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Gianforte Wins Montana Special Election Despite Assault Charge; Jared Kushner Under FBI Scrutiny in Russia Probe; Trump Attends G-7 Summit. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired May 26, 2017 - 06:00   ET



GREG GIANFORTE (R), MONTANA REPRESENTATIVE-ELECT: I should not have responded in the way that I did, and for that I'm sorry.

[05:58:43] Get the hell out of here!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Victory for the Montana Republican accused of body-slamming a reporter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It didn't affect the way that I voted.

BEN JACOBS, REPORTER, "THE GUARDIAN": That type of attack was beyond the pale.

REP. TRENT FRANKS (R), ARIZONA: The left has precipitated this tense confrontational approach.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I hoped it would be up to the people of Montana to demand a higher standard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The FBI is looking at Jared Kushner. He is not the target at this stage.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They believe that Kushner has a lot of information that he could provide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's almost no one closer to the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Things have been intensifying. The president has grown increasingly frustrated.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, May 26, 6 a.m. here in New York. Chris is off this morning. John Berman joins us. Great to have you here.


CAMEROTA: A lot of news. Let's get to it. We have breaking news. That's where we start on your starting line today.

Republican Greg Gianforte wins Montana's special congressional election. This just a day after he allegedly assaulted a reporter, triggering a national outcry. Gianforte apologized to that reporter during his victory speech.

And another big story: the FBI's Russia investigation reportedly now focusing on Jared Kushner's role during the campaign and transition, including Kushner's relationship with fired national security adviser Michael Flynn, as well as some Russian contacts.

BERMAN: This morning President Trump wrapping up his overseas trip at the G-7 summit in Italy after lecturing NATO leaders on immigration and assuming more of the financial burden for their own defense.

And the president is vowing to plug the leaks in the Manchester bombing investigation. This as we learn the terrorist behind the attack, he may have had ISIS training.

We have all of this covered. Let's go first to CNN's Ryan Young, live in Bozeman, Montana. You assault a reporter one night; you win an election the next -- Ryan.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, what a 24 hours. First you have maybe a body-slamming. Then you have charges fired. Three newspapers pull their endorsement, and still, you win an election.


GIANFORTE: Thank you, Montana.

YOUNG (voice-over): Just 24 hours after being charged with assaulting a reporter, Republican Greg Gianforte heading to Washington after winning a special election for Montana's open House seat.

Gianforte directly addressing the shocking incident at his victory rally.

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

RYAN: Apologizing both to his supporters and to the reporter that he allegedly body-slammed.

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.

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

RYAN: Gianforte's apology coming after fellow Republicans on the Hill remained largely silent about the attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So I'm not sure exactly what happened. RYAN: Showing unwillingness to condone Gianforte's behavior.

REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R), TEXAS: We didn't have a course in body- slamming when I went to school. I missed that course.

RYAN: Some even pointing a finger at Democrats.

FRANKS: The left has precipitated this tense, confrontational approach throughout the country in recent months.

RYAN: This despite audio evidence and eyewitness accounts from FOX News of the confrontation.

ALICIA ACUNA, CORRESPONDENT, FOX NEWS: Grabbed him with both hands, top of the body, both sides of the neck. Pulled him and then slammed him to the ground, got on top of him and started punching him.

RYAN: House Speaker Paul Ryan conceding that an apology was appropriate after being pressed by reporters.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: There is no time where a physical altercation should occur.

RYAN: On the ground in Montana, some of Gianforte's supporters also seemingly unfazed by the assault charges.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A guy does one thing, that doesn't mean he's that way all the time.

RYAN: Some even leveling their own hostile threats to a CNN reporter covering the story.

JACOBS: A healthy Democratic process requires journalism. That's why the First Amendment is there.


JACOBS: Look, this reporter is not a very big guy; he's about 150 pounds. And this, of course, is not over for the newly-elected Congressman. He has a court date sometime before June 7 -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Ryan Young for us in Montana. Thanks so much, Ryan.

Other big news this morning. The FBI probe into Russian election meddling investigation moving closer to the president's inner circle, back all the way to his family circle. CNN has learned that investigators are now putting the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, under the microscope. CNN's Joe Johns live in Washington with that part of the story.

Good morning, Joe.


Jared Kushner has played many roles as one of the president's most trusted advisers, as well as Mr. Trump's son-in-law. And he's now the first person we know of currently inside the Trump White House to come under scrutiny, though he's not believed to be a target of the Russian investigation.


JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump's son-in-law and most trusted adviser...


