Return to Transcripts main page


Republican Gianforte Leads in Montana Election; Jared Kushner Under FBI Scrutiny in Russia Probe; Greg Gianforte Wins in Montana Special Elections. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired May 26, 2017 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:25] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: We'd like to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.


We are following the breaking news out of Montana where the votes are being counted in a special election for the U.S. House of Representatives.

VAUSE: And in Washington, Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law now a focus of the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign ties to Russia. A lot more on that bombshell development a little later in the hour.

SESAY: Yes. But let's get first to Montana. And right now Republican Greg Gianforte is opening up a lead over Democrat Rob Quist as you see there on your screen. Gianforte with 49.9 percent of the vote, Democrat Rob Quist with 44.2 percent -- 56 percent of the vote counted so far.

VAUSE: This election has taken on a life of its own just past day after a reporter accused Gianforte of body slamming him during an interview. The Republican was heavily favored to win. And he's now facing misdemeanor assault charges.

We have a full house here for NEWSROOM L.A. tonight.

From Missoula, Montana at the Quist rally, CNN's Kyung Lah and here in Los Angeles, senior reporter for media and politics Dylan Byers, CNN political reporter Maeve Reston.

SESAY: And former Los Angeles City councilwoman Wendy Greuel is here with us, along with CNN political commentator and Trump supporter John Phillips.

Kyung -- let's go to you first as you are there at that Quist rally. We see that lead opening up for Gianforte -- what are folks saying where you are?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just spoke to a member of the campaign and the word out of them is they are concerned. They do not like being the name with the smaller number.

But they're pointing out that Missoula County has not come in yet. Missoula is a liberal county. They anticipate that that's going to help them but certainly as the night goes and the number grows, that vote spread grows they are getting more and more concerned.

But here's what they're pointing out. This was already an unpredictable race. They had no idea what to inspect. The audio made it even more unpredictable. So they're not going to go out there and they're going to say that this is over or that they think that they're waiting for all of the votes to come in.

At this point, they say they're just going to wait. They don't know what to expect, the audio they keep pointing to has made all of this a toss-up in this campaign's opinion.

But when you go out and talk to the voters, we're certainly hearing from a lot of GOP voters who say this inspired them to good out there to vote, that Gianforte is their guy -- John, Isha.

VAUSE: And Kyung just very quickly, it does seem that maybe -- has there been any backlash to that altercation between Gianforte and the reporter from the "Guardian" newspaper?

LAH: It's a little hard to hear you. I think you're asking if there has been any backlash on Gianforte. What we've been hearing from GOP voters and we went to a number of polling places, GOP voters feel more entrenched because of the audio.

And it's very surprising because the audio is so surprising you can hear them falling to the ground, you can hear the rage in the candidate's voice. And they find that encouraging that they think -- at least the voters we spoke with, this is what they want to send to Washington, that they are viewing the reporter and the mainstream media in general as somewhat of the enemy.

And we've heard it from the White House, that is something we keep hearing from the voters we've spoken to.

SESAY: And Kyung -- it's worth pointing out to our viewers that this has been a very, very costly race in Montana, perhaps the most expensive ever really compared to the last one in this regard. Talk to us about how this race has been run to date and before we had that explosive tape that came out on Wednesday.

LAH: The interesting thing about Montana is that it has certainly been expensive. Both sides have had a lot of money come in. What you've been hearing from both sides is that they keep pointing to each other saying it's outside money.

That's actually true. Outside money has come in from the national party, from super PACs and also from donors around the country. This is, in many people's minds, this will tell the country what people think about the Trump administration.

If Gianforte wins by a small margin, they're looking for single-digit win, if he wins by that small margin the Democrats here and the national Democrats are still going to consider this a victory because it will tell them in a state where Trump won by more than 20 percentage points that it's not looking good for them around the country. That's the Democratic viewpoint.

[00:05:03] SESAY: All right. Kyung Lah joining us there --

VAUSE: Great. Thank you -- Kyung.

SESAY: Yes. Kyung is at the Rob Quist campaign rally. Appreciate it -- Kyung. We'll check in with you in just a little while.

VAUSE: So Dylan -- let's start with you. If this election essentially came down to a choice between a candidate's behavior and party loyalty, if you're looking at these results right now it seems party loyalty is winning out.

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR REPORTER FOR MEDIA AND POLITICS: Party loyalty is actually winning out. And you know, what it reminds me of actually is the famous Billy Bush "Access Hollywood" tape with Trump. There's this enormous blow up in the media that effectively says, look, this proves -- this audio, this video proves this candidate does not have the temperament to lead. What is this going to do to votes in the 11th hour? And then lo and behold you see voters only feeling emboldened.

The issue for voters at home is not, clearly, is not a question of does this man respect women in the case of Donald Trump? Does this man know how to control his outrage in the case of Gianforte? It's bigger than that.

