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CNN SPECIAL REPORTS
Key Evidence In The Russia Investigation Eluding Congress As The FBI Fails To Turn Over The Secret Memos Of The Fired Director, James Comey; Another Lapse By Attorney General Jeff Sessions In Disclosing His Contacts With The Russians; "Washington Post" Report Revealing That The FBI's Investigation Of Hillary Clinton's Emails May Have Been Influenced By The Russians And A Secret And Possibly Fake Document; Republican Candidate Of Body Slamming Reporter; Caroline Kennedy And Her Children Made A Video As Tribute To Former President John F. Kennedy; Aired 11:00-12:00mn ET
Aired May 24, 2017 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[23:00:05] PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: This is a CNN Special Report. White house in crisis. And breaking tonight, key evidence in the Russia investigation eluding Congress as the FBI fails to turn over the secret memos of the fired director, James Comey. I'm Pamela Brown.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: I'm Jim Sciutto. We also have exclusive new CNN reporting tonight on another lapse by attorney general Jeff Sessions in disclosing his contacts with the Russians.
And here is what we know at this hour. CNN has learned that attorney general Sessions did not report his meetings with Russian officials and other foreign contacts when he applied for his security clearance. Now the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee is demanding an investigation.
Also tonight, crucial questions unanswered about conversations between President Trump and his former FBI director James Comey. Requests by Congress for Comey's memos or any White House tapes that might exist, were declined. A special counsel Robert Mueller is expected to ask for the very same information. This as Comey's actions in the Hillary Clinton email investigation are in the spotlight once again tonight. The "Washington Post" reporting that the FBI probe was influenced by what's being called a dubious document, a potentially fake memo that may have been part of Russia's effort to influence the U.S. election.
And ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn has defied Congress once again denying the House intelligence committee's request for documents about his Russia connections. Flynn's now expected to be hit with yet another round of subpoenas.
BROWN: So let's get more now on CNN's exclusive reporting on attorney general Sessions and his Russia contact. CNN's team of reporters with us tonight. Manu Raju, Evan Perez who broke the story.
Right after the story broke, it didn't take a long for Capitol Hill to react, Manu. MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right. Not
surprisingly that the Democrats jumped all over this. John Conyers, the top Democrat in the House Judiciary Committee saying it's time to investigate Jeff Sessions. And also other Democrats saying as well, it's time to have at least a hearing to get to the bottom of this.
But I can tell you, as we were reporting on this story and talking to members on the House and Senate intelligence committees, they do want to talk to Sessions about not just his meetings that he had with the Russian ambassador, that he failed to disclose not just in his security clearance forms but also during his Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, but also his role in the firing of James Comey, even though since he had recused himself from overseeing the probe after he belatedly disclosed those meetings to the Judiciary Committee. So a lot of questions left for Jeff Sessions.
But tonight, the justice department also saying that he did not do anything wrong. They said they got advice from the FBI not to give these -- not to disclose these meetings on a security clearance form. But as Evan will tell you the FBI did not comment when we asked them about it.
BROWN: And of course, John Conyers calling for an investigation now. How significant is this, Evan? Help us understand what this means.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well look. I mean, there does seem to be a misunderstanding somewhere in there. The justice department says they were relying on an FBI investigator who helped them fill out this form. And as a matter of fact, Jeff Sessions' assistant had initially reported a year's worth of meetings, dozens of meetings with ambassadors from not only from Russia, but around the world, that the senator, then-senator had had during the past year and then he was told to take them off the form. So there's some misunderstanding here that occurred.
We talked to an outside expert on filling out these sf-86 forms and he said that he should have disclosed these things. So we will see. Maybe members of Congress will get a chance to get to the bottom of that.
But going to what Manu was mentioning, it goes beyond this. I think members of Congress also want to know why Jeff Sessions played such a role in the firing of James Comey if he was recused. Now, the answer from the justice do apartment is, well, the firing of James Comey had nothing to do with Russia, except that then the President has now stepped on them and said it had to do with Russia. So that is the problem for the justice department.
SCIUTTO: Here is the thing to keep in mind. We are not just talking about any random meetings with random diplomats from a random country. We are talking about the Russian ambassador from Russia in the midst of Russian interference in the U.S. election process. So this is not -- I mean, this is material to certainly the investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At a time --
SCIUTTO: But also at a time that it's not - I mean, the point being it's not just any meeting.
BROWN: Right. And part of security clearances, the reason you fill out the form, is to make sure the people doing the clearance make sure a foreign government isn't trying to exert undue influence.
SCIUTTO: We know that --
BROWN: Whatever the case may be.