JOHNS: ... now a focus of the FBI's investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. Officials tell CNN the bureau is looking into a range of topics related to Kushner: a key campaign strategy, meetings held with Russian officials, and his relationship with now-ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn. There's no indication Kushner is currently a target of the probe and no allegation of wrongdoing.

Of central interest, a data analytics operation supervised by Kushner that the Trump campaign used to micro-target voters in states that were critical to the president's victory. Investigators are examining whether Russia operatives were able to piggyback on that effort, with help from Trump associates, either wittingly or unwittingly to help Russia's own alleged operation to push information online aimed at helping Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.

Kushner is also one of four Trump associates and the only current White House staffer under scrutiny for having contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. During the transition, Kushner met with both Kislyak and the head of a Russian bank that is currently sanctioned by the U.S. and has close ties to Vladimir Putin.

[06:05:13] SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Jared did a job during the transition and the campaign where he was a conduit into -- to leaders.

JOHNS: Meetings Kushner prematurely left off filed security clearance forms, omissions he rectified a day later.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The fact with the banker, I think he needs to explain himself.

JOHNS: Kushner's lawyer responding in a statement Wednesday, noting that Kushner "previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry."

Another point of inquiry, Kushner's relationship with Flynn. According to a source, Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, pushed the president to fire Flynn after the election. But a source close to Kushner disputes this account.

(END VIDEOTAPE) JOHNS: It's not clear if the FBI plans to talk to Kushner, but investigators believe he would be able to help provide information to assist in the probe. A spokesman said Kushner was unaware of the FBI's interest in him and has not been contacted by the bureau -- John and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much, Joe.

Let's dig into all this with our political panel. We have CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin; CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein; and associate editor and columnist at Real Clear Politics, A.B. Stoddard. Great to have all of you. Happy Friday.

Jeffrey, what does it mean that the person -- one of the people most closely connected, if not the person most closely connected to the president is now being focused on by these federal investigators?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's -- I mean, to state the obvious, it's not good. But I don't think we should overstate, you know, how bad it is. It's going to be a tremendous distraction to him. You know, particularly the fact that they are looking into his financial affairs, which are very complicated. And you know, examining what contacts he had financially with the banks or individuals associated with Russia and then having to explain that.

You know, it's just going to take up a lot of time and a lot of space in his brain.

CAMEROTA: But what the White House says is that they haven't been contacted by the FBI. Jared hasn't been reached out to by the FBI. So how is it distracting?

TOOBIN: Well, because it's in your head. I mean, think about what it's like to be under investigation by the FBI and have them looking at your -- your bank records, your financial records.

And just because he hasn't been contacted doesn't mean he's under -- he's not under investigation. In fact, you tend as an investigator to look last at the person you're looking at most closely. You get all the records. You get all the wiretaps. You get all the intercepts. You pull all that together, and then you see what questions you have, and then you go to the Michael Flynns, the Paul Manaforts, the Jared Kushners.

BERMAN: You know, Ron Brownstein, Jeff Toobin said perhaps we could overstate the importance of the intensity of the investigation. We can't overstate Jared Kushner's role in the White House, because he's in charge of just about everything, in all honesty. I mean, he's in charge of the operations inside the White House and how they work. He's in charge of Mideast policy. He's in charge of nearly every aspect, and he's the president's son-in-law.

You know, and now we also know that this investigation not just looking at finance, not just looking at Russian connections, but also the data operation that Jared ran during the campaign. So that was under him, as well. Fascinating. RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And first of

all, to the first point, I think -- you know, I think the core of his power is he is seen -- I think he is seen by the president as someone who's, really, only client, in effect, in this is the president. Reince Priebus, you know, has an allegiance to the kind of Republican establishment. Steve Bannon has an allegiance to the populist nationalist movement. Jared Kushner, his allegiance, his political identity is rooted in the president. I think that makes him very powerful. Plus, of course, he's family.

The data operation, I think, is fascinating. Because one of the questions has been, really, how did the Russians target what they did? We saw, in the congressional testimony earlier this year, that they were very focused on spreading their fake news into states that mattered and places that mattered. And how did they -- how did they do that? It's kind of been a question that's kind of been reverberating around.

And this raises the possibility of, as the reports have said, either wittingly or unwittingly tagging along with the data -- the data- targeting efforts of the campaign itself. I think that's going to be an important area of inquiry as this goes forward.

