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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Spicer Dodges Questions On Russia, Kushner; Spicer Won't Confirm Or Deny Kushner Secret Channel To Russia; Flynn Will Provide Some Documents To Senate; House Intel Committee Asking Former W.H. Official Boris Epshteyn For Information; W.H. Touts Trump's First Foreign Trip Despite Criticism; ; Aired 7-8p ET
Aired May 31, 2017 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT HOST: OutFront next, the White House shuts down questions about Jared Kushner as the FBI zeros in on Kushner and a Russian banker.
Plus, the world according to Sean Spicer. His description of the president's overseas trip, historic turning point, outstanding. And a long-time admirer of National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster says the day has come for him to step down. That man is my guest tonight. Let's go OutFront. And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OutFront this evening, dodging. Tonight the White House Press Secretary in his first press briefing in two weeks not answering reporters and repeatedly charging their questions are based on anonymous sources. Here is Sean Spicer responding to questions about the Russia investigation and Jared Kushner's communications with Russians.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What your question assumes is a lot of facts that are not substantiated by anything but anonymous sources. Your question presupposes facts that have not been confirmed. So again, I'm not going to get into confirming stuff. There's an ongoing investigation. I'm not going to dignify partisan accusations of anonymous sources and alleged unsubstantiated attacks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Anonymous sources. The thing is, it turns out that anonymous sources work just fine with this White House when they support the president's narrative. Earlier today President Trump fired back at a Washington Post story that charged Jared Kushner tried to set up back-channel communications with Russia. Trump's defense referred to a Fox News report using anonymous sources. The president's tweet actually included the Fox headline which reads, "Jared Kushner didn't suggest Russian communications channel in meeting, source says." Hmm, guess it all depends what source is saying. At today's press conference a reporter called out Spicer on the obvious hypocrisy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you said that first of all, that the article was based on anonymous sources. SPICER: Which it is?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the Fox article that the president retweeted was also based on anonymous sources. Why are those sources or this source rather that they used more credible than the ones in the Washington Post article?
SPICER: Again, I don't - I don't think there's two issues at hand. One is the statement that Jared's attorney has provided. Second is, is whether or not the back -- the Dossier that is largely the basis of this was largely discredited in the first place. Most of the publications here refused to even publish it in the first place. So again, I'm not going to get into confirming stuff. There's an ongoing investigation. John.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Look, there's no good answer to that question as to why one anonymous source is acceptable and another isn't. This comes as tonight, yet another Trump associate is under congress' microscope and we are learning that the former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, will now provide some of the documents under subpoena to the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is according to multiple reports, a development just coming in just in the past couple of moments. Jim Sciutto is OutFront. And Jim, what are you learning?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Erin, CNN has spoken to a person close to retired General Michael Flynn, the fired national security advisor, and we are told as the Wall Street Journal and others first reported that General Flynn will provide some of the documents that have been requested by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Not all of them, but some of them. These documents relate to his businesses. This part of the investigation into Russia ties, funding, money that he received from Russia.
We're also learning of new Trump advisers that are being asked for information. One is Michael Cohen, the president's long-time lawyer. He has refused senate requests for that kind of information. And a third person, Boris Epstein who advised Donald Trump during the campaign, he has now been asked for information. It's not clear yet what his answer to the committee will be.
BURNETT: Now, obviously, these are significant developments, all of them, Jim. And you also now at this hour have exclusive reporting about conversations Russian officials had about President Trump.
SCIUTTO: That's right. Two former senior intelligence officials and a congressional source tell myself, Pamela Brown and Dana Bash that Russians were intercepted -- communications between Russians intercepted during the campaign claiming that they had, "derogatory information about President Trump and some of his advisers." And going on to claim that that derogatory information might give them leverage in a potential Trump administration.
We're told as well that some of this claimed derogatory information was financial in nature. I should caveat that U.S. intelligence sources telling us it's possible that these Russians were exaggerating the information they had. They might even have been making up the information they had. But what's key here is that they were speaking to each other claiming to have it and describing that as a way that they might influence the campaign.
This one piece of the larger Russia investigation that is going -- that is ongoing, open questions as you know, Erin, as to whether there was collusion between Trump associates and Russian, Russian officials, others known to U.S. Intelligence. These still open questions explored not just by the FBI but both the senate and House Intelligence Committees.
BURNETT: All right. Jim Sciutto, thank you very much. And -
SCIUTTO: Thank you.
BURNETT: -- news of these discussions among Russian officials coming as the president's top adviser, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is under new scrutiny tonight for conversations he had with Russian officials. Diane Gallagher is OutFront.
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Conversations picked up by U.S. intelligence suggest the Russians believed they had the ability to influence the administration with the information. Two former intelligence officials and a congressional source tells CNN. Former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said conversations they were monitoring raised a red flag and warranted investigation.
