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Concert Terror Attack Suspect; Terror Raids and Arrest; Terror Attack Witnesses Speak Out; Possible Second Memo; Trump Asked Intel Chiefs to Deny Russia Collusion; ISIS Claims Concert Terror Attack. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 23, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The news continues right now on CNN.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar live in Washington. And this is CNN's special live coverage of two developing stories, including breaking details on the investigation into President Trump and Russia. For the first time, the former director of the CIA says that the Trump team was, indeed, in contact with the Russians. This as we're learning that the president asked his intelligence chiefs to push back against the FBI investigation. We'll have more on that in a moment.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, I'm Brooke Baldwin, live here in Manchester, the sight of unspeakable horror and tragedy in that arena right there. Think about it, little girls, teenagers, their parents targeted by a terrorist strapped with a bomb.

This wasn't a war zone. It wasn't an attack on a government or military outlet. This was an attack at a pop concert, at an arena, much like the ones we all visit for sports or music for a good time. Twenty-two people have now died, including children. A homeless man nearby tells CNN he jumped in to help when he saw children covered in blood.


STEVEN JONES, HOMELESS MAN WHO HELPED SAVE KIDS ESCAPING ATTACK: I would like to think someone would come and help me if I needed the help. You know all come and help someone who I knew, their family. So it was just one of them things, you know, it was just instinct in it to go and help if someone needs your help. And it was children running and there was a lot of children with blood all over them and everything so -- and crying (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE). If I didn't help, I wouldn't be able to live with myself for walking away and leaving kids like that.


BALDWIN: We are learning the identities of some of the victims today. On the left side of your screen is eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos, eight. In the middle is 18-year-old Georgina Callander. And English college student John Atkinson was also killed in the attack. Nearly 16 more injured, some hanging on for life. Fans were just leaving an Ariana Grande concert when a suicide bomber walked up to the arena and blew himself up. ISIS now claiming responsibility.

Hala Gorani is here with me, CNN international anchor and correspondent.

So as far as the man, the coward who did this, they have -- police have now released his name. Who is he?

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: They released the name of Salmon Abedi. It's been confirmed by the police, not by the coroner so far. A 22-year-old man born in Manchester. They believe he detonated a homemade IED, an improvised explosive device, just as concert-goers were streaming out of the venue here behind us. We do know that as you mentioned ISIS, on its telegram platform, is claiming responsibility for this attack, calling, as they usually do, the man a soldier of the caliphate. We don't know much more about whether or not he acted alone. In other words, it does require a certain degree of sophistication. This isn't a knife attack. This isn't a car ramming pedestrians. It does require certain bomb-making --

BALDWIN: Premeditation.

GORANI: Right, obviously premeditation but also technical knowledge, how to put together a bomb. I mean, obviously, this isn't something that you can do overnight. You have to either acquire the knowledge online or you have to -- you know, someone has to make that device for you and give it to you, which would mean, for investigators, that more than one person is involved. And that's a race against time for investigators because if this is part of a wider network, it could mean that other attacks are planned.

BALDWIN: Which we don't know yet at all --

GORANI: We do not know.

BALDWIN: Whether this was one crazed individual, self-inspired, self- radicalized, or whether there's a larger network. There were raids -- just quickly -- a couple of raids overnight.


BALDWIN: A separate arrest this morning. Can you tell me more about that?

GORANI: Yes, there were raids in the home of this individual, Salmon Abedi. And as I mentioned here, the question is going to be the arrest. Is it connected in some way to the preparation of the crime of this terrorist attack? Is someone providing knowledge of bomb-making? This is important. It's not just a side angle because since 2005 there has not been a suicide bombing of this nature in this country. We've seen the knife attack. We saw the Westminster Bridge attack.

BALDWIN: Sure. GORANI: We've seen, for instance, the beheading of Lee Rigby, that soldier, a few years ago by two terrorists then. But we have not seen a suicide bombing. That's down to counter terrorism agencies here. They've done a great job foiling --

BALDWIN: They're very tough on terror here in Manchester.

GORANI: They've done a -- absolutely and they've done a great job, they've told us, foiling attacks. This one slipped through the net and they are going to have to backtrack the movements of this individual to figure out how he slipped through and how he was able to carry out this carnage.

BALDWIN: Hala, thank you so much.

I want to bring in now, as we're hearing some of the stories of some of the survivors and the young girls who attended this concert in particular, Sara Beardall and her daughter now join me.

