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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
New Questions About Kushner's Meeting With Russian Banker; Aired 7-8p ET
Aired May 26, 2017 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Up next, breaking news. How a fake Russian document influenced James Comey's investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails. It's a CNN exclusive. Plus Trump's close advisor Jared Kushner now under FBI scrutiny. Calls deny for his security clearance to be revoked. And Flowerpower, Melania Trump turning heads with a fifty-one-thousand-dollar jacket. Let's go OutFront. Good evening, I'm Pamela Brown in Erin Burnett on this Friday.
And OutFront tonight, new and exclusive details about Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. Russian disinformation at the highest level of America's government helps explain this. Then FBI Director James Comey deciding to take the reins and ending the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails. A decision he made on his own. His news conference announcing it generate a fury. Now it seems that news conference -- that news conference probably would have not happened without Russian intrusion.
Trump fired Comey 17 days ago initially claiming it was Comey's handling of the Clinton probe that forced him to give the FBI Director the boot. Dana Bash have break to story. So Dana, what more are you learning?
DANA BASH, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, CNN has learned that then FBI Director James Comey knew that a critical piece of Russian information related to the Hillary Clinton email investigation was fake. But he felt that he needed to take action anyway because he was concerned that if the information became public, it would undermine the investigation and the justice department itself. So, this is coming to us according to multiple sources talking to my colleague Shimon Prokupecz, Gloria Borger and myself.
These concerns were a major factor in Comey deciding to publicly declare that the Clinton probe was over last summer without consulting then Attorney General Loretta Lynch. You may remember that earlier this week the Washington Post reported on this intelligence about the doubts of it and its credibility. The fact that Comey felt he had to act a based on Russian disinformation is a stark example of how Russian interference impacted decision making at the highest levels of the U.S. Government during the 2016 campaign.
The Russian information at issue claims to show that then Attorney General Lynch had been compromised in the Clinton investigation because of e-mails by then DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and a political operative saying that Lynch would make the FBI Clinton Probe go away. According to one government official in classified briefings, Comey told lawmakers that he was afraid the information would "drop and undermine the investigation."
But Comey did not tell lawmakers that he doubted the accuracy of the information, even in a classified setting. According to sources close to Comey, the FBI director felt that the validity of the information didn't matter because if it became public, they have no way to discredit it without burning sources and methods, Pamela.
BROWN: And in public, Dana, the reason Comey gave for breaking protocol and holding that press conference himself was because Bill Clinton boarded Loretta Lynch's plane and talked to her during the investigation. So how did that factor into this decision last July?
BASH: Well, that's exactly right. And you remember the FBI Director said so publicly when he testified for the last time in May but in those classified sessions Comey didn't even mention the plane incident, I'm told. Instead, he told lawmaker that this Russian information was the primary reason he took the unusual step to announce the end of the Clinton probe.
BROWN: And to be clear, I mean, all of this sounds like Russians were successful in interfering in the election in a way that we didn't realize before now with your reporting.
BASH: That's right. And look, you and I are hearing this, you pretty much probably every day about the fact that this is something that Russia has not given up on influencing this country but this particular issue, think about the chain of events that it helped set off. When Comey held his press conference in July of 2016 announcing no charges against Clinton, he also took the extraordinary and many people say inappropriate step of calling her "extremely careless"
Clinton aides are convinced that her reputation was damaged her with voters. And she never recovered that probably wouldn't have happened without Russian interference. Also, talking to many officials on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, dissemination of fake information is still a major issue. Multiple sources tell us that Russia is still trying to spread false information in order to cloud and confuse ongoing investigations, Pamela.
BROWN: All right. Because they think what they did during the past was a success in their few. Dana Bash, thank you very much for that. And OutFront tonight, the top democrat on the House Foreign Affairs committee, Congressman Eliot Engel. Congressman, great to have you on.
REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), NEW YORK: Great to be here. Thank you.
BROWN: So what did you think when you heard Dana's reporting that James Comey knew the memo was likely fake but took action anyway fearing that it would undermine the investigation if it became public?
ENGEL: I don't know if James Comey, it seems to me you never know what you get. One time he's doing the right thing, one time it looks like he's doing the wrong thing, one time he's saying something 12 days before the election, he announced this investigation in Hillary Clinton. Again, Hillary Clinton is convinced that that cost her the election. I think she's probably right. So, I don't know. All I know is that there's a lot of funny stuff going around and the only way we can get at it is to have an independent commission like the 9/11 commission to find out -- find the truth.
Find out who knew what and what happened. And I think that's the only way we'll get it. And I hope congress will move on that forthwith. We couldn't get it through committee, so we put on the floor a bill which people are signing, if you get a majority of members signing, you can bypass the committee and we're just hoping that will happen. But the American people have the right to know what's going on, what has gone on, what's still going on and the only you can do that is with an independent commission appointed by the congress.
Wouldn't have to answer to the executive branch. I'm very glad there's a special counsel but I will tell you the special counsel can be fired by the president. I want an independent commission that the -- that the executive cannot touch.
BROWN: OK. So that's your view on that but back to Dana's reporting and this Russian disinformation campaign in a way that had not been previously revealed. Does it make a difference to you, though, whether or not Director Comey knew that this document was fake when he held the press conference last July?
ENGEL: Of course it matters unless --
BROWN: In what way?
ENGEL: Well, because if he knew it was fake, I mean, when you're going into a presidential elections, there are many, many things that make up people's factor and to people's decisions on who to vote for. I think the American people have a right to know, have the right to know, still have the right to know. What was true and what was not true. And that's why this whole thing with Russia getting involved in our elections and trying to influence it one way or another is very disconcerting because any attempt to throw away our democracy or to tackle our democracy as the Russians have done should not be tolerated.
