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Montana Congressional Candidate Charged with Assault of Reporter; Interview with Reporter Involved in Confrontation; Explosives Expert: Bomb Design Likely Too Advanced For Bomber; Interview with Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired May 25, 2017 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -Thank you very much. We should let everyone know that we will speak to that reporter involved in the confrontation with the congressman, or the congressman who is hoping to become a Congress. It will happen in just minutes. So let's get right to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sick and tired of you guys. Get the hell out of here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Republican candidate now facing an assault charge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hoping to get them a basic statement. Next thing I know I'm being body slammed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're actually living in an environment that Donald Trump helped create.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jeff Sessions did not list meetings that he had with the Russian ambassador.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is yet another example of a Trump campaign official not disclosing all of their contacts with the Russian government.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: U.K. officials can't quite understand why these information are being released by U.S. officials.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The adversary gains an advantage. That's why the British are angry with us today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is a Thursday, May 25th, 8:00 now in the East. The Republican candidate for the congressional seat of Montana charged

with assault overnight, accused of body slamming a reporter. The confrontation captured on audio. There were witnesses. This happened on the eve of today's important special election. Maybe that's why we haven't heard much from that state's Republican Party or the GOP about the incident. In just three minutes the reporter involved in that fight is going to join us with his side of the story.

CAMEROTA: Also, there are new developments on Trump/Russia front. The Justice Department says that attorney general Jeff Sessions failed to disclose meetings with the Russian ambassador on a security clearance form. A top Democrat now demanding an investigation into Sessions.

We have all of this covered for you, so let's go first to CNN's Kyung Lah. She is live in Missoula, Montana. What is the latest in this crazy story, Kyung?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Crazy is exactly right, Alisyn. These polls, the polls in the state of Montana open in just one hour. And as voters head there, they are going to be walking in with this big talker. It is all over the local news. At this point we do not know if it is going to make a difference here, but the Democratic voters we spoke with, they are hoping this will be the game changer when it comes to turnout.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

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

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

BEN JACOBS, "GUARDIAN" REPORTER: The CBO scoring, because you have been waiting to make your decision about health care until you saw the bill. And it just came out.

GREG GIANFORTE (R), MONTANA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: We'll talk to you about that later.

JACOBS: I'm just curious --

GIANFORTE: OK, speak with Shane, please. I'm sick and tired of you guys. The last time you came in here you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here!

JACOBS: Jesus!

GIANFORTE: 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 like to call the police.

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

JACOBS: He grabs my recorder, throws me down. My glasses break. 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 then 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 barbecue."

Both the audio recording and eyewitness accounts contradicting Gianforte's defense. A team from FOX News 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 opponent choosing not to address the incident in an interview Wednesday night.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there anything you want to say about the audio?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that's more for law enforcement to understand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAH: Now, the sheriff's office in a statement says that Gianforte he is scheduled to appear in court on those misdemeanor assault charges sometime between now and June 7th. What voters will be deciding this morning and throughout the day is whether he'll walk in as a private citizen or their congressman. Chris?

[08:05:13] CUOMO: And already 70 percent voted with early voting, so that won't play a role in all those votes. All right, Kyung, thank you very much. Let us know what happens.

Joining us right now by phone is that "Guardian" reporter Ben Jacobs. Ben, can you hear me?

BEN JACOBS, "GUARDIAN REPORTER": Yes, I can hear you. Thanks for having me, Chris.

CUOMO: No, no, no, appreciate it. Very important. I heard that you had some x-rays done. You OK?

JACOBS: Yes, it's negative. I'm still on a bunch of Advil and got to keep my arm raised. So hopefully it shouldn't be anything too -- it will ruin my tennis backhand for Memorial Day weekend.

CUOMO: That's all right. At least you have an excuse now.

Let's go through the questions of fact that are relevant. One, where were you? Was it a private room you were supposed to not be in?

JACOBS: No, it was an open room in the campaign headquarters, but it was not marked off in any way. I went over to ask the congressman a question in a way as he was chatting, making small talk with other reporters in way that waiting to join in the conversation in a way that characterizes most normal human interaction.

