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Jared Kushner Under Scrutiny in Relation to Investigation into Possible Trump Campaign Ties to Russia; Republican Candidate wins Montana's Special Congressional Election; President Attends G-7 Summit; Republicans Face Criticism Over CBO Score. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired May 26, 2017 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- allegedly body slamming a reporter, he still won.
We've got it all covered starting with CNN's Joe Johns live in Washington. Joe, getting very close to the president, the Russia investigation.
JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, John. Jared Kushner has played many roles, the president's Mr. Fix-It, a member of the first family, and now he is the first person currently inside the Trump White House to come under scrutiny, though he's not believed to be a target of the Russia investigation.
JOHNS: President Trump's son-in-law and most trusted advisor.
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's very good at politics.
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 is 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 Russian 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.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Jared did a job during the transition in the campaign where he was a conduit 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 he met with a banker, 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 hire Flynn after the election. But a source close to Kushner disputes this account.
JOHNS: Even with all this, it is not clear if the FBI plans to talk to Kushner, but investigators believe he would be able to help provide information to assist the probe. A spokesman said Kushner was unaware of the FBI's interest in him. Back to you.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much, Joe, for all that reporting. Let's bring in our political panel to discuss. We have CNN political analyst David Gregory and Abby Phillip, and CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd. Phil, I want to start with you. You obviously spent some time in the FBI. The FBI and federal investigators cast a wide net. It is no surprise they would look at Jared Kushner, given his relationship with the president, given his own contacts with the Russians. What do you see here?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I see a complex investigation that's going to take a long time to develop. Think of all the information federal investigators are looking at. Let's say they're looking at 10, 15, 20, 30 people who were around the campaign, gathering things like financial information, communications information, all those cellphone calls, text calls. Then they're starting to conduct interviews. That is not only a single interview, Alisyn, that's interviews over months or longer because when you interview someone for the first time and you find two months later that another person contradicts him, you have to then reschedule and go back and try to determine who is lying.
So what I see here is investigators pulling together that massive amount of data and interviews and waiting until further in the process to walk into someone central like Jared Kushner because they don't want to walk into the room until they have a good enough picture to ask him really tough questions. He's not there just to answer questions. He's there for them to determine when they have the answers whether he is going to be truthful or not.
BERMAN: And David Gregory, Jared Kushner is not Carter Page, not some guy the president claims he never met. I mean, Jared Kushner is a guy who eats at his dinner table and could call him "Pop." He's also senior advisor in charge of everything really important inside this administration, a key figure now. DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And somebody who has got
business relationships throughout the world that are the same relationships that the Trump family business has as well. So that becomes important in terms of conflict of interest, which have been documented.
But this is someone who knows the president's mind about Russia, who knows the key personnel, what the discussions have been, and may have been privy to things that are serious, maybe unserious, but, as Phil says, are about ways that are obvious and not so obvious how Russians may have tried to compromise the campaign or attack the campaign.
[08:05:03] So he's necessarily somebody who would be the focus of an investigation because he'll necessarily have so much information, which makes him so important. And his cooperation is important. There may be a point where his cooperation may not be forthcoming depending upon what investigators find and how they present it to his attorneys.
CAMEROTA: Abby, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was able to explain or is trying to explain some of his contacts with Russians that he did not disclose as there being so many, you know, diplomats and dignitaries that he would run into that he just couldn't disclose them all and didn't think that it was all worthwhile. Why didn't Jared Kushner disclose his contacts with Russia?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's a really good question I don't think we have any good answers to. What's clear is that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, they have a lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, who is a Democrat and someone who they brought on to help them be on the up and up on a lot of these ethics issues, including the information that they provide on their security clearance. And it's really puzzling that even despite their presenting this as an effort to go above and beyond, they have omitted some really basic information from some of these forms. And they've only disclosed them after the fact.
So these are some of the questions that I'm sure for investigators raise a lot of questions. And Jared Kushner is not like a lot of other people in the Trump circle who were partly involved in the campaign and no longer were involved in the transition, didn't come into the White House. This is not a Paul Manafort. This is not a Carter Page. This is someone who has been a constant throughout the campaign, who is about as close to the president as one could possibly get. And, so, the fact he is the focus really suggests that investigators think that it is very fishy that there are all these meetings, some of which he didn't disclose, and that this is the one guy who has been there from beginning to end, and that has raised a lot of questions, made him a very important person in this investigation.
BERMAN: Phil Mudd, as an investigator, the initial nondisclosure on some of those forms for Jared Kushner, the nondisclosure from Jeff Sessions on meetings with ambassadors, for instance, which he says that he was told not to disclose by the FBI.
CAMEROTA: And Phil said he understood yesterday.
BERMAN: How much of a red flag is that for an investigator?
