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Interview With Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz; Trump Expected to Hire Private Attorney to Defend Against Russia Probe; Brother of Manchester Bomber Arrested; 23 Million to Lose Insurance Under Republican Health Care Bill; Trump Meets with Pope As Russia Inquiry Escalates. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 24, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: No memo, no tapes. The FBI and the White House both fail to turn over key evidence that might confirm whether the president asked fired Director James Comey to back off for the Russia investigation. This hour, I will get the first reaction from the House Oversight Committee chairman, Jason Chaffetz.
New attack thwarted. As we learn that the suicide bombing in Britain is linked to a wider terror network, the killer's brother is now under arrest in Libya. Authorities say he was in the midst of plotting a new attack.
And dead on arrival. Even some top Republicans say the president's budget is going nowhere. And now the Republican health care bill may be facing new complications as its price tag is revealed.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: There's lots of breaking news we're watching right now unfolding in the Russian investigation.
CNN has learned that the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, did not disclose meetings with Russian officials and other foreign contacts when he applied for a security clearance. Stand by for exclusive new details.
Also this hour, congressional investigators still have not received copies of James Comey's notes that documented the fired FBI director's conversations with the president. Key House and Senate committees have said today is the deadline for the Justice Department to turn over the investigation as they investigate whether President Trump tried to influence Comey's investigation.
Senators also asking the White House for any possible tapes of the president's conversations with Comey in the Oval Office.
Also tonight, ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has defied Congress again, denying the House Intelligence Committee's request for documents about his Russia connections. The top Democrat on the panel now says Flynn will be slapped with new subpoenas.
We're also following breaking news in the concert terror attack in Britain. A seventh person is under arrest in England and the suicide bomber's brother is in custody in Libya, accused of plotting a new attack there, this as authorities confirm that the deadly bombing at an Ariana Grande concert was linked to a wider terror network.
This hour, I will speak with the House Oversight Committee chairman, Jason Chaffetz, in his first response to his panel's failure to get ahold of James Comey's notes.
And our correspondents and specialists, they are also standing by.
First, let's go to our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju, with our exclusive new reporting on Attorney General Sessions and his Russia connections.
You broke the story.
He broke the story along with CNN's Evan Perez.
All right, Manu, what are you learning?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tonight, Justice Department officials are telling CNN that Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose meetings he had last year with Russian officials when he applied for a security clearance.
Now, this is new information from the Justice Department. This is the latest example of Sessions not listing contacts he had with Russian officials earlier this year. Now, earlier this year, he came under withering criticism from Democrats after it was revealed that he did not disclose the same contacts with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the Senate confirmation hearings.
Now, Sessions met with Kislyak at least two times last year, including at the Republican National Committee. And he did not note those interactions on this form, which actually, Wolf, requires him to list -- quote -- "any contact" he had or his family had with a -- quote -- "foreign government or its representatives over the past seven years."
Now, since Sessions' initial failure to disclose these same meetings, led him to actually recuse himself from all matters related to the Russia investigation, though he said he does not recall discussing campaign matters, Wolf, with meetings with Kislyak.
BLITZER: How could he not have disclosed these meetings?
RAJU: Well, much calling Evan Perez is told by a Justice Department spokeswoman that initially Sessions listed a year's worth of meetings with foreign officials on the security clearance form.
But he and his staff were then told by an FBI employee who assisted in filling out the form that he did not lead to list dozens of meetings with foreign ambassadors that happened in his capacity as a senator. So, he did not include that when he turned in his forms. Now, the FBI did not comment for the story, Wolf, but we did get a comment from a legal expert, Mark Zabe (ph), who actually is an attorney here in Washington regularly assisting officials in filling out these forms. And they said senators -- quote -- "would still have to reveal the appropriate foreign government contacts," assuming they were not at a foreign complex -- foreign conference, I should say.
And, Wolf, we know from these meetings they were not at a foreign conference.
BLITZER: Wow. What a story that is. All right, Manu, thanks very much for that report, Manu Raju reporting this exclusive information.
We are also following other major developments right now.
Let's get to the breaking news in the Russia probe, including that deadline for lawmakers to obtain key evidence as they investigate whether President Trump tried to influence James Comey's investigation before he was fired as the FBI director.
Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is joining us.
So, where do things stand this hour?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, tonight, Wolf, the lawmakers still do not have any tapes that President Trump might have of his private meeting.
And House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz says former FBI Director James Comey owes him some paperwork by the end of the day, including memos about his meetings with President Trump. And, tonight, lawmakers are also putting the squeeze on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who is refusing to cooperate with a pair of investigations on the Hill.
