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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Illinois Senator Richard Durbin; Trump Expected to Hire Private Attorney to Defend Against Russia Probe; Brother of Manchester Bomber Arrested; Trump Budget Could Hurt Some of His Own Supporters. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 24, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump about to lawyer up.

THE LEAD starts right now.

With the Russia probe and another terror attack hanging over his first overseas trip, President Trump lands in Brussels to visit NATO. Will he leave thinking the alliance is less obsolete?

Crisis management, President Trump expected to hire a lawyer to help with this Russian mess, as Michael Flynn gets even less cooperative with the investigation.

Plus, police on the move and a key arrest overseas, as U.S. military officials say the Manchester terrorist who targeted children at a concert returned to the U.K. from Libya just days before the attack.

Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

President Trump, after months of bashing one of the oldest and perhaps most successful military alliances in world history, NATO, is getting ready for upcoming talks with the European leaders in Brussels, Belgium, about the future of the organization.

That's even as a senior White House official last week threatened that the U.S. might leave NATO. The president landed in Belgium just hours ago after a quick stopover in Rome, where he and Pope Francis visited this morning in what the president called a fantastic meeting at Vatican City.

You will remember, last year, during the presidential campaign, the pope said anyone who thinks only about building walls and not bridges is -- quote -- "not a Christian." Then candidate Trump called those comments disgraceful and said the Mexican government was using the pope as a pawn.

This morning, however, we're told the two men discussed terrorism, climate change and world peace.

Here in Washington, the discussion stills centers on ongoing inquiries into Trump campaign ties to Russia and the president's domestic agenda, which, at the moment, seems a bit stalled. His budget proposal was declared dead on arrival by Republicans as it hit Capitol Hill.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is live in Brussels for us.

And, Jim, the president and the pope today tried to move past the campaign tension, it seems.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake.

President Trump and Pope Francis could not be more diametrically opposed when it comes to the most important issues facing the world, but they tried to put that aside and talk about the terror threat, which is a flitting conversation after the events of this week.

But, obviously, the terror threat is a message the president is going to try to hammer home when he sits down with NATO leaders here in Brussels.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Two leaders with well-known differences, President Trump and Pope Francis, met longer than expected at Vatican, holding an extension conversation, senior administration officials say, about the radicalization of young people, a critical meeting of the minds apparently impacted by the concert bombing in Manchester.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

ACOSTA: Two men didn't tackle all their disagreements, though the president was pressed by Vatican officials to keep the U.S. and the Obama administration's Paris climate agreement.

He described his papal encounter in typical Trump fashion.

TRUMP: He is something. He is really great. We had a fantastic meeting, and we had a fantastic tour. It was really beautiful. We're liking Italy very much.

ACOSTA: Not everybody in the president's entourage made it into the meeting with the pope, notably Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who is Catholic. White House officials insist Spicer's absence was a result of the Vatican's strict controls on numbers, though a source close to the White House said it was a slight.

The president continued his whirlwind foreign trip, making his next stop in Brussels, where he plans to press NATO leaders to step up their efforts in the battle against terrorism.

TRUMP: When you see something like happened two days ago, you realize how important it is to win this fight.

ACOSTA: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters on Air Force One it's time for the decades-old NATO alliance to become more active in the terror fight. REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: NATO joining the ISIS

coalition, we do think that would be a really important step for them to take. They have been an observer, but they have become more and more engaged, you know, in the actual fight to defeat ISIS.

ACOSTA: The bloodshed in Manchester, Tillerson said, only strengthens the president's argument.

TILLERSON: I think the horrible attack in Manchester just reminded all us why we have to do this. And the president said that in remarks to embassy staff today. He said, you know, it just reminds us why we have to win this fight, and we have to do it.

ACOSTA: Even as the president tries to remain focused on his overseas trip, there are daily reminders of the political turmoil awaiting him when he returns home. The president is expected to hire a trial lawyer he's used in the past, Marc Kasowitz, as one of his outside attorneys to deal with the special counsel investigation into possible Trump campaign tries with Russia.

Nearly simultaneously, the White House said it was no longer considering former vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman for FBI director. Lieberman happens to be a partner at Kasowitz's firm. But White House officials insisted the decision to expand its FBI director search was just a coincidence.

Fellow Republicans maintain that all of the Russia questions must be answered.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: It has to be resolved. The American people want answers. One hundred senators want to make sure that our country stays safe and secure and strong. We're committed to getting to the bottom of this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[16:05:08]

ACOSTA: Now, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson noted that Russia will be participating on the sidelines of the G7 summit down in Sicily later on at the end of this week.