Those should be considerations one could argue, but it's a question about party loyalty. People have other -- voters have other things on their mind -- the economy, jobs, and so things like that that sort of we in the media all think are going to be a really big deal are not.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: And in this race in particular, healthcare was such a huge issue because, you know, the Republican bill came out as this was all being fought out in Montana. And, you know, there was some criticism on the part of Republicans that -- that, you know, that the Republican candidate was a little bit too wishy-washy about the bill and could have been more strongly supportive of it.

But those were the kinds of issues that really became important. And I think the most important thing also is that so much of the vote came in early --

SESAY: That's right.

RESTON: -- before this altercation. And so it's going to be very hard to tell what the final end --

SESAY: And it is also worth point out --

(CROSSTALK) VAUSE: We just have some of -- the latest numbers have just come in. 62 percent of the voters now counted -- sorry to interrupt. 50.3 percent for Gianforte; 43.8 percent for Quist, so that lead is now expanding for Gianforte -- 62 percent have been counted.

SESAY: And it is worth pointing out as we're talking about the whole question of party loyalty that neither of these candidates were particularly loved, if you will, by the electorate there in Montana. They weren't fluent candidates, I think many would say, in both cases.

BYERS: We're not in an environment where you necessarily have to support the candidate; you just have to hate the opposition. And in this case the opposition is not just Democrats, it's the media. We are living in an environment you can't ignore it where media -- it's not just a lack of trust in media, it's a real antipathy towards the media on an emotional level, on a visceral level.

The fact that Gianforte did what he did is, as we're seeing from Kyung Lah and other reporters on the ground, is something that many voters are celebrating.

VAUSE: Let's just listen to the altercation between Ben Jacobs and Gianforte. It happened about 24 hours ago now. This is the audio of the confrontation. Let's listen to what happened at his barbecue rally.



BEN JACOBS, THE "GUARDIAN": In terms of the CBO score because you know you were waiting to make your decision about healthcare until you saw the bill and it just came out. And what you --


JACOBS: Yes. But there's not going to be time. I'm just curious about --

GIANFORTE: Speak with Shane, please. Just --

I'm sick and tired of you guys. The last guy that came here he 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: You know, 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. Can I get you guys' names? He just body-slammed me.


VAUSE: Ok. Sorry -- to John Phillips -- if Gianforte wins and that's looking likely is that the type of representative Republicans want in Congress?

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the Rock said on "Saturday Night Live" that he's thinking about running for the presidency. So I guess Gianforte might think he's got to brush up on his body slams.

I'm of the belief you should never put your hands on someone. What he did was clearly wrong and the police and the prosecutors will deal with that. And he should have apologized.

But if you're going to body slam someone he picked the right target because people, particularly on the GOP side of the aisle, hate the media right now. The only people more unpopular than the media are politicians and lobbyists.

And I go back to what Tip O'Neill said which is all politics is local. The Democrats ran a horrible candidate in this particular race. And whenever you have a media market like this that's oversaturated and a lot of money was spent in a very small state like Montana, people just tune out.

When you have early voting and you have people tuning out I think you end up with a result like what we saw tonight.

SESAY: And Wendy, where do you stand on this issue? I mean you hear what John is saying and the fact that there hasn't been this blanket condemnation of what Gianforte did by Republicans, what do you make of that?

[00:10:04] WENDY GREUEL, FORMER L.A. COUNCILWOMAN: It's shocking to me. I mean as a formerly-elected official, I can't even fathom that you would get so frustrated with a question by a reporter that you would body slam them. And I think that this is unfortunately looking like a pattern in going to Washington.

And I wouldn't want to be a congress member today knowing that this guy was going to come there and be part of the discussion.

Part of what you do as an elected official is you are engaging with public, with the press and they have the freedom to ask you that question. You can answer it or not answer it, but to do anything that is of a violent nature sends a wrong message about what you are. You're a public servant.

VAUSE: You mentioned the response that we're hearing from Republican leaders and Democrat leaders. Let's listen to Nancy Pelosi from the Democrats and then also from the House Speaker Republican Paul Ryan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: There is no time where a physical altercation should occur with the press or with just between human beings. Should the gentleman apologize? Yes, I think he should apologize.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: This person who wants to be the one representative into the House of Representatives for Montana be sort of a wannabe Trump, you know, use language like that, treat people harshly like that. That's his model. Donald Trump's his model.


VAUSE: The Republicans seem to be -- John, why are the Republicans hedging here because, you know, they say he should apologize but that's kind of about as strong as it gets.

PHILLIPS: Well, Nancy Pelosi was on stage at the Democratic convention this week where John Burton the chairman of the party threw up both middle fingers and said "F Trump" and she stood there completely silent, actually kind of cheering him on as he was saying that.

Cynthia McKinney was a member of her caucus punched a police officer and she remained in good standing in the Democratic Caucus. Jim Moran attacked a teenager. So Nancy Pelosi was perfectly fine with this sort of thing when it's going on, on her side of the aisle.