LABOTT (voice-over): Tonight, the House Oversight Committee has not received the documents it requested from FBI Director James Comey about his meetings with President Trump.
The committee chairman, Jason Chaffetz, set today as the deadline for those memos to be turned over. Sources say, before testifying, Comey first wants to talk to special counsel Robert Mueller, a sign Mueller's investigation into Russia is taking precedence over Congress.
One memo which allegedly states Trump asked Comey during a meeting to shut down his investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is central to all of the probes.
SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: If he has such a document, that would add credence to his testimony, and given his training as a lawyer and his professional skills, he would want to document not just verbally, but in writing, if he has such documents.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michael Flynn.
LABOTT: And lawmakers are turning up the heat on Flynn, who today refused to provide documents to the House Intel Committee. Flynn already invoked his Fifth Amendment rights this week to avoid cooperating with the Senate probe.
Now the Senate Intel Committee is narrowing its request, with new subpoenas targeting his businesses.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: It is even more clear that a business does not have a right to take the Fifth if it is a corporation.
LABOTT: Flynn has until May 30 to comply, and the chair of the committee pledged to do whatever it takes to get Flynn's documents.
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: We will seek additional counsel advice on how to proceed forward. At the end of that option is a contempt charge. And I have said that everything is on the table.
LABOTT: Investigators appear to be focused on allegations of White House interference and want any memos written by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, about their meetings with the president.
On Tuesday, Coats faced questions from lawmakers about reports Trump asked both men to deny charges of collusion with Russia.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you talked about this issue with Admiral Rogers?
DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: That is something that I -- I would like to withhold that question at this particular point in time.
LABOTT: Sources tell CNN Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is cooperating, handing over more than 300 pages of documents from his time on the campaign.
He was asked about his ties to Russia but curiously not about his work as a lobbyist for the party of Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine's former pro-Russian prime minister.
President Trump reportedly discussed his firing of Comey with Russia's foreign minister and called the former FBI director a -- quote -- "nutjob."
Today, House Speaker Paul Ryan pushed back.
QUESTION: Does it concern to you that president referred to the former FBI director as a nutjob?
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Yes, I don't agree with that. And he's not. (END VIDEOTAPE)
LABOTT: And as the investigations proceed, President Trump tapped one of the nation's top lawyers as his outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz, one of Trump's long time attorneys, doesn't know Washington, but is a well-known trial attorney who also represents Russian companies.
Meanwhile, the White House is resetting its search for an FBI director after wide-ranging dissatisfaction with the leading candidate, former Senator Joe Lieberman. Lieberman is actually a partner at the same law firm as Kasowitz.
But officials say President Trump simply wants to see a broader range of candidates for the FBI job -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Elise, thank you, Elise Labott reporting.
Joining us now, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: So we have a lot to discuss concerning your committee's investigations.
But, first, I want to get -- ask you about CNN's new reporting. You just heard it at top of the hour. How concerned are you that the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, omitted mentioning his meetings with the Russian ambassador on his application for his security clearance?
CHAFFETZ: Well, look, I haven't seen the application. I don't know what is required, with incidental content at, say, a convention or something is required.
And it is really an issue for the United States Senate. They are the ones that go through the confirmation process and you would hope that anyone who fills out those forms give it completely, truthfully and fulfills the obligation that they are doing.
BLITZER: Your committee, the House Oversight Committee, set today as a deadline, Mr. Chairman, for the FBI to supply any of former FBI Director Comey's memos on his conversations with President Trump. Have you received those memos?
In fact, we got a communication yesterday, an e-mail, just two lines, basically telling us that they would not provide those documents, given the fact that there was a special counsel now in place.
I also spoke with the FBI director, Mr. Comey, day before yesterday. We had a one-on-one conversation, and I know he also spoke with Elijah Cummings as well. And he and I, Elijah Cummings and I, my ranking member, the Democrat on our committee, we compared notes.
Mr. Comey's did not want to come testify publicly because of the presence of a special counsel, didn't say that -- didn't cut it off saying would he never come. He just said that he wanted to speak with Mr. Mueller before committing to any sort of public testimony.
That seemed to make sense to me. And I hope it is fair to represent that Mr. Cummings understood that as well. I hope that's a fair representation.
The other thing is, we want to see the documents. We believe Congress has a role to play. But we also don't want to impede an investigation by special counsel. So, we are trying to find our way here without impeding what special counsel is trying to do.
BLITZER: Did Comey tell you he wrote those contemporaneous memos of his conversations with the president?
