Return to Transcripts main page

INSIDE POLITICS

Police: Bomber Identified as Salman Abedi, 22; Sources: No Links Found Between Bomber and Terror Groups; President Trump Arrives in Rome Ahead of Pope Meeting; Trump: Palestinian, Israelis Ready to "Reach for Peace"; Brennan: Trump Team Had Contact With Russia. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 23, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00] PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: -- when they interact in person or online. ISIS is calling on them to stay home. They're saying don't come to Syria, don't come to Iraq, don't come to Libya. Stay right there and carry out attacks there and we'll reach out to you through smart phones, through encrypted apps on smart phones.

Those have revolutionized terrorist attack plotting, John, because they have allowed terrorist groups to communicate in real time with sympathizers, with operatives back in the west, back in Europe providing them with bomb making tuition, with instructions, with encouragement. It's like an umbilical cord. And unfortunately for all the money the United States spends on the NSA, for all the money Britain spends on GCHQ, these services charged we're trying to intercept all these communications and to end encryption right now, means that essentially these groups could communicate to a large degree in secret with sympathizers and operatives back in the west.

So west intelligence services, they really need to know who they're dealing with, if they're going to try and target some of these phones to try and extract some messages after they've been decrypted by the devices in question. So much more challenging now for security services to intercept these plots.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Our Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson is at 10th Downing Street. Nic, there's a challenge for the prime minister, Theresa May in the middle of an election campaign in the U.K. Am I right that she is now expected to attend a vigil that we were expecting at the top of the hour? And what more can you show to us?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, she is expecting to attend the vigil campaigning for the election which is about three weeks away has been suspended. That's been agreed across the political parties. The police chief in Manchester has now named the attacker, Salman Abedi. 22-years-old.

He said that the coroner had not yet done a formal identification but Theresa May earlier in the day had said that the attacker was known to the police and intelligence services here. So now we have from the police chief of Manchester a name, Salman Abedi. That should provide certainly through open sources a degree more information about who this man was.

Of course, the police will have used that information already. What she has learned -- what the prime minister has learned while she's been in Manchester from her briefings with the police there, from her visit to the hospitals there, the children's hospital included, we don't know all of that yet. She'll be back here in London in a few hours behind the doors of number 10 chairing another of her security cobra cabinet briefing sessions where she'll have her intelligence chiefs, police chiefs, defense chiefs, other senior cabinet members to bring together all those pieces of information.

Of course this British Prime Minister Theresa May was for six years the home secretary here. That is the person responsible for security within the country and she will be very well acquainted. Perhaps more than any other member of her cabinet. More so than perhaps any other M.P. More best acquainted with how the intelligence services and police operate in these situations.

She is a detail oriented prime minister and she will undoubtedly want to stay across the detail on the nuances and have a very clear and strong hand in directing where things go and what's done from here on out, John.

KING: Nic Robertson, stand by. You've seen the bottom right of your screen there. That's the president of the United States arriving in Rome. He just flew in from Israel, the president will over night in Rome tonight. He of course has been briefed on this.

Juliette Kayyem, earlier in the day, the president called them losers. Call the (inaudible) losers which turns out to be we believe at the moment as single suicide bomber. But the president using the term "losers" is also about to obliterate the ideology that leads to such attacks.

He is a new president, unlike hid predecessors I think -- and help me understand this from your advising the decision makers, they policy makers if you will. Yes, he has the world's strongest military. Yes, he has the world's premier intelligence agencies but sometimes there's little on nothing he can do, right?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's right. I mean, look, there is an idealogical component to it. I don't think that the United States or even western countries own that. That is a struggle within Islam and there are nations as we saw this weekend that are trying to commit to it or thinking about it. But the idea that the United States will be in charge of it, obliterating the philosophy and idealogies is not how it works.