MUDD: It's not a red flag yet. We discussed yesterday. But let me offer a little more context today in light of what's been said about Jared Kushner. He's going to meet thousands of people a year. I met all kinds of foreign security officers. You have got to make a choice. Which of those are worth disclosing, because you are not going to disclose hundreds of meetings. That's forever paperwork.
Here is the question. Close and continuing contact, was the contact substantial. If I meet somebody at a cocktail party and say hello, how are you doing, when I was in the business I would not have put that on a form. On the other hand, to be clear, if he sat down for a business meeting with a Russian banker and that business meeting involves conversations about, for example, a partnership, transfer of money, then you sit up and say that kind of needs to be on the form and I want to know why it's not. It's all about context, John.
CAMEROTA: David Gregory, let's talk about another big piece of news, the travel ban. The president's travel ban has once again been shot down by yet another court. So where does that leave us?
GREGORY: Well, it's interesting. I was reading the opinion last night. This was in the fourth district which among legal eagles is considered an increasingly liberal circuit, and like the ninth circuit in California. So it wasn't completely surprising that the injunction against the ban was upheld.
This has a long way to go. What was so interesting about the opinion here was a couple of things. One, the feeling that in fact there does have to be judicial oversight even in an area where the president has the most authority over national security, but that there is a right for the courts to take a look at this and weigh in. They found the majority opinion that this was dripping with religious animus and that this was a violation of the establishment cause of the Constitution.
There was a mixed -- there was disagreement about whether you can and should consider what a candidate says on the campaign trail as being influenced -- whether it influenced the actual policy. In this case they found that it did. Ultimately I think the Supreme Court is going to look at this as an infringement on presidential power, and I think there is still a lot of thinking that the Supreme Court will side with President Trump on this.
BERMAN: It's just strange that someday months down the line the Supreme Court may side with the president. Maybe they will get that temporary travel ban that said was urgent as of January. Fascinating. All right, David Gregory, Phil Mudd, Abby Phillip, thanks so much for being with us.
Some moments after winning Montana's special election, an apology from the Republican candidate charged with assaulting a reporter. CNN's Ryan Young live in Montana with the very latest. Ryan?
[08:10:06] RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of questions about this one, John. What exactly happened in that room? What a tough 24 hours, but so far there is now an apology that's out there.
GREG GIANFORTE, (R) MONTANA REPRESENTATIVE-ELECT: Thank you, Montana!
YOUNG: 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 did the same thing. Get the hell out of here! Get the hell out of here!
YOUNG: 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.
YOUNG: Gianforte's apology coming after fellow Republicans on the Hill remained largely silent on the attack.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure exactly what happened.
YOUNG: Showing an unwillingness to condemn Gianforte's behavior.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't have a course on body slamming when I went to school. I missed that course.
YOUNG: Some even pointing a finger at Democrats.
REP. TRENT FRANKS, (R) ARIZONA: The left has precipitated this tense, confrontational approach throughout the country in recent months.
YOUNG: This despite audio evidence and eyewitness accounts from FOX News of the confrontation.
ALICIA ACUNA, REPORTER, 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.
YOUNG: House Speaker Paul Ryan conceding that an apology was appropriate after being pressed by reporters.
REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: There is no time when a physical altercation should occur.
YOUNG: On the ground in Montana, some of Gianforte's supporters also seemingly unphased by the assault charges.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The guy does one thing that doesn't mean he's that way all the time.
YOUNG: Some even leveling their own hostile threats to a CNN reporter covering the story.
BEN JACOBS, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE GUARDIAN": A health democratic process fires journalism. That's why the First Amendment is there.
YOUNG: We're also learning that president Trump is weighing in from Sicily, saying what a great win in Montana. So you can already see some police fallout from this as well. We do know that Gianforte will have a court date sometime before June 7th and he may have to face a couple more reporters before then asking him some more questions. Alisyn?
CAMEROTA: Yes, Ryan, you're right. We have seen this stretch across the Atlantic Ocean today. Thank you very much for that, because this morning President Trump is at his first G-7 summit and he just mentioned that Montana Congressional election. Sara Murray joins us from Sicily, the site of the summit. What is the president saying?
SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. Like Ryan mentioned, just a quick talk about domestic politics there, saying it was a great win in Montana. But here at the G-7, President Trump is going to be focused on a number of contentious issues as he's meeting with his European allies. They are going to be trying to get a better sense of where he stands on this Paris climate accord, whether he is still considering pulling out from it. And certainly a number of European leaders are urging him to stick in that climate accord.