Tillerson said that Russia will have to address its actions in Ukraine if it hopes to rejoin what used to be known as the G8, before it was kicked out after its actions in Ukraine. So, Jake, even after all of its meddling in the U.S. election, Russia still doesn't have everything that it would like to have on the world stage -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Acosta, thanks so much.

Now let's go to the politics lead. At any moment, we're going to get the highly anticipated report from the Congressional Budget Office analyzing the new Republican health care bill. The report gauges the potential impact on the federal deficit and estimates how many Americans might be covered, how many Americans might lose coverage. You will recall the White House celebration earlier this month after

House Republicans pushed through their bill. That was, of course, before the CBO had a chance to analyze the bill.

CNN's Phil Mattingly joins me now live from Capitol Hill.

And, Phil, no matter what the new CBO report says, there will be millions who will be uninsured under the current bill.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's not even a question at this point, Jake, and we're in the midst of the famed Capitol Hill pastime, everybody furiously refreshing the Congressional Budget Office Web site, waiting for those numbers to come out, which aides say should come at some point within this hour.

Here's kind of the crucial numbers you need to know -- 24 million would lose their insurance based on the early expectations or at least the early scoring of this bill. Of that, $150 billion in deficit reduction would also occur. That latter number is actually really, really important for this bill to actually move forward.

They need to secure at least $2 billion in deficit savings. Now, Jake, that gives them a huge cushion, obvious. But there were changes in the bill. As you noted, and as we talked about repeatedly over the course of the consideration of the bill, they changed provisions, giving states the opportunity to opt out of certain Obamacare insurance regulations.

Now, what that should do is actually help them on the number of insured, should drop that number from 24 million. At least that's the expectation. But it will also cost more money. They also added $8 billion to the bill to address those with preexisting conditions.

So the big question now obviously is, what will the number of uninsured be? Will that deficit reduction target make sure it can actually be sent over to the Senate and considered?

And also noteworthy, where premiums actually stand. Will they go down like the Republicans have said was their primary goal? All of those are crucial issues we will be keeping an eye on in the basically next couple of minutes, Jake.

TAPPER: And once the score comes out, do you have any sense of what might be major sticking points for the Senate Republicans?

MATTINGLY: Yes, it's important to note that senators have been meeting behind closed doors since the House passed this bill, trying to hash out a path forward.

And basically what I'm told, based on numerous conversations with people inside these closed-door meetings, is there are a lot of problems and they're not all that different from what we heard during the House debate, the Medicaid expansion.

You have senators from states like Pennsylvania, Nevada, and West Virginia who want to protect that expansion or at least let the phase- out be a little bit easier, a softer landing, if you will.

You have a lot of other issues, too. There's no clear consensus right now. The Senate still has a lot of work to do, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill for us, thank you.

We're following some breaking news. Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page says that he will testify before the House Intelligence Committee as part of its ongoing probe into Russian interference in the U.S. election and possible ties between the Trump team and Russia.

The same, however, cannot be said for Trump's former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. He has said that he will invoke his Fifth Amendment rights and thus far he's refused to comply with subpoenas for business records.

Leaders of both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are threatening to hold Flynn in contempt of Congress. Late today, the chairman and ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee said memos written by fired FBI Director James Comey detailing his conversations with President Trump have yet to be turned over to that committee.

Joining me now to discuss this all is Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois. He serves on the Judiciary Committee.

Senator, good to see you, as always.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: How much do you think Carter Page can reveal in this ongoing probe?

DURBIN: I don't know how much he was involved. His name has certainly been prominent, but, you know, what we have said is, let's figure out who the witnesses are, what the evidence may be, and let's follow it to its logical conclusion.

I don't know if the House Intelligence Committee has that same goal. I hope they do.

TAPPER: The chairman and ranking members of the Judiciary Committee on which you serve say they have yet to receive these fabled Comey memos.

What next steps are you prepared to taken to ensure that you get a chance to read them?

DURBIN: Well, of course, we want to see these memos. There's a legitimate question to be raised about the head of the FBI. That is in the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee.

We'd like to know the circumstances for the firing of Comey. And, of course, we want to know the standards that are being used to pick his successor. That's a critical question. TAPPER: At this point, do you think that former National Security

Adviser Michael Flynn should be held in contempt of Congress for his refusal to allow himself to be interviewed?

DURBIN: Well, I'm told that the Fifth Amendment does not apply to documents that already exist. And so he couldn't use the Fifth Amendment as his excuse for not complying with the subpoena that's been issued by the committee.

[16:10:04]

If he wants to plead the Fifth Amendment in terms of his personal testimony, that's his right to do, but when it comes to documents, those already in existence, that would not apply.

TAPPER: President Trump has hired outside private counsel. What do you make of that?

DURBIN: Well, I think he's finally going lawyer up and take it seriously.

