to be averaging more than 28 points a game against Golden State. Kawhi is also the first player 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 championship. Some 100,000 people including Raptors super fan Drake jammed Toronto's "Jurassic Park" to watch their beloved team make NBA history.

In the loss for Golden State, Klay Thompson, the superstar, tore his ACL. He is out for the foreseeable future. Devastating loss for them.

Ahead, a congressman accused of corruption, his wife now pleading guilty. Will she flip on her husband? That's next.


[05:16:47] BRIGGS: 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 who was unapologetic defender of the president on cable TV, she also stayed behind the scenes far more than any modern press secretary. His resignation coming on the 94th 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. 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 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 has 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 President Trump said he hopes she runs for governor in 2022.

A major legal setback for California Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter in his federal corruption case. Hunter's wife Margaret pleading guilty Thursday to knowingly and willingly converting her husband's campaign funds for personal use. She also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Both Hunters previously pleaded not guilty not federal charges. They're also accused of stealing a quarter million dollar in campaign funds to finance a lavish lifestyle.

Well, move over Jon Snow. There is a new king of the north. The NBA champion Toronto Raptors.

Andy Scholes has this huge story in the "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:24:05] BRIGGS: For the first time in their history, the Toronto Raptors are NBA champions. The Raptors dethroning the Warriors in game six last night who had a devastating loss in that loss.

Andy Scholes has more in the "Bleacher Report".

Good morning, my friend.


You know, the city of Toronto probably still celebrating this morning. What a year it's been for the Raptors. You know, last summer, they fired their coach and traded for superstar Kawhi Leonard and those moves certainly paying off big time.

Game six was another thriller and Kawhi solid again, gets the bucket plus the foul here in the third quarter. Moments later just another brutal injury for the warriors, Klay Thompson who was having a fantastic game goes down after getting fouled. Klay would have to leave the game with a knee injury, the warriors announcing he has tore his ACL.

The game was as intense as it gets late. When the Raptors needed a big shot undrafted Fred VanVleet coming through, hit three big three pointers in the fourth quarter.

[05:25:06] Steph Curry had a chance to win this one in the final seconds but his shot would be no good. Raptors take game six, 114- 110, to win the NBA finals, 4-2. And the hockey-crazed country of Canada now has its first NBA title. Kawhi, first player ever to win NBA finals MVP in both conferences.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LEONARD: I just kept working hard, working hard and had my mind-set on this goal right here. I came to a team, a new coach, that mindset was the same as mine, trying to get that Larry O.B. over there. 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.


SCHOLES: Tens of thousands of fans taking to the streets of Toronto to celebrate the team's first championship. People were setting off fireworks, others decided it was a good idea to climb up those light poles. This the city's first title in the four major pro sports leagues since the Blue Jays won it back in 1993.

All right. The U.S. Open teeing off yesterday at pebble beach. Tiger Woods shooting a 1 under for the day. He had nice putts to save par, one of them here on 14.

Tiger gives a little fist pump after that one. One under not fantastic, but Tiger will take it. He hadn't had a first round under par at the U.S. open in seven years. Tiger five shots off the lead heading into today's second round, Justin Rose is your leader at 6 under.

Today, Tiger tees off a little before 11:00 Eastern today so you get some lunchtime golf.

BRIGGS: Sounds good to me.

Boy, devastated for that Warriors team, three superstars, now one in the foreseeable future, huh?

SCHOLES: Yes. You know, the Warriors, they might have to take a year off in terms of going to the NBA finals. It doesn't look like they will have Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant next season.

BRIGGS: Two Warriors on and off the court, it's just a really tough loss.

Andy, thank you, my friend. Congrats to our friends in Canada.

Romans, what's coming up?

ROMANS: All right. Well, the U.S. military, Dave, releasing surveillance video of a damaged oil tanker. Why the U.S. says it points to Iran, next.