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U.K. Official: Manchester Terrorist Known to Authorities; Former CIA Chief Testifies on Trump Campaign Contacts with Russia. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired May 24, 2017 - 06:00   ET




[05:58:34] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Police have identified the bomber.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was known to intelligence and had just returned from Libya.

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Further attack may be imminent.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: This is the first time in a decade that the threat level has been raised to critical.

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Intelligence revealed interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Flynn can't hide for very long.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: We're not taking contempt of Congress off the table.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump and the pope in an historic sit- down at the Vatican.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're watching NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, May 24. It's 6 o'clock here in New York, and there are a lot of new developments, so here's your starting line.

We have new information about the terrorists who bombed the Manchester arena at that Ariana Grande concert. He was known to intelligence services and had just returned from Libya. The United Kingdom now raising its terror threat level to critical -- that is the highest possible -- amid fears that another attack could be imminent.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: In the U.S., former CIA chief John Brennan not mincing words. He says Russian operatives interacted with members of President Trump's campaign, warranting the current investigation. This comes as the president continues his overseas trip, meeting with

Pope Francis at the Vatican. You'll remember, there was tension between the pontiff and Trump during the campaign. How did the visit go?

We have it all covered, starting with CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward live in Manchester.

Clarissa, what is the latest?


The government here has just wrapped up yet another meeting of emergency services with the threat level now elevated to critical. It's the first time in nearly a decade that the threat level has been that high. That means an attack could possibly be imminent.

We know that there have been three arrests in conjunction with the terrorist attack at the Manchester arena. That makes the total number of arrests so far four. And interior services here saying that they do not believe it's likely that the bomber acted alone. Take a look.


WARD (voice-over): New details emerging about suspected Manchester bomber Salman Abedi. British officials telling reporters it seems likely that Abedi did not act alone and that he was known to intelligence services.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sure we will find out more what level they knew about him in due course.

WARD: The 22-year-old, born in Britain to Libyan parents, had recently returned to the U.K. from Libya, according to British officials. He was a business student at the University of Salford but had stopped attending classes. A family friend described him as a lonely child, noticing that he recently appeared to become more devout, growing a beard and dressing and long robes.

This information coming as England remains on high alert, raising its threat level to critical for the first time in a decade.

MAY: There assessment is not only that an attack remains highly likely but that a further attack may be imminent.

WARD: Experts noting that the sophistication of the bomb and its target could indicate influence from a larger terror cell.


WARD: ISIS taking responsibility, but so far British authorities have no evidence supporting that claim.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You cannot defeat us because love in the end is always stronger than hate. WARD: A moment of silence in Manchester. The city grief-stricken,

but resilient, pausing to remember those lost, including 8-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos. Her teacher says she was "simply a beautiful girl, loved by everyone."

Georgina Callander was 18, a super fan who met Ariana Grande in 2015, tweeting how excited she was to see the pop singer the night before.

Twenty-six-year-old John Atkinson was a college student who loved to dance. His local dance studio calling him an amazingly happy, gentle person and a real pleasure to teach. And 15-year-old Olivia Campbell also lost in the attack.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was waiting for Ariana to come on, and she was so happy. And -- and she thanked me and said she loved me. And that was the last I heard from her.

WARD: Her mother making an emotional plea to CNN for help finding her daughter before confirming hours later that she was killed, posting this touching memorial online.


WARD: And I just want to bring you up to speed with what we're hearing in terms of the casualties. There are still 64 victims who are in various hospitals in Manchester. Twenty of them are in critical care -- Alisyn and Chris.

CUOMO: A lot of injuries are seen as serious to severe. The shrapnel that was deployed in that bomb, as you're well aware, Clarissa -- you work in theater -- you know, nuts and bolts can really do damage. We're going to have to monitor this situation and really keep them in our prayers.

Stay with us, Clarissa. Let's also bring in CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank and CNN investigative reporter for international affairs, Michael Weiss.

