Return to Transcripts main page


Montana GOP House Candidate Accused of Body-Slamming Reporter; U.K. No Longer Sharing Manchester Intel with U.S.; DOJ: Sessions Did Not Discloses Russia Meetings on Security Clearance Form; Senate Dems Accuse White House of Withholding Information; Interview with Sen. Ron Wyden. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 25, 2017 - 07:00   ET


ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Voters need to pay attention. Temperament does matter.

[07:00:05] JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Attorney General Jeff Sessions not disclosing meetings he had with the Russian ambassador.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: The American people deserve the bottom-line answer.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Irritation at the leaks that were coming out from the Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We shouldn't be seeing these pictures. I hope this doesn't break cooperation between Britain and the United States.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Up first, we do have some breaking news for you, because the Republican candidate in the race for Montana's open seat in the U.S. House is now facing an assault charge for allegedly body-slamming a reporter. The campaign blaming the reporter before some stunning audiotape of this incident came to light.

That election is today. So will this assault charge change the outcome? We will speak to someone who witnessed the confrontation in just a few minutes.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And that's the key. There were witnesses. And this lawmaker or this potential lawmaker's story is going to fall away. But what's the overall implication? We'll discuss it.

Meanwhile, overseas, multiple U.K. media sources are reporting that British police are going to temporarily stop sharing intel with the U.S., because details of their investigation into the Manchester terror attack leaked to the press, and they're blaming the U.S. Is the trust of America's allies now in jeopardy?

We have it all covered. Let's go first to CNN's Kyung Lah, live in Missoula, Montana. Boy, that is the site of a really ugly situation.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ugly and talk about a dramatic turn of events. Voters are going to be heading to the polls in just two hours. That is when polls here in the state of Montana open. They will now have to consider the frontrunner. He was widely considered the frontrunner, the Republican.

They have to consider that he is now being considered by local law enforcement as someone who has committed a misdemeanor crime.


LAH (voice-over): Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte charged with misdemeanor assault the night before Montana's special election after allegedly body-slamming "Guardian" reporter Ben Jacobs at his campaign headquarters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a reporter, and he asked Greg about his health care plan, and he full body-slammed him.

LAH: The altercation captured by Jacobs in an audio recording.

JACOBS: ... the CBO score. Because you know, you've been waiting to make your decision about health care until we saw the bill, and it just came out.

GIANFORTE: We'll talk to you about that later.

JACOBS: Yes, but there's not going to be time. I'm just curious...

GIANFORTE: Speak with Shane, please.

I'm sick and tired of you guys! The last time you came here, you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here. The last guy did the same thing. Are you with "The Guardian"?

JACOBS: Yes, and you just broke my glasses.

GIANFORTE: The last guy did the same damn thing.

JACOBS: You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses.

GIANFORTE: Get the hell out of here.

JACOBS: You'd like me to get the hell out of here? I'd also like to call the police.

LAH: Jacobs later recounting the incident in an interview while he was at the hospital, where he received X-rays on his elbow.

JACOBS: He grabs my recorder and throws me down. My glasses break. He, I think -- I'm pretty sure he's on top of me wailing for a second and then screams at me to get the hell out. It's just very strange and mortifying.

LAH: Gianforte's campaign offering a different version of events, just after the incident, writing, "Jacobs aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face, and began asking badgering questions. Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg's wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground. It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ." Both the audio recording and eyewitness accounts contradicting

Gianforte's defense. A team from FOX News team, who was in the room, recounting that "Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground. Gianforte then began punching the reporter." The eyewitnesses also stressing that at no point did they witness Jacobs acting aggressively.

Gianforte's opponent choosing not to address the incident in an interview Wednesday night.

(on camera): Is there anything you want to say about the audio?

ROB QUIST (D), MONTANA HOUSE CANDIDATE: You know, I think that's a -- for law enforcement to understand.


LAH: But his supporters certainly were willing to talk to us. We spoke to several of them. They call the audio disgusting, and they are hoping that it is going to boost Democratic turnout this morning throughout the day until the polls close. But this is very tight here.

And something else to consider. Seven out of 10 voters in this special election have already voted by absentee ballot -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Let's bring in BuzzFeed news reporter Alexis Levinson. She was president at Montana congressional seat candidate Greg Gianforte's campaign headquarters when this altercation took place.