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: There were a series of communications and dialogues that we grew -- I say we. Members of the intelligence community that were aware of this were very concerned about.
GALLAGHER: The investigation into Russia's interference in the U.S. Election continues to swirl around those close to the U.S. President. His most trusted advisor, son-in-law Jared Kushner, is under intense scrutiny. A U.S. official says the FBI is looking into Kushner's contact with Russian officials during the transition as well as various explanations given for those meetings. On December 1st, Kushner met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Trump tower.
Later that month at Kislyak's urging Kushner met with Sergei Gorkov, the chairman of the U.S. sanction Russian bank, a close Putin associate and a former spy. In March, the White House insisted it was part of Kushner's official transition role. But the bank said it was only about business, a key contradiction the FBI is now focusing on. The meeting with Kislyak was initially left off of Kushner's security clearance disclosure forms but added the next day.
This month, sources told CNN Kushner discussed setting up a secret communications channel with Russia using their facilities as a way to bypass detection by U.S. Intelligence. But as an explanation said it was so he and then NSA nominee Flynn could discuss military strategy in Syria among other topics. The White House is pushing back, calling the reports false and unverified claims. SPICER: I think Secretary Kelly and General McMaster have both
discussed that in general terms, back channels are an appropriate part of diplomacy.
GALLAGHER: And the president's son-in-law may be his top advisor, but Jared Kushner has plenty of other White House duties, including Middle East peace and streamlining government. Even with all that's going on dealing with the Russia investigation and extra scrutiny, a source familiar with Kushner's role says, Erin, that at this point he isn't giving up any part of that portfolio.
BURNETT: All right. Dianne, thank you very much. And OutFront now, member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell. Good to have you with me again, Congressman. You know, you heard some of the breaking news here at the top of the hour.
ERIC SWALWELL, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Glad to see you again.
BURNETT: General Michael Flynn providing some of the documents, some that the senate had requested. From your point of view where you sit, is General Flynn now cooperating?
SWALWELL: Well, Erin, I'm not going to go into specifics with witnesses, but I'll say that we are seeking relevant witnesses to give us testimony about what they saw and documents that may help us understand what Russia did, who they worked with, if anyone in the United States. And then we want to tell the American people what we're going to do as guardians of this democracy to make sure that we're never in a mess like this again. We just want an honest investigation not obstructed by politics and certainly not obstructed by the White House.
BURNETT: So, sources are telling us, as you just heard, that Russian government officials discussed having potentially derogatory information about -- at the time it was presidential candidate Donald Trump. This comes from conversations intercepted by U.S. Intelligence. Do you believe at this time, Congressman, that the Russians actually have something on Trump himself?
SWALWELL: I can say - I can't yes or no to that. However, we did hear last week from former Director Brennan that, you know, part of the Russia way is to seek to influence people in the United States. And we heard also through Directors Comey and Rogers that they do this whether it's through financial entanglements or what they call comportment using what could be embarrassing or illegal behavior against somebody to get information.
At this point we just want to investigate whether that exists. And I hope that we're back on track as republicans and democrats on the house committee to do that.
BURNETT: So in terms of this meeting that Jared Kushner had, the White House has not denied it, right? They haven't denied that he had this meeting to try to establish a back channel to talk to the Russians. Do you think there is anything illegal about what Jared Kushner did or do you think perhaps it was just inept? SWALWELL: Well, let's break down the who, when, where and how. Who
are we talking about here? It's the Russians. They had just attacked our democracy with an interference campaign, so that's certainly would be bad judgment. The where what to do -- to have this conversation at their embassy and away from U.S. officials or at a U.S. facility is also unusual. Also the when. To have it before Jared Kushner is an official U.S. government person I think also would be unusual. And then finally, the how. To not use official means, that considering what Russia had done to us, and that to many looks like it's trying to circumvent monitoring that may exist.
BURNETT: And so obviously at the least you think poor judgment, but you're not going so far as to use the word illegal at this time.
SWALWELL: Too early to tell. And then certainly there's the what were they talking about.
BURNETT: So on this note, too early to tell, but at this time Jared Kushner perhaps the closest advisor to the president of the united states, should his security clearance be revoked as you get answers to those questions?
SWALWELL: You know, that's really the call of the FBI. And I hope that they are reviewing it. It was also reported a couple months back that he had failed to disclose on his SF-86, that's the form that you use to apply for security clearance, that he had failed to disclose prior contacts with the Russians and other foreign nationals. And so that I hope is being looked into as well.
BURNETT: If you were in charge of that decision, what would you do?
SWALWELL: I'd revoke it.
BURNETT: You'd revoke it. OK. I just want -- I just want to make sure I understand. The press secretary today, Sean Spicer was asked about whether the president knew about this, whether that Jared Kushner was trying to establish a back channel and he wouldn't directly answer the question. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPICER: I'm not going to get into what the president did or did not discuss.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: I - do you think the president knew about this back channel at this -- when you hear that? I mean, he said he's not going to get into it. But do you think he knew?