If Mr. Comey knew that, if he's going on T.V. or making a report, then he has a right to tell the American people everything he knows. Or else, what he's giving is only half a story and half a story can be a phony story.
BROWN: And of course we know that he does want to testify but that is complicated with the fact that there is now the special probe overseen by Robert Mueller. I want to ask you this though, you were critical of Comey's handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation as we just heard from you, but you were also critical of President Trump's firing of Comey. Knowing what you know now about the decisions he made and why he made them, have you changed your opinion at all?
ENGEL: No. Because it goes beyond Trump and Comey. I mean, I think that Comey had the right to be independent. It certainly seemed like once Comey was sniffing by Trump's door, Trump got rid of him. He didn't get rid of him beforehand and then the president said, well, he got rid of him because of what he did to Hillary Clinton. I don't think anybody really believes that. And the question is, did the president get rid of Comey because Comey was catching on to things the president didn't want him to catch on to.
I don't know the answer to that but I certainly would like to know and again, I think that's what I think we need a commission to get to the truth in this matter and every matter.
BROWN: And of course as we have reported previously, Robert Mueller will be looking into obstruction -- possible obstruction of justice as part of his investigation. And yesterday, Congressman, Erin Burnett yesterday with Clinton's Campaign Manager Robby Mook and asked him about this fake document. Here's some of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: It's frightening to me the extent now it seems of Russian intervention not just in our election process but now in our government and the execution of justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So, are you concerned that there could be other fake Russian documents floating around Washington that could be influencing other investigations.
ENGEL: Absolutely. I agree with Robby Mook and really again, even take it one step further. I think the American people have a right to know the truth really is. There's all kinds of rumors, there's all kinds of innuendo, there's all kind of things moving around. We need to get at the truth. I think r. Mueller is terrific but he serves at the pressures of the president. I want a commission that can't be fired, that can go into every nook and cranny and tell the American people what went on and what's still going on because as far as we know, the Russians are still trying to influence events in the United States. And it's obviously very disconcerting.
BROWN: And what about looking toward the future given the fact that Russians believe that these tactics were successful, are you concerned that this will just continue, this kind of behavior with fake documents, fake news, et cetera?
ENGEL: Yes. I'm very concerned and frankly not only with us, but with our NATO allies, the U.K., and France and Germany, there's all kinds of indications that the Russians have tried to interfere with their elections and with things in general. So I think it's really important to get to the truth and the American people deserve nothing less. And let the chips fall where will they may.
BROWN: All right, Congressman Engel. Thank you very much.
ENGEL: Thank you. BROWN: And OutFront, up next, Justin Kushner back in the U.S. amid new questions about his ties to Russia. Should the security clearance be revoked? Plus one of the president's observers says Trump has been "a complete disaster." Which republican slamming him? And Melania Trump's coat, is it really worth $50,000? We'll be right back.
BROWN: Breaking news tonight. New calls for the president's son-in- law and key advisor Jared Kushner to lose his security clearance. And the letter the DNC is pressing the government to suspend Kushner's clearance while he is the focus of the FBI's investigation into Russia, CNN reported yesterday. Now officials say the FBI is scrutinizing meetings Kushner had with Russian officials prior to the inauguration including a Russian banker who has questionable ties to Vladimir Putin. Matthew Chance is OutFront.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the man Jared Kushner admit he met just one month after Donald Trump was elected president. His name is Sergey Gorkov, handpicked by Vladimir Putin to run one of Russia's most powerful banks, VEB. The state-run bank finances Putin's grandest ambitions like the $50 billion Sochi Olympics. But VEB was also placed under sanctions by the Obama administration. Those sanctions pushed the bank to the brink of collapse.
In February 2016, President Putin appointed Gorkov to turn the bank's fortunes around. In December that year, around the time of his meeting with Jared Kushner, Gorkov told Russian television he was hoping to get some relief from U.S. sanctions.
SERGEY GORKOV, VNESHECONOMBANK CHAIRMAN(through translator): Well, sanctions definitely are not helping us. We hope that they could be adjusted in a positive way.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With a new administration coming into power?
GORKOV: Possibly but we're not preparing for this scenario. Let it be a surprise to us.
CHANCE: In a statement to CNN, VEB Bank says, meetings were held with representatives from the largest banks and business circle in United States including Jared Kushner, the head of Kushner Companies. According to the bank the meetings took on the format of a road show on development strategy. The White House maintains there was no improper contact between Kushner and the Russians.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He met with countless individuals. That was part of his job, that was part of his role and he executed it completely as he was supposed to.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So he doesn't believe he owes the American public an explanation?
SPICER: For what? Doing his job? CHANCE: VEB has been used a cover for Russian espionage. One of its
employees, Evgeny Buryakov pleaded guilty in a New York court last year to spying on America while posing as a VEB banker. Gorkov himself graduated from the academy of the Federal Security Service in Moscow. The Russian school for agents of the FSB, formerly known of course as the KGB. Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.
BROWN: Breaking news. Tonight, the Washington Post reporting what Jared Kushner and Russia's Ambassador Sergey Kislyak discussed setting up a secret and secured communication channel between the Kremlin and Trump's transition team. This discussion taking place during the December meeting at Trump Tower that we previously reported on. And we should note that the White House declined to comment. The news coming as we're learning Jared Kushner is now a focus of the FBI's investigation into Russia.