I mean, if you listen to the things he's said and what he's done over the past several weeks, I don't think he's taken this whole obstruction of justice issue seriously. The conversations he's had with Mr. Comey, as well as the leaders in our intelligence agencies about stopping their investigation of Russian interference in our election are truly troubling.

TAPPER: Yes.

And on that subject, obviously, CNN and "The Washington Post" and others have reported this, that President Trump asked both the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and the head of the National Security Agency, Admiral Rogers, to publicly deny any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Now, if you combine that with the firing of Comey, the Comey memo alleging Trump asked him to back off from investigating Flynn, the president telling the Russians that firing Comey took pressure off of him because of the Russia scandal, and on and on, do you see a case for obstruction of justice?

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you there certainly is smoke. Whether there's fire is up to Bob Mueller.

Bob Mueller is now the special counsel in this case, a person whom I trust very much. He was head of the FBI, former federal judge. He's a man of integrity and intelligence. And I think he knows where to take this investigation. But is there evidence to be looked at? You bet there is, and you just went through the list.

TAPPER: Take a listen to what Ben Wittes -- he's a friend of James Comey -- told my colleague Anderson Cooper.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BENJAMIN WITTES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I have no doubt that he regarded the group of people around the president as dishonorable. This is a guy with a story to tell. I think if I were Donald Trump, that would scare me a lot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What do you make of that, Senator?

DURBIN: Well, I think it is worrisome.

The situation is really hard to understand with the advisers to the president and some of the information that has come out.

We have just got to leave it in the hands of a professional like Bob Mueller, a good choice, as far as I'm concerned. I have a lot of faith in him. I think we will get to the bottom of it.

TAPPER: Israel's defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, was asked on Israeli radio if it's true that the life of an Israeli agent was put in danger by President Trump revealing intelligence to the Russians while in the Oval Office. Israeli Defense Minister Lieberman said -- quote -- "I will not confirm or deny. We have made a pointed correction. There is unprecedented intelligence cooperation" -- unquote.

What do you interpreted -- how do you interpret "a pointed correction"? What does that mean to you?

DURBIN: Well, I wish I knew what that phrase meant, but I will tell you this.

Making that kind of disclosure to the foreign minister of Russia and the Russian ambassador to the United States inside the Oval Office was reckless. To give that kind of classified information out to a nominal enemy of the United States on so many fronts, there's no explanation for it.

And I hope that the president has learned his lesson, and I hope it didn't endanger the lives of anyone, including those sources that gave us this critical information.

TAPPER: Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, thanks so much for your time, sir. Appreciate it.

DURBIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: More breaking news: Another person has been arrested in connection with the concert bombing in Manchester, this just hours after we learned the brother of the bombing was arrested and accused of plotting his own attack in another country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:50] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with the world lead. I'm Jake Tapper. Police have just made arrest number six in connection with the

Manchester terrorist attack at a concert Monday. The arrest came during police raids of two apartments. And the brother of the bomber has also been detained in Libya for a separate plot, according to authorities there. The brother admitted under interrogation that he and the attacker were members of ISIS. A family friend says their father took both his sons to Libya about a month ago to try to keep them out of trouble in Manchester. Police now say it's very clear that the bomber was part of a wider terrorist network. The 22-year- old was known to authorities and on the radar of intelligence services.

CNN's Atika Shubert is in Manchester where there's obviously a very heavy police presence.

And, Atika, what are you seeing?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.

I mean, this is all part of the expanding investigation, the sixth arrest, that woman who was arrested, we understand that happened here. Armed police went in to make that arrest. We don't know exactly how she is connected to this investigation, but police have confirmed there is in fact a link, and in addition to that, of course, we now know that the younger brother of Salman Abedi has now been arrested in Tripoli.

Now, we don't know the circumstances as well of what happened there, but it appears that he was arrested by a local militia, and they claim that he was planning an attack there. There's no way for us, however, to independently verify this. Now, again, this is all part of that investigation that is growing, and that's because according to the chief constable, of course, this is not just the work of one man.

Here's a look at all of the different sites that we have visited so far.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHUBERT (voice-over): Heavy weapons, mobile phone jamming equipment and body armor, more than a dozen police suited up to search an apartment in this building. Police won't say what or who they are looking for, but they now believe that the Manchester bombing was not the work of one man alone but a network.

(on camera): Now this location is very different from the other suburban homes that police have searched. This is city center, and it's just about a mile and a half away from the site of the attack. There are a lot of students who live here, also young professionals. There are also apartments for short-term rent.

[16:20:00] But it's still not clear what exactly links this location to the attacker.

(voice-over): This is Salman Abedi, the attacker identified by the Manchester police. Investigators now believe he visited Libya weeks ago and only returned to Manchester in the last few days.