CHAFFETZ: No, he didn't. In fact, I said, we have heard reports about these documents. Are they at the Department of Justice or are they with him personally?
Because, remember, even "The New York Times" reporter who put this stuff, the original story out there, nobody has actually seen these documents. We're assuming that they are there, but I haven't seen that they are there. And so I'm skeptical and want to see them ourselves.
But Director Comey was -- he wouldn't answer that question. He would not confirm where they are, what their presence, if there was a presence of these documents. He would not say a word about that. And, you know, I asked him directly, but he would not say.
BLITZER: So, he wouldn't confirm nor deny that those memos exist?
CHAFFETZ: I didn't ask him that way. I asked him if the documents were at the Department of Justice, or if they were with him personally. And he said he did not want to comment about that in any way shape or form.
BLITZER: Will your committee subpoena those memos?
CHAFFETZ: There's always a potential of using a subpoena, but we have got to see how this plays out.
What I do think the Department of Justice owes the House of Representatives, specifically are Committee on Oversight, is an explanation as to why they are not providing these documents. It isn't going to be good enough to just offer two sentences and say, hey, there's a special counsel, we're not going to -- we're not get let Congress do its job.
We have a constitutional duty. We plan to fulfill that. And if I have to send another letter tomorrow, getting them to get them to actually more fully explain that, we will. But I would hope the Department of Justice would do the right thing and provide us a full explanation as to why they think the Congress shouldn't be able to see these.
BLITZER: Did you ask Director Comey if there were White House tapes?
CHAFFETZ: I did not.
BLITZER: Is he upset about being fired? Could you tell base on your conversation with him?
CHAFFETZ: We had a little personal interaction there that I thought we both had a smile on our face.
And, look, he's -- in my opinion, my interaction, he's been very open, very forthright. And I appreciate him getting on the phone with us. We will obviously have more interaction with him, at least the committee will, going forward.
But, you know, I wanted to know directly whether or not he would come testify at a hearing that we were supposed to do today. And in between my e-mail or my tweet that I put out and where we are going, he -- basically, we had a special counsel put in place, which creates a whole different equation than where we were at a week ago.
BLITZER: Did you get any reaction from him? Did you mention the reports that the president told the Russians he thought Comey, what, was a nutjob, was crazy? Did he react to that comment?
Look, I didn't spend 30 minutes on the phone. We spent a few minutes, had a very cordial call, very professional, and very accessible. And as the chairman, I do appreciate that.
Nevertheless, the Congress does need to see these documents without impeding the special counsel in what they are doing. And we will have to find our way as to what the right timing of that is.
I think it is also important, even though I'm departing Congress at end of June, that the House of Representatives continue on, because they have to provide oversight, not only in this matter, but also of the special counsel.
The special counsel doesn't get to continue on in perpetuity without any oversight. That's what Congress is supposed to do on both the House and the Senate. And we will have to figure out a way to do that.
BLITZER: Did you talk at all about the other reports that the president asked him to shut down the entire investigation?
CHAFFETZ: I did not talk to Director Comey about that. Obviously, we would like to see what's in these notes, not only to see what is the written word of Mr. Comey, supposedly, but also then eventually to talk to Mr. Comey to get his perspective on how he took it.
[18:15:05] It is one thing to see something written down, but it's another thing
to talk to somebody and say, was that threatening? Was that derogatory? Was that just said in jest? I don't know.
And -- but you would like to get Mr. Comey's perspective. So, we've got to see the documents, got to talk to Mr. Comey. And then let's also remember that there is another side of this story that needs to be fleshed out at some point too.
BLITZER: Your colleague on the House Oversight Committee, the ranking number, the Democrat Elijah Cummings, says that first national security adviser, General Flynn, made false statements about his foreign work to Pentagon investigators. Can you confirm that?
CHAFFETZ: Well, what we did do, a number of weeks ago, is we sent to the secretary of the Army a request for a final determination.
We believe that, at least through our investigation, what we had seen and quite frankly not seen is that General Flynn -- again, this is more than a year ago, back during the Obama administration -- when they took money -- when he took money for appearances from the Russians and also in Turkey, that he was supposed to proactively get, seek permission and receive permission in order to take those payments.
We see no such paperwork. And so we can't prosecute people in the House of Representatives. They don't give us handcuffs. So we refer that now back to the Department of the Army for their final determination.
But that happened weeks ago.
BLITZER: But if he is applying to become the national security adviser to the president, and he's filling out new forms with the Pentagon, with the Army, or whomever, shouldn't he be up front and reveal all those specific contacts he had, money he received from foreign governments?