OutFront tonight, our panel, Tony Blinken, former deputy secretary of state under President Obama, Steve Hall, former CIA chief of Russia operations and former republican Congressman Jack Kingston, he was an advisor to the Trump campaign and CNN Presidential Historian and former director of the Nixon Presidential Library Tim Naftali. Last but not least, former White House communications director for President Obama Jen Psaki and Congressman Engel back with me now.
Thank you all for coming on. Lots to discuss with this breaking news from the Washington Post. I want to go to you first, Tony Blinken for a perspective. Is it unusual or inappropriate or whatever the case may be or common for officials in the transition to be working with an ambassador to Russia to try to find a back channel to the kremlin? Put this in perspective for us. How significant is it?
TONY BLINKEN, FORMER DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: You know, Pamela, it is -- it is unusual. I mean, the contacts in and of themselves may not be but going ahead even before the administration is in place and trying to set up a back channel is something that's unusual. And you usually have one administration at a time and this would seem to cross that line. But the other I think challenge we have here is this. Here's what we know.
We know that the Russians were working overtime to interfere in the election. We know that as part of that, what they typically do is try to gain influence with or some ability to coerce high officials in administration or in this case in a campaign. We know that there were many contacts, more than originally acknowledged between the Trump campaign and the -- and these Russian officials. We don't know if there was collusion but all of that together adds up to a lot of smoke and the smoke is getting thicker and thicker.
Now, maybe there's no fire there. But at some point, you're choking on the smoke whether this fire or not. So it needs to be cleared up and that's why what Director Mueller is doing is so important.
BROWN: And Congressman Kingston, the White House ought to acknowledge these meetings that Kushner had with the Russians Ambassador and with the head of this Russian bank until media reports this past March. And now we're learning that one of the discussion he had with Kislyak was about setting up a back channel to Moscow during the transition. Does this raise any concerns for you or any concerns?
JACK KINGSTON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: No, it doesn't. And I'm going to have to disagree with my friend Tony about there's smoke. I think the smoke that the left has -- and critics of Trump has been looking for just isn't gathering. I think after 10 months of investigation and all the leaks that were going on, somebody would have been saying something right now. But it's always this innuendo that, oh, there's something around the corner.
But I would be frankly a little bit worried Jared Kushner had not been meeting with international leaders including business people and I got to say this, as somebody who went to Moscow on business in December, the American businesses over there and the Russian business are likely very concern about the new administration, what will it mean to our relations, would there be an opportunity to review the sanctions and can we start doing business together again?
So, normalizing relations with one of the largest economies in the world I think is the good thing. I think it's a responsible thing to do. I don't know of any obligation that he had to disclose and keep logs of everybody who he was meeting with. But I know that he did later amend a report in terms of his security clearance on those with the Russian meetings but remember, Jared Kushner is not a target, he's not a focus of an investigation, the FBI has not asked for any records whatsoever and he has volunteered to talk about any of these meetings to the senate committees and the house committees.
So -- and that was a month ago, by the way. So, I think he's being very transparent about it. And I would say be very unusual to me he hasn't had meetings with dozens of people from all over the world.
BROWN: But before we get to our other panelists, I just have to ask when you say you disagree with Tony Blinken that there's smoke. But by not disclosing meetings like this, particularly when you know there's lots of interest in it, given Russia's interference in the election by not providing it initially to the FBI, in your view does that create the perception of smoke? What about the perception of it?
KINGSTON: No, not really. I just think that regardless of what this administration does, there are critics out there who are going to try to delegitimize them, if that's the right pronunciation. And they're going to always be looking for something nefarious out there. I suspect and we could ask him from a history standpoint, did not the Obama, did not the Clinton, did not the Bush administration meet with dozens of officials from all over the world?
And perhaps some of them had to amend their reports. I don't know. But I would -- again, I think these are routine meetings which the staunchest critics would agree with.
BROWN: Congressman Engel, do you agree with him?
ENGEL: Well, I have a lot of respect for my ex-colleague Jack Kingston but I disagree with him, Pam. I think you were right on the money with this. When you know that there have been all kinds of questions about Russian interference in our presidential election and you know it's a problem, why would you want to have these connections, these back channel connections with the Russians and think that it wouldn't look funny or something wouldn't pass the smell test?
It seems to me that you wouldn't want to do something like that. And I -- again I don't want to keep sounding like a broken record but I think we deserve nothing less than an independent commission that can look into this and so many other things that have come out already and are going to come out in the future.
BROWN: I have to ask you this, Jen Psaki because you were in the Obama administration, were there ever discussions about creating a secure communications or did they let you know this was happening? Were you all involved at all in these discussions?
JEN PSAKI, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: Not to my recollection. Certainly there's a lot that we have learned since this period of time that nobody knew in the administration that I worked with. I also was there working for President Obama during the transition in 2008 and no we did not have secret back channels with our adversaries. We wouldn't be talking about this that much, as much I should say if it was a back channel or an attempted back channel with the United Kingdom or with Australia.
The reason why this is concerning is because the discussion of a back channel with Russia had intervene in our election. And I think that's an important piece of context here that makes this a different circumstance.
BROWN: And Steve Hall, you're an expert on Russia. Is it concerning to you?
STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: Look absolutely. Let me start by saying -- I mean, I don't know what congress considers to be smoke. But there is all sorts of smoke here that cannot be doubted. The Russians themselves have indicated they have met the Trump campaign prior to the election. The Russians we have determined as a -- as a government. We have determined that the Russians were trying to influence our elections.
We have all sorts of names popping up every day with people who seem to have some sort of contact with Russia. So, I got to say perhaps not from a legal perspective, I don't know what congress considers but I can tell you from a counterintelligence perspective that there's any counterintelligence officer out there worth his salt, looking at any of this, he's going to say, there is enough here to take a look at. That's exactly what John Brennan did the other day when he said, look, I saw the intelligence, I felt the requirement to send this over to the bureau. That means there's some smoke.