CAMEROTA: A.B., help us understand what Jared did so effectively during the campaign. He was in charge of data analytics. That sounds dry, but it ended up possibly winning the election. Because he figured out those states Ron's talking about, that blue wall -- Michigan, Wisconsin, et cetera -- there was vulnerability for Hillary Clinton. Because that -- in trying to sort of peddle the merchandise, the caps, the ball caps and everything, the "Make America Great Again," he figured out, "Ooh, there's great interest coming out of these states. Maybe we should go there and target these people more."

So what did Jared do so effectively that now is at the nexus of this investigation?

A.B. STODDARD, COLUMNIST/ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, it sounds genius, but he might have sort of stumbled into it as you said, because he noticed that -- or the team noticed that the caps and T-shirts, whatever were, you know -- they couldn't keep them in stock in certain locations. And it said to them and that was a place the Trump message was really resonating more than people would expect and that perhaps you could threaten Hillary in those places the Democrats expected to win. And so they began to target more effectively their message there on social media and other outlets in ways to try to -- to, you know, up Trump's standing and, you know, turn out voters there.

And in the end, they obviously spent some las- minute on-the-ground resources to -- and brought the president to those places. I mean, the now president, to try to rally the troops, and he won them.

And the question becomes, obviously, that the Russians had their own data operation intent on undermining Hillary Clinton and to provide sort of, you know, positive stories about Donald Trump in social media. And whether these two ended up sort of colluding, if you will, connecting, is really, as Ron says, a really fascinating connection. I don't know how that happens unwittingly.

But it was a very effective campaign operation. And the idea that it was, in some way -- end up intertwined with the Russian data operation is really quite a dramatic question.

BERMAN: And you can certainly see how the FBI would say, "Hey, look, the Russians are involved in hacking, involved in data collection. Jared Kushner ran a data operation." At a minimum -- at a minimum, Jeffrey Toobin, we have to ask questions about that, or look into it.

And Jeffrey, on that point, but also you note, even though we don't know a lot about what Bob Mueller is looking into right now, the special counsel, we do have the sense that this is a multifaceted investigation with both a criminal side and a national security side.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. And think about the complexity of what he has to do. Now he's a very efficient, hard-working person. But just for example, a lot of what he has to do involves getting intercepts from the National Security Agency involving, you know, contacts between Russians and Americans.

The National Security Agency hates to disclose anything, particularly anything that might become publicly disclosed, because they are concerned about their sources and methods; the way they gather data, the way they gather information. This is going to be complicated and time-consuming for Mueller. And I just think, you know, we all want our answers yesterday as to who's going to be charged? Were there any crimes? And we are, I suspect, a year off from any decisions anywhere like that.

CAMEROTA: So meanwhile, Ron, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has suggested maybe Robert Mueller is already doing things, already interviewing people, already piecing the puzzle together outside of public view. We don't know, thus far, what the special counsel has done, in fact. Maybe Michael Flynn. Maybe it's been all quiet on the Michael Flynn front, because he's already not cooperating but, you know, working with the special counsel and giving up what he knows. Is that possible?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, obviously, I don't know. We don't know exactly, you know, what the special counsel is doing.

But it goes to, I think, a larger question that I have been wondering about and which Jeffrey kind of alluded to. We know that Robert Mueller is a tremendously respected and efficient and focused law enforcement official. We know that he will pursue very diligently the question of whether there were any crimes committed, whether there was any breach of national security. But I don't think we know whether he is going to give us a comprehensive overview of exactly what happened and all of the different -- all of the different permutations and manifestations of these questions, ranging from financial ties and so forth. Whether we are going to get kind of a full report, short of criminal activity, that would explain where vulnerabilities are in the system, for example.

It may be that whatever he does, that we still are going to need a substantial effort from congressional committees, which are better positioned, if not perfectly positioned, to provide that kind of 360- degree picture of exactly what happened in the Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign in any potential Trump campaign collusion.

BERMAN: You know -- go ahead, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: One clue about what we will know from Congress is whether James Comey's testimony, which Senator Warner has said will take place the week after Memorial Day, whether it really happens and whether the memos he wrote about his interactions with President Trump are disclosed in the course of that testimony.

Because that is obviously very significant testimony, significant documents. But it may be that Mueller says to Congress, "Wait. Don't do it yet." So that's going to be a specific signal of what kind of information.

[06:15:06] BERMAN: Handicap it. Better than 50 percent chance it happens?

TOOBIN: I'd say about 50, it sounds like.

BERMAN: You go out on a limb there?

TOOBIN: Well, Mark Warner said it's going to happen, so he must have some information. But you know, stuff happens.