CHAFFETZ: Well, interestingly enough, the permission or the granting of a security clearance was done by the Obama administration.
BLITZER: But you need additional security clearances once you're going to be the national security adviser.
CHAFFETZ: Yes. Yes.
BLITZER: He may have received security clearances from the Army, from the Defense Intelligence Agency during the Obama administration, but the president, President Trump wanted him to be his top national security adviser.
BLITZER: That required him filling out all sorts of new forms.
CHAFFETZ: And that was done evidently during the Obama administration.
So, there are a number of Obama era relationships or Obama era personnel. It really begs the question, why did the Obama administration approve his security clearance?
BLITZER: The answer is that security clearances are different than the very intense, intense vetting, separate vetting you need to become national security adviser to the president.
Yes, he had security clearances. He was once the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He was a three-star general. He obviously had security clearances. But you need to go through a separate round of vetting to become the national security adviser to the president.
CHAFFETZ: Yes. And that was done in the Obama administration.
BLITZER: No, no, no.
CHAFFETZ: Yes, Wolf, show me the documents.
CHAFFETZ: If you think you have answer, and I don't, then share it with me, because we did participate in a classified briefing.
And Mr. Cummings was sitting right at my side. So, I do think I got a pretty good briefing on this. And that is really the Obama administration.
BLITZER: Well, your colleague Congressman Cummings, he is calling on you to subpoena those White House documents, the specific White House documents, as far as the vetting of General Flynn is concerned. Are you ready to do that?
CHAFFETZ: No, I'm not. We sat through a classified briefing on this topic. I really can't say much more than that.
BLITZER: Well, why not get the documents just to double-check?
CHAFFETZ: I'm telling you that I have already sat through a classified briefing on this.
BLITZER: Well, why not get the documents?
CHAFFETZ: Wolf, we can keep going back and forth. I told you that we did sit through the classified briefing on this.
BLITZER: All right, but you know that documents sometimes can be not necessarily shared during a classified briefing, and sometimes the briefers don't necessarily report everything as far as the documentary evidence might provide.
CHAFFETZ: Given that I was in the meeting and you were not, with all due respect, that is not something that I am going to subpoena at this moment. I'm not. We got a classified briefing on this.
BLITZER: All right, let's talk about something else.
"The Washington Post" is now reporting that the former Director James Comey may have based his decision on how to handle the Clinton e-mail server investigation at least in part on a Russian document that turned out to be -- quote -- "bad intelligence." The document may even have been completely fake.
How does that report influence your understanding of the election?
CHAFFETZ: Well, we haven't gotten a crystal-clear picture of this.
And I have seen that news report, but not seen everything that the FBI has seen. Given that there is this ongoing investigation, I wouldn't necessarily see this.
The House of Representatives is dealing with this differently than the United States Senate.
In the House of Representatives, things that deal with sources, methods, intelligence, that's being done by the House Intelligence Committee. And so I would really need to leave it to that committee.
As it relates to some of these other investigations, some of the stuff, for instance, with General Flynn, then the Oversight Committee has taken the lead on that.
But in that particular case, and this story would really be for the House Intelligence Committee, not for the committee that I chair.
BLITZER: You did play a very important role in the Clinton e-mail investigation by publicizing Comey's letter informing you that the investigation would be reopened right before Election Day, 11 days before the election.
You have been outspoken about going after leakers. Do you consider yourself, let's say, a leaker for publicizing that letter he wrote to your committee?
CHAFFETZ: No. That was a nonclassified letter that was sent to lots of different people. So, no, it is unclassified information. I thought the public had the right to know.
We had had a hearing in July where we had the FBI director make a commitment that if they were reopening the investigation, if they were going to spend time and resources, the director had gone to great lengths in July, explaining to the American people that they were done. They weren't going to prosecute anybody. And obviously they were now suddenly going to spend an exorbitant
about of resources looking into that investigation. So what I do like is that the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, from the Department of Justice, he has 450 or so inspectors with him at the Department of Justice.
And they are going to do a thorough look, back from when Loretta Lynch met with President Bill Clinton on the tarmac, all the way through, and we asked him to expand it to look through the firing of Director Comey.
And that exhaustive report -- because I think there's complaints legitimately on the Democratic and on the Republican side. That report probably the first part next year I'm guessing will be complete. That will be quite a report. They're going to have to look at that as well.
BLITZER: Let me follow up on something you just said. Couldn't the leakers now in the White House or the Justice Department or elsewhere in the government make the same case that the public has a right to know?