[07:05:03] Good morning, Alexis.


CAMEROTA: What did you witness?

LEVINSON: So I was in -- this was billed as a campaign meet and greet and a press availability. I was standing in sort of a campaign office, and there was a little, like, side office with a little closing door off to the side. I was in a room with a lot of volunteers. The candidate's wife, you know, people making phone calls, get out the vote stuff.

Greg Gianforte walked into the side room, and there was a camera crew in there. We didn't know at the time who the camera crew belonged to. And I stayed there. Ben, who had originally been standing with me, walked into the room to kind of listen in on what the interview -- what was being said in the interview. And I wasn't really paying attention until all of a sudden, I heard just a giant crash. I saw sort of feet fly in the air. The door to that room was about half open, so I couldn't see the whole thing. But I heard the crash. I saw his feet fly in the way that someone's feet can fly only when they're ending up on the ground.

CAMEROTA: Gianforte's campaign said that this reporter, Ben Jacobs, was being overly aggressive, that he was pushing a recorder into the candidate's face. Did you see anything like that?

LEVINSON: I couldn't see anything that was happening in the room. I didn't hear anything before the crash. And then after the crash, there was very audible yelling that, I think, everyone heard on Ben's recording.

CAMEROTA: And that was coming from the candidate?

LEVINSON: That was. It was this very odd scene of sort of stunned science. Because everyone there has heard the crash. Everyone there had heard the yelling. There was sort of an awkward, "Oh, gosh. What do we do now?"

CAMEROTA: You've never seen any sort of aggression or him snap before this?

LEVINSON: I've only been here since Tuesday. I've been to -- this was my fourth campaign event I was attending of Gianforte's. And this was -- this was very exceptional.

CAMEROTA: Alexis Levinson, thanks so much for your eyewitness account. It helps us better try to understand what happened here. Thanks for being with us.

LEVINSON: No problem.

CUOMO: All right. Also new this morning, U.K. media outlets reporting are reporting British law enforcement has supposedly stopped intel about the Manchester attack with the U.S., because information was leaked to the media. CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward live in Manchester for us. What do we know?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, we've just heard from the British prime minister, Theresa May, who said that she will be raising this issue with President Donald Trump when she sees him in Brussels later today.

Listen, it was just 24 hours ago we heard from the U.K.'s home secretary, Amber Rudd. She said that the leaks need to stop, that they were irritating. And they have been coming out consistently from U.S. officials since this terror attack took place.

There is a recognition here in the United Kingdom that the U.S. has a rather large national intelligence bureaucracy and that perhaps it's not higher-level officials but lower-level officials that may be disseminating this information. But the thing that has really caused concern and even anger and frustration, I would say, is the decision to publish these photographs in "The New York Times" that appear to show the bomb that was used in the attack. From the looks of those pictures, it does seem that the bomb was certainly quite powerful, potentially quite sophisticated.

That has authorities here concerned that there is a bombmaker, potentially, still at large. They don't know whether he would be here, whether he would be in Libya. These are the questions they're trying to drill down on, and they don't want leaks coming out while they're trying to do it, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Understood. OK, Clarissa, we'll talk much more about this in the program. Thank you for that reporting.

Now to a development in a story that CNN first brought you on Friday. The Justice Department says Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose his meetings with the Russian ambassador last year on his security clearance form. CNN's Joe Johns has the latest developments for us -- Joe.


His critics say he should have known better under the circumstances, but the attorney general's office says he was advised against listing Senate-related contacts with foreign dignitaries on his security clearance forms, which might be the end of the story but for the investigation into Russian interference in the last election. And the attorney general's previous failure to disclose Russian contacts.


JOHNS (voice-over): Attorney General Jeff Sessions again under scrutiny, this time for not disclosing meetings he had with the Russian ambassador when he applied for his security clearance. The Justice Department defending Sessions, saying he was instructed by an FBI employee that he did not need to disclose those meetings.

REP. WILL HURD (R), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Because I think the intense scrutiny that he knew he was going to go under. Oversharing is probably better than under-sharing.

JOHNS: Sessions also failed to disclose these same contacts during his Senate confirmation hearing.

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I didn't have -- not have communications with the Russians.

[07:10:07] JOHNS: That revelation sparking criticism that ultimately led to Sessions's recusal from involvement in any Russia investigations into the Trump campaign.

