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DOJ: Sessions Did Not Disclose Russia Meetings On Security Clearance Form; President Lawyers Up As Russia Questions Mount; CBO: GOP Health Bill Would Leave 23 Million More Uninsured. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 25, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The couple says they're forever grateful to him and his act of bravery.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: That's incredible. What an angel sent at exactly the right time. That is a good, good stuff.

All right. It is time now for CNN NEWSROOM with Poppy Harlow and John Berman. Hi, guys.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Azucar.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Sweet as sugar.

HARLOW: There you go.

BERMAN: Like Alisyn Camerota and Chris Cuomo.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Thanks so much guys. A lot of news. Let's get to it.

HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Happening now, hold on to your glasses. Polls just opened across Montana after one of the most outrageous last minute election twists in history.

Overnight, the Republican candidate in a special congressional race, Greg Gianforte, was charged with assault for allegedly body slamming a reporter, a reporter who had the unmitigated gall to ask a question, which reporters do from time to time, a question about health care.

HARLOW: Not only a question about health care, a question about news that had just broken on health care. The candidate's handsy response cost him the endorsement of three local papers so far. Reporter Ben Jacobs recorded it all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN JACOBS, POLITICS REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: -- the CBO score. As you know, you've been waiting to make your decision about health care until we saw the bill out and it just came out. And when you talk about -- REP. GREG GIANFORTE (R), MONTANA: Yes. We'll talk to you about that later.

JACOBS: Yes, but there's not going to time. I'm just curious if you --

GIANFORTE: OK. Speak with Shane, please. (Inaudible).

I'm sick and tired of you guys. The last time you came in here you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here!

JACOBS: Jesus.

GIANFORTE: Get the hell out of here! OK. The last guy did the same thing. Are you with "The Guardian"?

JACOBS: Yes! And you just broke my glasses.

GIANFORTE: The last guy did the same damn thing.

JACOBS: You just body slammed and broke my glasses.

GIANFORTE: Get the hell out of here.

JACOBS: You'd like me to get the hell out of here. I'd also like to call the police. Can I get your guys' names?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, you've got to leave.

JACOBS: He just body slammed me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got to leave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Let's go straight to our Kyung Lah who is live in Missoula, Montana, with more. Kyung, this is a first.

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is astonishing, especially here in the state of Montana where people have just simply never heard anything like this.

The polls are now open. They are going to be voting for the congressman that will represent them. Their former congressman is appointed as the Interior Secretary. They've got to decide now, the Republican who has been charged with a misdemeanor assault, if that's the guy they want to send to Congress. So they're all talking about this.

They're also hearing from "The Guardian" reporter, Ben Jacobs, who recorded that audio, and he is retelling what happened to him. Here's what he said this morning on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACOBS: It was this very strange moment that he suddenly, you know, grabs my recorder and then things go haywire from there. You know, I have spent a lot of time reporting on Capitol Hill, a lot of time asking politicians questions about health care, and it has never, never ended in any sort of altercation. It was unexpected and surreal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAH: Now, after the altercation, the Gianforte camp did respond. And here is what they released. In part, they blamed Jacobs saying that he "aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face, and began asking badgering questions. Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg's wrist and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer barbecue."

We should point out that the statement does not match the audio at all. So the voters are going to have to decide how much this is going to play into their vote. But will this really make a difference? We need to point out that seven out of 10 people in the state have already voted by absentee ballot. Poppy, John.

BERMAN: Now, it's important to note that the account from the candidate does not match the audio nor eye witness accounts. Still, we have yet to hear from national Republicans on this. Kyung Lah, thank you very, very much.

HARLOW: All right. Joining us now is Darrell Ehrlick, the editor of the "Billings Gazette." That's one of the three papers that pulled their endorsement of Greg Gianforte today.

Thank you very much for being here. And let's just get right to it. Why did you pull the endorsement? Because that is an unprecedented move.

DARRELL EHRLICK, EDITOR, BILLINGS GAZETTE: Yes. Absolutely, it was unprecedented, but there was no way that we could stand behind what we saw. We rescinded the endorsement at around 10:00 last night. We posted it online immediately, as did my colleagues in Missoula and Helena.

And we just couldn't stand when we heard the audio and read the accounts. We can't stand behind a person who would do this.

[09:05:08] BERMAN: And you note this raises some new questions about the candidate's behavior on the trail before. Explain.