[14:05:02] And, fortunately, you two were obviously able to escape. But just thank you so much for taking the time with me.

And this is a lot for a young girl to process. Erin, how are you feeling today?


BALDWIN: If you can -- scared is absolutely the right word. I can't imagine. Can you tell me what was going through your mind when you heard the big blast?

E. BEARDALL: Well, at first I thought it was a balloon, but then I thought it was too loud to be a balloon. So I got really, really scared and started crying.

BALDWIN: And what did you see?

E. BEARDALL: I just saw people like screaming and running and things like that. And so me and my mom just decided to run as well.

BALDWIN: And, mom, let me talk to you. Sara, the moment -- you're there. You're with your daughter. And she turns to you and says what?

SARA BEARDALL, WAS WITH 10-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER DURING CONCERT ATTACK: Well, we heard the blast and didn't know what it was. But straight away she said, is it terrorists? Are they coming to get us? You, are we going to die basically? So we turned to leave and there was lots of children, young girls. I was trying to tell everybody to, you know, to just keep walking as much as you could.

Are you still there because I seem to have lost it.


BALDWIN: I'm with you. I'm just -- I'm hanging on your every word. Just so I heard you correctly, you're 10 -- no, no, you're with me.

We're live. We're OK.


BALDWIN: But your ten-year-old daughter said to you, the terrorists have come? She knew at ten?

S. BEARDALL: She -- it seemed to be her first thought, which, you know, is devastating, really, when, you know, it just shows the awareness and the sad world that we live in. I try and be honest with her, but I must admit, it was pretty shocking to hear.

BALDWIN: My goodness. I'm just so glad both of you are OK. Sara and Erin, thank you very much.

Brianna, we have much more here from Manchester. Twenty-two people killed. We talked about that youngest, the eight years, that we know about so far, and nearly 60 injured.


KEILAR: All right, Brooke, we're going to be back with you in just a moment. More on that breaking story there in Manchester.

First, though, breaking news here out of Washington. The former director of the CIA saying the Trump campaign did have contact with Russia. And we're also learning that the White House inquired about whether President Trump had the power to shut down the FBI investigation of his campaign.

This is CNN's special live coverage.


[14:11:53] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: Welcome back. I'm Brianna Keilar.

And soon we will be returning to Brooke Baldwin in Manchester, England, for the latest on the deadly terror attack there.

But first to this deepening intrigue into the investigation of possible Trump campaign ties to Russia. After four congressional investigations and now a special counsel, there's new, heavyweight information that there were contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials and that they raised concerns. All of this coming from the former CIA director, John Brennan. He testified today before the House Intelligence Committee. Brennan did not specify if any of those communications involved the president himself though.


JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I encountered and am aware of information intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals and it raised questions in my mind, again, whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals. I don't know whether or not such collusion, and that's your term, such collusion existed. I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was the nature of the information?

BRENNAN: It's classified and I'm happy to talk about it in classified session.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that would have been directly between the candidate and Russian state actors?

BRENNAN: That's not what I said. I'm not going to talk about any individuals --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But that was my -- but that was my question. And you answered it. And you didn't answer it that way.

BRENNAN: I -- no. Yes, I responded to your query. I'm not going to respond to particular elements of your question because I think it would be inappropriate for me to do so here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So the answer --

BRENNAN: So I can only repeat what I said, which is that I was aware of intelligence and information about contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons that raised concerns in my mind about whether or not those individuals were cooperating with the Russians either in a witting or unwitting fashion and that serves the basis for the FBI investigation to determine whether such collusion, cooperation occurred.


KEILAR: Brennan's revelations come on the heels of another major development in the Russia investigation. Multiple current and U.S. officials say that President Trump asked two top intelligence leaders to deny that there was any collusion between his campaign and Russia. And for this part of the story, I want to bring in CNN crime and justice producer Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, I know that in the case of James Comey, for instance, where he met with President Trump, he wrote a memo about it. There could actually be memos detailing one of these interactions?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Well, yes, that's right, Brianna. You know, we learned yesterday -- you know, "The Washington Post" was first to report this and we later confirmed that not only did Trump have a conversation with Comey about potentially stopping the investigation, Trump himself also reached out to two top intelligence officials, to Dan Coats, who runs the DNI, and also the head of the NSA, Admiral Rogers, who apparently, were told, wrote a memo about this.