SCIUTTO: Ambassador Kislyak is known to be recruiting sources here in the U.S. And I don't raise that to think he was recruiting Sessions necessarily to be a source. But just that here's a guy who is perhaps dangerous, he is exactly the kind of guy you wouldn't want to report on these forms.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, exactly, particularly if you're in the middle of a firestorm about Russia. Why would you not err on the side of caution and disclose?
And the question I have is, why wouldn't the FBI say, of course, do this? I mean, it sort of seems counterintuitive to me for the FBI to say, don't do this, unless they didn't want to have to check out a list of 5,000 meetings that he might have had as a senator with all kinds of diplomats.
[23:05:24] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And it is true that senators have lots and lots of meetings with foreign diplomats, with ambassadors. But I just want to underscore as somebody like you Manu, who has covered the hill for a long time, it is one thing for these people who have political sensibilities to not disclose that they're meeting with the ambassador from Iceland. It is another thing for them to not disclose that they are meeting with the ambassador from Russia given the context of everything that was --
PEREZ: And these meetings with occurring during the time that it was already known that the Russians were meddling. The -- you know, we were reporting it, some of the emails already started coming out. It was already out there that the Russians were involved in the hacking of the DNC. So if you know, and by this point, by the way, Jeff Sessions knew that he was going to serve in the administration if Donald Trump won, why wouldn't you do that?
SCIUTTO: You bring up the other time that he failed to disclose, let's just remind our audience, it was during his confirmation hearings when asked by Democratic Senator Al Franken, he did not reveal meetings with Russians as well. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians. And I'm unable to comment on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: He said it right there. I did not. I t did not have communications with the Russians. Another opportunity in public session where he didn't answer truthfully.
BROWN: And of course, that he came back and amended his answer. But it's not just Jeff Sessions. There's also Jared Kushner. And you have reporting, Gloria, that he didn't disclose --
BORGER: Well, you know, we first reported this in early April that Jared Kushner in filling out his first security clearance form left that space blank, blank. And his attorney described it to me as an error. They called the next day, the attorney had to say the next day that we are going to amend this form. The explanation was it was done by somebody in the transition who didn't know any better. But as we all know, Jared has had multiple meetings with Russians. But a large number of meetings, particularly after the election, with foreign dignitaries, diplomats, et cetera, because he was known as the man to see in terms of foreign policy. So they are still working with the FBI on his clearance. He now has interim clearance. But it seems to me these things need to start getting resolved, particularly if you have high security clearance in the White House.
BASH: And big picture, all of these things put together is what is making, forget about Democrats, Republicans more and more anxious and concerned. It's because let's just say that all of these were mistakes, but it's the drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, of the acknowledging the mistakes. And the mistakes coming out and why weren't they disclosed initially knowing how bad this is and puts into the atmosphere the questions of why? Why? Even if they are completely innocent and legitimate explanations.
RAJU: And particularly in the aftermath of John Brennan's own testimony just yesterday saying that he was deeply concerned about all these contacts that were occurring between Russian officials reaching out to people in the Trump campaign and now when you don't have the disclosure that would essentially erase any doubt, it looks like they are trying to hide something.
PEREZ: And the problem -- here's the problem. The fact is the reason you disclose is it's very likely that some of these people, some of these Russians are being watched and being monitored by U.S. intelligence. So Kislyak is definitely being watched. And so I can bet you that if he sent back a report of his meeting with Jeff Sessions that intelligence agencies already have this.
BROWN: Yes. And we know that they have --
PEREZ: Why not disclose it?
BROWN: And we know that they have Russia-to-Russia conversations where they are talking about cultivating relationships with Trump campaign advisers as we first reported on Friday.
SCIUTTO: You make a point but you disclose because there's a chance you are going to be caught out. If you -- you know, perish the thought, you also disclose because it's the honest thing to do. Because that's what these forms ask you to do.
BROWN: How often is it --?
SCIUTTO: Applying for the highest offices in the land.
BORGER: Because you are dealing with classified information and if you are Jared Kushner and you met with Kislyak or you met with Sergey Gorkof (ph) from an entity sanctioned by the United States government, you need to explain why. And particularly because you will be dealing with this high-level classified information. And the United States government has to be sure that you haven't been compromised in some point.
[23:10:21] SCIUTTO: So another question. Pam and I, we have been, as a team, we have been looking at, is what exactly did the President say to James Comey, rather say to the President, in their private meeting? Congressional investigators trying to figure out their next moves to obtain key evidence in the Russia investigation. That deadline passing tonight for the FBI to give Congress James Comey's memos. That sources tell CNN documented the former detector's conversations with President Trump. The memos were possible White House tapes as well, might shed light on a pivotal question, did Comey assure the President he was not under investigation on three separate occasions as Mr. Trump claims?