BROWN: So what do you think, Congressman? I asked you earlier about some of these issues and what about the security clearance with Jared Kushner? As we know, democrats are calling on him to lose his security clearance as this investigation unfolds. Now with this latest news, what is your view?
ENGEL: The ex-congressman or the current congressman? BROWN: The current congressman. I'm sorry.
ENGEL: I'm sorry.
BROWN: Too many congressmen.
ENGEL: No. We're good friends. We disagree on some things but we're good friends. Jack's a good man. Let me -- let me say that I -- you know, it's -- there are two ways to look at it. One is that he should lose his clearance because of all the things, the questions, the fact that he went to meetings and even the secretary of state was left out of them. And now you have all these questions. On the other thing, nothing's been proven and in America you're innocent until proven guilty.
So I wouldn't jump to that conclusion. All I would say again is that we need independent counsel. We need independent commission, we need indolence to look at this because we're not going to get it, and just within the administration, there's too much there, there's too many things that can happen, there's too many people who can be implicated. And I want an outside panel that has ax to grind to look and see what went on. And if nothing went on, I'd be delighted. And if something went on, I think I have a right to know about.
BROWN: All right. Tim Naftali, I'm going to go to you. I have not forgotten about you. I just want to get your perspective of the significance of what we've been discussing these meetings with the Russian ambassador, these meetings with the head of the Russian bank and Jared Kushner and now we're learning through the Washington Past that part of the discussion with the ambassador was to create a back channel to Putin. What do you make of all of this?
TIM NAFTALI, FORMER DIRECTOR, NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY: Well, first of all, during the cold war, at least, it was standard operating procedures for the soviets to try to establish some communications with the incoming -- the new administration. In the case of the Kennedy administration for example, both the soviet foreign ministry and the KGB separately tried to establish communications and talk about the possibility of a summit between President Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev.
The Kennedy including Robert Kennedy just basically just basically told the Russian wait until the inauguration. There was no talk of any -- of establishing a secret communication, link of the -- of any kind. Now, after Kennedy became president, indeed, Robert Kennedy on behalf of his brother did establish a secret backchannel to the Russians which proved to be quite useful right through Cuban missile crisis.
But that was not establish during the transition nor during the campaign. This soviet attempt or Russian attempt during the cold war to establish back channels, that took place in other administrations too. It took place before the Reagan administration, for example. So, that's not new. What makes this interesting -- and remember, we're all talking about a leak. So we haven't seen the document. But if the Trump people as -- were the initiators, that would make it unusual because it's usually the Russians who initiate it. That's one.
And secondly, if the Trump people ask that it'd be kept secret, I'm afraid that's suspicious. Now, I'm just basing this on a report, I haven't seen the information but that would make it unusual on the context of the normal relationship between transitions and the Russian government. The Russians are always pushing for access. It's just -- Americans rarely give it to them, certainly not in a transition.
BROWN: But also, the added layer of fact the intelligence community called out Russia for interfering in the election and these meetings happened in early December. I want to bring in Adam Entous with the Washington Post, he broke the story. So Adam, what more can you tell us about the discussion between Kushner and the Russian ambassador?
ADAM ENTOUS, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes. I do think it's crucial what you just said which is you have to understand the context here which is something that came up, you know, during that meeting which was, you know, there was this intelligence reporting that was going on that pointed to Russia's role in basically -- in meddling in the election. So, it's that -- that's the context. And so within that context, you know, basically you had a meeting in New York.
Kislyak comes up to see Jared Kushner and to see mike Flynn. Mike -- Jared is the one who sets up the meeting and Flynn is invited a few days later. And during that discussion according to Kislyak's account you basically have Jared Kushner proposing the idea of having a secure private communications channel and Jared actually proposes doing so at a Russian facility, specifically the Russian embassy in Washington which Kislyak according to his reporting home was he was taken aback by that.
He thought it was a bizarre suggestion. And so, you know -- and obviously, the other fact that, you know, that according to this -- according to these sources that was discussed was potentially arranging a meeting in a -- in a third country.
[19:30:03] BROWN: I just have to ask you this, Adam, because Ambassador Kislyak is well aware that U.S. intel is listening in on his conversations back to Russia. I mean, that -- so is there any chance that he could have been inflating this conversation, making some of it up?
I mean, I just have heard from people I speak to in did intelligence community of that concern about the Russian-to-Russian communications. Just curious what your perspective is on that?
ENTOUS: Yes. No, you're total -- that's an incredibly valid point. I mean, Kislyak has a good reputation in terms of the accuracy of his reporting, according to the officials I've talked to. U.S. officials who are readings of that report feel that Kislyak is accurately portraying the messages that are being discussed by both sides, that said, absolutely. Sophisticated intelligence, adversaries to the United States routinely put, you know, false information into their communications.
And sometimes they do so in order to see if the Americans are in that channel. So, in other words, if -- the Israelis do this all the time to the -- do it often to the Americans, to try to see if the Americans are spying on a particular channel. The Russians, I'm sure, do the same thing.
So, you can't rule when it comes to signals intelligence, which is what this is, that people exaggerate. They may lie outright in order to create a false impression. It's very common for ambassadors, I think, after meeting with the principles of the other side. They want Moscow to think they're maybe more connected to that incoming government than they may be. So, that definitely should be taken into account. It's something the FBI deals with a lot when it deals with signals intelligence.
