Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Former Republican House Speaker Calls Trump Presidency 'Complete Disaster'; Jared Kushner Under FBI Scrutiny in Russia Probe; Hillary Clinton Speaks Out. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 26, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:04]

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, this is according to multiple sources talking to my colleagues Shimon Prokupecz and Gloria Borger and myself.

Now, these concerns were a major factor in Comey deciding to publicly declare that the Clinton probe was over last summer without consulting then Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Now, you may remember, earlier this week, "The Washington Post" reported on this intelligence and the doubts about its credibility.

The fact that Comey felt he had to act based on Russian disinformation, Brooke, is a stark example of how Russian interference impacted decision-making at the highest levels of the U.S. government during the 2016 campaign.

The Russian information at issue claimed to show that then Attorney General Lynch had been compromised in the Clinton investigation because of e-mails between then DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and a political operative, saying that Lynch would make the FBI Clinton probe go away.

According to one official, in classified briefings, Comey told lawmakers that he was afraid the information that I just described to you would drop and undermine the investigation. But Comey did not tell lawmakers that he doubted the accuracy of the information, even, Brooke, in that classified setting.

Now, I can also say that, according to sources close to Comey, the FBI director felt that the validity of the information really didn't matter, because, if it became public, they had no way to discredit it without burning sources and methods.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: So, let me ask the follow-up.

Let's take everyone back to when Jim Comey testified up on Capitol Hill just a couple weeks ago. Roll it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: I struggled as we got closer to the end of it with a number of things that had gone on, some of which I can't talk about yet, that made me worry that the department leadership could not credibly complete the investigation and decline prosecution without grievous damage to the American people's confidence in the justice system.

And then the capper was -- and I'm not picking on the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, who I like very much -- but her meeting with President Clinton on that airplane was the capper for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: How, Dana, did that meeting really factor into his decision?

BASH: Well, in the classified sessions that I mentioned with lawmakers, I'm told that Comey didn't even mention that airplane incident with Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton.

Instead, he told lawmakers that this Russian information was the primary reason he took -- not the only reason, but the primary reason he took the unusual step to announce the end of the Clinton probe. And, look, I will tell you that, since we reported the story, we're getting a lot of response, as you can imagine.

But this is fascinating, especially when it comes to the whole notion, Brooke, of Russian misinformation that not only went on then, but we're told continues to go on even as we speak with an attempt after an attempt to get U.S. elected officials and others inside the government information that is not right just to kind of cloud up the probes that they are doing right now.

BALDWIN: Nick Akerman, you just heard Dana roll out all of her reporting.

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Right.

BALDWIN: You said this is -- when you sat down, you said, this is scary.

AKERMAN: It's very scary. I mean, first of all, I think his excuse is bogus.

There is no reason why Sally Yates, who is the deputy attorney general, who oversees the FBI, couldn't have made the simple announcement that the investigation was closed.

For Jim Comey to come out and say that this Russian memo was the reason, first of all, I think it's bogus, but, secondly, I think what's really scary about this is, what did he really know in July, when he made that announcement?

According to "The Washington Post" report, it wasn't until August that the FBI concluded that that memo was bogus.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: But hang on.

Dana, just quickly back over to you, your reporting is that he knew -- when he went in front of those cameras in July, he knew it was fake, correct?

BASH: Well, let me tell you what our colleague Shimon Prokupecz was told about that.

He was told that, pretty early on, almost immediately, they realized that this was that -- this had problems, the veracity and validity of this Russian intelligence had problems. Now, whether or not he absolutely firmly knew and what the timetable was, unclear.

BALDWIN: Right.

BASH: But I can tell you that, again, pretty early on -- this is according to our colleague Shimon's sources -- they thought, this doesn't pass the smell test.

BALDWIN: OK.

Go ahead.

AKERMAN: To me, the timing is critical here.

BALDWIN: Yes.

AKERMAN: And what happened is very scary, because my first reaction when I heard about this was that the Russians had done a profile on James Comey. They knew exactly what would move him, what would make him do certain things.

And knowing his background, starting with the Martha Stewart investigation, his reputation as being a very extreme moralist in certain ways, having his own way about doing things, I'm sure that the Russians, just like the CIA does, did a psychological profile on him.