CNN's Anderson Cooper asked a friend and confidant of Comey about that very question. Here's his answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN WITTES, COMEY'S FRIEND AND CONFIDANT: I have no firsthand knowledge of that. I have never talked to him about it. I would bet every dollar that I had that no such communication ever took place. It's simply inconceivable to me that Comey would tell the President that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Tonight, Benjamin Wittes had more to say in the legal advocacy blog. He writes quote "I could easily imagine Trump's asking repeatedly am I under investigation? And repeatedly receiving the answer, you are not currently the target of any investigation. Trump could then assign whatever meaning he wanted to that answer."
That's not the same thing. You guys know this as well, you may not be the target today, doesn't mean that's not going to change.
PEREZ: I was watching the interview last night --
BROWN: We were surprised. PEREZ: I was very struck. I mean, I know Ben Wittes and I know the
way James Comey talks and I was struck by what Wittes said to Anderson Cooper because knowing how Comey talks and knowing the question that was being asked, I can see where Comey would answer the question in exactly the way that Ben now says he might have answered, which is --
BROWN: And you're not the target.
PEREZ: Which is you are not currently the target of this investigation which is what, by the way, Comey did tell the members of Congress when he briefed them on this, the top eight leaders of Congress.
RAJU: I think there's still an open question about when and if Comey does testify before the Senate intelligence committee, even though he did agree to it. What we don't know is exactly the concerns that Bob Mueller, the special counsel, may have in him testifying. And I can tell you, in talking to some members today, they are not so sure what he is going to do. They are waiting for his next step which is one reason why, too, he has not disclosed his memos as asked for by these key committees and that's upsetting some members.
BORGER: It's also interesting to think about the way the President was receiving this information because, you know, he is not an attorney. He's not a Washington person. And there's another point that Ben Wittes made in this article which is, you know, Comey is very careful with his language, as you point out. And that a counterintelligence investigation and these are Ben Wittes' thoughts, not mine, is generally an investigation of a person or an entity. So if the President asked, am I the subject of your investigation? Because there may not have been an investigation on the President, specifically, alone, then James Comey would have said, no, you're not.
BROWN: Not the target.
BORGER: You're not.
BROWN: But here's what we know, what we have reported that part of Robert Mueller's probe will be looking into obstruction of justice which would include the interactions that President Trump had with James Comey --
RAJU: In other words.
BROWN: -- which is one of the reasons why you don't come out and tell someone what the status is because you don't know where the investigation will go.
PEREZ: No. But it might have changed.
SCIUTTO: Well, that's - it is another sense of the cover-up possibly worse than the crime. So in the case of collusion, not clear that no evidence, want to make that clear to the audience, we are not implying that there's evidence that President Trump, himself, colluded with the Russians, but still a subject of investigation. But obstruction of justice in light of the conversations or the content of those conversations we know, it's a legal standard that based on all the lawyers who we speak to has not been met, but it's getting closer.
BASH: It is. And, look, and also very hard to prove even if it did happen legally. Hard to prove, hard to prosecute by the experience of many people who have tried. But there's legal and then there's political.
BASH: And which is why the fact that the congressional investigations are still ongoing is really critical and bad news for this White House because let's just say at the end of the day, Robert Mueller doesn't have anything that he can criminally, legally, do to -- forget about for the President, maybe other people in and around his orbit.
It's a very different thing when you have investigators on Capitol Hill who want to have testimony in private and in public and will come out with a report on things that the public might view as incredibly inappropriate like, for example, asking the FBI director, please, lay off my former NSA -- national security adviser, because he didn't do anything wrong, and God only knows what else.
[23:15:26] SCIUTTO: Benjamin Wittes -- sorry, Evan, when we hear Benjamin Wittes' account, we know he is in touch with Comey. So this is not just any blog that we are quoting here. It's an informed person writing an informed account of what Comey believes he said to the President. You talked to sources about this all the time. And you speak to people close to Comey. What do you find the credible about that conversation?
PEREZ: Well, I think the credibility -- the most credible part is the fact the President would deem to ask such a question, it's so inappropriate. But I can totally see the President just going straightforward because he is such a straightforward man, straightforward asking Comey whether he is under investigation. He wants to know.
And he also wants to know at the same time he is trying to decide whether Comey stays in the job. Keep in mind, that's what the conversation is happening at the same time. So I believe that and I can also believe that Comey would find a way to answer the question, at least in the moment of what is true. And like you said, that answer might have changed.
BROWN: Might have changed. And he prepped. He prepped before his conversations with the President, we're told, through a source familiar.