SWALWELL: You know, it's too hard -- it's too early right now to tell, Erin. But we -- what we see though is a pattern of the president, as soon as the heat is turned up on individuals in this investigation, he starts to distance himself from them. If you listen to the president, he'd have you believe that Michael Flynn was just a campaign volunteer who made, you know, volunteer phone calls at a Timbuktu Campaign office. You know, and we know that that certainly was not the case. So he may tell us in short order that, you know, he hardly even knew Jared Kushner, who knows.
BURNETT: Of course as you point out as he --
SWALWELL: He's a friend of his daughter's.
BURNETT: -- before with others. All right. Congressman Devin Nunes, I don't know if you heard this before but of course obviously you know him well, chairman of House Intel Committee, your committee, has recused himself from this investigation. Obviously significant. He says that democrats are using the Russia investigation to justify Clinton's loss. And that's what this is all about. Here he is at a private fund-raiser. We actually have video which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times and I wanted to play it for you, Congressman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEVIN NUNES, UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE FOR CALIFORNIA: The democrats don't want an investigation on Russia, they want an independent commission. Why do they want an independent commission? Because they want to continue the narrative that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are best friends and that's the only reason why he won because Hillary Clinton could have never lost on her own, so it had to be someone else's fault.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So what do you say to Chairman Nunes?
SWALWELL: Well, I wrote the legislation with Elijah Cummings to have an independent commission. I did that because our sovereignty was violated by a foreign adversary and I think republicans and democrats because republicans are on my bill as well care about the future of our elections. And if we don't have free and fair elections, what do we have in this country? So I hope both parties can put aside politics and just get to the bottom of what happened.
And we've been attacked before, Erin, and the constant has always been that republicans and democrats have united to understand the vulnerabilities that allowed the attack to occur and then to make reforms to make sure that we were never expose like that again.
BURNETT: Congressman, are you -
SWALWELL: And we're feeling to see that right now.
BURNETT: Are you surprised that he would say, you know, you're trying to continue the narrative that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are best friends and that's the reason that he won because Hillary Clinton never would have lost on her own and it's someone else's fault and you're disappointed to hear that from Devin Nunes?
SWALWELL: Well, it's not true. I'm disappointed because our committee before this investigation had always worked very well together and we're going to have to work together on other non-Russia issues going forward. We still have challenges in Syria, North Korea and with Iran. And so I hope we can, you know, find our way again, because the American people are counting on us to protect this democracy and also fulfill our national security duties.
BURNETT: Congressman Swalwell, pleasure to have you back and thank you for your time.
SWALWELL: My pleasure, Erin.
BURNETT: And OutFront next, President Trump under fire said to be emotionally withdrawing, lonely and angry. Is a shake-up of the White House staff his next move?
Plus White House spin on steroids. You will hear next about what Sean Spicer had to say about Trump's big overseas trip and it's worth listening to.
And a man who is known and admire the national security advisor, H.R. McMaster for 20 years. Tonight calling for him to step down. Pulitzer prize-winning Tom Rick is OutFront.
BURNETT: New tonight, a tale of two trips by President Trump. U.S. allies questioning America's standing in the world after Trump's first foreign trip as president. But Press Secretary Sean Spicer speaking about the trip in glowing and it is fair to use those words, glowing, terms.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPICER: It was an unprecedented first trip extraordinary week for America, historic turning point. Historic economic development deals, outstanding success.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Jeff Zeleny is OutFront at the White House. Jeff, those are some superlatives.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No doubt about it, a lot of adjectives used to describe the trip. But interestingly on the other side of the pond, European leaders are not describing the trip like that at all. In fact the -- you know, the words from Angela Merkel, you know, basically the, you know, the leader of the European Union, the chancellor of Germany, of course, she, you know, gave that extraordinary speech at a campaign stop over the weekend basically saying because of the new leadership in the U.S., we have to take our fate in our own hands.
So the reality here, Erin, is that, yes, the White House calls the trip a success. We shouldn't be surprised by that. To the president, everything is always the best ever, the greatest ever, the biggest ever, but the reality here is the old alliances, the old NATO Alliances here who were need lectured to by this president. He started off his trip last week, I was there in Riyadh when he said we're not going to lecture to the Muslim world.
In fact he did lecture to, you know, the European leaders. And the reality is that they did not necessarily like what they heard. But, Erin, the proof is going to be in the climate change decision.
ZELENY: When President Trump makes that decision this week, all signs point to him wanting to pull the U.S. out of that. That is going to change the U.S. position around the world particularly with European leaders here. So Sean Spicer's words today may not hold up after that climate change decision. Erin?
BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Jeff. And now our senior political analyst, Mark Preston, former White House communications director for President Obama, Jen Psaki and former communications adviser director for the Trump campaign and communications director for Trump transition team Jason Miller. So, Jason, you just heard Sean Spicer, superlative after superlative in a row. He was laying them all - laying them out pretty thick. It truly does sound like he believes this was the most consequential trip by an American president in history.
JASON MILLER, FORMER SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: It was definitely an important trip. I think President Trump did a fantastic job with his speech in Saudi Arabia and I think after eight years where I believe we had weak leadership at the helm of the United States, finally we had a strong, tough, confident leader who was helping to restore America's standing in the rest of the world. I think in particular I was happy to see that President Trump was willing to stand up and deliver some tough words to our allies in the E.U.
I think as many Trump supporters around the country, people who voted for him this past November who think we have been pushed around far too long and other allies haven't been paying their fair share, we were glad to see that.
BURNETT: Jen, unprecedented, extraordinary, historic, outstanding.
JEN PSAKI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: I have no idea what trip he is referring to. Obviously President Trump didn't speak a lot during this trip, didn't do a lot of press conferences, but the most problematic part of the trip was certainly his trip to NATO. And the fact is all of these European countries committed to giving two percent of their GDP in 2014 when Obama was president by 2024. Germany is paying 15 percent of the operating budget to NATO.
The United States pays 22 percent. We can keep raising that, that's fine, but the reality is that European leaders around the world today, in Germany and Italy were questioning whether the United States would still be a global power and questioning our alliance on very specific issues. Climate change being one of them. Also providing arms in a conflict and the travel ban. And those are specific areas that President Trump is going to need to change if he wants to renew these alliances and these important relationships.
BURNETT: Mark, in this press conference, Sean Spicer didn't want to answer reporter questions really on much of anything. He was very terse, seemed almost angry today. But on this issue he was explosive and -- with his rhetoric, right? With these words that we just said. You say actually he doesn't care what reporters think or anybody else thinks, there was an audience of just one.
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. You know, look who talks that way. President Trump himself is known to use words like that to describe himself, to describe his policies, to describe the campaign, to describe his administration, to describe his vision, so when you see a spokesperson go out there and in this case Sean Spicer and of course we saw this with Sean's deputy as well, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, they go out there, they're talking to a room of reporters, but really their audience is the person who is behind the door behind them and that's President Trump.
Because to walk off of that stage and to go through that door and to then encounter President Trump in the west wing, if he doesn't like what you said, he doesn't think you did a very good job in defending him, you know, that is the last audience that you want to have to deal with.
BURNETT: And Jason, you know, the Washington Post, you know, it's interesting it's not just Sean Spicer doing this, it's Hope Hicks. And look, you've been in this position where I'm sure you, you know, you felt the eyes of the president on you. The Washington Post recently ran a story titled Snubs And Slights Are Part Of The Job In Trump's White House, referring to, of course, from the president. And the White House is pushing back on it.
Hope hicks, spokeswoman, responded that in part, "President Trump has a magnetic personality and exudes positive energy which is infectious to those around him. He is brilliant with a great sense of humor, and an amazing ability to make people feel special and aspire to be more than they even thought possible. The former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor tweeted in resppnse, "Hope Hicks does a hilarious impression of North Korean propaganda.
There were some who obviously found that funny. Let me ask you though, Jason, how big of a problem, you know, does he have a point? I mean, when you're out talking about magnetic personality, exuding positive energy, is that you doth protest too much?
MILLER: I think hope got a lot closer to the pin as far as folks like myself who worked for the president would view him. I worked for the president about seven or eight months or so and during that stretch I found him to be very supportive.
MILLER: Someone who is very encouraging to his team. I definitely enjoyed working with him. And so a lot of these criticisms that we've seen from whether the Washington Post or even the partisan adversaries I think are really a sad reflection on politics today. I mean, Erin, there's a frustration from Trump supporters out there who see these anonymous stories come out. Again, I know that's something they harp on all the time but they come out and say, you know, the president wants these many scoops of ice cream with dinner or they want to attack the president on, you know, someone in the administration says this. And it's so detached -
MILLER: -- from reality. I mean I was chatting with the folks at the White House today and they said the president is in a great mood, he's fired up, he's ready to go drive this agenda, they've said that June is going to be their big jobs month that they're diving into and have all these great things mapped out for the next four weeks. It's a completely different world than what you're reading in some of these newspapers.
BURNETT: Right. So I just want to make two points because you do have a fair point. I will say on the two scoops of ice cream and I'm not even trying to be light about this, I'm saying that was actually from a time reporter in his own words. He actually saw it. So I know it's funny, but I am just saying that wasn't based on an anonymous source. Jen, what's your response though? Do you think that there - that people are missing the broader story, as Jason points out?