CAMEROTA: All right, A.B.

TOOBIN: That's my philosophy.

CAMEROTA: Can we quote you on that?

TOOBIN: Yes, you can quote me.

CAMEROTA: All right. I'm going to write that down.

A.B., stick around, and panel. Thank you. Stick around. We have more questions.

BERMAN: All right. Right now, the president wrapping up or attending his first G-7 summit. This is after lecturing his NATO counterparts. Sara Murray joins us live from Sicily where it is all unfolding.

Good morning, Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. There are going to be a number of contentious issues on the table today as leaders head into the G-7. Among them, our allies are going to be looking for any indication of where President Trump stands on whether or not he's going to stay in the Paris Climate Change Accord.

But you can expect, of course, a robust conversation about terrorism in the wake of that horrific Manchester attack. The intelligence sharing agreement between the U.S. and the U.K. has become strained as a result of that in recent days. And we're now just learning that President Trump will meet on the

sidelines of this meeting with prime minister of the U.K., Theresa May, to discuss some the concerns the U.K. has had about what they see as leaks coming from the U.S. intelligence community surrounding this attack.

And remember, it was not long ago that this G-7 meeting was a G-8 meeting that included Russia. Russia has been booted from this group. But there are going to be a number of world leaders at this summit who see Russia very rarely, much more rarely than President Trump does. He has offered no words of criticism about Russia on the world stage.

And in fact, one senior adviser said just last night that the U.S. right now has no position on whether or not it will uphold the extensions that the U.S. has put in place under the Obama administration against Russia. One thing President Trump has made clear on his diplomatic debut as president, he's not afraid of offering sharp words to our allies. Yesterday, he used his platform at NATO to admonish them to spend more on defense.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Twenty-three of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defense. This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States.


MURRAY: Now we're not expecting to hear all that much from President Trump. In fact, he's expected to wrap up this nine-day, five-nation stop without holding a single press conference. Very unusual for a president to do that. And yet, another indication of how little this administration wants to field questions about Russia.

Alisyn, back to you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Sara, thanks so much for that.

Next stop, Washington for Montana's new Congressman, who won the election despite an assault charge the night before the election. Our panel takes that on, next.



[06:21:40] GIANFORTE: I should not have treated that reporter that way; and for that, I'm sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs.


BERMAN: So, he should not have treated that reporter that way. He body-slammed, allegedly, the reporter. He's saying he should not have body-slammed the reporter. That's Republican Greg Gianforte, who just won a special congressional election in Montana. Of course, that apology came after he won the election. Easier to apologize then.

Let's bring back our political panel: Jeffrey Toobin, Ron Brownstein, A.B. Stoddard. Remarkable 24 hours, A.B., right? The night before the election, Gianforte allegedly body-slams Ben Jacobs. Twenty-four hours later, he is accepting victory on stage in that special election. Is there some deeper meaning here?

STODDARD: Well, I think we learned after the alleged assault that 7 in 10 voters in the district had already voted. And that is a really hard number to turn around in a very Republican district. So as many upset Democrats who turned out to the polls yesterday likely didn't make up for what was probably already, you know, his seat that was in the bank.

So the interesting thing and the surprise was just how many voters who were pouring in yesterday, who had not early voted, told reporters just, you know, how perfectly fine they were...


STODDARD: ... with the Congressman-elect pushing this guy to the ground and, according to FOX News's Alicia Acuna, punching him several times and breaking his glasses.

So this is a real awkward situation for House Republicans. I think they made a deal with him, probably. And I don't know this for sure, which is why they welcomed him in a statement from House Speaker Ryan to the conference. But I think that they made sure he named Ben Jacobs in his apology and made sure that he didn't leave that stage until he did it.

CAMEROTA: Ron, just to prove A.B.'s point, I mean, there were really despicable things that people were saying to our Kyung Lah, who was there on the ground reporting, about how they sort of delighted in what was happening here. Even though there were witnesses and audio tape about this assault.

Here's one. Kyung tweeted this: "My GOP voter to me just now, knowing I work for CNN: 'That audio made me cheer.' She smiled as she walked in to vote for Gianforte."

Here's the next one: "Montana GOP voter, upon learning we're from CNN, 'You're lucky someone doesn't pop one of you.'"

So obviously, violence is OK, I guess, when it's against journalists.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think it's deeper than that. I mean, my last book ten years ago was called "The Second Civil War." And you know, it was kind of metaphorical at that point, but everything has deepened since.