RESTON: I don't know -- I mean, I don't know of every altercation that has occurred on both sides and whether we could actually, you know, do a comparison of that nature. But I mean, what is -- what is just unquestionable is that this is a pattern that began, you know, last year with hostility toward the press and a lot of, you know, supporters getting very angry at Trump rallies, et cetera, and shouting, you know, and threatening reporters.

Our Sara Murray, you know, her producer was followed to his car and the car was later keyed. I mean, there's just a lot of really unsettling things happening to reporters and a lot of people that are not thinking about, you know, protecting the role that the media does.

And I think that -- that, you know, this altercation in Montana maybe has started a good conversation about it, but the fact that Paul Ryan was repeatedly asked in that press conference this morning well, will you seat him? Will you go farther than that and he said that's something for the people of Montana to decide.

VAUSE: Yes, he punted basically.

RESTON: You know, then we're talking about, you know, a potential recall if the people in Montana feel strongly enough about it.

VAUSE: Very quickly.

BYERS: I think that's an important response from Ryan because at the end of the day we can talk here about what's right or wrong but the question really is up to the voters. Clearly you look at the 2016 campaign in the Trump rallies, you look at what happened here in Gianforte's lead right now, this is something -- this sort of John Wayne bravado is something that they're willing to tolerate.

I would just add very quickly what perhaps the greater offense is that his campaign then came out and lied --

VAUSE: Blatantly lied about it --

BYERS: -- through their teeth about what actually happened. (CROSSTALK)

BYERS: -- which, by the way, is not something a John Wayne or Gary Cooper might do.

SESAY: Let's pause. We'll take a quick break here.

Still to come all eyes are on the state of Montana where we'll soon learn if voters will in fact elect a congressional candidate charged with assaulting a reporter just a day ago.

Stay with us for our continuing election coverage.

VAUSE: Also ahead the FBI probe into Russian meddling now looking at those within the President Trump's innermost circle -- that would be his family.

Back in a moment.


PATRICK SNELL, CNN SPORTS: Hi there. I'm Patrick Snell with your "WORLD SPORT HEADLINES".

Manchester United and Manchester City jointly pledging 1 million pounds for an emergency fund set up to support the victims of Monday's terror attack in the city. United who won the Europa League final on Wednesday have now teamed up with their great rivals.

"It is right that we present a united response to this tragedy," the words of United's executive vice chairman Ed Woodward.

Meantime city chairman Khaldoon al Mubarak saying "We've been humbled by the strength and solidarity shown by Manchester."

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel with an impressive pace in the second practice of the Monaco Grand Prix was the German clocking the fastest lap ever around the famed circuit in Thursday practice. The four-time world champion topping the time sheets with the best effort of a minute, 12.720 seconds.

And as the countdown continues for the French Open which starts on Sunday, everyone surely in the worldwide tennis community certainly hoping will to get to see Petra Kvitova's return to the sport, this more than half a year after that horrific night attack she suffered in her very own home. The 26-year-old underwent several hours of surgery as a result. Kvitova, who's a two-time Wimbledon champion is due to host a press conference at Roland Garros with what looks like it's a last minute decision being taken on whether she will or won't compete.

That's a look at your "WORLD SPORT HEADLINES". I'm Patrick Snell.

VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. We're following the breaking news out of Montana where Republican Greg Gianforte is widening that lead in a special election for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Let's check out the numbers now up here on your screens. Right now Gianforte has 50 percent of the vote, Democrat Rob Quist has 44.1 percent and with that that's 72 percent of the vote that has been counted.

VAUSE: It looks like he's actually narrowed that lead maybe a little bit but we'll see.

SESAY: 17,618 votes ahead.

VAUSE: Ok. The election took a bizarre twist in the past 24 hours. Listen to the audio recording once more that reporter Ben Jacobs says came from his interaction with Greg Gianforte.


GIANFORTE: Speak with Shane, please. Just --

I'm sick and tired of you guys. The last guy that came here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here.


VAUSE: And Ben Jacobs the "Guardian" journalist joins us now. He is actually in Bozeman, Montana.

So Ben -- good to see you safe and sound. It appears that this incident, this alleged assault by Gianforte has impacted the race. But in some ways do you think maybe it's helped him?

JACOBS: It's hard for me to -- hard for me to tell that part of the issue -- it's hard to tell in general because so many of the votes in Montana were cast before election day that roughly two-thirds of the votes had been cast in advance.

And -- his assault on me happened on the day before the election at about 5:00 in the evening.

SESAY: Ben, listening to the audio, the situation seemed to escalate so quickly. Can you just walk us through what was going through your mind as it unfolded?

JACOBS: What was going through my mind was it all happened very suddenly that he grabbed my recorder and I suddenly looked on and was confused while he was grabbing my recorder and thinking how unprecedented and unusual for a politician to start grabbing a reporter's recorder which doesn't -- you know, this is how they reported on campaigns on Capitol Hill and usual.

[00:20:10] And as I sort of noticed that and noticed how weird it was I suddenly went from being vertical to horizontal and had Mr. Gianforte on top of me.