BROWN: That he, before he went in there, he would want to have an idea, what could I be asked and how can I answer it? What I'm told is that it was a more nuanced conversation than him just saying --
BROWN: You know, you are --
BORGER: If I was pointed to this blog tonight, I would say, by somebody who is a friend of James Comey, who said to me, you ought to read this. So I'm wondering whether that was a signal to us that, perhaps, this is, in fact, what occurred.
RAJU: But given to Evan's point, I mean, I think that he most certainly sidestepped this question when the President, assuming he did ask this question if I'm under investigation, look at the way he answered that question in his congressional testimony. He said that I'm not going to comment on who is under investigation, but I don't want anyone to read into this. He kept saying that, don't read into my no comment. So you can interpret that, well, I'm not under investigation, or you can interpret it, maybe you will be someday. Depends on which side you sit on.
BROWN: And we don't know that.
PEREZ: Right. And we know this is the thing that kept really annoying the President. He could not understand why if members of Congress are being told this, right, and we know that senator Grassley has now gone out and essentially said, this is what James Comey told us. And so you know the President is very frustrated because he wants this out there and James Comey will not do that.
SCIUTTO: Listen. So the big question now is will Comey get to speak his version of the story in public setting? He may have been opportunity. We will see what the special counsel has to say.
Coming up, was James Comey duped by the Russians in a dubious document?
BROWN: New details on that when our Special Report continues right after this break.
[23:21:46] BROWN: Well, tonight, we are learning about another possible target of Russia's efforts to meddle in the U.S. election. A new "Washington Post" report revealing that the FBI's investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails may have been influenced by the Russians and a secret and possibly fake document.
We are joined by Devlin Barrett, one of the "Washington Post" reporters who broke this story.
So Devlin, great to have you on. Was James Comey actually swayed by this document? What can you tell us about this?
DEVLIN BARRETT, THE WASHINGTON POST: A number of officials a said that this document was a key art part of the thinking process that went into the FBI's July announcement. If you think back to July when FBI director announced we are not charging anyone with anything related to Clinton email, but we have a bunch of, frankly, criticisms of what happened.
BARRETT: Reckless. Yes. And not only reckless, but they have said that this document, while they couldn't talk about it because it was classified, was an important part of their thinking and they said that as recently as last month and last week and for our report, a number of officials familiar with it continue to insist this is an important document. But there's a lot of reasons to think this document may just be bogus.
BROWN: Why is it? What are those reasons?
BARRETT: So, for one thing, the FBI, itself, always had doubts about this document. Those doubts really solidified, we are told, in August, when they decided it was unreliable and based on multiple levels of hearsay. The document is essentially a Russian -- it purports to be a Russian intelligence analysis that talks about emails among Americans including Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the then-head of the DNC and others describing some sort of tacit agreement the DOJ, the justice department, would not let the FBI go too far against Hillary Clinton in that case.
But one of the things that you find as you call up all of these people is that they don't know each other. Not only do they deny having the conversations, in one case, you know, we talked to Debbie Wasserman- Schultz who is like, I literally never heard of that person. I have no idea what you're talking about.
The other reason that, frankly, some of the people we have talked to are skeptical of this document, is when you look at the names that are pulled in there, it's a little bit like Russian mad libs of Americans we hate. And it really is suspicious to some people --
BARRETT: -- that this collection of humans.
BROWN: -- right.
BARRETT: -- who fit a sort of Russian conspiracy theory about how America works would in fact all be talking to each other.
BORGER: Why didn't Comey know that?
BARRETT: Well, it's a great question. And there really seems to be, frankly, a disconnect between folks who we are talking to have looked at the document, looked at this issue and, frankly, who are having these conversations in real-time when the investigation was going forward. And now when the FBI and others have really tried to justify -- what the bureau did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly. PEREZ: That's the question that I have heard from inside the bureau
because he obliquely has referred to this in testimony. And one of the things I have heard from people inside the bureau is simply what we are seeing is a little bit of a rehash, a little bit of rewriting of history because at the time, by July, when he decides that he is going to do this press conference, James Comey has already months ago had decided that he, alone, could be the man that could give this answer to the American public. So he's now -- you know, I'm not saying that he's being dishonest. But I'm saying is that they are reaching for things that, you know, frankly --
[23:25:09] SCIUTTO: Retroactive justification.
BROWN: And let's take a listen to what he said May 3rd in his own words in his testimony.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I struggled as we got closer to the end of it with the number of things had gone on, some which I can't talk about yet, that made me worry that the department leadership could not credibly complete the investigation and decline prosecution without grievous damage to the American people's confidence in the justice system. And then the capper was, I'm not picking on the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, who I like very much, but her meeting with President Clinton on that airplane was the capper for me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: I remember when he said that. Go ahead.