[14:15:11] Now, this is all very interesting because it just -- you know, certainly would go towards any possible case of obstruction of justice. As to Dan Coats today, he was on The Hill. He testified about it, about his interaction with -- with Donald Trump concerning the investigation. Take a listen.


DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I have always believed that given the nature of my position and the information that -- which we share, it's not appropriate for me to comment publicly.


PROKUPECZ: Now, by all accounts, you know, these interactions are somewhat inappropriate. We were told by officials who are familiar with these conversations, day two felt some of this was appropriate. These two intelligence officials felt it was inappropriate. So one of them, the head of the NSA, wrote a memo about it.

The key here, Brianna, I think this is all potentially could be used towards a case that a special prosecutor, you know, Bob Mueller, the former FBI director, is now looking at possible obstruction of justice and whether anyone at the White House was involved and who else was communicating at the White House potentially to try and interfere in the FBI's investigation into the Trump and Russia meddling of the campaign.

KEILAR: All right, Shimon, thank you so much for breaking that down for us.

I want to get some expert analysis now. Joining me, Michael Zeldin, he's a former federal prosecutor. He was Robert Mueller's special assistant at the Justice Department. Mueller, of course, the former FBI director now leading that Russia investigation. And also with me is Derek Chollet. He was once the assistance secretary of defense for international security affairs.

So, Michael, you have the president, he fires James Comey from the FBI. He mentions that -- he mentions that one of the reasons he did this was because of the Russia probe. He said apparently to the Russians that this would take the pressure off. Now, CNN has reported back in February that the White House had asked the FBI to push back against reports of possible coordination between the Trump camp and Russia. And now you have Donald Trump having asked two intelligence leaders really to go out there and say, no, there's nothing to see here. Is this obstruction of justice?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO ROBERT MUELLER AT JUSTICE DEPT.: Well, it's a brick in the wall. It's another piece of evidence that a prosecutor would look together to put -- to piece together to see whether or not there is --

KEILAR: Each of -- each of these things are bricks in the wall?

ZELDIN: Yes, each of these things. When you build a case, an obstruction of justice case, you have to prove the specific intent to obstruct justice, a knowledge of the affair -- the legal affair that was going on and an intent to obstruct it. And so you say, that's in the person's mind. How do I prove that? You prove it circumstantially. And all of these things, the attempt to fire Flynn, the firing of Comey, the pushback against the FBI directors, efforts throughout the investigation, the fake news allegations, all that becomes essentially consciousness of guilt evidence. That he was aware that there was something going on and that he was endeavoring to put an end to it as quickly as he could and that could be obstruction of justice.

KEILAR: Why can't the White House just say, look, we believed there was nothing the matter and we just needed someone to say that that was what was going on?

DEREK CHOLLET, FORMER U.S. ASST. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR INTERNATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS: Well, this is an ongoing criminal investigation. The president and senior White House team knew that. They should have known that these kinds of conversations were, at the very least, highly inappropriate and something that the special counsel would look into as whether they, in fact, were illegal and whether these bricks build into a wall that is a case of criminal activity. We don't know that yet. We know that this is very suspicious and inappropriate activity.

KEILAR: Having experience in government, the idea that he did this, is this just nuts to you, Derek?

CHOLLET: This is highly unusual. I can't think of a president, certainly since the Watergate era, in which we have seen a president or senior officials around the president place this much pressure on law enforcement or the intelligence community. I think that's one reason why you have seen at least two of the officials involved, Comey and Admiral Rogers, try to document these conversations so there's a record.

KEILAR: So John Brennan says that he encountered -- he was aware of information and intel. We just played that sound bite where he said that it revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign. He was concerned about that. He thought that they were inappropriate. What -- what would be inappropriate? Is it the people that they were talking to? Would they be intelligence officers in Russia? Is it possible the Trump campaign members didn't know that? Was it the content of the conversations?

[14:19:58] ZELDIN: Well, actually, all of the above. So if you're building a case, which is collusion, aiding an enemy or treason or something like that, it's, what were the nature of the contacts, what was the substance of the contact, what was the intent of the contacts, all of those things become relevant. That's why all of these actors are being summoned to The Hill to produce documents and subpoenaed for testimony and Mueller will do the exact same thing because they want to know the who, what, where and why of what was going on there, because it is, as Derek said, it is unusual behavior. And Brennan said it. He said it was outside of standard intelligence protocols for people to behave this way.