So you think of this in terms of various tools that are available to the United States. We certainly have war, we have intelligence efforts, we just spent two hours looking at it, hearing to hearing about that law enforcement, Homeland Security on the defensive side. And all of them are combined to not defeat an idealogy. It's very hard to do, you try to minimize its impact. (Inaudible) was not defeated at the end of World War II, it's relevant for how we work as a society and as the world change. [12:35:08] And so that's the focus that we need to get to. Minimize the number of people being recruited into ISIS. And then minimize the impact they can have each time. That's through disrupted behavior, that's through intelligence and then that's of course, you know, layer of defenses and then also, you know, as we saw yesterday, the response side.

This is -- these are tragedies but they are less tragedies if we armed and equipped our first responders and emergency managers to protect like what we call (inaudible), you know, after the event. So, I understand that that's the way the president approaches it but no one in the operational side would view it as, you know, defeating an idealogy as being the solution right now.

KING: Juliette, stand by. Paul Cruikshank, as we talked earlier, urgent test number one for investigators to try to figure out if this suicide bomber had any relationship or have any connections to terrorist organizations. I understand you have some new information, at least some of the initial scrub of that question.

CRUIKSHANK: John, (inaudible) from a British counter terrorism official on the investigation and they tell me that so far -- and it's early still, they have not yet uncovered any link between this attacker and any established terrorist organization. But they're looking at that, very closely that question trying to figure out if this individual was part of any network, linked in any way or in communication with a terrorist group overseas.

As of right now, they have not yet uncovered any evidence of that kind of link. This official also telling me that there's been forensics done when it comes to the explosive but too soon to make a final determination of just how sophisticated and powerful this device was. And the chemicals inside the bomb whether it was something like TATP which is a very high explosive which is being used in ISIS attacks in Paris and Brussels, or whether it was some kind of different explosive. They're looking at all of that right now with some urgency.

KING: You see the president of the United States and the first lady Melania Trump coming down the steps of Air Force One. They are in Rome, Italy in an important meeting with Pope Francis there tomorrow. And then the president goes on to the NATO summit as well to talk to allies there.

The president we know has been briefed on this. He spoke out about this earlier today. Let's watch just for a moment as (inaudible).

And Nic Robertson, if you're still with us at 10th Downing Street, obviously this is the president's first NATO summit. The conversion at the beginning of this trip was, would he press the allies to contribute more of their dues? Would he ease concerns among the allies that he doesn't have full faith if you will in the enduring quality and strength of the Trans-Atlantic Alliance? But NATO has itself shifted more to an anti-terrorism role on recent years. Is this attack at one of itself, the terror attack in Manchester, is that enough to fundamentally change the context of the conversation among the NATO allies?

ROBERTSON: I think it'll frame the conversation absolutely. I mean, it such a clear and present danger particularly in Europe. And one of the other things that will frame it as well is the unveiling at the NATO headquarters as a piece of the World Trade Center from the 9/11 attack. But that's being placed in part because NATO wants to make it clear for President Trump that they have played their role in supporting the United States on counter terrorism operations for some time thinking back obviously to taking on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Turkish NATO troops, British NATO troops among some of the first to go in and provide stability in the capital Kabul. And that was all about taking down Al-Qaeda, taking down their support structure and the Taliban. So the narrative is one of NATO of a shifting focus towards focusing on terrorism. That's something that President Trump absolutely wants to push as he believes he's being successful pushing that.

I was at NATO for the foreign ministers summit that -- in the lead up to this particular to this leaders summit. Rex Tillerson was early delivered a very, very clear and strong direct message to his counterparts and that was, you do need to come up with a plan to fill the two percent of GDP to be spent on military spending as per the NATO agreement. You need to come up with it. If you can't put the money on the table now, have a plan by the time President Trump gets here to show that you're going to be able to put the money on the table beginning, you know, opting your contributions by the end of this year. That it needs to be clear right now tomorrow when President Trump arrives.

[12:40:05] And he said in the context of that this summit to be successful for President Trump's visit. So it was very, very clear, President Trump regards this as a very big and very clear issue. But the narrative of the direction of the role that NATO will play, I think the NATO leaders have heard that message from President Trump.