VAUSE: You know, many within the GOP leadership have remained silent on what happened or they kind of hedged on what happened -- I didn't know what happened. I haven't seen the video. I'm not entirely sure what went down. Has that surprised you?

JACOBS: Look, it's a complicated political situation and this is a very weird situation. I think this is -- I certainly know how weird it's been and surreal it's been for me to deal with it. I'm certain everyone else it's been something where there's no playbook, there's no guide for -- guide for a candidate body slamming a reporter, you know, a day before polls close.

SESAY: Ben, I was struck by something in the audio where Greg Gianforte he says to you the last time you came in here you did the same thing. Had you had a run-in with him before?

JACOBS: No, that was the first one I went -- I had been at several campaign stops and sort of seen him in track with voters but it seemed to be from the understanding I got from the campaign they were upset with some of my colleagues that had been out in Montana on a separate reporting trip several weeks ago but I had had no personal interaction with Gianforte before that.

I've been at events but had been holding back and not -- not, you know, I wanted to ask this question now because it was -- the CBO score was so important as we got to -- on the eve of the election.

VAUSE: Some within the Republican Party from House Speaker Paul Ryan have called for Gianforte to apologize to you for what happened. I'm assuming that hasn't happened yet and are you expecting that apology?

JACOBS: I haven't heard from them yet but I would assume that, you know, that the civilized thing to do when one adult acts in a, you know, physically assaults someone else, an apology would be in order because that's not something -- when you go beyond the issues between how politicians interact with journalists, it's not an appropriate way for human beings to interact with each other.

SESAY: All right. Ben Jacobs -- joining us there from Montana. Ben -- we really appreciate you joining us just to give us a little bit more insight into what happened and how this all played out. Thank you so much. Stay safe.

JACOBS: Thanks for having me.

VAUSE: Back with us once again CNN's Dylan Byers and Maeve Reston. So Dylan, many have drawn this direct line from what Gianforte did last night, and President Trump and his war with reporters. Let's listen to some of the rhetoric from the President when he was on the campaign trail.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people and they are. They are the enemy of the people.

I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth.

And this crooked media, you talk about crooked Hillary, they're worse than she is. I'm telling you they are so dishonest.


VAUSE: And, you know, the first two sound bites when he was president not just candidate. It seems that those who disagree with that connection between Gianforte's actions and Donald Trump, they seem to be Trump supporters.

BYERS: Yes, absolutely. And look at the reporting on the ground from our colleagues Kyung Lah, Lauren Fox too. They talk about what some of the others are saying. Some are saying they actually like what Gianforte did. Others are saying we didn't even listen to it. We didn't even listen to the audio. I mean we knew it was out there but we didn't care because it's just the liberal media.

There's this conversation that's happening among people who follow the news industry which is how can we bridge the sort of gap between all of those conservatives who don't trust the media and get them to start knowing that, you know, we're acting in good faith with good intentions? Maybe you can't because they're not even listening.

I mean, from the second that -- it's not as if they're reading the article and considering it or listening to the audio and considering it. They're just not paying attention to it because they don't trust us.

And this, by the way, you look at the tapes of Trump there, two things have happened. One, over the course of several decades the conservatives have done a masterful job at capitalizing the waning trust in media among conservatives and using it to their advantage.

But a second thing has happened too, which is that on occasion more than the media would probably like to admit, we have not told the story of conservative Americans, disenfranchised Americans who believed that they are losing their country.

The story we have largely been telling is a story that is more less in step with the arc of history as defined by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. That doesn't mean we favor them to win, it just means that that sort of vision of a progressive future, a global future and that is not one that resonates with so many conservative American voters.

[00:25:08] And so there is this chasm and no one exploited it as well as Donald Trump did.


BYERS: And no one made it as violent and aggressive and sinister as Donald Trump did. And that laid the foundation for the sorts of incidents that happened last night.

SESAY: And Maeve, you saw in that statement put out by Gianforte's campaign that they specifically and deliberately refer to Ben Jacobs as a liberal journalist. I mean that's code, that's signal.

RESTON: Right. Right -- definitely. I think that the idea or the case that Trump has framed is that there is this liberal media machine that's out there and is trying to take him down, is not reporting the real news and so clearly those kinds of statements play off of that.

I will say that it's difficult in this situation to generalize and it will be even as we look at the results because we also are reporters on the ground, also got other data which was that there were people going in saying they wanted to change their votes.

SESAY: Sure, yes.

RESTON: And telling, you know, election officials (inaudible) and they weren't, you know, they can't.

VAUSE: You can do that in some states you just can't do it in Montana.

RESTON: You can't do it in Montana.

So I think that, you know, that there are a lot of Republicans out there and Trump supporters who would not condone this kind of violence. But, you know, certainly some of the people who went to his rallies were, you know, far -- far out on the extreme and really encouraging and -- you know that clip you showed with Trump saying these are the most dishonest people and you'd be standing up there on the press riser and everyone in the crowd would turn around and point and shout at you and, you know.