This Facebook photo was taken a few years ago, and it was showed to us by a neighbor and Abedi family friend, Akram Ben Ramadan, a member of the Libyan community here. He remembers Salman as a quiet child and last saw him and his brother heading to evening prayer at the mosque. One relative he spoke to was distraught, reeling from the shock that the killer was one of their own.

AKRAM BEN RAMADAN, BOMBER'S NEIGHBOR: He was in a state that they can't really say anything to him. If you need anything, just knock on the door.

SHUBERT (on camera): Yes.

RAMADAN: He was shattered. He was broken. Tears in his eyes. It's like somebody has died very close to you, you know. It's something you can't describe. It's -- when you get some bad news, and you don't know how to react. It hasn't hit home yet.

SHUBERT (voice-over): Akram says Libyan youth here are especially vulnerable to terror recruiters.

RAMADAN: The Libyan youth here have -- I don't know, they didn't fit when they went back home and I don't think they fit here in this country. So, they feel like they've been disbanded from two societies, the Libyan society and the British society.

SHUBERT: The local mosque issued a statement but would not confirm whether Salman prayed there. But friends tell us the Abedi family was part of the community, devout but not extremists. They had recently returned to Libya, Salman, too.

ISIS has carved out a substantial presence in Libya. His return to Manchester would have been a red flag to terror investigators. Police are now trying to retrace Salman Abedi's steps to understand how he was able to return and obtain such deadly explosives.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUBERT: Now, what police are looking at is exactly what he did as soon as he arrived here in the U.K., but also how he was either able to construct or obtain that explosive. This is what they are looking at, whether or not there was another bomb-maker that passed it on to him or if he was somehow able to make it on his own. These are still unanswered questions at this time, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Atika Shubert, thank you so much.

Today, we're learning about more victims of this horrific attack. The parents of teenager Nell Jones searched local hospitals for their daughter only to learn she had been killed at the scene. One of Nell's students feel like they have lost a sister, not a classmate.

Martyn Hett was 29. He was an avid social media user who turned to Twitter last year so he could help his mom sell her knitting projects at a craft fair. Marcin and Anjelika Klis were killed as they waited to pick up their

daughters after the concert. This was a picture they took that night. Their children survived.

The family of Michelle Kiss, a wife and mother of three, said they were devastated by the loss of a woman for whom family was everything.

Jane Tweddle, also a mother of three and the receptionist at a children school was remembered as being bubbly, kind, welcoming funny, generous, and we have an update on the missing 15-year-old girl we told you about yesterday. Olivia Campbell's mother confirmed that she, too, was killed in the attack, including the three victims we told you about yesterday.

We now know 10 of the 22 victims of Monday's attack. As we learn more, we will continue to bring you their names and their stories to you.

Any moment, the Congressional Budget Office will release its report on the House health care bill. How many Americans might lose their insurance? We'll bring it to you the moment it drops.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:48] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Turning back to politics now. President Trump's newly released 2018 budget proposal will bolster defense and military and border security spending, but other dramatic cuts to social safety net programs could hurt a large number of Americans, including a large number of Trump's base supporters, white working class voters.

Rene Marsh joins me now.

And, Rene, what impact might Trump's budget plan have on the very people who voted for him?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: So, we took a closer look to the programs that are slated to be reduced or eliminated all together, and there is no question these cuts will sting poor communities. Ironically, many of these programs are the lifeline for people who live in areas that voted solidly for Trump during the presidential election.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWD: We love you, Trump!

Trump! Trump!

MARSH (voice-over): Trump was particularly popular to white working class male ages 40 and older with some to no college, and white women without a degree living in suburban and rural areas. It's a demographic that in some cases benefits from the government programs President Trump proposes cutting.

Five areas that people who put Trump in office stand to lose under the proposed 2018 budget, Medicaid and the children's insurance program called CHIP, education, food assistance programs, economic development programs and farm subsidies.

STEPHEN VOSS, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR: Some of the programs they are talking about cutting, food stamps, Medicaid, those tend to hit poor communities. Many of the voters there swung to Donald Trump when they hadn't previously been Republican. So, I think it's really some of those new Republican voters who would feel the pinch the fastest.

MARSH: Medicaid and CHIP would lose somewhere between $610 billion to $1.4 trillion over 10 years. The programs provide health coverage for more than 70 million low income children, adults, senior citizens, and disabled Americans.

In Ohio, where Trump won, more than 2.8 million people are enrolled in the programs. In Georgia, more than 1.7 million are enrolled. Under Trump's budget, work study programs for higher education would be cut by $488 million. More than 15,000 students would lose access to the program in Texas, another state Trump won.