(CROSSTALK)

[15:05:07]

AKERMAN: And they knew exactly what it was that would move him off the dime.

And, believe me, what they had in there was exactly what would have made Comey move in certain directions. So it's critical as to when did he really know that this was a bogus document.

And what's scary about this is that the Russians are really pulling the strings of our own public officials. It's like people are moving like puppets in relation to what the Russian government is doing.

And our voters are doing the whole thing. And that's the whole allegation about this whole business with the data and the data processes that they used to microtarget voters in the key states in the presidential election.

BALDWIN: That's right.

AKERMAN: So, what we're looking at is a massive, a potentially massive Russian manipulation of the American system, which I find extremely, extremely scary.

BALDWIN: I hear Dana agreeing.

And I know we have to wrap it up, but I think -- thank you so much.

To hear Dana say what the Russians have done and what -- as we speak, what the Russians continue to do, is huge, huge, huge.

For now, I will say thank you, Dana Bash and Nick Akerman, very much on a major piece of news coming out today from you, Dana, and Shimon and Gloria. Thank you very much for that.

Moving on, while Clinton now has that new reporting to consider, she is also having a full circle moment today at her alma mater, Wellesley College, delivering the commencement speech for graduates there. This is 48 years after she stood on that stage at Wellesley as the valedictorian back in 1969, when she actually ad-libbed the speech, was very critical of the Vietnam War, President Nixon.

And listening to her this morning, this year, she said the state of politics isn't actually so different, drawing parallels from the Nixon presidency all the way up to this current White House. And although Hillary Clinton never actually mentioned Donald Trump by name, she cautioned graduates and perhaps others watching about the future of the Trump administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: If any of you are nervous about what you will be walking into when you leave the campus, I know that feeling.

We were asking urgent questions about whether women, people of color, religious minorities, immigrants would ever be treated with dignity and respect. And, by the way, we were furious about the past presidential election...

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: ... of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: ... after -- after firing the person running the investigation into him at the Department of Justice.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: The advance of technology, the impact of the Internet, our fragmented media landscape make it easier than ever to splinter ourselves into echo chambers.

We can shut out contrary voices, avoid ever questioning our basic assumptions. Extreme views are given powerful microphones. Leaders willing to exploit fear and skepticism have tools at their disposal that were unimaginable when I graduated.

And here's what that means to you, the class of 2017. You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason. When people in power invent their own facts and attack those who question them, it can mark the beginning of the end of a free society.

That is not hyperbole. It's what authoritarian regimes throughout history have done. They attempt to control reality, not just our laws and our rights and our budgets, but our thoughts and beliefs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's talk about that speech.

Michael Smerconish is joining me live, host of CNN's "SMERCONISH."

Happy Friday to you, my friend.

Listening to her there at Wellesley, what did you think of the speech?

[15:10:02]

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, substantively, I loved the part about the siloing of our society and the reliance that so many have on a select few news sites, which I think has had a terrible impact on our national discourse.

We have never had so much selection, so much choice, and yet so few among us seek to exercise it. So, on that substantive point, which I don't view in left vs. right terms, I think she was spot on.

BALDWIN: She was right.

SMERCONISH: My reaction to her speech, Brooke, most notably was her comfort level.

You know, she never -- in my opinion, never really reached her stride during the course of the campaign. She was never as effective as she was before she announced. And now it's all over, and without the stressor of having to appease different constituencies, she seems at ease with herself all over again.

I also thought that the dichotomy between what she's willing to say, even without mentioning the president's name, and the silence from former President Obama, it's quite a difference what you get from the two of them, him respecting sort of the protocol of not criticizing one's successor, but they are the two most notable Democrats. And they sound very, very different these days, Obama and Clinton.

BALDWIN: Do you think, though, quickly -- it was just a total coincidence that we saw quite a bit of President Obama this week. And here we saw Hillary Clinton back at Wellesley. Are they -- how do you handle that, like, leaving the stage and making room, though, for the next generation of Democratic leaders? And that's part of the hit, if you read the RNC statement reacting to this, one of the criticisms.