I mean, we are living through something like a slow-motion cultural- political civil war, in which each side in it feels that the other is not only kind of wrong-headed, but a threat to the country. And the space between the two coalitions, you know, they've separated so much. Look at Montana. Montana was -- Montana is roughly 85 percent white,

75 percent rural, 70 percent non-college. You could not more precisely map the coordinates of where Donald Trump was strongest or where he has retained the most strength. So you know, that is -- that is the reality.

That is the part -- those are the kinds of parts of the country that have responded most powerfully to his message and view any criticism of it, in many cases, as a criticism of themselves. I mean, these are voters that felt either culturally or economically marginalized or both. And as I say, they view the -- the resistance that Trump faces and the criticism and the scrutiny that he faces from institutions, in some ways, as a way to further marginalize them.

[06:25:14] It is a very deep issue. And I think it goes beyond elections, and we see it extending even into what -- the way people shop and what brands they respect. So we are looking at some very deep divides.

TOOBIN: But let's also talk about the president himself and how he specifically has talked about journalists. Enemies of the American people. Encouraging abuse of reporters. Verbal abuse of reporters at his rally. I mean, he has fixated on the press and talking endlessly about fake news.

Politicians have been unhappy with the press from time immemorial. But the intensity of Trump's anger towards the people we work with and towards us is different and more intense. And I don't think you can separate both Gianforte's action and the reaction to it from Trump's behavior personally.

BERMAN: Hang on, guys. Let's just replay, just so people know what we're talking about here, in case they've forgotten, the audio recording of this alleged assault from two nights ago.


GIANFORTE: Speak with Shane, please.

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


BERMAN: All right. The newly-elected Congressman from the state of Montana right there, you know, threatening a reporter after he allegedly assaulted him.

A.B., you know, again, he got elected there. Everything everyone said here is true. It does show that perhaps assaulting reporters doesn't matter.

What it also shows is that Democrats still can't seem to take advantage of an environment that should be positive for them. Right? They got close in Kansas, closer than people thought. In the special election in Georgia, they got closer than people thought in the first round. Here they got closer than people thought. But you know, participation ribbons don't matter, you know, in elections, do they?

STODDARD: Well, I think that this new upended and volatile electoral environment provides opportunities for them. It might be the case that they can win in Georgia's 6th on June 20, because that's a place that's changing. And Ron points out that Montana is just still Republican turf, and it's going to be really hard to break that. I think Democrats will rationalize that most of the vote was banked, like I said, in advance before the -- you know, before this guy was knocked to the ground and had his glasses broken and was punched several times.

But you know, they'll be happy that Trump won it by 20 and that Gianforte won it only by seven points. And I think they believe that they're going to have to find targets that are, you know, more ripe for opportunity, like I said, in Georgia and other places as they move along.

There -- the voters that -- that Ron's talking about, who see criticism of Trump as a criticism of them and a rejection of them, and that this actually, the more unpopular Trump becomes, the more dug in and resentful they get, will help shore up Republican districts. But that doesn't mean there are not opportunities in 24 seats in the House next year for Democrats.


CAMEROTA: Go ahead.

BROWNSTEIN: Real quick. I mean, if you look at -- if you look at the results of Montana, I think two things. First of all, the big caveat is that there is not a consistent record of special elections predicting what happens in the next general election.

But having said that, there are two things that we are seeing as we go through these special elections. One is that Democrats are running better in the specials than they did in 2016 in these same districts. They ran about eight points better in Montana, ten points better in Georgia, 16 points better in Kansas. If they can -- if they can keep that up in more competitive seats that aren't are preponderantly Republican, they will have a shot at those 24 seats they need to take the House.

But there's a "but," though, which is I think the fact that Gianforte won so comfortably in -- you know, despite everything else that's happening is a reminder of how deep a barrier Democrats face in kind of non-urban, culturally conservative America. I mean, those districts, again, that's where Trump has retained the strength. Those districts are really, really tough for Democrats for a whole lot of reasons. Going back through the Obama presidency, really, since the beginning -- since parts of the Clinton presidency.

And if there is a path back, it probably looks more like Georgia six, which is a place that is more white-collar, more diverse, and it is among those suburban, college-educated whites that Trump is most conspicuously under-performing than usual Republicans. That is probably more opportunity than places that look like Montana.

CAMEROTA: OK. Panel, thank you very much for all of the context. Great to talk to you.

Up next, was the Manchester concert bomber trained by ISIS? There are new details on that and the shocking number of terror investigations going on right now. We have a live report for you.