PSAKI: Look, it's the job of every spokesperson, which Hope is one, to defend their boss. But I think you cross a problematic line when it no longer sounds and feels credible based on what's happening out there. It's hard to look at what's happening from this administration without any successes legislatively, with a very problematic foreign trip, with talks of staff shake-ups and think everything is going swimmingly. There are points in many administrations where things are down, and you have to find a way to defend your boss and defend your team while still being credible. And that's a problem, I think, right now.
BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you -
MILLER: But Jen, respectively speaking, this is where for Trump supporters and I think a lot more than even just Trump supporters, we saw this trip this past week as being a big success. He had the great arms deal with Saudi Arabia. We're glad to see him stand strong on the international stage in Europe. I mean, this was a big success. And I think obviously we're looking at two completely different lenses but to go --
PSAKI: But I don't - what I'm -- what the criticism is, Jason, is not from me as a democrat. There's criticism from global leaders. And I think that's a problem for any president, whether you're a democrat or a republican.
MILLER: Because -- I think because they're used to having a pushover in the White House, and so now finally we don't have a pushover, we have someone showing some strong leadership. And that might feel - that might feel a little bit of culture -
(CROSSTALK) PSAKI: I don't think there's a single national security expert of
either party who would say that's the case.
MILLER: Well, it might be a little bit of a culture shock but you know what, we think that President Trump is really restoring our standing on the international stage and we're glad that he's doing it.
BURNETT: All right. I will leave it there. Thank you all. Next, a source telling CNN that when it comes to the White House right now, President Trump is lonely, angry and is lacking people he trusts. So what is the president's next move? And my next guest is a two-time pulitzer prize winner who has called H.R. McMaster one of America's most thoughtful generals. Tonight he is calling for him to step aside.
[19:30:00] MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Gorkov, quick question. What did you really speak to Jared Kushner about in New York when you met him in December?
SERGEY GORKOV, RUSSIAN BANKER: No comment.
CHANCE: Did you talk about sanctions?
GORKOV: No comment.
CHANCE: But what was discussed? The White House says it was diplomatic meeting, that Kushner met you as part of the transition team. Your bank says it was a business meeting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you so much. Sorry. I'm sorry.
CHANCE: Were you a conduit, were you a conduit to the Kremlin, Mr. Gorkov?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHANCE: Well, Gorkov not particularly happy there clearly about being confronted in that way with his contacts with what was then the Trump team and the Trump administration. We did contact his office to give us a fuller response given to the controversy that this is embroiled in in the United States.
But we got a categorical no, unfortunately, to any further comment -- Erin.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Just absolutely going to say nothing at all with no explanation.
Matthew Chance, thank you very much.
As I said, you've been calling and calling and calling trying to get a formal response. And that is how it ended up.
Gorkov, of course, is not just a Russian oligarch close to Putin. He was actually even trained at Russia's top spy school and that could be the tip of the iceberg of his importance.
Drew Griffin is OUTFRONT.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: He is Sergey Gorkov, handpicked by Russian President Vladimir Putin to run Russia's state bank, the Vnesheconombank, nicknamed the VEB.
This Russian banker was trained by Russia's spy agency, the FSB. Gorky's bank VEB was embroiled in an FBI spying investigation, one of its employees accused of illegally gathering intelligence for the Russian government. And the bank paid for that person's defense.
It is the same bank that has built Russian oligarchs and has been under U.S. sanctions for nearly three years, punishment for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. This is the bank and the banker Jared Kushner met with in December and then errantly forgot to mention when disclosing his personal contacts with foreign officials. Kushner's secret Russian meeting may be more fuel for the Russian-Trump conspiracy theorists or just a mistake of a person with little international diplomatic experience.
THOMAS E. MANN, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: He has been given assignments and position, and he is required to be absolutely forthcoming about this. This opens up another whole set of problems and vulnerabilities for the president.
GRIFFIN: Jared Kushner has, according to his attorney, agreed to answer any and all questions any federal investigators may have about his alleged ties with Russia, Russian banks and backchannel communications. But he is not answering to anyone else right now, and neither is the White House.
Just what Kushner and Gorkov discussed when they met soon after the election isn't clear. The Russian bank says it was real estate business, with Kushner representing his private real estate company. The White House says, no, it was actually government business with Kushner representing the new American administration and Gorkov representing Russia's state bank.
And while all of this is getting sorted out, there is another connection to Sergey Gorkov, another Russian sponsored bank, and another actor in this ever increasingly complicated play.
In 2013, Donald Trump co-hosted the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. It was a huge success, partly due to the pageant's biggest sponsors. One of which was the Russian controlled bank Sberbank.
GRIFFIN: And, Erin, guess who was the deputy chairman of Sberbank? Sergey Gorkov, the very Russian banker meeting with Jared Kushner just three years later in a meeting with conflicting stories about what the meeting was all about, and in the midst of a Russian-Trump U.S. election story that may have no there there yet but is getting harder to ignore -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Drew, thank you very much.