Democrat John Conyers now calling on the Judiciary Committee to launch an investigation, alleging that Sessions has displayed "a troubling pattern of behavior that demands careful review."

Trump advisor Jared Kushner and ousted national security advisor Michael Flynn also submitted incomplete security forms, Flynn failing to properly disclose payments linked to Russia. The House Intelligence Committee now preparing to subpoena Flynn for documents related to his interactions with the Russians after he refused to cooperate with previous Senate intel requests.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It's my hope that we will be subpoenaing very shortly both his testimony, documents, his businesses to make sure that we use every avenue possible to get the information our investigation needs.

JOHNS: This after CNN reported that U.S. intelligence officials intercepted Russian conversations detailing how they thought they could use their relationship with Flynn to influence Trump and his team. "The New York Times" now adding that Russian officials also targeted Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, in discussions.

All of this as former FBI Director James Comey failed to turn over memos documenting his interactions with President Trump to the House Oversight Committee by last night's deadline, including a memo alleging showing the president attempted to pressure Comey to shut down the investigation into Flynn.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R-UT), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Nobody has actually seen these documents. We're assuming that they're there, but I haven't seen that they're there. And so I'm skeptical and want to see them ourselves.


JOHNS: And updating more on James Comey. He was also scheduled to testify in front of the House Oversight Committee yesterday. Bu tthat hearing was postponed so he could speak with Special Counsel Robert Mueller first. Comey is expected to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee after Memorial Day -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Thanks, Joe.

CUOMO: All right. Let's bring in our panel. CNN Politics reporter and editor-at-large Chris Cillizza; CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd; and former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Thomas Pickering. Gentlemen, thank you for being with us.

Mr. Cillizza, let's talk about our brother journo getting body-slammed by a hot-head in Montana. You know what I hear? Silence. Where is the GOP? Where's the Montana state Republican Party? Where's the president, who made robocalls for this guy and let his son take a picture with him? Why are they letting this guy stay in as a candidate? The assault is clear.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes. I mean, he has been charged with -- with a misdemeanor assault. I mean, this isn't sort of just "he said versus he said" at this point.

I don't know, Chris. Look, at some level, this -- this happened around 7:30, 8 p.m. Eastern Time last night. But all three newspapers in the state that endorsed Gianforte have rescinded those endorsements. You know, I -- I e-mailed, I think, everybody did the National Republican Congressional Committee last night, the arm of the party that runs these campaigns. Said, "Are you guys saying anything?" They referred to Gianforte's statement.

Gianforte's statement is a classic making things worse, not better. There's audio. There are witnesses who have no sort of vested interest either way that directly contradict the -- that statement. I don't know what they do.

Look, here's what I can tell you, Chris. If this was a week ago, my guess would be they would probably have to -- they would come under huge pressure to walk away from Gianforte and say, you know, "He's our nominee, but we can't condone this." It's election day today.

CUOMO: Please, Chris, I hope that's not true.

CILLIZZA: I don't know.

CUOMO: I hope the idea of compromising their ability to get a seat makes them forget what it is to be a human being. The guy assaulted somebody. He's got to go. He's got to go.

CILLIZZA: I don't disagree with you, but he is on the ballot; and voters are, in a couple of hours now, in Montana voting. I don't -- I'm talking from a logistics perspective, Chris. Not from a right, wrong perspective. What do you do? He -- he -- you can't get him off the ballot. He can't go today, because today is election day.

CAMEROTA: Right. Something like 7 out of 10 people have already voted or something.

CUOMO: What if they didn't know that the guy they were putting in there picked someone up and threw him on the ground?

CILLIZZA: But the point is what do you do -- what do you do logistically? Let's say he wins. OK, let's say he wins, which is a possibility. Because as Alisyn points out, 70 percent of the votes are already in. Let's say he wins. What do you do...

CUOMO: And the seat is Republican and the state's Republican. Trump won by 20 points.

CILLIZZA: Yes, what do you do if you're Republicans? You know the guy who has been charged with the assault of a reporter as your -- as the next seat holder there. What do you -- how do you handle it? That question is almost as intriguing. I just think the truncated nature of this happening literally, you know, ten hours before polls open. It ties their hands. They can say, "Don't vote for him. Don't be for him. We disavow him." I'm not sure they're going to, but they could, and it still might not matter, given -- given what's happened.