Paul Cruickshank, the elevated high alert, the critical level. Is this a function of what just happened or intelligence about what may happen next? More of a coordinated plot.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: It's because of concern that there may be a wider conspiracy here and that other people linked to that conspiracy could move forward to launch attacks.

But it's also because of the unprecedented nature of the threats to the U.K. The fact there's been an uptick in terrorist activity in recent weeks and months. The number of terrorist attacks thwarted. It's also due to the fact the election is coming up. There have been attacks before elections recently, including in Paris.

And also, it's because of the start of the holy month of Ramadan on Friday. In recent years, ISIS have called for a surge of attacks during that period. All of that together producing a lot of concern for U.K. security services as they now move forward and try to understand this threat.

[06:05:07] CAMEROTA: Michael, let's look at what little we know about the attacker, in case there are any clues here. He was 22 years old. He was born in Britain to Libyan parents who had immigrated there. He recently went back to Libya. Friends say that he kept to himself. He had recently -- seen him more recently wearing longer robes and growing a longer beard. The sense that he had somehow become radicalized.

MICHAEL WEISS, CNN INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER FOR INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: It is out of central casting, isn't it? British born. On the security services radar, although we don't know to what extent, if it was for petty crime or there was a suspicion of radicalization.

The only thing in the biography here that it is out of sorts, if you think, a business degree. Usually, these guys go for engineering or something in the mechanical trade. But yes, I said yesterday there was very little likelihood that this was somebody who had come to the U.K. from a foreign country and had been radicalized abroad.

Now, it is quite possible, that this guy, when he went to Libya, linked up with known ISIS militants or affiliates. I mean, Libya is obviously a fallback barracks for ISIS. Although an increasingly shrinking one in recent days. But he must have been on their radar, given you know, all of these details of his biography. The fact that he had suddenly decided to become seemingly more religious or at least put on a show of religiosity, kept to himself, et cetera.

Unfortunately, this is just very much the character profile of British terrorism. We have seen this play so many times before. Abdulmutallab, the guy who tried to blow up an airliner above the skies above Detroit in Christmas of 2009. Jihadi John, Mohammed Emwazi, the one who went off and joined ISIS only to then behead western hostages. There is very much even a cookie cutter profile of what these guys tend to look like.

CUOMO: So absent his ability to lead to other people and understanding, the man is largely irrelevant. I don't even know why they put his name out there.

Clarissa, in terms of who is completely relevant, you have the victims. And in this case, it does seem to be a specific targeting of women, especially young women. How does that play into understanding of what this threat was and what to protect going forward?

WARD: Look, Chris, I think any terrorist attack is difficult to understand why anyone would deliberately target innocents. But this one is particularly distressing, given that it targeted young girls predominately. We know of an 8-year-old girl who was killed in this horrific attack. But if you look at ISIS's tactics, and I should say that we still don't know if there is an actual concrete coordination role of ISIS in this plot. Certainly, they're claiming it is, but we haven't seen anything to bolster that claim just yet.

But it does have a lot of the hallmarks of an ISIS attack. What do I mean by that? Well, I mean that ISIS, when it perpetrates this type of violence, when it deliberately targets young girls, young children, it's doing so not just to cause mayhem and carnage, it's also doing so because it's trying to sow the seeds of discontent within the fabric of British society. It's trying to play on this idea that there is some kind of a war of civilizations. That the peace -- the west and Islam can never be at peace, that Muslims living in the west are not welcome here. It's trying to provoke a reaction or a retaliation from the British people, to turn them against Muslims.

And the irony is, Chris, what we're seeing here on the ground in Manchester could not be further from that reaction. The British are quite striking in their sense of coming together, maintaining community spirit and refusing to be cowed or bullied into this kind of divisive hatred, Chris.