KEILAR: When you're watching Brennan in this testimony, did you feel that he was a straight shooter? And I ask you this in part because clearly what was a contentious moment between Republican Trey Gowdy and him, Brennan did serve in the Obama administration. But do you think it is fair for Republicans to feel that he's someone who might have a partisan bent?

CHOLLET: John Brennan, who I worked with closely in the Obama administration, is one of the finest public servants we have. He's an intelligent professional. He also served at high levels of the CIA in the George W. Bush administration. So he is a straight shooter. He calls it as he sees it. And when he saw information that he believed was concerning and passed that on to the FBI for follow-up, I think we have to take him at his word.

ZELDIN: And, in fact, he was clear that he said, this is not collusion. I am not testifying that this is collusion. He is saying, this is something that merits serious inquiry. It is not fake news essentially. So he pushes back against that allegation. But he says, but this isn't dispositive of a collusion allegation. This is just dispositive of the seriousness of the issue.

KEILAR: He's saying there's smoke. There's cause for --

CHOLLET: Well, and one of the more interesting things I thought he said was that sometimes one only discovers that you're on the path to treason once it's too late. So it could be that some of these contacts started innocently. These folks didn't know who they were interacting with. But lo and behold, it was the Russians behind it.

KEILAR: Oh, that maybe the campaign didn't go in with the intent?

CHOLLET: That's one of the --

KEILAR: That -- some of the campaign members?

CHOLLET: The key line that Brennan said is that the path to treason, sometimes you only know that you're on it once it's too late.

KEILAR: That is very interesting.

So, Coats, DNI, put in place by President Trump. He is, it appears, as you saw Shimon's reporting, wrote a memo. Does that strike you as -- Coats is seen, I think, as someone who's -- who's sort of been a Washington institution over the years. But is that interesting to you that this is someone, unlike Comey, who was put in place by Donald Trump, who still felt that he needed to write a memo?

ZELDIN: Well, it's funny, last night I went to my office to read my independent counsel report that we issued a decade or so ago because I wanted to remember something. And in that report there was notices that we made of high-ranking State Department and White House people memorializing memos to file, just like was done here by Comey and Rogers. So it seems to me it's an institution in Washington is to protect yourself sort of memo. This is when I heard, this is when I heard it, this is what my reaction was to it. I'm sticking it in the file so I remember it, that posterity remembers it and if, God forbid, there's a prosecutor, he'll look at it and see what I saw. KEILAR: And they've certainly realized that there is a lot of scrutiny which I think is a lesson that the Trump administration, the Trump White House should be learning as well.

ZELDIN: Right.

KEILAR: Thank you so much, Derek and Michael. I do appreciate you being here.

ZELDIN: Thank you.

CHOLLET: Thank you.

KEILAR: And next we are back to our breaking news. Investigators in Manchester, England, are calling this case a fast-moving investigation. Police are conducting multiple raids. The question that they're trying to answer is, was this the act of a lone attacker, was this part of a wider network instead? CNN's special live coverage live from Manchester, next.


[14:28:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin, live here in Manchester, England, the site of a terror attack at a pop concert. Young people enjoying music and a night out when a suicide boomer blew himself up here at that massive arena. Authorities are calling this case a fast-moving investigation. Police have conducted at least two raids and investigators really want to know if this lone attacker was part of a wider terror network.

So let's begin there with our CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank.

Paul Cruickshank, we know one person is in custody. Police have ID'ed him. How quickly will they be able to tell whether he was self- radicalized, acted alone or had a network?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, that remains to be seen. I can tell you that so far British investigators have not uncovered any evidence of any links to an established terrorist group, a group like ISIS or al Qaeda. Possibly there will be a link that emerges, but as of now, they really have found nothing to suggest that. So they're trying to figure out if he acted alone in terms of this plot, did he build this device himself, or was he part of a network of co-conspirators in the United Kingdom, perhaps some kind of sleeper cell or something like that. And they're really throwing, I understand, absolutely everything at this in terms of this investigation, one of the largest investigations that we've seen in the United Kingdom in recent years, Brooke.

BALDWIN: You know, when we talk about terror attacks, as we've both covered a number of them, we talk about telltale signs of ISIS, right, whether it's using a vehicle as a weapon or using a knife. Just based upon what you know, and we know ISIS has claimed responsibility, does this have the hallmark signs of the Islamic State? [14:30:05] CRUICKSHANK: Well, in some ways, yes, in the sense that it was a suicide bombing.