[07:15:08] CUOMO: True. But they'd still be doing the right thing.

CAMEROTA: We need to move on, because there are so many top stories that we need to address. Ambassador Pickering, I want to get to you. Let's talk about intel leaks and intel sharing. It now appears that the U.S.'s two closest allies, Britain and Israel, are angry with the U.S. because of intelligence leaks and are threatening, at least in the Manchester investigation, that they're not going to share intel anymore with the U.S. What does this mean?

THOMAS PICKERING, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: There's two aspects to this, Alisyn. One is obviously, the damage it could do us, particularly in defense of the homeland. Information of that sort is actually critical. It comes from all around the world. If we begin to shut down those sources and people who are cooperating with us, then that makes a real difference in our ability to defend ourselves. And so this is dangerous stuff and, obviously, shouldn't be played with fast and loose.

The second point is that our relationships with both of those countries are very large. And we provide them information, as well. Sharing goes on. They protect our information. We seemingly are unable to protect the information they give us for whatever might be the motivation.

That clearly argues for a change. It may argue for slower movement. We've seen Prime Minister Netanyahu say things are OK. Israeli intelligence people say things are really not OK. Theresa May will be seeing President Trump in Brussels shortly. The British police have shut down on their own. Whether that continues or not, I think, will heavily depend on whether the president can give a commitment that we're not going to play fast and loose with this kind of information, that when we exchange it, we're going to protect sources and methods, that it's going to be done through intelligence professionals, and hopefully, we can tighten up.

We get into these particular episodes time and time again. And obviously, the world is losing faith in the U.S., its capacity to protect security and indeed affecting our own ability to protect our own people at home and abroad. Easy.

CUOMO: Phil Mudd, your take and also your take on the news about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his lack of disclosure on his form. His team says they were advised by a legal expert that they didn't have to put the Russian meetings down there. What's your take on both?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, quick take on the first one. Let's look at the flip side of this.

I agree. The Brits should shut down intelligence sharing. But if they find something that links these people to the United States, an e-mail or a phone, they can't not pass that. So over the course of the days and weeks, intelligence sharing will restart. I guarantee it. Threat always unifies security services.

Also, if that threat leads back to Libya, to a cell in Libya that trained or advised or radicalized these individuals, they're going to turn back to the United States and say, "Can you help us develop those threads in Libya?"

So this is like a 50-year marriage. There's going to be fits and starts. But I guarantee you, there will be intelligence sharing in the future. On Sessions, there's two piece, Chris. Let me clear something with you on the air in public. I frequently did not declare on that form contacts with foreign nationals.

CAMEROTA: Why not?

MUDD: Because I met people all day every day. You pass them in Starbucks. I talked to them in a restaurant. I saw them in the cafeteria at the FBI. If I had to declare every one of those, I'd never have a job. I'd be filling out forms. One of the criteria you have is a close and continuing contact.

I think the issue here is context. That is other members of the campaign didn't declare contacts. You obviously saw that Michael Flynn had a relationship and a conversation that was inappropriate. It is not that one individual didn't declare the kinds of contact that I probably wouldn't have declared. That's doing 62 in a 55 zone. Technically, it's a violation. It doesn't look like a problem without context.

CAMEROTA: That is very good context for us. Because that's exactly what Attorney General Sessions is saying, that he had sort of casual incidental contact that didn't rise to the level of disclosure.

CUOMO: The context is, though, that it happens to be the same type of meetings that he didn't disclose in other contexts...

MUDD: That's right.

CUOMO: ... involving Russians, and there are other people in the administration that seemed to make the same choice.


MUDD: That's right, Chris.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much for all of the news this morning on a very busy news day.

Is the White House withholding information? Senate Democrats have sent a letter to the White House with some details about this. One of the senators behind that letter joins us to tell us what they what to know. What they think the White House is blocking. Next.


[07:23:30] CAMEROTA: Senate Democrats accuse the White House of intentionally withholding information from members of Congress on issues like the Russia investigation and national security.

These Democrats sent a letter to President Trump reading, in part, "If, at the instruction of the White House, information is being intentionally withheld on a partisan basis, such actions would be simply unacceptable."

Joining us now is one of the Democrats who signed that letter, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. Good morning, Senator.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Good morning. CAMEROTA: What information are you not getting?