SMERCONISH: Right.

Well, look, you don't expect them to go quietly into that night. Particularly, President Obama is a young guy. I'm not saying that she isn't young, but she's got a lot of vim and vigor left in her.

I will make this observation. It's not necessarily bad for President Trump. He always needs a punching bag. And the two of them together, President Obama and Secretary Clinton, are awfully good fodder. I'm sure if he were home, the Android would be out and he'd be tweeting all about it.

BALDWIN: We've all been wondering. He's been quiet so far.

Let me -- since I have you, let's talk about Montana, Michael. The Republican charged with assaulting a reporter wins the special election there.

But let's put the assault aside. His staff essentially lied about what happened with a statement. They then sat on that lie for 24 hours while everyone went out to vote. And, oh, by the way, only when he -- he apologized when he won. What does that say about character in our politics?

SMERCONISH: Listen, you know that adage, a day late and a dollar short.

I thought that the apology was indeed a day late. He was in the federal witness protection program from the time of the alleged assault until about 1:00 a.m., when he said that he was victorious in the election. I'm distressed by it. I'm distressed not only by his apparent conduct, but also by those voices that are supportive of what he did, including some of the people who shouted out the course of during his victory speech.

What a new low it represents that you can take this approach with a member of the media, even if you were to assume that the questioning was hostile -- and I'm not saying that I think that it was, but certain of my radio callers do -- but I think it's a distressing sign and probably predictable, given the downward trajectory of our national discourse.

BALDWIN: Well, we've seen how some of those town halls have gone. I mean, some of these members of Congress and what -- some of the questions they are dealing with, I feel like, listening to that reporter, that was nothing.

Michael Smerconish, thank you so much. We will see you tomorrow morning right here on CNN 9:00 a.m.

SMERCONISH: Thank you. BALDWIN: Thank you, sir.

There are new concerns today about Jared Kushner's role in this White House after it's been revealed that he's under FBI scrutiny in this Russia investigation.

Plus, he says he's busy drinking wine, golfing and ironing his clothes, but former House Speaker John Boehner is not holding back about President Trump -- why he calls the presidency a disaster.

And we have just learned this afternoon Ariana Grande making a major announcement about her future days after the terror attack on her concert in Manchester, England.

Stand by for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:17:57]

BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Jared Kushner -- Jared Kushner is the man closest to the president, and he's been referred to as essentially the secretary of everything. And he's now under FBI scrutiny, caught up in this ongoing Russia investigation.

President Trump's son-in-law in the spotlight for his interactions with several Russian officials during the election and during the transition -- investigators tell CNN the focus is on the Trump campaign's data analytics operation in which Kushner was involved, Kushner's relationship with the fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, as well as Kushner's own contacts with Russian officials.

So, with me now, David Chalian, our CNN political director, and Caroline Polisi, federal and white-collar criminal defense attorney.

Welcome to both of you.

And, David, just on the politics of all this, all indications are that he's not a target, you know, no allegations of wrongdoing. He has said he will go talk to Congress and tell them what he knows of these meetings.

That said, what does this mean that one of the most powerful people in the West Wing is being looked at?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, right.

And, obviously, this is a shift in this investigation, because now -- and you remember, you have heard Sean Spicer try to sort of spin from the podium, well, Carter Page, we didn't really know. Paul Manafort, even though he was running the campaign, wasn't only -- he was only there for a brief time. This is a senior adviser, son-in-law to the president, not just inside the White House. We're now inside the Oval Office here. You don't get closer to the president than this. And, as you said, there's no indication that he's a target, no indication of wrongdoing, but simply that now he's under scrutiny as part of this.

So they can no longer sort of stiff-arm this investigation in that way. It's now fully inside the West Wing.

BALDWIN: OK.

Caroline, walk us through the legal strategy, right. Investigators walk into that room. They have a set of facts. He doesn't know what they know.

CAROLINE POLISI, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Right.

BALDWIN: How do they question him?

POLISI: Well, first of all, I would like to say that, as any criminal defense attorney knows, these distinctions, subject, target witness, we're now hearing reports that he's a person of interest, these are really distinctions without a difference.