EHRLICK: Yes. Well, previously, he had made a joke to a reporter who asked him a question. And he had said, to his supporters, there are more of us than them, and he had passed it off as a joke.

We had asked him in an editorial board interview about that. He said he's new to politics and that he meant it as a joke. He's still learning the political system. And he apologized to the "Billings Gazette" editorial board when we asked him about that. And he said that we had his word that he was going to listen, and he

was doing his best to represent all Montanans and he certainly didn't mean violence as a joke or even mean it seriously.

HARLOW: But this comes in an environment, you know, from the President on down, of increasing hostility towards the media and towards journalists.

One important note to make, in this election, the polls are now just opened. It's expected about seven out of 10 people have already voted, right? Early voting, absentee voting, et cetera. And in Montana, you can't reverse those early votes.

What impact do you believe this is going to have on the race overall? This is a tight one.

EHRLICK: Yes. Well, I think it was tight going in. I think it was fairly tight going into the race. And now, our numbers say that there may be between five and six and 10 voters, so there is still plenty of votes in play. And if it was tight before, I think that this could be a game changer for the Republicans in a state that supported Trump very, very heavily in the presidential election.

HARLOW: Yes, 20 points.

BERMAN: And also, in rescinding your endorsement, you also made a call to national Republicans to step up and speak out against what you called an inexcusable act. Explain what you're going for there and if you've heard from any national Republicans.

EHRLICK: Yes, we have not, to my knowledge. It was very either a long night or short morning when I left. Following the news at about 1:00 this morning our time, I hadn't seen anything. And I haven't seen anything this morning.

We just believe that, at this time, it's a very dangerous message to send that, to try to explain it. We were very disappointed with the Gianforte camp's response. We pointed that out.

One of our reasons for changing the endorsement was that this is -- I don't think you can frame this about media or this is just us protecting our own. This was assault on a person, and we couldn't condone it. We would report that if it happened right outside the "Billings Gazette."

This was just wrong. So we hope that other leaders will recognize it for what it is. And listen to the audio for yourself. It's hard to listen to.

HARLOW: Quickly before we go, we know the President, President Trump did record at least one robo call for this candidate, Gianforte. What kind of role has the President played overall in this special election?

EHRLICK: Well, we've had Donald Trump Jr. twice in the state of Montana touring. We've had Vice President Mike Pence. This is out of character for Montana, which has three electoral votes. Montana maybe gets one or two stops a campaign season, but it does not get the attention that it's been getting from the last couple of weeks.

So I think that the President's name carries with it a lot of weight. The robo calls, I'm not sure Montanans love those, so we'll see. But I think that's all people wanted to talk about, and we were just inundated at the paper online social media last night with people wanting to talk.

HARLOW: Darrell Ehrlick, thank you very much.

EHRLICK: My pleasure.

HARLOW: All right. So we have new developments this morning also in that terror attack in Manchester, England. Twenty-two people killed in that attack. And according to new reports, the U.K. has now suspended intelligence sharing related to the attack with the United States. That's coming from multiple different reporting outlets.

And this is comes in the midst of a lot of frustration over leaks from U.S. officials, including leaks like these photos, photos published by "The New York Times" showing the aftermath of the bomb used by the attacker.

BERMAN: British Prime Minister Theresa May, frustrated by the leaks, is expected to speak with President Trump today in Brussels. We're also learning the names of more victims, including 19-year-old Courtney Boyle and her stepfather, Philip Tron. Eighteen victims now named in this attack.

I want to bring in CNN's Senior International Correspondent Clarissa Ward in Manchester with the latest developments. Clarissa.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, it was just about 24 hours ago that we heard from the U.K.'s Home Secretary saying that these leaks have to stop. She called them irritating. She did stop short of saying that they were damaging the actual investigation.

But then following the publication of "The New York Times" of these various photographs that appeared to show the bomb, we have heard a much more unified outcry from British lawmakers, from British counter terrorism police, who basically said it undermines the investigation. It undermines trust between the two countries.

[09:10:06] And now, of course, we've heard from British Prime Minister Theresa May, who has said, you know, I'm going to have to take this up with President Donald Trump when she sees him later today in Brussels.

There is an understanding that the U.S. has a rather large bureaucratic intelligence apparatus, and therefore that it may be lower level employees who are leaking this information. But, certainly, it's fair to say there's a lot of frustration and upset, even here just on the streets, that U.S. officials continue to leak crucial information, specifically about the bomb because that's the concern that authorities have right now, who made that bomb, how did they make it.