CAMEROTA: I mean, but Paul, I understand everything that Clarissa said. Obviously, this sends a message of their depravity, and that they'll stop at nothing and that they target 8-year-old girls, innocent girls. But the only part that is confusing is the recruitment part. That appeals to sympathizers of ISIS who may be looking for some sort of purpose? They like the idea of mowing down 8-year-old innocent girls? I mean, isn't that possibly something that goes a bridge too far for so many people?

CRUICKSHANK: Yes, I think it does go a bridge too far for obviously the vast majority of people. It does have this sort of radical support base who are extremely attracted to these brutal acts of violence. There's a lot of anger about British airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. And a real desire for revenge.

So all of that kind of plays to their very hardcore support base in the U.K. and Europe. They're actually energized by this attack. But right now, the investigation of the center of it is what did he do in Libya? Who did he connect with over there?

[06:10:17] Intelligence -- recent intelligence suggested that ISIS had been building up external operations capability, a unit in Libya. That unit suspected of being connected to the Berlin truck attack in December of last year and in communication with that attacker. They managed to build up a presence in Libya. It's been degraded, as Michael was saying. But Libya really is now the new front of ISIS external terror against Europe. Was this individual somehow able to get training or connect with them in Libya? That's the urgent question.

CAMEROTA: Paul, Michael, Clarissa, thank you very much for all of your reporting. We'll check in with you throughout the program.

CUOMO: All right. We had a big moment on Capitol Hill yesterday. It was an attempt in interviewing the former CIA chief John Brennan to kind of feed this narrative that this investigation seems to be must ado about nothing when it comes to Russia. And boy, did he disappoint anybody who wanted that to be his conclusion. The testimony that has eyebrows popping in Washington, D.C., this morning. Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CUOMO: John Brennan, the former CIA chief, says intel revealed what he calls Russia's brazen interference in the U.S. presidential election. And the headline was that there is definitely intel indicating Russian contacts with members of the Trump campaign, contacts that warrant investigation.

[06:10:06] CNN's Joe Johns, live in our Washington bureau. You know, they were working him a little bit in that testimony to make the Russia probe a little bit of a nothing burger. They didn't get what they wanted.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right. He said there was no knowledge or collusion, but that is far different from no evidence of collusion.

Now, this testimony is the most specific narrative that's been made public so far of how the investigation materialized of the Russian interference at the last election. Former CIA chief acknowledging his concern about contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign. And it appears now that it was the CIA that initially raised the red flag.


JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign.

JOHNS (voice-over): The former head of the CIA, John Brennan, testifying for the first time he saw concerning evidence of Russian operatives attempting to recruit Trump aides during the campaign.

BRENNAN: It raised questions in my mind, again, whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.

JOHNS: Brennan conceding he did not see any proof of collusion before leaving office.

BRENNAN: These are contacts that might have been totally innocent and benign.

JOHNS: While stressing there was enough evidence for an investigation.

BRENNAN: I know what the Russians try to do. It's try to suborn individuals. And they try to get individuals, including U.S. persons to act on their behalf either wittingly or unwittingly. Frequently individuals who go along a treasonous path do not even realize they're along that path until it gets to be a bit too late.

JOHNS: The White House seizing on Brennan's comments, saying in a statement, "Despite a year of investigation, there is still no evidence of Russia-Trump campaign collusion."

Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee issuing two new subpoenas to businesses owned by President Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn after Flynn pled the Fifth, refusing to comply with the previous request to turn over all documents related to the Russia investigation.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We disagree with General Flynn's lawyers of interpretation of taking the Fifth. It is even more clear that a business does not have a right to take the Fifth.

JOHNS: Committee leadership holding open the possibility of holding Flynn in contempt of Congress if he continues to ignore their request.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: If there is not a response, we will seek additional counsel advice on how to proceed forward. At the end of that option is the contempt charge. And I said that everything is on the table.