They're reminding him of what they've done in the past and they are determining that that will be part and perhaps a shifting part of their focus in the future. Nevertheless the threat from Russia on the eastern borders of Europe, the eastern extremist of NATO if you will is another clear and present danger. That will be on the table there at the NATO. It will on the table as well at the G7, John.

KING: Nic Robertson for us at 10th Downing Street. You see the right of your screen, the president of the United States arrived in Rome, Italy. The police in Manchester, England identifying the suicide bomber at last night's terror attack in a concert hall here. The investigation continues.

We're going to take a quick break. Inside Politics will be back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. If you're watching with us, last look, President Trump just landed in Rome moments ago. That stop three on a nine-day international debut for the president. A Vatican meeting with Pope Francis is the main event tomorrow. Those two leaders, big difference is of climate change, immigration, and other issues.

[12:45:03] The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the focus earlier today. President Trump traveled to Bethlehem to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. His public remarks touchdown on an issue were told was raised more pointedly in their private talks. Palestinian payments to families of convicted terrorists.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated. Funded and even rewarded. We must be resolute in condemning such acts in a single unified voice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Before flying to Rome, the president concluded his trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories with a stop back in Israel at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And I had a meeting this morning with President Abbas and can tell you that the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace. I know you've heard it before. I am telling you that's what I do. They are ready to reach for peace. And my meeting with my very good friend Benjamin, I can tell you also that he is reaching for peace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: God bless him. And I mean that genuinely that he's trying. But is there -- do we see any substance behind this optimism? He is friends with Mr. Netanyahu when President Obama was not. So if you're asking for a personal favor or a little extra personal space, perhaps this president has it in a way the prior president didn't. But whether it's the issue of the Palestinians stopping these payments, having effective governance, having the political courage and the space to come to the table or the prime minister stopping settlement construction, dealing with his very tight coalition within Israel, having the political courage and the political space to come to the table, is that there beneath the president's effort which is to be applauded?

NAFTALI BENDAVID, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I don't think we're getting any indication that it is. There's a little bit of a pattern here of administrations coming in and talking optimistically, having high hopes, getting credit for their big aspiration and then they hit against the reality of the Middle East. There's the issue of settlements, there's the issue of East Jerusalem. Mr. Abbas raised both of those actually in his talks and it's great that people are speaking positively. But ultimately there's no real sign that any of these things have changed. And there's another point to be made which is that even if somehow Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu were to agree, they have followers who may not necessarily disagree. And the issue of terrorism, the issue of the settlements have only gotten harder and more intractable. So you can't, you know, criticize them for getting positive statements. But whether it really means that this is different and that we're on the (inaudible) of peace in the Middles East I think that's something we really need to reserve judgment on.

LAURA MECKLER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I don't just miss the possibility that Donald Trump who has a very different style than all of his predecessors could, you know, potentially approach this in a different way. And who knows, nothing here (inaudible) worked so maybe he could. However, I do fundamentally think that whether there's -- if and when there is peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians has a lot more to do with them than does has to do with us.

I mean, (inaudible) come there, show up one day, say these things, say they're both reaching for peace and then he's off to Rome. You know, the people who live there are the ones who have to make this decision. And I don't think we've seen to go to your question any real evidence that either side is willing to make the tough decisions. To sell the tough decisions to their people that need to be done in order to bring them together. So I just think that this is --

JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: And frankly we haven't seen any evidence that the president's skill set in business has transferred to politics in any way, shape or form. I mean, he barely got health care -- helps get health care through the House Republican conference. I mean, my goodness, those are a group of people that actually in theory should listen to him.

So -- and when he says this is what I do, oh, that's what you did. We haven't seen evidence that you can do that now.

KING: And -- I mean, I'm waiting -- we're going to see Jared Kushner shuffle diplomacy if it's truly is his portfolio. I don't say (inaudible) but if you're going to do this, I remember, you know, that Camp David and Bill Clinton tried for years and years and years and thought he was right there and then it collapsed at the last minute. It takes a lot of work.