And Ambassador James Woolsey is with me, former CIA director, former Trump campaign senior advisor.
And, Ambassador, you just heard that Drew reporting, right? Miss Universe pageant. Trump, of course, was sponsored by a bank that Gorkov was the deputy chairman of at the time. Trump was in Moscow for that pageant. Now, the same banker is meeting with Jared Kushner.
AMB. JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Probably not a coincidence, no. There are not many coincidences in Russia.
This is an illustration I think of -- if you're in Russia and get in a conversation with someone at a big reception and he says he is a very prominent banker and he would like to talk to you about an oil gas deal, he may be what he says he is. He may be a Russian organized crime boss. He may be a senior KGB officer, FSB. Or he may be all three. And none of those three institutions has any problem with that at all.
[19:35:01] Russia in a sense is a KGB state. It is not a state that is elevated individual corporations to prominence and control. There are prominent corporations. But there are instrumentalities, one or another, of the same KGB (ph).
BURNETT: So, when you say KGB state, I mean, so the meeting between Kushner and Gorkov obviously happened in December when Trump was the president-elect of the United States. Kushner, of course, this wasn't disclosed, leaked to the press. And that's how we all found out about it.
At that time, you were a member of the transition team. I mean, did you know about it or if you knew about it, would you have recommended that he take that meeting or cancel it?
WOOLSEY: No, I didn't know about it. And I would not recommend any of the Americans involved in this to take meeting, unless they were asked by, let's say, the president-elect and they had been through some serious discussions with the senior CIA or FBI people explaining how to deal with the situation.
BURNETT: And that clearly did not happen.
WOOLSEY: It's not a crime in and of itself to talk to a Russian intelligence officer. But it's certainly not wise to do it without being part of a system that is helping you make your inquiries and so forth.
BURNETT: And as we point out, that did not happen in this case. This was not disclosed.
I just want to add Bob Baer, former CIA agent. Bob, you heard Ambassador Woolsey saying Russia is in a sense a KGB state, and there is no coincidence when you look at these different meetings. What is your take on the significance here of Sergey Gorkov?
BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Director Woolsey is absolutely right. I mean, this bank is in essence an arm of the FSB, the KGB. Gorkov was a former KGB officer. Everything he does, he reports back to the KGB.
He is not particularly a great backchannel to Putin. I just don't buy that. You get ahold of Peskov if for some reason you want to send a message to Putin. He is his aide.
BURNETT: Of course, the spokesperson --
BAER: Everybody knows that. I've got his e-mail. Yes, I've got his phone number and the rest of it, if you want to get to him.
The real question is, was Kushner talking about business? And that's the question hanging over this whole investigation. Was he looking for a quid pro quo? You know, you invest in our properties, and then we'll lift the sanctions on your bank and Russia as well.
I don't know that that's true. But, you know, the investigators are certainly going to be looking at that, whether there is any financial transactions related to these meetings.
And, of course, Ambassador, the big question here is one of good judgment. Given what we know about Gorkov and his relationship with Putin and his possible or at least reported role with the FSB, former KGB, what business reason would Jared Kushner, who was then working with the president-elect of the United States have had to meet with him?
WOOLSEY: There are potential innocuous explanations here. Mr. Kushner was trying to find out what he could find out and was -- had been asked by someone senior, national security adviser, someone, to find out you can from this guy and come report to me. That is not crazy.
WOOLSEY: It's getting involved in something a bit that you may not be well-prepared for. But it's not crazy, and it's not illegal. It's just probably not all that wise because you're in a pit of snakes and you got to make sure you don't get bitten.
BURNETT: Right. And, of course, the question was: was it unwise or was it something much more than that? Thank you both very much.
And next, Jared Kushner's side of the story. His long-time friend who just spoke to him joins me. And a company that manufacturers Ivanka Trump shoes, the center of a
major scandal tonight. Activists who are investigating alleged abuses there are now gone without a trace. We're live in Beijing with the special report.
[19:42:34] BURNETT: New tonight, Jared Kushner back with the president and publicly so today. The president's son-in-law and senior adviser sitting just a few seats down from President Trump during this afternoon's meeting with the Vietnamese prime minister. So you can see very visible in his spot by the president's side. Kushner, of course, under scrutiny for his attempts to set up a secret communications channel with the Kremlin during the transition.
OUTFRONT now, Ken Kurson, who has known Kushner for 15 years. Also the former editor of "The New York Observer" which is owned by Kushner.
So, you know him extremely well. I know you had a chance to speak with him, you know, in just the past few days. Obviously, we saw him today where he had -- we've been accustomed to seeing him, the president. But, of course, with all this controversy right now, we haven't seen him in a few days.
You have just spoken to him. What is his mindset right now?
KEN KURSON, HAS KNOWN JARED KUSHNER FOR 15 YEARS: Jared is doing what he always does. He is working hard for the American people. He is trying to advance the president's agenda. And, yes, he is dealing with a lot of smoke. But as Ambassador Woolsey just said on your last segment, there seems to be no fire there.