BASH: No, absolutely. And I, too, have been told by people who are familiar with what Comey at the time told Congress is that this was a big, big part of his reasoning for taking this away from the justice department. And just kind of big picture, this isn't just kind of, of course, a process question of whether it's the FBI or the justice department, this is about something that could have really very much fundamentally changed the course of the Presidential campaign because of the way that he spoke. Yes, he did a press conference initially saying I'm not going to press charges, but then he also said some pretty devastating things about Hillary Clinton that would not have happened had he followed normal --
PEREZ: Keep in mind.
SCIUTTO: What's interesting about this, we have been warned as the stolen emails were coming out during the campaign, Clinton DNC emails, about Russian tactics and this goes back to soviet days, pre-cyber days, of sneaking fake stuff in with the real stuff to dupe people.
SCIUTTO: We have within warned about that as the stolen emails were coming out as we were trying to vet them to some degree. Wouldn't it be interesting if it was the FBI that got duped?
BASH: I think alarming is the right --.
BROWN: Raises the question.
PEREZ: But keep in mind also, you know, the fact remains that even within the bureau, there's a little bit of confusion as to if this document really was real and if there was such an email, why wouldn't the Russians have released it? You know.
PEREZ: You know, at the time. And so, that also is one reason why people just doubted that anything like that actually --
BASH: It doesn't make any sense, how could the FBI director be duped?
BROWN: Be duped.
BASH: By the Russians on something that is so simple to check out.
BORGER: If you go back and parse his words --
BARRETT: The really part of the timeline is in August because in August the investigation is over. And in August, the FBI decides to go ask attorney general lynch about it and they go and ask her. What we're told happens in that conversation is she says, just so we are clear, I don't know this person, I've never communicated with this person, I have no idea what we are talking about.
BROWN: To think that they would have done that --
BARRETT: According to the people who describe this conversation with her, the agents tell the attorney general this document has no investigative value. That's what they tell her.
BORGER: So this is airy.
Actually, as you said, alarming. If this actually influenced James Comey and all they could have done is pick up the phone and call Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to see if it's real, or Amanda Rentaria (ph) from the Clinton campaign, that's easy. Every day, we make these phone calls.
BROWN: But it's fascinating, again, parsing his words, it said it made him - I mean, assuming he is talking about the document, it seems like he's obliquely referring to it, made him worried about the credibility of the leadership of the department and its ability to continue this investigation and yet this could turn out to be fake, which something he could have vetted, himself. It certainly raises a lot of questions.
Great reporting, Devlin Barrett.
Coming up, a congressional race in Montana might be testing voters' loyalty to President Trump. But just hours before tomorrow's special election, a reporter accuses the Republican candidate of body slamming him. We are going to bring you all the latest details including audio and audio recording of this incident.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get the hell out of here. You with "the Guardian"?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you just broke my glasses.
[23:32:53] SCIUTTO: President Trump is just hours away from crucial meetings with NATO allies. Leaders will likely seek reassurance from the President after he dismissed at alliance as obsolete during the campaign.
Complicating matters, fresh concerns over President Trump's treatment of classified information including an oval office conversation with Russian officials that possibly endangered a life of an Israeli agent.
Sara Murray is traveling with the President in Belgium.
Sara, what is the White House expecting from their visit to Brussels and NATO?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, good morning, Jim.
I think a lot of this foreign trip we have seen so far has been pomp and circumstance. But we really move into issues beginning today when President Trump heads to this meeting with NATO leaders. As you mentioned, during the campaign, Trump called NATO obsolete. He has since decided it's not obsolete. But he is still expected to press a number of the member countries to increase their defense spending. And you can certainly bet that in the wake of that who risk that horrific attack in Manchester, there will be a broader discussion about terrorism and terrorist threats our European allies face.
Now, the other big issue to watch is the fact President Trump is still weighing whether to send additional troops to Afghanistan. He will be asking our allies to weigh in on that and may press them to see if other NATO countries are willing to contribute to this military effort. He is sure to face tough questions about why President Trump and his advisers believe that potentially sending a few more thousand troops to Afghanistan could turn the tide in this 16-year-long war.
And last but not at least, this question of intelligence sharing, whether President Trump and whether America can be trusted intelligence partners after, of course, we learned he shared highly classified information with Russian officials.
Back to you guys.
SCIUTTO: Sara Murray there live in Brussels.
Another big test for the President tomorrow. Here at home, a special election in Montana, a state that he won by 20 points but the number is much closer.
Dana Bash having more on the contest as we look at the polls going into this, a bellwether of where the President stands and the party stands, how concerned should Republicans be?