So, they have to approach it in -- obviously in a cautious way. Let me just say -- and it's buried in our story but "The Washington Post" received an anonymous letter on December 12th which provided the exact same details about this meeting. We never reported it at the time, because frankly, we were skeptical. It was only after officials told us about this piece of signals intelligence involving Kislyak's reporting on that meeting that we decided we had the confidence to use this information.
So, we had this left and then we get the information and that in our minds, you know, in addition to us trusting those sources felt more confident with presenting this information.
BROWN: It really strikes me in your reporting that Kushner was the one that initiated this request to have the secret communication to Moscow. Did your sources give you any indication of why he wanted that?
ENTOUS: You know, I don't know. I mean, you know, around this same time, you had ambassadors from European allies that were in Washington nervously wondering if they were ever going to get a call from Kushner from anybody else. They have don't get that call until a little bit later.
So, why was Kushner interested in communicating with the Russians earlier than he was trying to connect with some other closer European partners? I don't know answer to that.
Obviously, you know, we have to be cautious in the sense of we don't know what the agenda was here. If -- as Trump said during the campaign, he wanted to improve relations with Russia, that is a perfectly reasonable policy for an incoming administration to pursue, especially on counterterrorism policy.
The question really is, then why was this obscured? Was why this denied for so long? Why wasn't this meeting disclosed until March and then only later are we get this these additional details? And why are we told that the conversation was not about anything of substance when clearly it was something of substance at least for the Russians who participated in it?
Those I think are the questions we really don't know the answers to. It could be that they're a secretive group of people that are coming in. They were worried about leaks, which you can understand now we're seeing leaks, and they were worries about those. So, maybe they're worried about the leaks and that's why they're being so secretive or could be they're just secretive people and they want to keep their meetings to themselves and wanted to preserve the decision space of the president-elect at that phase or maybe there's something here? You know, we don't know.
BROWN: And that, of course, is something that the FBI is trying to answer in this investigation that's been going on since last July. This new rev legislation, I imagine you're learning through your sources is certainly one of the reasons they're interested in this meeting that Kushner had with the Russian ambassador?
ENTOUS: Yes. I think -- you know, we reported last night that the FBI's investigating Kushner hand particularly in connection with to meetings he had in December. And so, when we had the sources telling us about this -- the details of this exchange on December 1st through December 2nd, obviously, I think it should help people better understand where the FBI is coming from on this.
[19:35:10] Imagine if you're FBI agents and you're reading basically a transcript, if you will, of Kislyak's report to Moscow about his meeting in December 1st at 2nd at Trump Tower. If you read that report it would be natural, I think, if you're an investor to have a lot of questions.
BROWN: Just especially given the broader context. Is there any other tidbits from your reporting -- I know you mentioned one of the things that had been you're willing to say. Anything else you think is important to add to the story as we discussed this?
ENTOUS: Well, I think you made a very good point which I don't think can be stressed enough. Signals intelligence is not something you want to take to the bank necessarily. There conclude false reporting. I think tonight you guys on CNN are reporting about that piece of intelligence that Comey ended up evaluating in deciding whether or not to -- how to proceed with the Clinton email case.
So, there are instances where false information either intentionally or unintentionally is planted in communications and that's sucked up by the NSA or the FBI. And it's important for people to keep in mind, nobody has been charged. It's unclear if this will ever get to charges. We're just basically trying to piece together what happened behind closed doors in a critical moment that is now at the center -- appears to be at the center of the FBI investigation.
BROWN: Right. I mean, as all of us -- all of us reporters are doing. And, you know, In the broader context when you look at Ambassador Kislyak, he was also in close touch with Michael Flynn. In fact, I was told shortly after Flynn's trip to Moscow in December 2015, there was an uptick in their communications. So, clearly, he was sort of the middleman between some of the people associated with Trump and the campaign and the transition and Russia.
So, really interesting, fascinating reporting there. Adam stay with me. I want to bring back my panel now to further discuss this. I want do
go back to you, Tim Naftali because you went to Adam, you mentioned that it would be significant, if it wasn't the Russians asking for this but instead the members of the Trump transition, and according to Adam's reporting, it was Jared Kushner who asked for this secret communication.
What do you make of that?
TIM NAFTALI, FORMER DIRECTOR, NIXON PREIDENTIAL LIBRARY: Well, first of all, anybody watching this, I'm going to speculated for them for a moment, OK? I obviously haven't seen this as signal intelligence information is extremely important this kind of leak is highly significant. After the election, Mr. Trump, President Trump, President-elect Trump was allowed to see President Obama's daily brief, presidential daily brief. That means that president Trump was well aware of our intelligence capabilities vis-a-vis the Russians.
So, if there were some concern that President Obama would hear about conversations between Jared Kushner and Kislyak, it might have been the reason why Jared Kushner, if indeed this is the case, said to the Russians, let's use a different channel. It would be a way of making clear to the Russians that they are -- that particular channel was compromised. I hope that's not what happened. But we are trying to figure out why a secret line of communication might have been suggested by Jared Kushner.
Again, this is all speculation. We haven't seen the information. But I will say that according to the way in which our government proceeds in the transition. The incoming president gets to see the presidential daily brief from the moment he is elected. So, in December, President Trump was reading what President Obama was reading and that might have included information about Kislyak and what he was sending to Moscow, if indeed we have that capability.
BROWN: All right. Paul Callan, I want to bring you in as a fresh voice. You're a legal analyst. I want to know from a legal perspective what you make of all of this.
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think there are three possibilities here. One is this is just Russian disinformation and it didn't happen. The second is that the Trump campaign had decided to create a channel to the Russians to advise them that there would be a policy change when President Trump was sworn in.