BURNETT: The issue, of course, is when it comes to some of these things that happened, the Russian backchannel or meeting with the Russian ambassador. Why he did these things when they were not subsequently disclosed, right, until they leaked?
And yesterday I had a chance to talk to the former CIA Director Michael Hayden. He has come out and spoken about this. And here is what he has been saying about these latest developments and Kushner's motives specifically.
Here is Michael Hayden.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I'm going with naivete. And that's not particularly very comforting for me. I mean, what manner of ignorance, chaos, hubris, suspicion, contempt would you have to have to think that doing this with the Russian ambassador was a good or an appropriate idea?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So, you hear the former director of the FBI, right? Naive, ignorant, hubris, contempt, chaos, suspicion. Are any of these words you would use to describe Jared Kushner?
KURSON: No, not at all. And I think that's an outrageous characterization. And I think that's what you get from guys who have been in the government forever.
The American people elected a president whose chief asset was that he was going to do things differently. He wasn't a lifetime politician. And he has appointed to his cabinet other people around him who are not sullied in the long-term ways of Washington.
[19:45:01] And as you saw from the very personal, angry tone the former CIA director just used in the clip you played, it breaks some china as you do it.
BURNETT: It does. Although another former CIA Director James Woolsey was, of course, just here on set and he also said he would have told him not to take the meeting with the Russian banker, that it was not a good idea. That he shouldn't have done it.
BURNETT: Knowing Jared Kushner, when you talk about the motive, if you accept that people don't think that meeting was good idea, which I know you may not. But if you do accept that, would you go with naive as opposed to something more nefarious?
KURSON: Well, I definitely don't think Jared is nefarious. So, if my only choice is the two N words, I think that's an outrageous choice.
I think Jared is doing his best to do the bidding of the president who was elected by the American people. He is taking all kinds of meetings. My understanding is that that form that supposedly omitted, you know, this critical meeting is like a thousand pages long. They probably admitted a bunch of meetings. It was fixed immediately.
I think that they nonstop -- you know, my office where we work, there is CNN among others on all day. And they're on mute. And all I see are these headlines, you know, about the misspelled tweets and Donald Trump gave his personal cellphone to leaders.
I just think that CNN and the rest of the mainstream media doesn't get it. This guy is going to do things differently from other Washington politicians. And the people who elected him like that about him. They like that he is a normal person who gives out his cellphone number and makes misspellings, God forbid in his tweets.
And, you know, if this meeting was ill-advised, then that's a mistake. But now have somebody like Donald Baer who was on a couple of minutes ago saying, we have to find fought the Russians were getting quid pro quo, that's crazy. That's --
BURNETT: But don't we have to find that out?
KURSON: Well, do we have to find out --
BURNETT: When you're taking a meeting that two former CIA agents just said he categorically shouldn't have taken, don't we all deserve an answer as to why --
KURSON: What I heard Woolsey (ph) say is that it might have been ill- advised because the media is going to jump all over it. So --
BURNETT: Well, that's not why he said it was ill-advised.
KURSON: Well, because it could -- it could be interpreted in any way. But without any evidence, you're going to come to a conclusion that he is determining sanctions on a hostile country on personal gain? That's an incredible accusation. Why not accuse him of, you know, murders and all kinds of other things?
BURNETT: To be fair, though, I think what people are asking is just a question. What did he do?
BURNETT: Look, I know this is in a sense, but you as his friend, do you feel that he wants to give his side of the story? He is not coming out to the media. But do you feel he wants to?
Let's just be honest. The guy said I'll testify, right? He said I'll come and do that. Do you think he wants to give his full side of the story?
KURSON: I think nobody on earth would love to be grilled and interrogated. But he has said over and over he is willing to testify.
I know Jared to be an incredibly honest and direct guy. He is going to give honest testimony when it eventually comes to that, but would he rather be doing the business of the American people or sitting before Congress or some other panel, what do you think?
BURNETT: And quickly before we go, we understand that they told friends they're going to keep evaluating whether they're going to stay in D.C., in Washington. Obviously, that's a significant thing to say you're evaluating you. You just talked to him a couple of days ago. Is he committed to staying there in Washington?
KURSON: As far as I can tell he is 100 percent to doing what he went there to do.
BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you very much, Ken. I appreciate your time.
KURSON: Thanks, Erin. I appreciate it.
BURNETT: Thank you.
Next, Ivanka Trump's brand under fire tonight. Activists looking into alleged abuses that a company that makes her shoe line suddenly, they're gone, vanished. What happened?
And the president's bizarre Twitter moment that had everybody asking, what?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thought it was a hidden message to the Russians.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, you do?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[19:51:40] BURNETT: Tonight, two activists missing, one arrested in China. They were investigating a company that manufacturing shoes for Ivanka Trump's clothing brand.