BASH: They are pretty concerned. They are concerned that this, if, it is right now a big if, if the Republicans were to lose this red seat first in Montana tomorrow, and there's later a runoff in Georgia, that it's not necessarily about Russia at all. It could be about -- probably is more about health care and other issues. But tell that to Republicans and pretty much any member of Congress who has it in their DNA to run scared when something looks like a canary in a coal mine. And so that is why they are watching.
And I have talked to Republicans who say this particular race in Montana was tightening big-time. Big-time. And they are concerned about the fact that if, if, something happens and it doesn't go their way, then already you are seeing the sort of a nuanced way Republicans moving more and more toward the notion of, you know what, let's not be completely attached to this President. Let's be, particularly on Russia, more aggressive about getting to the bottom of it. That could happen in spades.
SCIUTTO: So you mentioned if something happens, and lo and behold, something happened tonight. Unexpected. I can only describe it --
BASH: I did not set that up for you on purpose.
SCIUTTO: As WWE meets local politics here. But a reporter for "the Guardian" newspaper saying that he was body slammed, his words, by the Republican front-runner. Have a listen to an audiotape of that encounter here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN JACOBS, THE GUARDIANS: In terms of the CBO score, you know, you are waiting to make your decision about health care until you saw the bill that just came out.
GREG GIANFORTE, REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE: We'll talk to you about that later.
JACOBS: Yes, there's not going to be time. I'm curious --
GIANFORTE: Speak with Shane, please. I'm sick and tired of you guys. The last guy who came in here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here.
Jesus, get the hell out of here. The last guy did the same thing. You with "the Guardian"?
JACOBS: Yes, you just broke my glasses.
GIANFORTE: The last guy did the same thing.
JACOBS: You just body slammed me and broke my glasses. GIANFORTE: Get the hell out of here.
JACOBS: You would like me to get the hell out of here, I would also like to call the police. Can I get your guys' names? He just body slammed me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got to leave.
SCIUTTO: This is violence against a reporter covering a person -- a person running for the U.S. Congress.
SCIUTTO: We were hearing lately there were FOX News reporters on the scene who were saying that they saw Ben Jacobs there, "the Guardian" reporter, get -- two hands around his neck by the Republican candidate. I mean, how big of a problem is this for the Republican front-runner?
BORGER: I think it's a -- I think it's a big problem for him. We are hours to go before the election. There is a large or early voting in the state of Montana. Some people say it is seven out of ten voters may have voted early. But you don't ever know. This is a race that's closer than it should have been for the Republican, for him. And you don't know how this is going to affect turnout. When people do go to the polls. And so this is, you know, this is not good news for him.
BASH: Yes. Having said that, look, I mean, this is for all of us who do what we do. This is an unfortunate, I think, next step in the sort of demonization of reporters. Having said that, even before Donald Trump came on the scene and talked about fake news and demonized us, it's not as if reporters were like, you know. And journalists in general, just like politicians, were not sort of high on the list of people that people want to support. So I'm not sure how this will really affect it. But I do think that for the most part, if people see that, and hear that a candidate for Congress is a hothead, that isn't necessarily the --
SCIUTTO: Manu, you cover the hill.
RAJU: It's certainly not a good sign in the final days of the campaign. But you guys lay it out right. I mean, this is a state, a seat Republicans should win, they are favored to win. The candidate very well could win, particularly since there is early voting here. But if you look at the early special elections that have occurred in all Republican districts so far, they have been in closer margins than Republicans could have liked. Did not go as handily to the Republican candidates as they did for Donald Trump in last year's elections. Even the Georgia special election that had gone into a runoff, Republicans were forced to spend a lot of money.
You are going to see them spending a lot of money to save a seat in Kansas, to potentially save a seat in Georgia if they are successful in the Georgia runoff and potentially save a seat in Montana, all seats that they should easily win and that portends problems down the road.
SCIUTTO: To your credit, you are taking very kindly, you are looking at the numbers. But this is a Republican front-runner attacking, physically attacking a journalist in an environment --
PEREZ: A trend right here.
SCIUTTO: It's a trend.
BARRETT: Dana was mentioning, I mean, I think, you know, just last week we had a reporter from "CQ Roll Call" (INAUDIBLE) who was essentially pinned to a wall for daring to approach the FCC chairman and commissioner to ask a question after a press conference. I mean, this is not something that is normal, but we have seen a lot more of these. And I think it is something to be concerned about.
[23:40:00] BORGER: I think he feels sort of -- this candidate, this Republican who is supposed to just breeze into this seat. He has had $6 million spent against him. Rob Quist, the democrat, is not a practiced politician. He plays in a band and he goes around playing his guitar at campaign appearances and he is, you know, this candidate, Republican, is feeling the heat here as you point out, Manu. A lot of these Republican candidates who just thought, well, this is going to be --
PEREZ: And one of the big surrogates --
BROWN: Then how much heat is the White House feeling in all this? I mean, that's the big-picture question here as we focus on these --
PEREZ: And they haven't responding to this attack against this reporter. Neither has the speaker's office. I reached out to Paul Ryan's office tonight. No response there. But, you know, Gianforte, the Republican candidate, has aligned himself very closely with the Trump White House. Donald Trump Jr. has been out there to campaign for him.