MICHAEL CROWLEY, POLITICO: It takes a lot of work and even Donald Trump who after coming into the office said some things to be effective, you know, this isn't so hard, I think I can do it. Now more recently much like health care is saying things to be effective, who knew that this was so hard and complicated. And similarly when he first came into office we saw a lot of talk, heard a lot of talk about Jared Kushner being the peace maker, the outsider who will come in as part of his portfolio that includes five other world historical projects, hearing a little less about Jared's direct role.

I think reality is settling on them. Last thing I would add is, for someone like Donald Trump who's not an expert on the region, he's going to come (inaudible) both leaders, they always say we want peace. I mean, the concern that this is a naive reaction. That boy, they both told me they want peace. They've been saying that for years. The gap is still really wide. I'm not optimistic he can bridge it.

KING: Well, we'll check this is one of those things that again applaud the effort, check back in three months, six months, nine months, see if there's actually been any progress. There is no peace process, there's no process at the moment. We'll see.

[12:50:01] When we come back, more on the former CIA Director James -- John Brennan, excuse me on Capitol Hill today. Pressed on whether there's collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin in the 2016 presidential campaign. More on his very interesting answer, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons. And so therefore, by the time I left office on January 20th, I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not. To work on their behalf again either in a witting or unwitting fashion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:55:02] KING: Important testimony earlier today from the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan. He's now a private citizen but he was there at the end of the Obama administration when they started investigating. First, the idea of the issue of Russian meddling and then came across what Director Brennan says. Not my job, that's the FBI's job but a number of context and conversations. Let's help in a few moments we have to why is that testimony so important as we now move into the, a, the continuing congressional investigation but also a special counsel?

MECKLER: I mean, I think we understand now, you know, what the meat is behind this investigation. I mean, there is always been -- there's two things happening at the same time which I think could be confusing to people. There's the actual substance of the Russian meddling, did the campaign officials get involved and this is essentially gives us the -- some understanding of why the FBI started to investigate in the first place.

So at the same time you have a separate investigation going on about or inquiries going on about did Trump try to shut it down? So those two things are happening at the same time. I think there's more -- today has been more evidence about Trump's interference and more at least known to the public but this is the substance of it all.

BENDAVID: But there's also this interesting point going forward which is going to be this complex dance that's about to start happening between the congressional investigations and the special counsel investigations. We see that more and more as they want to talk to the same witnesses, get the same documents. In some cases, Bob Mueller is not going to want Congress to look at the same thing. In other cases, witnesses are saying I'm already talking to special counsel, I'm not talking to Congress. So that's going to add the complexity and I think we're at just at the beginning --

KING: And to that point, one of the people whose contacts with the Russians they want more information about is Michael Flynn. The former national security adviser, Trump campaign aide who yesterday told the Senate Intelligence Committee, no. They had asked for a bunch of documents, subpoenaed a bunch of documents. He said no and said (inaudible) to against self-incrimination which is doesn't he's done anything wrong. A good lawyer will tell you do that. But we're told the committee later today will announce its next step as that investigation continues.

The thing I took away from Brennan was the Republicans especially those in the Trump White House have tried to say yes, we had a bunch of meetings but they we're not nefarious, they were about building relationships. So they might have been about somebody's business deal (inaudible), but it wasn't about the campaign interfering. Brennan was seemed to give as much as he could in public weighed to the idea that these contacts, no, I saw the intelligence and I was pretty worried. It's more than that.

CROWLEY: The tied keeps rising John. I mean, you know, even Donald Trump's own rhetoric -- I mean, he set the bar pretty high. You know, Russia is fake news. I have nothing to do with Russia.

Treats the whole thing like there's nothing there. Republicans have been very eager to say this is a (inaudible) story. And incrementally through leaks and now increasingly through very credible public testimony from the highest levels of government, these allegations are getting more and more substantiated and it's really doing a lot of damage to the credibility of the Trump team.

KING: And it's going to be with us for some time. Months and months ahead at least. Thanks for joining us in Inside Politics today, dealing with the breaking news. Wolf Blitzer up in the chair after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. Thanks very much for joining us. We're watching two developing stories this hour. In Manchester, England right now --