SESAY: Sinister.

RESTON: That's that culture.

VAUSE: To your point about the conservative media because what happened last night in Montana played out very differently on the Trump part of the Internet. For instance Sinclair owned Montana TV, they didn't even play the audio in Montana.

We have a couple tweets as well. Brent Bozell, founder of News Busters, he tweeted this, "Jacobs is an obnoxious, dishonest, first- class jerk. I'm not surprised he got smacked." So that's theme number one, the guy deserved it.

Theme number two is they dispute it ever happened. Mike Cernovich (ph), a conservative blogger tweeted this, "The Guardian is fake news. I need videos, simply will not take anyone working there at his word. We've been lied to countless times."

Or just even question if it happened at all. The "Gateway Pundit" another conservative outlet wrote this. "There is no video," (in all caps), "which is strange but audio of the confrontation was uploaded on YouTube tonight. Wow."

All those could certainly be completely wrong, but if this is where conservatives are actually getting their news from, this is their sources, no wonder they hate the media, the mainstream media.

RESTON: Some conservatives. Right.

BYERS: Some conservatives.

RESTON: I think there's -- yes.

BYERS: And by the way, this is -- it's a topic for another day, but conservatives versus Republicans versus populists, look, first of all, to respond to some of those tweets, specifically to Brent Bozell, Ben Jacobs is not obnoxious. He's not a jerk. He's a good guy. He's a well-intentioned reporter. He's not even a liberal reporter.

The sort of -- the gall to use the platform that you have if you're Brent Bozell with that many followers and go out and make ad hominem attacks on the reputation of a journalist when there is audio, when the police did an investigation --

VAUSE: And the witness is from Fox News.

BYERS: Right. And then you have a team from Fox News, you know, which is a conservative media outlet, three reporters and producers there on the ground who say, look, he grabbed him, both hands, threw him to the ground. Ben Jacobs never did anything wrong.

I mean it is just -- it is so -- I understand that there's some people in this country who are going to believe in conspiracy theories, but for someone like Brent Bozell, to go out there and make these disingenuous ad hominem attacks on a well-intentioned reporter, you know, there's such a decline of civility in this country right now. And I understand it, I get where it comes from, but it's so disappointing.

RESTON: And in this case, I mean detectives determined probable cause existed to issue a citation for misdemeanor assault. It's not like this was, you know, something that just is going to good away. This will --

SESAY: Yes. He's going to appear in court.


SESAY: I do wonder where it's all going to end up. I just find myself wondering that, this climate -- what happens next? What's the next step in all of this?

VAUSE: Ok. Time to squeeze in another break. Dylan and Maeve -- thank you for staying with us because we have a lot more to get to.

SESAY: Yes. Thank you.

VAUSE: After the break Donald Trump's son-in-law and close adviser now being looked at by the FBI as it probes Russia's involvement in the U.S. presidential election. All the details after a short break.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

[00:3:53] SESAY: Hello, everyone, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I am Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: And I'm John Vause. Just gone 9:33 here on Thursday night on the West Coast. Let's get you up to date on all the breaking news.

Republican Greg Gianforte is opening up a sizeable lead in that special election in Montana. Right now he's leading Democrat Rob Quist 51.1 percent to 44 percent. 73 percent of the vote is in.

SESAY: Well, a bit of context here. Gianforte was the overwhelming favorite going into the race. He's there on the right of your screen. On Wednesday night Gianforte allegedly assaulted a report "The Guardian" newspaper. The Democrat Rob Quist is a popular folk singer and a first-time candidate.

Well, U.S. officials tells CNN that Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to President Trump, is under scrutiny by the FBI. And that means the investigation into Russian election meddling has now reached into the president's inner circle namely his family. Kushner is of course Mr. Trump's son-in-law. It's important to know Kushner has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

VAUSE: Of particular interest to investigators are a pair of meetings Kushner held, one with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. and the other with the head of a Russian bank sanctioned by the U.S. Kushner apparently has not been contacted by the FBI but his attorney says he's willing to talk to investigators or testify before Congress if asked.

[00:35:10] Well, back with us once again, CNN's Dylan Byers and Maeve Reston. Also former L.A. City councilwoman Wendy Greuel and CNN political commentator John Philips.

John, first to you, this does seem to be a significant moment in the investigation, not only does the investigation move in to the White House, it moves into the Trump family.

PHILIPS: It's another story without attribution that's meant to damage politically the White House. He hasn't been accused of breaking a law, he hasn't been accused of committing a crime, yet the bureaucracy is at war with the White House. The bureaucracy is trying to destroy this presidency and I'll tell you what, they need to find these leakers. If they're breaking the law they need to throw them in prison and if they're just breaking department protocol they need to lose their jobs and their pensions over this.

SESAY: Wendy, how much of a distraction -- I hear everything John was saying, but how much of a distraction is this going to be for this administration having Jared Kushner, the president's most trusted adviser, his son-in-law?