RAJU: Marco Rubio just --
PEREZ: Marco Rubio --
BROWN: But to Dana's point, I mean, if the Republican loses there, and elsewhere, Georgia, the White House will be concerned that Republicans will turn on them.
BASH: Yes. And actually, look. There's so much focus broadly in the political world on what happens in the midterm elections. Whether or not there is a chance that the 24-seat majority that Republicans have will be lost.
But, again, the question is whether or not the canary in the coal mine in the next month or two and whether or not this particular atmosphere, even though there is a Republican-led Congress, that should be kind of a political firewall for this President, will begin to crumble because of concern about what is going to happen in -- SCIUTTO: And now it has thrown into this already difficult
environment is the possible assault, right, by a politician against a journalist covering his campaign. We are going to have the results of this race tomorrow night. So tune in tomorrow. We are going to be following it very closely.
BROWN: That's right.
All right. Switching gears here. Next week would have been President John F. Kennedy's 100th birthday. Now, as we approach the milestone, CNN sat down with JFK's daughter, Caroline, to reflect on the life and legacy. Jake Tapper has that exclusive interview just ahead.
[23:46:07] SCIUTTO: Tonight, in a time of crisis for the Trump White House, memories of another era when the nation elected a young President and then only three years later mourned his death.
BROWN: We have an exclusive new interview with Caroline Kennedy about the 35th President of the United States, the man she called dad.
Here's CNN's Jake Tapper.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Next month May 29th, its Memorial Day, but it's something else, too, it's what would have been President John F. Kennedy's 100th birthday. A big moment for those who revere and admire the youngest man ever elected to the office of President. And a man who only served 1,037 days because of that traumatic afternoon in Dallas in 1963.
The JFK legacy, however, lives on. And here to talk about President Kennedy's legacy exclusively with CNN is Caroline Kennedy. She is President John F. Kennedy's daughter and also 'the former U.S. ambassador to Japan.
Thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate it.
CAROLINE KENNEDY, JFK'S DAUGHTER: Thank you.
TAPPER: It's quite nice.
The JFK Presidential library and foundation is set to unveil a special video message this evening to commemorate the 100th anniversary featuring your children, JFK's only grandchildren. You are giving us graciously this first look at it. So why don't we role this video and we can talk about it afterwards?
KENNEDY: It would be my father's 1 00th birthday. I have thought about him and missed him every day of my life. But growing up without him was made easier thanks to all the people who kept them in his hearts, who told me that he inspired them to work and fight and believe in a better world. To give something back to this country that has given so much to so many.
I remember hiding underneath my father's oval office desk when I was little and sitting on his lap on a honey fence. He would point out the white shark and the purple shark who always followed the boat although I could never quite see them. He said they especially liked to eat socks and would have his friends throw their socks overboard, which I loved.
President Kennedy inspired a generation that transformed America. They march for justice. They served in the Peace Corps, in the inner cities, in outer space. His brothers carried on that work fighting against poverty, violence, and war. Championing human rights, health care, and immigration.
As my father said in his inaugural address, this work will not be finished in our lifetime. It's up to us to continue to pass these values on to our children and grandchildren.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the defining relationships in my life is with someone I have never met. My grandfather, President John F. Kennedy. It's a little odd to be connected to someone you don't know especially when everyone else has access to much of the same information about him that you do.
Throughout my life, I have been able to connect with my grandfather through the study of hi history which I know he loved while studying his life and studying the eras and patterns that fascinated him. To me, that is where he lives. As a historical figure rooted in the past but also as a person connected to so much of what came after him, through his writings and through the stories my relatives have told me.
But what my grandfather had reverence for the past and the lessons it could impart, he also knew that America was a country where change was possible. Where are impound solely by tradition, took me understand the past with which we are grateful.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm inspired by my grandfather's sense of equality, his courage in naming the injustices in American society and its call for action. His word and his ideals mean so much to me and the world we live in today. But we are still faced with tremendous inequality and injustice from voting rights to our criminal justice system and mass incarceration.
My grandfather would be proud of how far we have come as a nation since 1963. But he would have been the first to tell us we have a long way to go. I hope everyone regardless of age or party will remember what President Kennedy told America decades ago. This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principles that all men are created equal. And the rights of every man are diminish when the rights of one man are threaten.