Now, on from that, there's going to be a robust discussion on terrorism in the wake of that horrific attack in Manchester. President Trump and Theresa May are slated to meet on the sidelines of this meeting. This as the U.S.-U.K. intelligence relationship has been strained. They have been very close intelligence partners, sharing things back and forth, but the U.K. has been offended by what they perceive as leaks coming out of the U.S. intelligence community related to this attack and their investigation into it, so that will certainly be an interesting discussion to watch for.
One of the things, though, that we really haven't heard much from the president on is Russia. Remember not long ago this was not the G-7. It was the G-8 before Russia got booted out. And a number of countries here still eye Russia very warily, but we have not heard any criticism yet from the president. And in fact one of his senior advisors said right now the U.S. has no position on whether it will maintain these sanctions that the U.S. put in place against Russia under the Obama administration.
Now, if one thing is clear about President Trump's debut on the world stage, it is that he is not afraid to offer up some harsh criticism even of our allies. In a private meeting with German officials he said the Germans are very bad on trade. A senior administration official Gary Cohn actually confirmed that that was the message the president took to the Germans. He has talked before about how there should not be such a robust German surplus and the U.S. needs to renegotiate trade deals so America is getting a better end of those deals. Clearly that's a message he took directly to them at private meetings. Back to you guys.
BERMAN: All right, some of the U.S. greatest allies right there. Sara Murray, thanks so much for being with us.
The Trump-Russia probe getting more attention, getting more complex. How much is it affecting the White House and his congressional agenda? We're going to speak with a top Republican next.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST, NEW DAY: Republicans continue to face criticism over the new CBO score that finds 23 million more Americans would be uninsured over the next decade under the House healthcare plan. This amid questions about whether the ballooning Russia investigation is overshadowing the president's legislative agenda.
Joining us now to talk about this and more is Republican Congressman Tom Cole. He is the House deputy whip. Good morning, congressman.
REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: Good morning.
CAMEROTA: The president's son-in-law and top advisor Jared Kushner is reportedly now being looked at by federal investigators. Do you think this is getting in the way of the president's legislative agenda?
COLE: Well, frankly, we're moving legislatively pretty rapidly. We've actually passed more legislation in the opening 120 or 130 days of the administration than the last previous six presidents. So, we're clearly doing things.
On the other hand, would you like to be talking about this? No. But I applaud Mr. Kushner because frankly he's been very forthcoming. He's offer to testify and he's cooperating fully.
So, again, we hope the investigation proceeds and is done professionally and over quickly. But, again, I think at the end of the day, we're going to find out that there's not much there there, so to speak, in terms of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
CAMEROTA: But how concerned are you that this seems to have moved from the campaign now to the Oval Office frankly?
COLE: Well, of course, you're always concerned. You'd prefer that this not be happening. But again, the appropriate authorities are in charge.
Look, it was the deputy attorney general of this administration that made the decision to appoint a special counsel. That special counsel is a very widely respected person, a professional, a former FBI director.
So, again, there's three congressional investigations going on. So, again, would you like to have this? But has it stopped legislation? It has not.
CAMEROTA: Let's talk about the House health care bill. You voted for it. The CBO score is now out. They believe that 23 million fewer people will be covered over the course of the next decade? Are you concerned?
Well, look, I look at CBO numbers as informative, but not definitive. Frankly, they're quite often wrong. And in this case, many of their judgments are, I think, in my view, suspect, which are people will literally leave Medicaid rather than stay on.
And again, at the end of the day, most of these are voluntary decisions. That is not people being kicked off healthcare, but people deciding that the Obamacare system or the federal healthcare system is not where they want to be. So, that's point one.
Point two frankly is I don't worry about any of this stuff too much until we see what the Senate does because a bill out of one chamber is not law of the land. The Senate will do something very different.
Then, we'll go to conference. And I think that's when it gets very serious because you're bargaining between both the House and the Senate to try and put a bill on the president's desk.
So, right now, it's like pulling up a plant and judging its growth by looking at the roots every day. It just doesn't make a lot of sense.
CAMEROTA: I hear you.
COLE: Let the process work. Let's see where we end up.
CAMEROTA: I understand, but constituents seem to already be judging it on the face of the House plan. This is based on the town halls.
COLE: I think there's a pretty systematic effort to misinform constituents that this is the final product, and that's fair enough. Look, this is politics. It's not for the faint of heart. But at the end of the day, it will be the ultimate legislation I think where public opinion is formed.
So, you have to fight through these things. And if you believe in something - and this bill, in my state, is much better than the current system where we're down to a single provider. It's losing money. We have a rate hike of 69 percent.
Since we're a non-Medicaid expansion state, we're taking care of patients in hospitals that were not being compensated for. The 31 states are. So, our bill addresses those things.
So, it's pretty easy for me at least at home to defend the bill that we've got.