GREUEL: Every single day there is -- a new revelation of some kind of controversy and at a time when they're on their foreign trip and Kushner was front and center, this takes away from what they wanted to have as a successful trip in not only for NATO but also of course for Saudi Arabia and others.

I think it is going to be a big distraction because every single day many people are thinking I need to get a lawyer to protect myself. This is a serious investigation with the FBI, with a special prosecutor, special counsel, and many committees within the Congress. So they should be worried.

VAUSE: And so, Maeve, just to you in context, how serious is this for Jared Kushner and for the administration?

RESTON: Well, I think that we don't have enough facts yet to know that honestly. I mean, what's so interesting about his role is that he has been involved in every aspect of the campaign and has an extremely broad portfolio within the White House.

Our Evan Perez was reporting earlier tonight that beyond the two meetings that you mentioned that this also has something to do with the fact that he had oversight within the campaign of the data operation which was run out of -- out of Texas. So there -- you know, there's a lot more things that we need to learn about this, whether or not, you know, these contacts that he had beyond the meetings that we know about were -- you know, whether the campaign contacts were unwitting or if people didn't know, you know, who they were contacting, if it was a data situation in that way.

So I think that there's a lot to explore and we were very clear today in saying that, you know, while he is the focus of this investigation, that he is not a target of this investigation.

SESAY: That's right.

VAUSE: That he hasn't done anything wrong.


RESTON: Right. I mean, I don't -- I just don't think that we know enough in part because we're getting a series of leaks to put the whole puzzle together.

SESAY: And, Dylan, let me ask you this. We have seen in the past from this administration that when individuals have become a headline in these Russia probes, Manafort, Carter Page, when we've seen Michael Flynn that they've taken a huge step away from those individuals. I mean, what's the play here?

BYERS: Well that's a very good question because Jared Kushner is of course so close to the president. And for that very reason, with all due respect to John, and I do understand the sort of larger problem of leaks in Washington, it is extraordinarily relevant that this investigation is getting so close to the president himself. No one is closer to the president than his family, than his daughter, than his son-in-Law Jared Kushner. So that matters and that's significant.

Maeve is also right. We should proceed with caution here. We should --

SESAY: Sure.

BYERS: There's enough conspiracy theory going on in this country, the media doesn't need to be a part of that. We should proceed with caution, but look, this is a significant development. I think it puts the White House even more on its heels than it already was and we'll just have to wait and see.

VAUSE: It will be interesting to see how Sean Spicer describes Jared Kushner.


VAUSE: As some guy who dated the president's daughter, you know, and sort of (INAUDIBLE).

But, Wendy, some Democratic lawmakers are now calling for Kushner's security clearance to be pulled. What do you think?

GREUEL: Well, again, I go back to one thing, that until there's something that people have said this is illegal or improper, you do have to be cautious and you don't want it to be a witch hunt, but you also there is a lot of smoke up there on all of these things so I think you have to be judicious but also cautious.

VAUSE: And an update now on the election in Montana, CNN can now predict that the Republican Greg Gianforte will actually win the special election.


VAUSE: OK. So we'll have more of that.

SESAY: A lot more of the reaction.

VAUSE: We want to stick with Jared Kushner for just a little longer.

SESAY: Yes. And I want to talk -- I mean, John, we have seen this president take a tone that is harsh, it is critical of these Russia probes. He has tweeted, he has publicly criticized them, calling them a witch hunt, a taxpayer-funded charade.

[00:40:04] Now that his son-in-law is under scrutiny, does that change? PHILIPS: In terms of just the general picture we're not Argentina.

He's not Eva Peron. I wish he wouldn't hire his family. I'm generally against that and have been from the very beginning, but I still -- it's not clear to me what he did that was wrong. If you're a senior adviser to the campaign, you're talking to a lot of different people. He hasn't been accused of committing a crime, he hasn't been accused of breaking the law. When he's accused of breaking a law or committing a crime then to me it's something relevant. But until then, it's just more noise.

VAUSE: OK. I just want to let everybody know that we are expecting to hear from Gianforte, a victory speech any moment now so if we have to bail out on any conversation I just want to let you know that's what we'll be doing.

But let's just head back to Montana for a moment because obviously now, Dylan, the Republicans, another win. That means that they've had wins in Kansas, Georgia, Nebraska, and now Montana. They haven't gotten a win on the board for the Democrats.

BYERS: No, which is significant because Donald Trump's approval ratings are so low. Everyone's eyes are on 2018 thinking about what -- what is possible, how much can Democrats move the ball down the field in terms of picking up more House seats. There is even talk about the Democrats taking back the House, which is something that was once unthinkable.

Now if you can't win these special elections, what sort of groundwork does that set you up for, for 2018? And let's not just talk -- I mean, in each race is specific, each candidate is specific, maybe Quist was not the strongest candidate in Montana. That said, it's also a question of money. How much money are the Democrats going to be able to raise? The better a case that they can make to donors that says we can do this.