Now, this sounds bizarre and un-American, frankly, but it's happened in American history before. Richard Nixon, when he was running against Humphrey in 1968, opened a back channel to the South Vietnamese and told them they should wait in the negotiations to end the war in Vietnam until he was swore in because they would get a better deal. And Nixon was doing that to increase his changes of being elected. So, it has happened in American history before.
The third possibility is the one that gets very, very dicey for the Trump administration. [19:40:05] And that is, is this evidence of collusion with the
Russians to disrupt the American election and elect the president of the United States.
Now, those are the three possibilities. We have to see what the evidence is to see which one of those three it turns out to be.
BROWN: Right. Because frankly there's a lot that we don't know. We're sort of operating in a dark space with all these little facts and details that are coming through.
I want to bring in Jeff Zeleny who is with the president right now in Sicily. Jeff, any response from the White House on this latest reporting from "The Washington Post".
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There's no response yet from the White House on this latest reporting from "The Washington Post".
But I can tell you, this is something that the White House has been following very carefully from here as the president winds up his trip abroad here. He's not been talking about Russia. In fact, it's something that they've wanted to avoid.
But I can tell you behind the scenes talking to advisors, they are following this. The president himself is following every moment of this, what has been hang when he's been away. And they know that this is waiting for him when he returns to Washington on Saturday evening, pam.
BROWN: All right. Jeff Zeleny bringing us the latest from Sicily.
I want to go back to my panel now.
Jen Psaki to you, it would really strike me here is that Kislyak once again is at the sort of the center of this. I mean, he was at the center of the Michael Flynn situation that ultimately led to him being fired by the president because of the conversation he had where him about sanctions and not being upfront about that with Vice President Pence and now, you have this conversation according to "The Washington Post" between Kushner and Kislyak talking about back channel to Moscow.
Just for context, I mean, what was the relationship with Kislyak during the Obama administration?
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think when people look back they like to say we had a terrible relationship with Russia and we never worked with them on anything. And that's not accurate. We certainly had disagreements on a range of issues, everything from Syria to -- a range of ways that they dealt with global affairs.
But there were things we worked on. So, certainly, Ambassador Kislyak was part of that. Remember, we had the deal on chemical weapons removal. They were also a part of the Iran deal. There's a lot that we work with Russia on through the course of time. Now, what's abnormal about this, a lot of things, but one is whether or not Trump was reading the presidential daily brief, people assume he took that often, they're making an inaccurate assumption to start with. But there was a lot of information that was public at that time.
There was an assumption that President Obama and the administration would take retaliatory actions for the actions that Russia took. There was -- it was soon after Flynn's trip and before his phone calls as we've discussed in the past that it was announced that we would be kicking several Russian spies out of the country.
So, I think the reference Paul made, we're all guessing here, but the reference Paul made to the policy discussions has some backup in terms of other conversations that were taking place at the time. We won't know until we learn more about the story, but that certainly rings a bell with me.
BROWN: And let me go to you, Tony Blinken, because as we heard Tim Naftali say, it's common for Moscow to want to have this sort of communication with an incoming administration. Now, what seems a little different here is that Jared Kushner was asking for this but there could be a completely innocuous reason for this, right?
TONY BLINKEN: Sure, there could be innocuous reasons for all of this. But here's the problem. What's Russia trying to do in our elections? It's trying to sow doubt about the legitimacy of the elections, about our institutions, about our leaders.
And with every passing day when all of this information comes out, drip, drip, drip, and it's like pulling teeth to get it out, that's actually doing Russia's work for it because it's actually creating doubt about those institutions and about those leaders. That's why this needs to be cleared up.
It may be again that there is no fire there with all the smoke. But until we sort of clear the smoke away, we're actually doing Russia's job for it. That's why the investigation is so critical, that's why we need to bring this to a conclusion.
BROWN: And, Congressman Kingston, when we were speaking earlier, you said there's nothing wrong here. But given everything that's unfolded since the meetings have come to light, do you think if they had to do it all over again, they should have done things differently, perhaps more open about the meeting they have rather than waiting for the media to disclose them?
KINGSTON: Well, not really. I think any new administration's going to have its missteps and I think in this hyper toxic environment where you have so many enemies of this administration and so many links that's going on, that this actually just going to happen. Frankly, I think the idea of setting up a backchannel with Russia or China or with any of the adversary countries or allies, I think quite frankly it's something I would explore if I was in the administration in this atmosphere of so many leaks. And I have to say this about Kislyak. It seems like he's the one-man
wrecking ball right now that's disturbing and disrupting this nation. But for Adam to use him as a credible witness is somewhat of a shock. The other thing that Adam said that I have to disagree with is he said that the FBI is investigating Kushner. That is not the case. He is not the target. There is no intention --
BROWN: You can be the subject of an investigation -- you can be investigated if you're not a target and even subjects can become targets or subjects can be charged. So, you know --
KINGSTON: But they have said, Pam, there is no intention to charge him. I just think we need to be careful with what we're saying. Here's somebody who said he will cooperate. So, I just think, gosh, if this was baseball, the critics of Trump has yet to get on first base with anything yet. I mean, it's all this that there's sort of thing that there's something around the horizon, something nefarious. But there may be with Flynn but he's not with him --
CALLAN: Can I jump in on the congressman's statement?
BROWN: Go ahead, Paul.
CALLAN: You know, there's some more smoke here that I find to be very, very troubling. I don't know where it's going to lead to. But you have this stuff going on with the Russians and you have the national security advisor lying on a security clearance about contacts with the Russians. You have the proposed Attorney General Sessions lying about contacts with the Russians on documents that he filled out and in congressional testimony and you have Kushner when he fills out a security clearance form, also being disingenuous and lying apparently about contacts with the Russians no.