CHAFFETZ: No, not necessarily. It depends on the information.
When the director of the FBI sends the chairman and the ranking member and members of Congress nonclassified information, yes, we have the right to make that public, absolutely.
BLITZER: Well, who has the right to make it public?
CHAFFETZ: We do. We do. As a member of Congress, I have the right to do that.
As the chairman, I can do that. It is an unclassified piece of information.
BLITZER: When that letter came over, it was unclassified. Is that what you are saying?
BLITZER: So you decided just to release it.
Your committee has also requested an update from the Trump Organization on how its hotels would ensure no foreign payments end up in the president's hands.
And you got a reply that it would be impractical to ask hotel guests if they are representing a foreign government. Do the current procedures go far enough to prevent any violation of what is called the Emoluments Clause?
CHAFFETZ: What I find the Trump -- again, this comes more from the personal office, but what I find the Trump Organization doing is bending over backwards to be as open and transparent as possible. Now, they are going to look at the 2017 receipts and they are figuring
out a mechanism to reimburse or pay to the Treasury, if you will, when foreign nationals stay at that hotel. That is bending over backwards. It is very early in the process, given that we are still in May.
Probably not something you are going to see until 2018. But I think they have laid out a general framework and that will be refined over the next seven, eight months. And as you turn the corner into 2018, they will release some report at some time. But I think the Trumps are going to great lengths to be as open and transparent about this as they can possibly be.
BLITZER: You have got a lot going on here. You're the chairman of the most -- one of the most important committees in the House of Representatives.
You have got a lot of investigations going on right now. I guess it's a question a lot of people are asking, Mr. Chairman. Why are you leaving Congress by the end of June?
CHAFFETZ: You know what? At some point, you have got to get off this crazy train.
There is always somebody doing something stupid somewhere, so there is always plenty of things to investigate and look at. But at some point, you got to look yourself in the mirror and say, hey, I have spent more than 1,500 nights away from my family. I happen to love my wife and adore our kids. We are about to become empty-nesters.
And looking at the prospect of spending another 200 or 300 nights away from my wonderful wife, Julie, it is -- over the next 18 months, I just didn't want to do it any more. I just want to make the transition. And I always promised that I would get in, serve and get out. This is not supposed to be a lifetime appointment.
And I don't want that Potomac fever and just get too caught up in myself or anything else and get more of a balance back in my life. So, I decided that, hey, at the end of June, we're going to hang up our cleats at this chapter of our life.
BLITZER: But a lot of your constituents are disappointed. You ran for a two-year term and now, all of a sudden, you're leaving. They're upset.
And there's been a lot of speculation. You have seen all the reports that you are leaving to become, what, a TV pundit. Is any of that true?
CHAFFETZ: Well, I haven't felt any compulsion to talk about my post- congressional life.
But I have a voice. I would like to express it along the way, but find more balance in my life. And so we will cross that more when we get to July 1 and loosen up the tie a little bit and get more balance in my life.
BLITZER: Because you have seen the reports that you're heading to Fox News. Any truth to that?
CHAFFETZ: Well, again, Wolf, I'm not here to talk about that yet. We are going to do that at the proper time. But I'm not talking about post-congressional employment at this time.
BLITZER: You think would you be making the same choice if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency?
CHAFFETZ: At some point, you got to say enough is enough and you just have to keep moving on.
So, look, I think I would make exactly the same choice. There is always more investigations, exciting things that we're doing. We have this great success with the Department of Education where somebody finally resigned. I think they should have been kicked out of government a long time ago.
But I love the work. I really do. But I love my family more. And most people probably watching this say, oh, I don't know that I believe that. But that is the honest truth.
And two of our kids are now -- in the last 18 months, they got married and they are moving out of state. And that's a whole new phenomena that I didn't anticipate 18 months beforehand.
BLITZER: OK, congratulations on the weddings. You have always been very generous with your time with us. We have always enjoyed having you here with us on CNN in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Wherever you go, we wish you only the best. And if you head to FOX, we will miss you here on CNN.
CHAFFETZ: Thank you, Wolf. I appreciate it.
BLITZER: Congressman Jason Chaffetz is the chairman of the Oversight Committee.
Coming up, the Senate Judiciary Committee is also waiting for those Comey memos. I will speak to a key Democrat on that panel. There he is, Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's standing by to join us live.