VAUSE: Well, you're right. But they raised a ton of money in Georgia and still didn't --

BYERS: But that's what I mean.


BYERS: At a certain point if you're a donor you're thinking, well, like, OK, you know, the Democrats as a whole, you need to exercise better leadership. You need to get your act together and figure out how to win some of these races because we're giving you a ton of money.


SESAY: Wendy -- sorry, Maeve, go ahead.

RESTON: Well, I was just going to say that I think that I had actually been talking to some Republican donors about the midterms this week and I think that, you know, there's a conversation happening on the Republican side about this, too. You know, there are -- there's a lot of people saying we don't know what the heck's going on in the White House right now. You know, is this a good investment or are we going to have potentially, you know, Donald Trump and Jared Kushner and everyone else, you know, under investigation through the entire year? How is that going to change the climate?

I think it's very difficult right now for anyone to predict how the midterms are going to go and or really read it too much. I know we all love to read the tea leaves out of these races but there's been so much turmoil and there are so many people that don't know what to think yet about the investigations that are under way.

VAUSE: Just -- so just a reminder we are waiting for Greg Gianforte to come up and address his supporters there in Montana.


VAUSE: That's going to happen any moment. The margin here, though, Wendy, would you see this as good news? It's 6 percent closer than --

GREUEL: And I think that this is an unusual circumstance situation. One, it's a special election. So there's a very short period of time and a lot of money was raised on both sides. But I think we talked earlier that 6 percent in a district, in a state that went for Trump, in a much larger percentage than 6 percent, it was 20 percent.

VAUSE: It was 23 percent I think.

GREUEL: 23 percent. So there -- you know, I guess probably picking away at being able to get some of these seats back. And I'll have to say that Democrats are enthusiastic, they are giving their money, they are going out and here in California going to those districts right now knocking on doors and talking to people about taking those seats back.


RESTON: But the state does have a Democratic governor and --

VAUSE: Senator, yes.

RESTON: And they tend to have that libertarian streak so in that sense I don't know that --

PHILIPS: And this guy lost state-wide the last time he ran for governor and I'd add Louisiana to the list because there was a run-off for that U.S. seat that was open in that state. If you look at the map and you look at the seats that the Democrats need to win to take back the House of Representatives, the targeted seats, it's people like Mimi Walters, Dana Rohrabacher, Ed Royce, if they can't win in Montana, there's no way they're going to win in Newport Beach.

SESAY: But --

RESTON: There's no way they're going to win in Huntington Beach.

GREUEL: I think you're not -- you know, you're looking at Knight also in California and you're looking at Darrell Issa, both of which we could take those back.

RESTON: Sure. Yes.

GREUEL: Those are the ones that actually could go Democrat.

BYERS: Just in going back here, the larger question is, is 2018 a referendum on Donald Trump the way that 2010 was a referendum on Barack Obama? And right now despite, you know, the -- you know, relatively cataclysmic approval rating that Donald Trump has had, that is not seeming to, yes, incrementally Democrats are making gains but at the end of the day one team wins and one team loses and right now the Republicans are winning.

SESAY: But another big question to ask is the importance of healthcare in this race as we saw it was pivotal at least in the race that Rob Quist ran.


SESAY: And we know obviously Greg Gianforte's feeling about healthcare when he was asked about it.

[00:45:03] Does this lead to a sigh of relief for Republicans, you know, who are going to have to vote on this, who will be facing midterm elections in 2018?

GREUEL: I don't believe so yet. I mean, again, we're what, 120 days, whatever the, you know, numbers are since President Trump was --

VAUSE: Is that all?


GREUEL: I know. It seems a lot longer.

VAUSE: A lot of road ahead.

GREUEL: And so, again, you know, we have another year, over a year and a half before we get to those November elections. And I think the Congressional Budget Office just came out with their report which says, you know, 23 million people will go without healthcare, that the people that have healthcare will have less of it and their premiums will go up. Sometimes until that hits you in the face, until people see that it impacts them, they may not vote for Democrat who says I want to keep Obamacare. So I think there's a lot of time between now and then.

PHILIPS: Running against Obamacare has been very good electorally for Republicans in 2010, in 2014, and again in 2016, and we've seen so in these special elections whenever the subject of healthcare has come up the Republicans have been able to win. Democrats have a lot of moral victories but they're not putting anything on the scoreboard.

VAUSE: And Trump wasn't the focus of this campaign.

BYERS: No, that's true. VAUSE: OK. OK. Gianforte has just emerged at that campaign rally.

He's basking in the glory of victory right now. Latest numbers we have 77 percent of the vote is counted, Gianforte 54.4 percent. And let's listen to him speak.



GIANFORTE: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Montana.


GIANFORTE: Tonight is all about you. Tonight is your victory. Over the last two years, you've made tens of thousands of phone calls. You've knocked on hundreds of thousands of doors. Thank you.