It was not a rudimentary bomb. A certain level of sophistication went into it. They want to make sure that they find the bomb maker before reports start to flood the public domain and before, potentially, another attack could happen. John and Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. Clarissa Ward live for us in Manchester. Thank you for the reporting.

Also, one hour from now, President Trump will arrive at NATO headquarters. Of course, the western military alliance that candidate Trump dismissed repeatedly as obsolete, though he says it is no longer obsolete.

Let's go to our White House Correspondent Sara Murray. She's traveling with the President. She joins us from Brussels.

You know, he has now reversed course on thinking NATO is obsolete, but he hasn't come out fully saying the U.S. will stand behind its Article Five obligation. Do we expect to hear that today?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a great question. We have heard that from a number of his senior advisors, that they do support Article Five, the notion that when one of these countries is attacked, all of them are attacked and all of them will respond. Remember, it's only been turned to at one point, and that was when the U.S. was attacked in the wake of 9/11. But President Trump has not said that yet.

They are doing some ceremonial dedications today, including one that will be a memorial to 9/11, and so they're looking to see whether the President will make that comment. Now, we also are hearing from his advisors that even though he's no longer calling NATO obsolete, even though he has backtracked, there are still going to pressing members of NATO to increase their defense spending.

And beyond that, we know the President is still weighing whether to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan. So that's likely to be part of the conversation today, too, what his allies think about that potential plan and whether NATO would be willing to put some military might behind such an initiative as well, Poppy.

BERMAN: All right. Sara Murray for us live in Brussels this morning. We will get back to that as soon as the President arrives at NATO headquarters. Thanks so much, Sara.

Meanwhile, new calls for yet another investigation after CNN reveals that Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose meetings he had last year with Russian officials when he applied for security clearance.

HARLOW: And if Senate Republicans didn't like the health care bill from the House before, they're not going to like this number. A new report shows the plan would leave 23 million more Americans uninsured in a decade. So where does this all go from here? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:16:42]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee is calling for an investigation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions because of new revelations that he did not disclose two meetings he had with the Russian ambassador when he applied for his security clearance.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The Justice Department says that Sessions was told by an FBI employee that he did not need to disclose the meetings. Sessions failed to disclose those same contacts during his Senate confirmation hearing, which ultimately led to his recusal from the Russian investigation.

The news comes as the House Intelligence Committee prepares to subpoena Michael Flynn for documents on his interactions with the Russians and he has so far refused to provide.

Meanwhile, the deadline has come and gone for FBI Director James Comey's memos to be turned over. Memos he allegedly kept documenting his interactions with the president.

One of those memos allegedly shows attempts by the president to pressure Comey into shutting down the investigation into Michael Flynn. Of course, President Trump is hiring outside counsel to assist him in the investigations.

Joining us now, a man who has been in his pick of investigation like this, Bob Bennett, representative of President Bill Clinton in his sexual misconduct case back in the '90s during the impeachment situation then.

He is also the author of a book, "In The Ring: The Trials of A Washington Lawyer." Mr. Bennett, thanks so much for being with us. You say this outside counsel needs to be ready to deal with what you call the Bermuda Triangle of challenges. What do you mean?

ROBERT BENNETT, PARTNER, HOGAN LOVELLS LAW FIRM: Well, I think when you have a Justice Department investigation by way of a special counsel, you have various congressional committees and you have the ever-present media. You have all these cross currents, and how you deal with one has a real impact on the other. And if you don't navigate these things very carefully, you could have a bad outcome.

HARLOW: So the three things, Bob, that you say make up the points of that Bermuda Triangle, Congress, the special counsel, Mueller and the media. And the guy who is doing this is Kasowitz and he is a big top lawyer who has defended Trump a lot in his role as a businessman. He's not a D.C. insider. So does that hurt him?

BENNETT: You know, I don't know Mr. Kasowitz and I don't know his skill set or the people he has working with him at his firm. So I can talk about the skill set that's necessary, but I don't think it would be fair to comment about him. BERMAN: What's your advice for President Trump? If you had been hired as the outside counsel, what is the one thing you would tell President Trump?

BENNETT: Well, you know, I have been there before not only with President Clinton, but with the secretary or former Secretary of Defense Weinberger, a Republican and former Secretary of Defense Lippard. And I will tell them to take this as an opportunity to focus on the reasons you were elected president.