Matt Rivers is OUTFRONT with more.
MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ivanka Trump's brand facing fresh criticism tonight. The detention of a labor activists and disappearance of two others investigating a Chinese company that manufactures Ivanka Trump's shoes are prompting calls for Trump's label to sever ties with the Chinese supplier.
This is CNN's exclusive video of the factory owned by the same company the activists were investigating. The company makes shoes for different labels, including Trump's. CNN was not permitted to film in the actual factory that makes Ivanka Trump's shoes.
The activists were working with a New York-based organization, China Labor Watch. The group says the Chinese company was paying employees less than minimum wage and forcing them to work up to 1,800 hours per day. China labor watch tells CNN they were set to release a report on the subject next month based on the work of those three Chinese undercover activists until all three disappeared.
Deng Guilian is wife of Hua Haifeng, one of the messing activists, she spoke to CNN over the phone, saying police told her, her husband had been detained for conducting illegal surveillance. They wouldn't say where he's being held. She hasn't spoken to him since Sunday.
DENG GUILIAN, HUA HAIFENG'S WIFE (through translator): I can't even sleep. I wish somebody would tell me what happened to my husband.
RIVERS: CNN has contacted local authorities but has been unable to figure out where the other two activists Li Zhao and Su Heng are located, or get in touch with their families.
Today, Amnesty International called for the release of all three.
A spokesman for the Democratic Committee called on Ivanka Trump's brand to, quote, immediately cease its work with this supplier and the Trump administration should reverse its current course and confront China on its human rights abuses.
China Labor Watch routinely conducts investigations into unfair labor practices. Li Qiang, the group's director, said none of his employees had been detained like this in nearly 20 years of similar work. Over the phone, he told CNN, I can't be 100 percent sure of the reason behind the activists' disappearance. The only difference I can see between this case and all previous cases is the Ivanka Trump name.
To be clear, there is no evidence that Ivanka herself has any connection to the missing investigators. She resigned from her management role at the company when she took a job in her father's administration, but she still owns part of the business. A representative for Ivanka Trump's brand declined to comment on the story as did the owner of the factory.
In China, the focus remains on the missing.
RIVERS: We know that these activists got undercover in the first place by getting jobs at these factories. And, Erin, we know they haven't been heard from for days now. And to that end, the director of China Labor Watch believes all three men remain in Chinese custody and he is appealing directly to the Trump administration. In a statement to CNN, he directly appealed to President Trump and Ivanka Trump herself, asking them to do what they can do, as much as they can do to try and secure the release of these three activists.
BURNETT: All right. Matt, thank you very much.
And, of course, that does leave a very question as to whether this White House or Ivanka Trump will say something about this.
[19:55:00] OUTFRONT next, Jeanne Moos on President Trump and his covfefe tweet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Covfefe. Huh?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Covfefe, covfefe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Covfefe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Tonight's number, more than 108,000, that is how many retweets President Trump's now infamous covfefe tweet had by 4:00 a.m. this morning. That is most than any of his tweets this month. That's a pretty scary.
Here's Jeanne Moos.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It wasn't even a complete sentence tweeted out by President Trump just after midnight. Despite the constant negative press, what's that word?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Covfefe. Huh?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Covfefe, covfefe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Covfefe.
MOOS: Professionals could only guess at how to pronounce it, and the public --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is hilarious.
MOOS: How do you say it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Covfefe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Covfefe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been saying it covfefe.
MOOS: We're pretty sure the president meant to type negative press coverage, but the covfefe tweet stayed up for almost six hours. It was then deleted and the president tweeted: Who can figure out the true meaning of covfefe? Enjoy.
Which the Internet did. It was turned into a "Wheel of Fortune" puzzle, a make America covfefe again mock up t-shirt.
Eventually, the White House press secretary only confused things more.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.
MOOS: Hillary Clinton probably wasn't a part of that group.
CLINTON: I thought it was a hidden message to the Russians.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, you do?
MOOS: Tweeted one joker, are you suffering from small dysfunctional hands? Ask your doctor if covfefe is right for you.
Tweeted another, I thought covfefe is what you say when someone sneezes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sounds French, covfefe.
MOOS: Covfefe was turned into an Ivanka fragrance.
A California man bought the license plate as soon as he noticed that non-word trending. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is covfefe?
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: A Yiddish term for I've got to go to bed now.
MOOS: Franken enemy, Ted Cruz, tweeted: Covfefe? Hard to say, but I hear Al Franken's new book is full of it.
Many assume President Trump just fell asleep. Midtweet.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know words. I have the best words.
MOOS: The best non-words, too.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Covfefe.
MOOS: You say that with such assurance.
Jeanne Moos, CNN --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Covfefe.
-- New York.
MOOS: Did he just drop his iPhone as he fell asleep?
Thanks for joining us.