JOHNS: The White House gearing up for a prolonged fight after initially dismissing the Russia probe as a witch hunt. The president hiring his longtime attorney Marc Kasowitz to represent him on matters relating to the investigation. It's also our understanding this morning that the White House has essentially hit the reset button on the search for a new FBI director. The president had indicated last week he was close to naming a replacement for James Comey, but now sources say he's interested in expanding the pool of applicants -- Chris and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Joe. Thank you very much for that.

So let's bring in our political panel now to discuss it all. We have CNN political commentator Errol Louis; CNN political analysts Jackie Kucinich and David Gregory. Great to see all of you.

David Gregory, I'll start with you. So Brennan's testimony. He did not see evidence of collusion, but he did see troubling evidence of contact and communication; and that's what started all of this.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We know the intelligence community believes that something is there, because we're operating off a starting point, which is a fact, of Russian interference into the election. It was interference. It didn't sway the election, per se; it didn't determine the outcome of the election, but it was interference, which is disturbing enough.

And I think the White House is right to point out that while, you know, that's true and while key members of the intelligence community have said so, there's no evidence of collusion. But it is the subject of an investigation.

And at the same time, you have the president of the United States demonstrably trying to shut down that investigation. Why? Calling it a hoax. Why?

And I love defenders of the president saying, "Oh, the media is hysterical about all of this." Because if we can't find collusion, now we're shifting to obstruction of justice. Again, I mean, their hypocrisy just hits you in the face. If this is President Hillary Clinton trying to shut down an investigation, they'd be apoplectic about it.

So this is the real tension here, is why is the president behaving this way? We now get additional information about why there was concern, but we're still far away from understanding what the evidence actually is or whether there was anything like collusion, as opposed to an attempt to interfere.

[06:20:05] CUOMO: Well, and there's a very important distinction, I think, that has to be made here. And it's certainly being made by a lot of people in the country, Errol. And it goes to whether or not there is no proof of collusion or they are investigating and don't know if there will be any proof of collusion. Those are very different.

CAMEROTA: You have to add the word "yet."

CUOMO: Even the reckoning of Brennan saying, "I didn't -- I don't know of any proof of" -- that deserves context. Because the White House took it to mean there's no "there" there.


CUOMO: There's some contacts; there's no "there" there. And frankly, we report it that way a lot. Which is a little irony, seeing how people judge the media in reverse, that we are trying to make something, if not going on.

Brennan said this. You tell me if I have it wrong: "I'm in the intel business. Not the evidence business." OK? And that happens to be a meaningful distinction. "I gave them the intel. It shows the contacts. That's my part of this. I'm not overseeing the investigation that they're doing there, and I left.

"At the time that I left, I was not aware of the investigators having connected the dots to show that this was evidence of something more than innocent contact, at least on the part of the American, that is now proof of something more nefarious. I don't know," is what he was saying. Not there is nothing there to know. How did you take that?

GREGORY: Well, that's exactly right. And look, I think for people who are watching all of this unfold, you have to understand that this is sort of chapter by chapter. Sort of if you want to be fair about it. If you want to be a partisan, you can pick anybody's testimony and then run with it.

If you're going to be fair about it, you're sort of seeing a devastating case, in my opinion, being built that says, yes, there's a problem here. We looked into the problem. We don't know what it meant. We don't know what the intentions were.

The reality is, we often hear the phrase, you know, the cover-up is worse than the crime. The reality is, it's closer to the cover-up is more easy to detect. It's easier to detect than the crime, if there was one.

It's very murky, what might have happened in these kind of contacts. I think Brennan was admirably clear about it, that even the people involved don't necessarily know. Collusion is not, "Let's all meet at the restaurant and plan on how to steal the election."

What happens, he says, is much more subtle than that; it's much more gradual than that. The people involved may not know what's going on. And so he's in the evidence business. He's not sure what it's necessarily going to mean. What they do is sort of put forward what they know, the degree of certainty that's attached to it, and it will be up to the various investigators, including the new FBI special investigator, the new FBI chief when they are finally determined, the House and Senate committees and the general public to gradually piece this together. That is what we are doing. The institutions are actually working admirably well.