Now, we hear there's a back channel with the Russians going on.
KINGSTON: But, Paul, it's not illegal.
CALLAN: It's not illegal, Congressman, but I think you can see --
KINGSTON: Then what's the problem?
CALLAN: -- why the American people would start to get a little suspicious about this. I think anybody's crazy for saying we ought to look carefully at this, this doesn't sound like normal activity for a president just coming into office.
KINGSTON: Paul, as you know, I have great respect for you and everybody on this panel. I mean, there are a lot of very learned people there.
CALLAN: And we for you. And we for you.
KINGSTON: I mean, when we say the American people getting disturbed about it, look at what happened last in Montana. It was, what, a six or seven percent victory and it was about jobs, it was about the economy, it was about Donald Trump. CALLAN: I don't think the Russians were involved in the Montana election, so --
KINGSTON: But -- no. My point is if Americans aren't as concerned about this as the beltway crowd would like Americans to be concerned about it -- and the reason is, is because after ten months of investigation, it's always smoke but there's nothing there. I'm going to give you Flynn but that would --
CALLAN: You know something, Congressman? Let's hope it is smoke, because if we're talking about backchannels to the Russians and people lying on forms to enable collusion with the Russians we're in a really bad situation. So, I really hope you are right and there's nothing to this story.
BROWN: OK. I want to quickly bring in Steve Hall for a perspective on this, on Ambassador Kislyak, because, Congressman Kingston, because you brought up and I asked Adam this, is he a credible witness here? I mean, could this be a part of the Russian misinformation campaign to call back to Moscow and know that U.S. intel is listening in and make something up.
I mean, try to put this into perspective for us, if you would, Steve Hall?
STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: There's a lot flying around. So, let me address the stuff that I'm most familiar with. So, in terms of signals intelligence and intercepted capabilities and that sort of thing, yes, of course, the Russian ambassador, in this case, Sergey Kislyak, has the ability to pick up his cell phone or any other landline and just place a call to Russia.
Let me tell you, that's not what he does. They have secure communications just like the U.S. government does, just like China and any other major power does, which protects and makes it extremely difficult to us, for the United States government to actually listen in on those conversations. Now, that's the NSA's job. And the FBI has a piece of it. Sometimes we have success. Sometime we don't.
The idea of him speaking over an open telephone line to somebody right there prima facie calls into question whether or not it's a serious conversation, or whether or not he's just talking to get a message out there to whoever might be listening. But let me tell you, the people who are listening to those conversations, the open ones, they know that. They're intelligence analyst. They know that if Kislyak is talking on an open line to somebody, that Kislyak knows that they're listening. So, you know, you just get in to this sort of circular thing.
So, I would argument that pretty much what happens on an open line is probably not that critical. It's probably not serious disinformation on the Russian's part and it's certainly not hypersensitive because the Russians have secure communications to do this.
Let me just address one other time that sometimes gets under my king. A lot of people say, well, there's only allegations. We keep hearing there's going to be more. We keep hearing that it's all smoke on it, everything was smoke.
This, folks, is a counterintelligence investigation.
[19:50:03] This is not an armed robbery. This is not a kidnapping. This is so much more complicated. There is so much more sensitive information, classification, secret sources. There is so much stuff that has to be gotten through here, that this is going to take a long time, and that's how it should be because we do need to get to the bottom of this.
People are -- we don't want to tar people with allegations that can't be proven. But it just takes a lot longer and it's a lot more complex in my experience to get to the bottom of the stuff if it's counter intelligence.
BROWN: And to that point, Steve, I have talked to folks who were in the FBI who say we may never get down to the bottom of this, because intelligence is rarely conclusive.
HALL: That's absolutely true, and there's another maddening thing about all of this, is a lot of times in the counter intelligence investigation, the counter intelligence investigator and intelligence officers, FBI, CIA, NSA, all know what they see and what they have collected, but a lot of times that does not meet a certain legal standard, for I don't know counter espionage or any of those other very, very serious crimes.
So, a lot of times, intelligence officers would say, yes, that was going on. There was some sort of collusion. There was some sort of contact. But it doesn't always meet a legal or criminal criteria. So, we just have to see and it's just going to take a along time.
BROWN: The situation is classified materials and not wanting to reveal sources and methods.
All right. Thank you to my panel. Really appreciate that interesting.
I need you all stick around because there's more to discuss, but I want to bring in former U.S. ambassador to NATO under President George W. Bush, Nick Barnes. He has also served in the Clinton administration.
So, Ambassador, what is your reaction to this latest news about the communication between Jared Kushner and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and, Kushner allegedly asking for an open or a secret communication to Moscow, according to "The Washington Post"?
AMB. NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Well, the first thing I would say, and I'm just hearing this for the first time, I have just read "The Washington Post" article, is that obviously, Jared Kushner deserves a chance to respond to these allegations, they are allegations but they're not proven facts at this point.
In our society, you know, we don't indict someone in the court of public opinion, before all the facts are known. And he has a chance, and this is a fair minded American way of looking at things, to respond to these. That's the first thing I'd like to say.
Secondly, I think that Tony Blinken's comments are very important here. Russia is a dark cloud hanging over this administration, the Trump administration. So many different allegations, so many different individuals in the Trump administration, some of them have now had to recuse themselves, including the attorney general, that I think the Donald Trump administration needs to make a basic decision.
They have to understand that this administration is under siege and will be, in terms of public opinion. And in terms of the law, and to all of these questions are answered, they ought to begin to cooperate with alacrity to these investigations. And you have seen this begrudging especially from the president of the United States, begrudging attitude, a disavowal that there is any story, that there should be an investigation.