CAMEROTA: Well, let's talk about the preexisting conditions because this seems to be what constituents have fixated on, fastened on because they're very concerned about it. Here's what the CBO says, over time, it would be more difficult for less healthy people, including people with pre-existing medical conditions, in those states to purchase insurance because their premiums will continue to increase rapidly. So, it's not misinformation that constituents -
COLE: Well, look, the CBO has a point of view. It's quite often wrong. It was wrong about the Bush tax cuts, wrong about Medicare Part D, I think in this case it's wrong again.
But the idea that we're not taking care of pre-existing conditions isn't true. I mean, it's in the legislation. And frankly, then you'd need a waiver at the state level, which means your governor and your state legislature would have to - and have to meet very stringent conditions.
So, again, I think this is something pulled out of context and exploited for political purposes. And again, I don't complain about it because it's just the reality of politics, but pre-existing conditions will continue to be covered.
CAMEROTA: I just want to show you the latest FOX News poll out just yesterday or this week. 53 percent oppose the GOP bill that passed the House to replace Obamacare. Fifty-three percent of the country now feels Obamacare has been "mostly a good thing" for the country.
So, you must be hoping for some pretty big changes.
COLE: Well, changes happen. Obviously, most of the country hasn't felt Obamacare was very good or the Democrats wouldn't have lost the majority or certainly would have gotten it back by now.
And, look, it's a very unpopular and very failed system. You can look at premiums, you can look at the amount of the deductions that people can take and it just has not worked well. And so, we could sit here and let it collapse on its own and blame the Democrats. That would be the politically astute thing to do and it would be morally wrong.
We see the system is failing and millions of Americans are involved, I think you try and fix it. That's what we're trying to do. We're midway through the process. We'll see where we end up.
CAMEROTA: Congressman, let's talk about the Republican win in Montana for the open House seat despite the fact that the candidate was charged with assault.
Greg Gianforte won there last night. And just moments ago, President Trump, in Sicily, responded to this. Let me play it for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Great win in Montana.
(END VIDEO CLIP) CAMEROTA: I don't know if you could hear that, Congressman, but (INAUDIBLE) in front of a press gaggle, he said great win in Montana. Is that all we take away from this incident?
COLE: No. I mean, obviously, to Mr. Giant's (ph) credit, he apologized fully and forthrightly last night at his own watch party. That's a hard thing to do. He made a bad mistake. There's no doubt about it. I was very critical of the action. I don't think there's an excuse for it.
He's got to face legal consequences for it. But you begin to make amends by taking responsibility and making an apology. He did that last night. I certainly accept it. That was a difficult thing to do.
In terms of the race itself, look, you'd rather win than lose. Had we lost, there would be a lot of people, obviously, blaming the candidate today, but others trying to draw larger conclusions from a single special election about our prospect for 2018.
So, I'm glad he apologized. That was right thing to do. I'm sorry that he engaged in the actions that he did. And I'm glad that he's sorry as well. But I'd rather, again, politically win the race than lose.
CAMEROTA: But is it problematic now that he's won and you will have a colleague who is facing assault charges?
COLE: Well, it's certainly something that he's going to have to deal with and that I know he would prefer not to. That's why I'm sure he apologized last night. So, we'll just let the legal system take its course and he's going to have to deal with that. It's an unfortunate incident.
Look, there's no excusing, there's no defending it. But he did win the election and I think the election was fought largely on his views and his opponent's views were dramatically different. From our standpoint, we won the election on the issues, not on the candidate behavior, obviously.
CAMEROTA: But, last, congressman, do you think there's something larger going on here? Are you seeing more hostility towards the press? Do you think the vitriol or at least the heated rhetoric about the press is taking a toll?
COLE: Well, first of all, I think we always hear vitriol and heated rhetoric about the press. We have since the very beginning of the republic. Politicians don't like press scrutiny. They never have. They never will.
But it's absolutely indispensable to an open and free democracy. You have to have an exchange of views. And, look, the press, I don't consider them non-biased or without prejudice because they have points of view and we have multiple different entities that are expressing. But by and large, they do a good job. They keep the American people well-informed. And sunlight is the best antidote or disinfectant for any kind of problem in the political system. So, again, I applaud them for what they do and we need a vigorous press. So, again, I am glad reporters go out there and ask tough questions. That's fair enough. That's what politicians are supposed to respond to.
CAMEROTA: We appreciate that perspective. Congressman Tom Cole, thank you very much for being on NEW DAY.
COLE: Thank you.
BERMAN: Even if journalists are doing a bad job, they shouldn't be body-slammed. I think that's an important point as well.
All right. We now know the role of the president's son-in-law and top advisor Jared Kushner. It is being investigated in the FBI's Russia probe. Given their close family ties, how concerned should the president be?