Once you have a special counsel, you can easily say given the pendency of this investigation, I'm not going to comment on it. And, you know, don't take this personally, Poppy and John, but the media is like Count Dracula. They need fresh blood every day.

[09:20:02]And if the president isn't commenting and the president's spokes people are not commenting, it -- there will always be a story there, but it will not be as intense or as much.

My advice to the president would be pick the right people and let them handle it and -- but you have to have someone who has tremendous experience in dealing with this.

Also, Mr. Mueller is a very formidable adversary but a very professional and honest one. And I have dealt with him over the years, and I think the president could wind up doing quite well if it's handled properly.

HARLOW: And someone respected in Mueller on both sides of the aisle. You are looking at this investigation as an outsider, but given what you have heard in the media about it and what you know about it, what do you see as the biggest vulnerability for this White House?

BENNETT: I think the biggest vulnerability is snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory. Saying things that you have to then later retract. You know, in listening to all the media and reading the papers on this, you know, I'll be very candid with you.

I don't see any evidence of any criminal intent, corrupt intent on the part of the president. And we often forget that they are going to have to show that in order to show that the president violated -- violated the law.

You start with the premises that the president has the right and the power to do the things he's been doing, whether it's wise or not is another question. So --

BERMAN: Well --

BENNETT: This is a search for intent is what I'm saying.

BERMAN: Understood.

HARLOW: It's a very important point, right, to prove obstruction of justice you need the intent part of it. Bob Bennett, it is nice to have you on. Thank you. BENNETT: Thank you. I appreciate it.

BERMAN: All right. Republican facing another round of hurdles this morning following the CBO's report that the GOP health care bill in the House would lead 23 million more Americans without health insurance and the Democrats call the bill a disgrace and Republicans likely to they say write their own version of the bill.

CNN Money's Cristina Alesci joins us now with these numbers. Saves a lot of money, but leaves a lot of folks uninsured.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly the bottom line. Republicans are saying it will lower premiums, which is true for many Americans, but you get what you say for, right? Look at these numbers, 23 million people, as you said, will not be insured versus Obamacare, 14 million will lose -- will actually not lose coverage, but it's the 14 million people who will not qualify for Medicaid under this bill.

And the positive for Republicans, of course, the $119 billion that will be saved. But here is what we're not talking about, right? We're talking about the adverse impacts to the elderly and the poor.

But we're not talking about these wealthy investors under this plan will save money because they will not have to pay the Obamacare surcharge. Although this version of the bill probably will not make it through the Senate, a portion of this debate is really centered on that Obamacare surcharge, and that may likely make it through the Senate.

And that's why you see investors on the street. If you take a look at this chart of stocks this morning, you see investors on the street kind of hopeful. We don't see a lot of confidence that this bill is going to pass on the street.

But the fact is they're looking for tax cuts, and they see this as another form of tax cuts. The White House is pushing back. It issued a statement saying that the CBO doesn't know what it's doing.

History has proven the CBO to be totally incapable of accurately predicting how health care legislation will impact. This is another example of the White House trying to undermine --

HARLOW: This is not fully accurate, either.

ALESCI: Yes, and this is a bipartisan group, the CBO, right? It's headed by Republicans. So there you have it.

BERMAN: Cristina Alesci, thank you so much. The word before the opening bell. So it was already a crucial meeting and the stakes just got higher. The president heading to NATO Headquarters just minutes from now. This as reports that Britain is very unhappy with leaks from U.S. intelligence.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:29:05]

BERMAN: Very shortly a high profile high stakes meeting for President Trump, his first NATO summit. This is in Brussels. The 27 member nation looking for signs that the United States is committed to NATO after the president's vacillation on its importance. He said NATO was obsolete, but now a different story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Number one, NATO is obsolete. Number two, the countries in NATO are not paying their fair share. NATO is obsolete -- they asked me recently on television about NATO. I said it is obsolete and we pay too much.

In my opinion, NATO is obsolete -- when I said that NATO to Wolf Blitzer is obsolete, I got attacked. Three days later people that study NATO said, you know, Trump is right. I reiterated to Chancellor Merkel my strong support for NATO. I said it was obsolete. It is no longer obsolete.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: There you have it. Here to discuss, Michael Williams, former adviser and consultant to NATO, also professor of International Relations here at NYU, and General Wesley Clark, former NATO allied supreme commander. He is now a senior fellow at UCLA's Burkle Center for International Relations. Nice to have you both.