CUOMO: Right And there were other media there, as you're suggesting, so it is not like you were alone or barged into a private discussion.

JACOBS: No, no. And as the audio makes very clear, I politely asked the congressman about the health care bill that he said he was waiting until the CBO score came in to make up his mind about health care, and wanted the opportunity to ask him about that now that it was less than a day before the election to try to at least ask the question one more time with that information available.

CUOMO: It's the right question at the right time. Nobody is going to doubt that if they know anything about the job. The suggestion that you touched him first -- did you ever lay hands on him? Did you grab his wrist? Did you do anything?

JACOBS: No. I mean, the Gianforte statement, they got my name right and they got my employer right, but other than that there was not a single factually correct element there. That was totally false.

CUOMO: Now, you could not have seen this coming. I can't even detect within the audio how the mood changed so rapidly. What did you perceive?

JACOBS: I didn't perceive anything. It was a very strange moment that he suddenly grabs my recorder and things go haywire from there. I have spent a lot of time reporting on Capitol Hill, a lot of time asking politicians questions about health care, and it's never, never ended in any sort of altercation. You know, I have been covering politics for the better part of a decade, you know, covering the presidential debate. It was unexpected and surreal.

CUOMO: Did it register with him at all. Again, it's tough to tell from the audio. And you kept your cool very well in that situation, I've got to tell you. Do you think he realized what a big mistake he had made?

JACOBS: I'm not entirely sure. It should have all happened, and once he was off of me my initial concerns were simply making sure I was OK, trying to figure out what happened, and also making sure I had, you know, could figure out my glasses so I could at least see how I was getting out of the building.

CUOMO: Did he apologize? Did the staff apologize?

JACOBS: No.

CUOMO: Then or since?

JACOBS: No. I've not had any communication with them. The only communication I had afterwards with the staff insisting I have to leave the building, which I was happy -- happy to get out of at that point.

CUOMO: Are you going to continue with the pressing of charges?

JACOBS: I'm still trying to -- still trying to figure out what's going on. Right now, it's very important, you know, with everything journalists are going through right now to make sure that -- make sure that free press is respected and the First Amendment is respected and that's really what's most important is the fact that so many journalists are facing so much and this is such an important statement that in the United States, you know, reporters can ask policy questions to politicians.

CUOMO: Right. And, look, let's talk about that for one second here. I don't want to keep you all morning. I know you are doing a job, and you're good at it. I know your reporting and I know you by reputation. And I know you don't want to be a political figure and a part of a controversy. I get it. We're doing the same job. But let's talk about that. Do you believe that what happened with you and John forte is reflective of a dynamic between politicians, specifically those on the right, and the media?

[08:10:05] JACOBS: The interaction I had with -- that interaction was so unusual. I mean, I report on Republicans. I have reported on the presidential campaign. I have never encountered that. I have had supportive emails, tweets, text message from Republican politicians, Republican consultants, Republican operatives that I wouldn't want to tar anybody or anything with this. This was one very unusual and surreal interaction and, you know, having reported on enough folks, this is the first time and hopefully the last time I will ever get body slammed by a politician.

CUOMO: God willing. And just to be clear, you had no history with Gianforte. There was no bad blood. I know he had feelings about "The Guardian," but not with you?

JACOBS: Yes. I had been to a couple of his events, but I hadn't interacted with him. I stood around in the background watch him talk to voters, but I had not -- I hadn't dealt with him. I think I had done one or two stories on the race, but it was nothing where I directly dealt with the kind of one-on-one before.

CUOMO: Well, Ben Jacobs, thank you for coming on to clarify this situation. Good luck going forwards. I welcome you back to NEW DAY when you have a scoop and you are not the subject of the story hopefully.

JACOBS: Thanks. I hope not to be the subject of any more stories in the foreseeable future.

CUOMO: You are making strong points on this one. Ben Jacobs, thank you. Be well.

JACOBS: Thanks.