Plus, breaking news in the Manchester suicide attack -- the bomber's brother has been arrested in Libya accused of plotting a separate attack.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, we're told the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee are trying to figure out their next move to obtain key evidence in the Russia investigation. Today was their deadline for the FBI to turn over secret notes written by James Comey before he was fired as FBI director, notes documenting his conversations with President Trump. The panel also was asking the White House for any tapes that might exist of the president's conversations with Comey.
[18:31:58] Joining us now, a key Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you, Wolf, for having me.
BLITZER: So your committee set today as the deadline for any documentation of Comey's conversations with the president: memos from the FBI, recordings from the White House. What's the status of that request?
BLUMENTHAL: I am sure that Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Feinstein are going to be pursuing the documents if they are not made available in full, and if there need to be a classified review of them, that will be done.
But I think what's really important here is that the Judiciary Committee continue its investigative activities, because we have a critical oversight role relating to Comey's firing, the potential impact of that firing on the investigation and the FBI; and I think that these documents need to be pursued.
BLITZER: Why do you believe the FBI isn't providing Comey's memos, at least not yet?
BLUMENTHAL: There are a number of questions here relating to the potential impact of making those documents available. Impacts on Special Prosecutor Mueller's investigation, the Intelligence Committee. There is a complex structure of investigations under way. But all of them fully consistent, because the special prosecutor is assessing and investigating criminal culpability with potential charges and convictions for obstruction of justice or meddling in our elections.
The Oversight Committees, Intelligence and Judiciary should be making recommendations about how to prevent these kind of really heinous interference in our democracy, our democratic election process in the future. They can issue reports and recommendations that the special prosecutor is unlikely do and pursue legislation.
So documents are important, but the timing of their production may be what is at issue.
BLITZER: Will your committee issue subpoenas for those documents if the Department of Justice, the FBI and the White House don't comply?
BLUMENTHAL: Subpoenas, of course, to the FBI or the Department of Justice from our committee are generally a last resort. I can't speak for the full committee at this point. I believe that we should use whatever tools we have to seek those documents and every other piece of information, as well, including the Intelligence Committee's issuing subpoena for Michael Flynn's testimony. I believe that evidence should be sought, and documents. It's now known publicly that subpoenas have been reframed so as to target documents and issue them to the businesses. So there's really no Fifth Amendment privilege there.
So the navigating of these investigative shoals are important but very, very critical to pursuing the truth. Uncovering the truth and holding accountable anybody who may have been responsible and making sure that the obstruction of justice case is pursued against anyone who may have exerted improper pressure or political interference.
BLITZER: Here's a question. I'm curious: how does Comey's decision not to testify before your committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, impact your committee's oversight work? He has agreed to testify before, what, the Senate Intelligence Committee?
[18:35:15] BLUMENTHAL: Wolf, I still think he may well testify before our committee. Again, A matter of timing. He has accepted that invitation, but hasn't ruled out ours.
And I think his testimony before the Judiciary Committee in an open setting in a public forum, under oath, is critically important, along with testimony from Attorney General Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the White House counsel, Don McGahn. All of these actors have to testify about how Comey was fired, the time line, who did what when. Why that memorandum was written when the president had already decided to fire Comey. And what was done by the president to pressure Comey to stop this investigation of Michael Flynn, and why he decided to fire him as a result of his having failed to give that loyalty and shut down the investigation. And then his boasts, of course, to the Russian ambassador or the foreign minister of Russia about how he felt relieved because he had fired Comey. Those pieces of evidence and others go to the issue of criminal intent, which ought to be pursued by the special prosecutor.
BLITZER: How concerned are that you the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, omitted his meetings with the Russian ambassador on his application for his security clearance?
BLUMENTHAL: I am deeply troubled by his failure to testify, apparently truthfully, before our committee in the course of his confirmation hearings and then possibly in other ways to fail to be completely truthful in information that he has given in connection with his confirmation. And I think that it bears intense and immediate investigation.
BLITZER: Senator Blumenthal, thanks for joining us.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
BLITZER: Let's get to breaking news on the concert terror attack in Britain right now. Tonight, the suicide bomber's brother has been arrested in Libya, where authorities say he was plotting a new terror attack. Officials say the concert bomber also was in Libya just days before he launched his attack, and they believe he was linked to a wider terror network.
Our senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is on the scene for us in Manchester.
Clarissa, I understand a seventh person has now been arrested?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. There have been raids going on throughout the day. Seven people have now been arrested. The number could well go up as officials appear to be indicating now that they do not think it was likely that this attacker acted alone.