[23:50:04] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Kennedy was elected on a platform of challenges not promises. Not for what he would offer the American people as president but what he would ask of them. My favorite speech is the one that President Kennedy gave at Rice University, where he makes a case for sending a man to the moon. He said that challenge was worthwhile not because it would be easy, but because it would be so hard.
My generation will inherit a complicated world with countless unsolved problems. Climate change is just one of them. But it's the type of challenge I think my grandfather would have been energized about and eager to solve. He cared deeply about the environment, about science and technology and he recognized that only if American leads the world in solving global problems can we make sure it's done right.
From that speech at Rice, and from the space program he helped launch, we can learn a simple but important lesson, great challenges are opportunities. And it's each generation's responsibility to meet those challenge the same combination of energy, faith and devotion that President Kennedy and his contemporaries displayed decades ago. I know that we are up to the task, but we have to demand action from our leaders and we have to vote.
KENNEDY: As his family, we are so proud of what my father stood for during his life and how powerful those values remain today. I hope that these reflections on President Kennedy's life and his influence on those of us who share his legacy will encourage people across the United States to look at challenges in their own corner of the world and seek solutions that heal, lift up the forgotten, and make a difference in the lives of others.
Thanks for watching.
TAPPER: Powerful video. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. Really appreciated.
KENNEDY: Thank you. I think it was a labor of love for me and my children. And I think they each spoke really so eloquently to what this legacy means to them.
TAPPER: Why a video message as a way of commemorating? I'm obviously, coming, you know, your father's 100th birthday is coming up Friday. I'm sure there are a lot of people wanting you to talk, wanting your children to talk.
KENNEDY: Well, as he becomes part of history, I think it's important to show sort of what he still means to us as a person. And I think each of my kids had a different slightly take on it, but there's a lot of emotion there, and that's something we could share better on camera.
TAPPER: I love that story about your dad telling you about the white shark and the purple shark following you and making his friends throw socks in. It's such a great, corny dad joke. But I wonder hearing it like -- is it difficult having your dad be this icon that the rest of us feel like we have a sense of and we have a take on and he is part of our lives in a way, and you actually knew him.
KENNEDY: Well, I think really he is sort of -- growing up, he was sort of part of everyone's life. And so that was a very special and unique thing for me. But I think it really meant a lot and I think it made it a lot easier. And I have so many relatives obviously, as well. So the fact that people would come up to me every day and say, you know, I got involved in my community because of your father's inaugural speech.
And even when I was in Japan, people were still telling me that they had memorized that speech, that they were so inspired by President Kennedy's vision of service and American leadership, that I think that really kept him alive.
TAPPER: There aren't a lot of inaugural speeches that people are still quoting from, I mean, when you think about it. Why was it important to have your children? We don't often see Rose, Tatiana and Jack there, you know, they kind of put up there. They are private figures.
KENNEDY: Well, I think the point here is that he is a historical figure. Hundred years is a really long time. But I think his legacy and these values are timeless and they live on. And we want to encourage younger people today who are still very curious about President Kennedy to connect with those vault messages of innovation and experimentation and the belief that America, so they are the best people to take that message forward into the 21st century.
TAPPER: Your daughter, I believe it was Rose, said that - I mean, I may have been talking that growing up she never even met him, so she learned about him the same way I learned about him in school. What did your kids ask you about him growing up?
KENNEDY: I can't -- well, now they are older so I think they were both interested in anything I remembered, which are mostly childhood memories, so when they were little, we could talk about those things and hiding under the desk, (INAUDIBLE). And I know when my uncle teddy came to talk to their classes, he would all talk about all the pets that's lived in the White House. Things like that.
But as I got older, I think they really became interested in their issues and the relevance today. So many of the issues that we - that are now in the headlines had their roots in the 1960s, whether it's working through multilateral institutions like the U.N. or the environmental movement. And civil rights obviously inspired the human rights movement around the world. So I think that really it is studying history isn't just about the past, it's really about what kind of a world we want to create for the future.
[23:55:20] TAPPER: Your dad was so proud of his intellect and his whit. What do you think he would make of politics today? That's maybe a tough one.
KENNEDY: Well, I think that, again, I went back actually and I was looking at a speech that he gave right before he became President and he said history will judge us by four qualities courage, integrity, dedication, and judgment. So I think that's how he would judge politics today. And I think everybody can make up their own mind.
TAPPER: One last question, you don't do a lot of interviews like this about your father. Is it tough to do?
KENNEDY: Well, it's a lot easier to do with my children. And I think I'm so proud that they are, you know, proud of his legacy. And I think having a chance to share it with them and with another generation makes it a lot more fun for me or enjoyable.
BROWN: That's it for us. Thanks for watching.
SCIUTTO: "AC 360" starts right now.