[15:20:05]

In these types of investigations, there are so many moving parts, that it can easily switch at the drop of a hat that someone is the first a witness and then, boom, turns into a target...

BALDWIN: Yes.

POLISI: ... which is why you have to be really careful about when you go in there and talk to investigators.

I will say that, you know, Kushner is so close to the Trump administration, it's hard to believe that this investigation isn't going to at some point really get to Trump at this point.

BALDWIN: Let's talk about a little bit as far what we know.

This is -- and there haven't been a lot of interviews that Kushner has actually done. This is something he told "Forbes."

David, to you -- quote -- "I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook microtargeting."

What do we know about Kushner's digital operation and his involvement there?

CHALIAN: It's one of the early things that he took on in the campaign.

And, yes, he was the sort of point of contact, getting all the briefings from the digital operation. And this digital operation really ended up, obviously with the victory, having something to show for it.

This is how the Trump campaign really interpreted where to send Donald Trump because of the data analytics that was going on. And our Evan Perez has reported that investigators are very interested in finding out if anyone in the Trump campaign, either wittingly or unwittingly, in working with the digital operations, somehow helped the Russians infuse Facebook feeds with news items that might have had some impact.

BALDWIN: OK. David Chalian, Caroline Polisi, thank you all both very much on all things Jared Kushner.

We are also now learning what that concert bomber in Manchester did minutes before that attack in that arena -- new details about the hunt for his terror network.

Also ahead, former House Speaker John Boehner absolutely slamming President Trump, saying he has been a -- quote, unquote -- "complete disaster." Hear why he thinks this and why he's talking ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:26:44]

BALDWIN: New developments today in the investigation of that concert bombing in Manchester, England, the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, in Britain trying to ease tensions with this key ally after sensitive information concerning the attack was leaked to the United States to media outlets.

In Manchester today, new arrests and raids, as investigators try to contain the terror network they believe is behind this attack, eight people now in custody. And we're hearing the suicide bomber called his brother in Libya just 15 minutes before this attack.

I'm joined now by former jihadist Mubin Shaikh. He's the author of "Undercover Jihadi," his story of turning from a jihadi to working undercover counterterrorism operations with the Canadian Royal Mounted Police.

So, Mubin, thank you so much for being with me.

MUBIN SHAIKH, FORMER JIHADIST: Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: This phone call. Let's begin with the phone call to this brother all the way from Manchester to Libya. What does that tell you?

SHAIKH: It's a very high likelihood that the brother knew of the attack or was -- at least knew of the attack in advance or was told of the attack at the time of the phone call.

BALDWIN: We just have no idea whether it was a -- telling the brother to tell goodbye or telling the brother to tell the network this is imminent.

Those are the pieces of the puzzle that we're just totally unsure of. SHAIKH: Yes, of course.

The information is still coming out. We're learning information that's different from yesterday. So, I'm sure things will continue. And, again, with this latest arrest, there are now nine people are in custody. Eleven were originally arrested. One male and one female have been released.

And so now that leaves nine in custody.

BALDWIN: So, given all those arrests, though, and you hear of these investigators again using the phrase they are trying to contain, trying to contain the network, what exactly does that mean?

SHAIKH: Well, when I was undercover and doing these sorts of operations, there are so many moving parts at any given time, especially the pressure that is on the authorities and the security services to find all those responsible.

But that is easier said than done. And one of the reasons why, of course, the U.K. are rightfully upset about the leaks is, we don't want to give advance information to the bad guys. We want to have the element of surprise.

So, that's what is happening right now. They are piecing together who is who in the zoo to see who are the major players, who we need to interrogate further to find out, where is this bomb-maker? Is he still in the U.K.? Is he just in Libya and he sent a novice over? There's a hunt under way right now.

BALDWIN: You know, Mubin, what made this particular terror attack even more heartbreaking was the thought of all of these little girls, right, and the fact that we have heard now apparently from terror experts are saying terrorists are really trying to target children.

Why? Why? Is it for shock value?

SHAIKH: It is for shock value, of course. We are -- we have revulsion when we hear that children have been deliberately attacked.