Any normal president, if the Russians have interfered in our elections, if our intelligence community and the FBI had told the American people, as they did in January, in an unclassified letter to the American people, that Russia interfered, any normal president would have wanted to defend this country, investigate it fully. He should have launched his own investigation. And so, the Trump administration needs to get its arms around this story and fully cooperate.
I would just say this in closing. As I read "The Washington Post" story, there's a couple of things that don't make any sense here. I participated in a number of political transitions, presidential transitions as a career person in both Republican and Democratic administrations. This is not complicated. The incoming administration and period between the election in January 20th doesn't reach out every day to every government in the world. If you do reach out to make initial contacts, you do through the current administration. You do that transparently and openly, you don't do it secretly.
And so, I just don't understand why the incoming Trump team felt the need for meetings and secret meetings in Seychelles and secret channels. This is not complicated. You just work with the existing administration to create the channel through our normal -- our ambassadors and our embassies. And it doesn't make sense to me, why if this is true, it may not be true, why the Trump team would have wanted to use Russian communications.
That doesn't make sense at all. So, all this amounts to the American people deserve answers. There's so much smoke here that there has to be a full bore investigation.
BROWN: But given the context of then candidate Trump saying on the campaign trail, that one of his priorities was to have a better relationship with Russia, that was one of his things that he talked about, repeatedly, given the fact that that was clearly a priority for him. Does that make you think that perhaps it might make sense for Jared Kushner to want to reach out and go ahead and get the ball rolling with communication to Moscow during the transition? BURNS: In a normal transition, at least in my own experience, the
priority in a transition, is to get to know the allies of the United States, the British, the French, the Germans, the Japanese, the Australians, the South Koreans. It's not to get to know our greatest adversary in the world.
I never understood why candidate Trump and I still don't understand why President Trump has given Russia a pass. He has been the weakest president he have had since well before the Second World War on the issue of Russia, and here we have a situation where Russia has annexed Crimea, interfered in Eastern Ukraine, invaded Georgia. All in the last eight years, Russia is under sanctions by the United States and the president of the United States, our president, cannot bring himself to criticize Vladimir Putin publicly.
The greatest imperative right now is to be tough-minded about Russia. You saw President Trump yesterday at NATO headquarters, he's not leading the NATO alliance in opposition to Russia. Angela Merkel is doing that. The Europeans have a much tougher minded policy.
So, Russia's been the albatross around the neck of this administration. They have made the wrong calls on Russia. They're not doing the right things to contain Russian power. And this obsession with secret contacts just doesn't make much sense to me at all.
BROWN: All right. Ambassador Burns, thank you so much for that very important perspective and insight.
I want to bring back Jeff Zeleny. He is with the president in Sicily.
And, Jeff, you now have an official response from the White House?
ZELENY: Pamela, we are getting late word tonight. Talking to a senior administration official who says the White House will not have a comment this evening on this report in "The Washington Post" that we have been discussing here.
But talking throughout the day to people who are sympathetic to the White House version of events here, they raised this point, which I think is an interesting one, at least for discussing matters here. They say if Jared Kushner was backchannelling with the Russian official, if he needed to set up a back channel, doesn't that mean he was colluding with them?
So, it's one of the questions here. But as Ambassador Burns was just saying there about the Russia strategy, Pamela, I can tell you. It is playing out on the ground here in real time, here at the G7 summit, at the NATO as well. The president's silence on Russia has European leaders wondering why he is silent. Can he stand up to Vladimir Putin here?
So, as the president leaves, heads back to Washington, that is a major question hanging over this continent -- Pamela.
BROWN: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you for bringing us the latest there.
I want to bring back my panel.
And, Jen Psaki, to you. In the wake of what we just heard from Jeff Zeleny and this sort of no comment comment, you once ran the communication shop at the White House. What do you suggest the White House do right now?
PSAKI: Well, I also want to add, I have worked quite a bit with Adam Entous, and believe me he broke news and shared information we didn't want to be necessarily in the public when I was in Obama administration, but he was always thorough and fair and he always gave us an opportunity.
I would be shocked if the White House didn't know this story was coming and he didn't give them an opportunity to comment or refute it. It tells you a lot that they're declining to comment today. So, that's one point.
You know, I think in this case, what is really confusing, as a communications person, is why there's a drip, drip, drip of all of this information. If I were there, if I were -- you know, if this happened in our administration, which it wouldn't have, we would have sat in a room and put all the information together and gotten it all out to the public, because what's happening is, if they don't want to seem like there's something to see here, the problem is there is new information that is contradicting what they said a week or two earlier. So, that's a communications tactic, but I think it could serve them in terms of how the world views them as well.
BROWN: To Naftali, to you, quickly as we wrap up this show. As you just heard from Ambassador Burns, he said you don't talk to an adversary in the transition, you talk to your allies, but Trump made it clear on the campaign trail, he wanted to make Russia a priority in building relationships with them. In that context, do you see a good reason perhaps why this meeting took place and why Jared Kushner wanted this?
NAFTALI: I don't see a good reason for it. I don't see how this could be helpful, given that there was already a cloud over this incoming administration. I have been scratching my head trying to figure out, why this administration keeps doing things that gives the impression it's hiding something.
BROWN: All right. Well, that sums its up right now. Thank you -- yeah, quickly. Very quickly.
KINGSTON: Let me just say this, taking on Ambassador Burns, Trump is the only one who has bombed Syria, under Obama we lost 20 percent of our uranium, and the leaks that happened and the interference in the election happened under Obama.
BROWN: Got to go. All right. Thank you to panel.
Thank you for watching.
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