GIANFORTE: Suzanne and I have had the great pleasure of driving over 80,000 miles all over this great state, every one of our 56 counties multiple times and we stayed in your homes. And together, tonight, we won a victory for our treasured state.


GIANFORTE: Tonight we won a victory for all Montanans. Tonight we won a victory for our coal and timber families.


GIANFORTE: We won a victory for our farmers and our ranchers.


GIANFORTE: And we won a victory for our men and women in uniform and for our veterans. Thank you.


GIANFORTE: We won a victory for our Montana seniors.


GIANFORTE: And we won a victory for our Second Amendment.


GIANFORTE: And we also won a victory to keep our public lands in our public hands.


GIANFORTE: We won a victory for every hard working Montana family because every voice hasn't been heard. And for Montanans who have been left behind. Tonight, Montanans are sending a wakeup call to Washington, D.C.



GIANFORTE: Montanans said Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi can't call the shots here in Montana.


GIANFORTE: Montanans said we're going to drain the swamp.


GIANFORTE: And we have a lot of work to do and hard work is the way we get things done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You got it. You got it.

[00:50:08] GIANFORTE: And sometimes hard work is borne out of hard lessons. Last night I learned a lesson. And -- no, please, I need to share something from my heart here and I just ask you to bear with me.

And when you make a mistake, you have to own up to it. That's the Montana way.


GIANFORTE: Last night I made a mistake. And I took an action that I can't take back and I'm not proud of what happened. I should not have responded in the way that I did and for that I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you're forgiven.


GIANFORTE: I should not have treated that reporter that way. And for that, I'm sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs.


GIANFORTE: I also want to apologize for the FOX News team that was there and I'm sorry to each one of you that we had to go through this. That's not the person that I am and it's not the way I'll lead in this state.



GIANFORTE: Rest assured our work is just beginning, but it does begin with me taking responsibility for my own actions. You deserve a congressman who stays out of the limelight and just gets the job done. I promise to work hard to protect our precious way of life. I promise to be open and accessible and based on your input I'll be your strong voice back in Washington, D.C. (CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

GIANFORTE: I've always considered myself more of a workhorse than a show horse, and that's my promise to you. I'm going to Washington to get things done, to drain the swamp and fight for Montana families.


GIANFORTE: I will bring accountability to Washington, D.C. I'll support term limits and --


GIANFORTE: And banning members of Congress from becoming lobbyists and I'll hold the politicians accountable. If they can't balance the budget, they shouldn't get paid.


GIANFORTE: No balanced budget, no paycheck.


GIANFORTE: Washington won't like it, but it's time for America and Montana to come first again.


GIANFORTE: It just seems when people go to D.C. they drink the water and kind of slither into the swamp. That's why we're not moving to D.C. I'll commute and be back here traveling to every corner of the state as much as I can.


GIANFORTE: I'll be in all 56 counties so that your voice is heard. You've always been on my side and I pledge that I'll always be on your side. Montana sent a strong message tonight that we want a congressman who will work with president Trump to make America and Montana great again.


GIANFORTE: Thank you. Now I feel a deep sense of obligation and duty to this great state where Susan and I raised our family and built our business.

[00:55:06] Thank you for your support and this opportunity to serve.




GIANFORTE: Good night. God bless Montana and this great United States of America.


SESAY: A triumphant Greg Gianforte there, addressing his supporters. It's a good moment for him. I mean, he failed in that race for governor in 2016 but victory is his tonight.

VAUSE: And also offering an apology.

SESAY: That's the headline here.

VAUSE: To Ben Jacobs, the "Guardian" reporter who, you know, he had that altercation with just 24 hours ago. He said, I made a mistake, I want to own up to it. It's the Montana way. I am sorry. Should not have treated the reporter that way. And I apologize to Ben Jacobs.


VAUSE: So to, John, didn't expect the apology but what do you think?

PHILIPS: I think it was the proper thing to do. I said it at the top of the show, you should never put your hands on someone. He fessed up to it and that right there is a winning message. If he can stick to that and Republicans running in the heartland can stick to that message, I think they'll be just fine.

SESAY: Wendy.

VAUSE: Thirty seconds.

GREUEL: Well, I think it was a good thing for him to be able to say that he was sorry and to do it publicly and to do it right away, but I think we're all going to be watching if he can be effective. And many of the comments he made about balancing the budget --

VAUSE: Draining the swamp.

GREUEL: Draining the swamp.


GREUEL: There's a lot of work he's going to have to do to make that happen.

SESAY: It's going to be a workhorse, not a show horse.

GREUEL: That's right.

VAUSE: Wendy and John, and Dylan and Maeve, stay with us.

SESAY: Thank you so much.

VAUSE: A lot more on our coverage here on CNN.

SESAY: Yes. Indeed. We're going to have much more so on this, the new French President Emmanuel Macron met Donald Trump for the first time on Thursday and was treated to President Trump's handshake. We'll have more on the awkward NATO summit next. Stay with us.