CAMEROTA: Yes. The interesting part about that is to gradually put it together Jackie. The White House keeps saying they've been investigating this for a year and found nothing, when in fact, it's just begun in earnest, truly.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Truly. And the other thing that the White House conveniently left out is that they tried to stop this from being investigated.

The president himself has made this worse for himself, which we've seen in past. But by going to people like Comey and then firing him. By going to the head of the DNI. By going to Admiral Rogers, trying to get them to -- to either put pressure on Comey or to help him get rid of this investigation just makes the problem worse, makes him look bad. It makes them look like they have something to hide.

Maybe there wasn't any collusion. We don't know the answer to that. But this certainly made this look a lot worse than it would have, had this investigation just been going on, you know, like a normal investigation between the Congress and now this CIA probe.

GREGORY: Can I just put...

CUOMO: Go ahead, David.

GREGORY: The problem with the White House also, giving these kind of statements like last night. See, there was nothing to see there, as we've been saying all along.

If they want to play this game of daily developments, then they have to deal with a very uncomfortable fact. And it is this. Among many. They came out there and explained the fact that the president fired the guy leading this investigation. Fired the guy leading this investigation. And they said, "Oh, well, that's because our guy over -- you know, the deputy attorney general, Rosenstein."


GREGORY: "He's a great guy, and he's, you know, apolitical. He recommended we do it." Well, it turns out he didn't like that so much, because that's not how it went down. That same guy that they were so happy to hold up as Mr. Clean, he decided there should be a special counsel to investigate all this. So apparently, he thinks there's enough there to investigate and is significant, you know, cause to investigate, and he's an apolitical guy.

So here we go. We have this investigation barreling down now, and you saw how the White House trying to stop it for reasons we don't understand. It doesn't look good.

CUOMO: Look, and under the category of sometimes Trump floods the zone with outrageous things and things get a state (ph). The idea that we have Brennan talking about, well, he may have breached protocol when he did certain intel things.

[06:25:12] CAMEROTA: That was the divulging...

CUOMO: Right.

CAMEROTA: ... to the Russians in the Oval Office. Because you know, people keep saying, "Well, the president can divulge whatever he wants. That's his authority." No, actually, there is a protocol.

CUOMO: There is. But both are true. He can declassify anything. But there's a way it's usually done.

CAMEROTA: And he didn't declassify it. He just divulged it.

CUOMO: Right, but he has such heavy authority there. That you're not going to see follow-up action. But it does -- what it overshadowed was the idea that he bad-mouthed the FBI director to the Russians and mentioned that now the pressure will be off him about Russia. I mean, I don't understand how that escapes scrutiny, Jackie. I don't understand how that's been something that people kind of are just letting go in the wash.

KUCINICH: In addition, he was telling the Russians something different than they were telling the American people. The deputy A.G., Rosenstein, was saying that it was Hillary Clinton's -- how Comey handled the whole Hillary Clinton e-mails situation. That just wasn't true, based on what the president himself told the Russians.

So the fact that they're being -- that they were just, you know, trying to be straight with the Russians and not with being straight with the American people is a huge problem.

CUOMO: I mean, just think about that. An American president saying to the Russians, "Yes, the guy who was looking into you, he's a nut. I'm glad I got rid of him, boy."


CUOMO: "That Russia pressure's off me now."

LOUIS: He probably believed it. Right? Under the circumstances, in the Oval Office, thinking it was a confidential conversation, it has sort of more weight. And among other things, you wonder where his analysis is coming from. What pressure did he think was going to be off of him? CUOMO: But the idea of America first and of putting forth our strength and the strength of our country. To disrespect your own institution like that to the people you're trying to protect yourself from, wow.

CAMEROTA: Hold those thoughts. We want you guys to stick around. We have many more questions for you.

Also this. The president and the pope have not always seen eye to eye. So how did their historic first meeting turn out? We're live in Rome for you next.