We're also seeing new images that have been published by "The New York Times" which appear to show the actual bomb that was used in the attack. In these photographs, again, published by "The New York Times," you can see the remnants of the backpack, that it is believed the bomber used to hold the device. You can also see an image of the detonator that was believed to be held in the left hand of the bomber. And you can also see some of the shrapnel that was used, very crude, nuts and screws. That's, of course, designed to cause maximum carnage.
Now, the Manchester police are not making any comment on these photographs whatsoever. But the British counterterrorism police are not being so buttoned up. They have come out and said that they are dismayed by the leak of these photographs. These are photographs of an ongoing investigation, a crime scene, Wolf.
They have said that the relationships that the U.K. has with various other trusted intelligence sharing partners is very important. They don't mention the U.S. specifically, but I think it's quite clearly directed at the U.S. And they say that this type of a leak undermines that relationship and that trust and the investigation. And Wolf, important to emphasize, this comes on the heels of a warning this morning from Britain's home secretary saying the same thing, that the leaks are irritating and that they need to stop, Wolf.
BLITZER: Disturbing developments, indeed. Clarissa, thank you very much.
Just ahead, we're going to have more on CNN's exclusive reporting on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and another lapse in disclosing his contacts with Russia.
[18:44:09] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories in the Russia investigation and the crisis in the White House. CNN learning exclusively tonight that the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, failed to disclose his meetings with Russian officials when he applied for a security clearance.
Let's talk more about this with our analysts and specialists. And David Chalian, how serious is this that he failed -- that he omitted disclosing this information on his security clearance applications?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, it's like pouring salt in an open wound already, because this is why Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from anything to do with the Russian investigation, which of course, has led us to the moment of Rod Rosenstein appointing a special counsel. That part of this chapter might be different if he -- if he did follow the rules and disclose everything.
But we should be clear, this FS-86, this clear -- security clearance application where he neglected to reveal these contacts with Kislyak, predates his congressional testimony and his confirmation hearing, where he neglected to tell Congress about it.
So he clearly was not of the mind that these contacts needed to be revealed as a part of his getting the A.G.position. As you know he had -- he amended his testimony before Congress after it was revealed in "The Washington Post" back in March that these contacts did exist.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: John Kirby, you're a retired admiral. You filled out those application forms for security clearances over decades.
JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I did, yes.
BLITZER: So, what's your analysis?
KIRBY: I agree totally with David. I think context is important here. Yes, you are supposed to disclose foreign contacts. But the job on the judiciary committee, it isn't necessary to disclose every single interaction that he had, nor could I have. You are supposed to disclose the ones that really matter.
Now, that's the question. Did these really matter or not? Clearly, in retrospect they did. So, I think it was certainly an oversight and something he shouldn't have done but I do think we need to keep it in context.
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about this "Washington Post" report that Comey, his handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail server investigation was influenced, at least in part, by some sort of Russian document that the FBI now believes was, quote, bad intelligence, possibly even fake.
What are the implications of that?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the story says that, as you said, there was a document that the FBI had that allegedly suggested that there were contacts and even assurances given by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch to Clinton campaign that everything was going to be fine. And so, "The Washington Post" is reporting that that memo, that information could have been fake. And so, that could have thrown the whole investigation, whole discussion about Hillary Clinton and e-mails and so forth into the political spectrum and really potentially changing things based on the fake document.
However -- so, that's what "The Post" is. Here is the big however. When Comey himself testified, he talked about the reasons why he broke with Justice Department protocol by going out and talking about the case himself instead of letting the attorney general do it. He said there were other factors and maybe this is what he was talking about. One of the big factors is something we all knew about and reported which is that Bill Clinton boarded Loretta Lynch's plane, and even if they had a brief discussion and not about this subject at all, it happened.
BLITZER: A week before this announcement.
BASH: A week before his announcement and looked incredibly, and the optics were bad, and that's one of the reasons why he effectively took over and many people think took it way too many levels down the road in terms of maybe politicizing it in the way the FBI director, any FBI director, shouldn't do.
BLITZER: Bianna, you studied Russia for a long time. How does this "Washington Post" report change our understanding of Russian meddling influence into the presidential election if you believe it does, at all?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS AND FINANCE ANCHOR: Well, look, Wolf, if we want to give Russia too much credit or not enough credit, the one takeaway is that unfortunately Russia did seem to outplay us in this election with regards to trying to meddle into our election system, with trying to cause disruption, with trying to cause chaos in sort of plausible deniability scenario for Vladimir Putin. Minimum price, maximum harm. We're continuing to talk about this story on a daily basis.
And for Russians to see this at home, you know, President Obama famously said Russia was a regional power. Now, obviously, this is a global, international, every-single-day type of story.