CAMEROTA: Hard to imagine anybody ever dealing with a situation like that with more equanimity than what we just heard from Ben Jacobs.

CUOMO: He doesn't want to blame all politicians. He says he has good interactions with people on the right. He's not grandstanding. He's not forwarding an agenda, but he did clarify facts. He was not in some private room. He did not interrupt a private discussion. He did not touch Gianforte. He did not have an inimical history with Gianforte, and he didn't see this coming. He didn't even respond once it happened. He didn't even return force. I don't know how the guy escapes the charges except they are misdemeanor charges, which are pretty low level.

CAMEROTA: OK, so let's discuss this with CNN's politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza, and CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod. David Axelrod, what if Gianforte, this candidate with an apparent hair trigger temper, wins today?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, they may have to put rubber padding in the aisles, in the corridors of Congress because reporters ask irritating questions all the time. That's their job. What's interesting about this is the context of the confrontation because Gianforte has been dogged for weeks by this health care bill. He had said one thing publically, which was to be questioning, and he said privately to a Republican that he supported it and he was happy that it passed. And this has dogged him. It is one of the reasons why a race that shouldn't be close has been close. So he just snapped when he got asked about that CBO report. So, look, he's been working hard to win a term. Who knew it might be in the Missoula county jail?

(LAUGHTER)

CUOMO: Listen, look, there is a comical nature to this because of how absurd it is, Cillizza. And what I'm seizing on is not the event but the response to the event. Gianforte has gone quiet ostensibly because he wants to win his race. And that's fine and self-serving. He'll deal with the courts. But I do think it's a question for the party, I do think it's a question for other Republicans and the GOP. We know what's going on here. We know the environment is ugly. We know that there's been a ratcheting up of hostility towards the media. It had been talk. There have been some pushing and shoving, some incidents, and now this is a flash point. It is a time to stand up and say what's right and what it isn't. Not to shut up because you want to win a seat in congress. CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: Agree. Look, I'll

give him a pass over last night because it happened relatively late and there were a fair number -- I went to bed about 11:30 eastern time. There were a fair number of details that were still a little bit up in the air. He hadn't been charged with assault, misdemeanor assault, by the way, when I went to bed. So I'll give him a pass on last night.

But as we move into today, you can't just defer all questions to the Gianforte campaign. You can't do that. That's what national Republicans were doing last night. If you are Paul Ryan, you need to say something that says, you know, this is not conduct that we condone. Now, the issue here, in some ways Republicans worst nightmare yesterday would have been Gianforte losing. Today in some ways their worst nightmare may be Gianforte losing because losing would be clearly a bad thing. This is a state that Donald Trump won by 20 points and the seat he won by 20 points. This is not a race that should be close.

[08:15:00] So, losing would be bad. That said, what do they do if he wins? He's facing a misdemeanor assault charge.

To your point, Chris, it is not a felony. But you don't usually want your newest member of Congress facing an assault charge heading into Congress. They can refuse to seat him.

I mean, there is -- him winning actually creates a longer, more difficult story for them than he losing. You say this race had nothing to do with Donald Trump and the national environment, though it certainly does.

AXELROD: Yes, right.

CILLIZZA: He wins, you've got to deal with -- David Axelrod knows. Dealing with these situations sometimes when you get what you think you wanted, it complicates things much more for a party than it might if Gianforte just disappeared after today.

CUOMO: David Axelrod, let me switch topics for you here, if you don't mind.

AXELROD: Yes, yes.

CILLIZZA: The story coming out of the U.K. about the leaks. They believe that U.S. officials or media somehow got information they didn't want out, put it out into the free space. They don't like it. They're not going to share any more information on Manchester. There's no indication that there's an overall break in the relationship.

But leaks, when are leaks bad? When are leaks good? What do you think the perspective is to have on this story?

AXELROD: Well, you know, look, this was a discussion all throughout the Obama administration because the Obama administration was tough on national security leakers. Look, leaks are bad when they jeopardize the sources and methods of gathering intelligence because oftentimes that endangers people who are in the field. And I'm sure that's what -- or impedes an investigation. And that's what the British are concerned about.