WYDEN: First of all, I've always been willing to cut a new administration a little bit of slack. But this is now becoming a pattern of non-cooperation. In effect, this White House is rewriting the separation of powers, because we have a responsibility to do strong oversight. I, for example, have been concerned about some of these Chinese trademark issues where it looks like the president and family are getting a special break. But this goes right to the heart of the separation of powers. And they seem to be rewriting the law and not cooperating.

CAMEROTA: But explain it to us. What are you asking for that they're not giving you?

WYDEN: We are asking for the kind of essential information we need to do to do vigorous oversight over programs. For example, just in the last couple of days, I've been concerned about the administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicare services possibly, telling the insurance companies that they'll get cost-sharing money if they back this deeply-flawed House health bill. And so we've asked questions about that.

[07:25:07] And we're talking about the essential responsibilities of the Congress, which is to do vigorous oversight, and the pattern of non-cooperation we're now seeing with the White House.

CAMEROTA: But hold on a second. So you asked the about the centers for Medicaid and Medicare, and then what happens?

WYDEN: Well, first of all, this is just a very recent letter, and that's why I brought it up. Because I think it's a very current example. We want to know, first of all, since they are denying that there was such a linkage where they, in effect, held hostage this vital program for something that would involve political support, we were asking for specifics about what happened, since they denied it.

CAMEROTA: And what response? What response are you getting?

WYDEN: Well, as I indicated, we just sent this. But I can tell you, we sent a whole host of letters. One involved this matter of Chinese trademarks. It's just a complete stonewall. We get nothing.

CAMEROTA: You get nothing. You send a letter, and then you never hear a response from them. And this is unusual. You've never encountered this before?

WYDEN: I have never seen a pattern like this. As I say, I'm always prepared to cut a little bit of a break for a new administration. You've got new people. They're coming in. They're getting their footing. But we have never seen anything like this from either a Democratic or a Republican administration, this pattern of completely shutting down a response to congressional oversight.

CAMEROTA: OK. While I have you, I do want to ask about the CBO that has just, obviously, scored the House health care plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. The CBO finds that 23 million people will lose insurance in the next ten years. Republicans say that they don't trust the CBO; the CBO has gotten it wrong before. What's your reaction?

WYDEN: Well, first of all, they've always said in the past on health care that they were going to wait for the CBO score when we were talking about Democratic efforts.

But look, here's the bottom line, and the most telling section of this budget report involves the millions of people with pre-existing conditions. We established a guarantee of air-tight protection for those people. The Republican plans from the House rips a huge hole in that guarantee of protection, and the Congressional Budget Office, point blank, says that, if the state exercises its discretion, protection for those people could really go out the window, and they could pay a lot more for health care and get less.

CAMEROTA: So if it was all this exercise in futility anyway by the CBO, since as we hear, you senators are going to just go back to the drawing board and start over?

WYDEN: Well, understand that the Senate Republicans aren't going back to the drawing board. They are staying with their basic frame, which is hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts in programs for the vulnerable. Like vulnerable seniors that depend on nursing home care; and hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for the fortunate few. They may try to make some cosmetic changes. They may try to figure out a way to drive this through the Senate on a wholly partisan basis, but they are sticking with that basic frame. Huge cuts in Medicaid. Two out of three people who get Medicaid work in this country. And then hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthy. They're sticking with that.

CAMEROTA: OK. Let's talk about the budget that President Trump has released. You are, I think fair to say, not a fan. You tweeted this. You said, "This is where the Trump budget belongs." You're filing it in the circular recyclable file. What is your big problem with it?

WYDEN: This is a budget that you write if you think working people and vulnerable seniors have life too easy. It is, again, just very skewed. It is very clear that the most vulnerable people, the people who are going to our food banks, those on Meals on Wheels. I was a volunteer there. It was a great, great pantry. They're the ones who are going to feel the brunt of this. And the fortunate few just get to go about without making any sacrifices at all.

CAMEROTA: Senator Ron Wyden, thank you very much for taking time for NEW DAY.

WYDEN: Thanks for having me.


CUOMO: All right. So the CBO, as we're just hearing, they came out with a score on the GOP health care plan. But one senator has a test of his own for the bill to pass. We're going to ask Senator Bill Cassidy about that test and whether this bill passes it. Next.