And we're seeing it play out even in the president's travel throughout the region now in Europe and his meetings with NATO. Apparently, none of the leaders will be bringing up Russia and the meddling because they want it sort of please President Trump and not distress him by talking about issues that he doesn't want it talk about. So, at the end of the day, regardless of whether Russia outplayed our hand or not, we are talking about it. It's a victory.
CHALIAN: Let's just the political fallout of this "Washington Post" story is that every former campaign Clinton aide is banging their head against their desk today when because they thought the irony was too rich. Of course, that perhaps a fake Russian interference memo somehow triggered Jim Comey to enter into a process that as you know the Clinton folks believe really was part of the determining factor in the outcome of the race.
BASH: Although at time when he entered into it, it was to say, there was no there there.
CHALIAN: Except that she was also extremely careless.
CHALIAN: That press conference cut both ways.
BASH: Cut both ways. But afterward the political ramifications immediately were the Clinton campaign breathing a sigh of relief and Donald Trump going after James Comey. BLITZER: Bianna, can you only imagine how gleeful the Russian
intelligence services must be if they succeeded in spreading a fake memo that got all the way up to the FBI director m director.
GOLODRYGA: Well, it's a new policy of cyber warfare that one of their generals unleashed last year. And if I could just be more skeptical on the Attorney General Sessions' omission, let's just say we're not talking about an ambassador from Trinidad and Tobago or some country sometimes that wasn't already discussed throughout the campaign trail.
[18:50:13] How a senator from Alabama who probably had never met the ambassador, I don't know. But all of a sudden within the last year or so and this campaign cycle for Russia to be discussed as heavily as it was, throughout the campaign to omit meeting him, remember Kislyak was also at the RNC convention. What was he doing there?
So, I'm a bit more skeptical as to why his name was omitted. Remember, Jared Kushner also somehow forget to write his name down as well.
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more coming up.
More on the Russia investigation, as we stay on top of all the breaking news. Will lawmakers ever get their hands on James Comey's memos? And what did the president discuss with the pope as the president braces for the possibility of a prolong legal battle back home?
[18:55:39] BLITZER: Breaking news: tonight, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee saying he spoke personally with James Comey but the fired FBI director would not answer questions about reports that he wrote, memos documenting his conversations with President Trump.
Tonight, the president is pressing ahead with his overseas trip. He's in Brussels right now where our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us. He's traveling with the president.
So, the president met with the pope today. Update our viewers, Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That's right, Wolf. President Trump and Pope Francis could not be more diametrically opposed on some of the most important issues facing the world, but they're trying to put those differences aside to talk about the terror threat, a topic the president will be pressing with NATO leaders her in Brussels tomorrow.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Two leaders with well-known differences. President Trump and Pope Francis met longer than expected at the Vatican, holding an extensive 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. The two men didn't tackle all of their disagreements, though the president was pressed by the Vatican officials to keep the U.S. and the Obama administration's Paris climate agreement.
He described his papal encounter in typical Trump fashion.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He is something. He is really great. We had a fantastic meeting. We had a fantastic tour. It was really beautiful. We're doing -- 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 was 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 sleight.
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 on the battle against terrorism.
TRUMP: When you see something like happen 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 decade's old NATO alliance to become more active in the terror fight.
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: NATO joining the ISIS coalition, we do think that would be a really important step for them to take. They've been an observer, but they've become more and more engaged in the actual fight to defeat ISIS.
ACOSTA: The bloodshed in Manchester, Tillerson said, only strengthens the president's argument.
TILLERSON: I think that horrible attack in Manchester just reminded all of us why we have to do this. And the president said that in remarks to just embassy staff today. He said, you know, 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, Mark Kasowitz, as one of his outside attorneys to deal with the special counsel investigation into possible Trump campaign ties with Russia case.
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. A 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.
ACOSTA: So, noted how Russia will only be participating on the sidelines of the G7 summit coming up in Sicily the end of this week. That's because of Russia's intervention in Ukraine, something that Tillerson says they have to change before they're allowed back into that elite club, Wolf. Another example of how even though the Russians meddled in that elections last year, they're not getting everything they want on the world stage -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jim Acosta, reporting for us from Brussels -- thanks very much. And to our viewers, be sure to stay with CNN for new developments in the Russia investigation.
Tonight, you can see all of our reporting in one place. A special report: "White House in Crisis" with Pamela Brown and Jim Sciutto. That airs tonight 11:00 p.m. Eastern, 8:00 Pacific, only here on CNN.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.