And this has been a concern forever, national security leaks that become more of a concern under this administration, in part because of the president's overt blunders and also because I heard from friends in Europe, who are ex-government officials from the beginning that this whole Russia cloud gives them some pause as to how much to share because they know it all goes to the president and the people around him.

So, you know, this is a thing that has to be cleared up or what's going to happen is our allies are not going to share -- fully share intelligence with us and that jeopardizes safety. That jeopardizes our ability to react to threats.

CAMEROTA: That would be a real problem if the U.K. and Israel stopped sharing intel with the U.S. but today they're both angry with what's happening.

So thank you very much. David Axelrod, Chris Cillizza, great to talk to you.

CUOMO: All right. We're also getting new details about the terrorist who attacked the Manchester arena and the bomb that he used. Authorities are carrying out raids in connection with the attack. There could be more arrests.

CNN senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward live in Manchester.

For U.S., the intrigue about leaks aside, the sophistication of the bomb itself is not matching up with the unsophisticated nature of the bomber. And that raises questions such as?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It raises a lot of questions, Chris, exactly. We presented these images that have been published by "The New York Times" to an explosives expert and they said there is just no way. It doesn't make sense.

The bomb is quite clearly above a rudimentary level, whereas that doesn't seem to match with Salman Abedi, the 22-year-old studying business and management. Where would he get that know-how from?

And, Chris, we are learning more details starting to trickle in about the investigation. We are learning now that the bomber himself, when he came back to the United Kingdom from Libya, he did not fly directly here. He transited through the German city of Dusseldorf. The Dusseldorf police confirming that to CNN just now. Possible that he would have transited through Germany in order to throw authorities off the scent and obscure his country of origin.

As you said before, the net keeps widening. We've got eight people now who have been arrested, raids ongoing and the focus of these raids and arrests really to find out about the bomb maker. Who made that bomb? Who taught Salman to make the bomb if he indeed made it himself? No one wants to see anything like this happen again, Chris.

CAMEROTA: I'll take it, Clarissa. Thank you very much for that reporting.

Meanwhile, former national security adviser Michael Flynn facing multiple subpoenas. Are lawmakers getting the answers they want in the Russia investigation? A Republican on the Senate Intel Committee next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:23:10] CAMEROTA: Former national security adviser Michael Flynn facing a number of subpoenas this morning concerning his contacts with Russian officials. House committee preparing to issue one after the Senate committee issued two that targets Flynn's businesses. Flynn has already invoked the Fifth Amendment in response to a previous subpoena attempt.

Joining us now is Republican Senator James Lankford. He's on the Intelligence Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for being here.

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Obviously, it is Flynn's prerogative to invoke the Fifth. That's all of our right as an American. How are you going to get information out of him?

LANKFORD: The key thing is we need to have the information period. Obviously, it is his right as you mentioned before to be able to invoke the Fifth and not do self-incrimination. We have to be able to know the facts. So, we're going to continue to reach out and we're going to continue to work with him, and get as much information as we possibly can.

We have obviously subpoenaed business records for him. Businesses are not protected by a fifth amendment. Individuals are. So, we're going to gather as much information as we can to be able to get to the facts.

CAMEROTA: What if he doesn't turn over those business records?

LANKFORD: Well, we'll keep pushing, quite frankly. We're going to continue to be able to work to the process. We work with our attorneys to be able to determine what are the parameters of where we can go, and we're going to try to use every tool that we can to be able to get to the facts.

CAMEROTA: Is it your --

LANKFORD: This is one part of the investigation.

CAMEROTA: But isn't it your impression that all investigative threads lead through Michael Flynn? LANKFORD: No, not all, by any means. This is a thread. This is a

part of the investigation. It is an important part of the investigation.

We have done a few interviews around this issue. We will continue to do more after this. We want to sit down with him as well, hear his side of the story and be able to get the facts.

CAMEROTA: Is there any irony to you that Michael Flynn and Donald Trump, then candidate Trump really condemned people who took the Fifth? During the campaign they said that basically spelled guilt when they were referring to anybody who wanted to exercise that right as connected to Hillary Clinton's e-mails?

[08:25:06] LANKFORD: Right. It is ironic obviously.

We had about -- I don't remember the number now, nine or ten individuals during the Obama administration that took the Fifth Amendment. Obviously, none of those were compelled to be able to push beyond their testimony. They were brought before Congress, pled the Fifth, we moved on from there to gather other information.

Again, as you mentioned before, it is an American's right to be able to do that, but it is our responsibility to still get to the bottom of the facts.

CAMEROTA: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, let's talk about him. He did not disclose some of his meetings with Russians on his security clearance forms. Are you concerned?

LANKFORD: Not only concern based on what those meetings might have been. Again, as a member of the Senate, right now, for me, I would tell you I interact from a lot of people from around the world and trying to get on a list of everyone I have ever met with on any issue, especially if it is an issue where you bump into someone in a meeting, whether it's a meeting where there's a lot of people there. I want to know what those were. That's entirely reasonable and before I would pass any judgment about whether there was an issue here.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, how are you going to get to that? Because what he is saying, what Jeff Sessions' office is saying that there were so many casual encounters like those you are describing that, you know, he couldn't basically fit it on the form and didn't think those need to be disclosed. How are you going to separate those?

LANKFORD: Ultimately, I'm going to pick apart every single one of them because there are a lot of casual meetings. When you're in the Senate, you meet a lot of people. You interact with a lot of folks at a lot of different events that are out there representing the United States and they are representing their country. So, we want to be able to ask him the basic question and clear up the record. We'll go from there.

CAMEROTA: Let's talk about the situation with Britain now and Israel. Both of these countries, the U.S. two closest allies at the moment are angry with the U.S. because of intelligence leaks. In fact, so much so that Britain says that they are not going to share intel about the Manchester terrorist attack with the United States. Where does this leave us?

LANKFORD: I would actually disagree with the premise on that because I know Israel is not necessarily angry with it, and the British have already engaged on intelligence sharing with us on Manchester.

(CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: Just to stop you, because the paragraphs of the crime scene and in fact some of the ingredients of the bomb were displayed, that, as I understand it, is what has upset British intel because they think those have hallmarks on it that they didn't want out in the public.

LANKFORD: Well, I would only say they have been active (ph) to be able share with us. We do engage. There are lots of times that allies will challenge each other on issues.

This one I am not concerned about. They're a very close ally. We do a lot of intelligence sharing together because we face a common threat and a common enemy and it is important we continue to cooperate together.

CAMEROTA: But are you saying that Israel is not angry that president Trump divulged highly classified information to the Russians in the Oval Office?

LANKFORD: I would still say that we're cooperating very intensely with the Israelis on a common thread. Whether there was someone angry in the process, I'm sure there is someone angry. There is always is back and forth in the push and pull. But in the whole, the two entities, we continue to be able to cooperate together, recently as just this week.

CAMEROTA: Does it concern you that president Trump shared classified information with the Russians in the Oval Office about ISIS?

LANKFORD: Yes. I have tried to be very, very careful with what I say and what I do. I assume the president would do the same. The president, as any president would, as you're talking to a foreign leader, would occasionally be able to poke through some issues and say this is important we talk about and this is the reason why. I'll let the president make his own decisions, as I did for President Obama on some of those same issues.

There were times when the Obama administration, there were public statements were made that I also disagreed with. We would have private conversations about that and then move on. I'll do the same with the Trump administration.

It actually makes it a bigger issue to be able continue to raise it in the media than it was initially when it came out the first time.

CAMEROTA: So, you plan to have a private conversation with the Trump administration about this?

LANKFORD: That's how I have typically run issues like that. Yes, ma'am.

CAMEROTA: Senator, thanks so much for being on with us.

LANKFORD: You bet. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Chris?

CUOMO: All right. Next up, insight from the other side of the aisle on Russia developments. House minority whip, Democrat Steny Hoyer, joins us live next. Both sides here on NEW DAY.