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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With California Congressman Ted Lieu; Jared Kushner Under FBI Scrutiny in Russia Probe; Hillary Clinton Speaks Out; Clinton Compares Trump to Nixon, Talks Impeachment; Chinese Warplane Conducts Risky Maneuvers Near U.S. Jet. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 26, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: As the feds look at Jared Kushner in the Russia investigation, some Democrats say the president's son-in-law should be stripped of his security clearance. I will talk to a congressman who has been warning about Kushner's role for weeks.
Dangerous maneuvers. An armed Chinese fighter jet takes reckless action near a U.S. military plane. We are following new tensions tonight in a simmering dispute with Beijing.
And trolling Trump. Hillary Clinton seizes on the scandal swirling around the president, using a commencement speech to suggest Mr. Trump may suffer the same downfall as Richard Nixon. Stand by to hear her toughest attacks on the president since the election.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the Russia investigation.
Tonight, the Democratic National Committee is calling for Jared Kushner's security clearance to be revoked, as the president's senior adviser and son-in-law is now under FBI scrutiny.
CNN has learned that the investigation of Russia's election meddling is touching on multiple roles Kushner played in both the Trump campaign and during the transition.
Also breaking, sources tell CNN that James Comey knew a critical piece of Russian information related to the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe was fake. We're told the then FBI director feared the information would be leaked and undermine his investigation, and that influenced his decision last summer to publicly declare that the Clinton probe was over without consulting the attorney general.
Also tonight, as the Russia probe intensifies, "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that the president is now actively considering major changes in the White House, including shaking up his senior team. Mr. Trump reportedly has been discussing the possible changes during his overseas trip that could include replacing Sean Spicer as press secretary and having his tweets vetted by his lawyers.
And Hillary Clinton in her toughest attack on President Trump since losing the election is publicly now raising the specter of impeachment. In a fiery commencement speech, Hillary Clinton suggested that Trump presidency might end in disgrace like Richard Nixon's.
This hour, I will talk with Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu, a member of Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's go to our CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.
Elise, Jared Kushner now under FBI scrutiny.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
The FBI hasn't talked to Jared Kushner yet and it is not clear they will, but because Kushner was so intimately involved in the campaign and the transition, investigators feel he may be able to reveal information to assist FBI in their probe.
LABOTT (voice-over): Tonight, the FBI criminal probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election now focusing on President Trump's most trusted adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner.
JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: The White House has been trying to get behind a lot of these programs.
LABOTT: Officials tell CNN Kushner is not the target of the probe, and there are no allegations he did anything wrong.
PETE HOEKSTRA (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: He's not under investigation. If Mueller is going to do a thorough investigation of Russian influence or attempted influence in this election, they are going to touch a lot of people in the Trump campaign.
LABOTT: But the FBI is drilling down on Kushner's multiple roles in the Trump campaign and post-election transition, key among them the Trump campaign's data analytics operation run by Kushner and used to target voters in key states that helped Trump win the presidency.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: I have heard, and it's been reported, that part of the misinformation/disinformation campaign that was launched was launched in three key states, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and it was launched, interestingly, not to reinforce Trump voters to go out, but actually targeted potential Clinton voters with misinformation in the last week.
LABOTT: Federal investigators are examining whether Russian operatives used campaign associates, wittingly or unwittingly, to help Russia push that negative information about Hillary Clinton online.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jared is going to do a great job.
LABOTT: As Trump's top foreign policy aide, Kushner's contacts with Russia are also under scrutiny. Kushner was one of at least four Trump campaign aides in contact with Russia's ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, and in December met with the head of a Russian bank under sanctions by the U.S. with close ties to Vladimir Putin.
At first, he failed to list those contacts when he applied for his security clearance, but he later corrected the forms, and, tonight, new questions about Kushner's relationship with ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. According to one source, Kushner and his wife, Trump's daughter Ivanka, wanted Flynn in the White House and pushed President Trump to hire him, a point disputed by those close to Kushner.
Flynn is still at the center of the FBI probe, and investigations on Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers want a 9/11-style independent commission to investigate.
REP. SETH MOULTON (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It seems like, another day, another name. It's hard to find who in this administration is not being connected with suspicious ties to Russia. And it just points out how important this investigation is.
LABOTT: And in a statement to CNN, Kushner's lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said that her client has previously volunteered to share with Congress information about his meetings with the Russians and will do the same if contacted in connection with any other inquiry.
So, Wolf, Kushner is willing to talk to the FBI and cooperate if asked.
BLITZER: Yes, Jamie Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general during the Bill Clinton administration, very interesting lawyer that he has retained.
All right, Elise, thank you very much, Elise Labott reporting.
Now to CNN's new reporting on a critical piece of intelligence fabricated by Russia and how it influenced the then FBI Director James Comey.
Let's go to our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, who broke the story for us.
So, Dana, what are you learning?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that the then FBI Director James Comey knew that a critical piece of Russian information related to the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation was fake. But he felt that he needed to act anyway because he was concerned that
if the information became public it would undermine the investigation and the Justice Department itself. This is according to multiple sources talking to my colleagues Shimon Prokupecz, Gloria Borger, and myself.
And 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. Now, you may remember earlier this week "The Washington Post" reported on this intelligence and doubts about its credibility.
The fact that Comey felt he had to act 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 claimed to show that then Attorney General Lynch had been compromised in the Clinton investigation because e-mails between then DNC Chair and Debbie Wasserman Schultz and a political operative were saying allegedly that Lynch would have made the FBI Clinton probe go away.
According to one government official, in classified briefings, Comey told lawmakers that he was afraid that that information would drop, that's a word that one source used with me, and that it would 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 validity of the information didn't matter because if it became public they had no way to discredit it, Wolf, without burning their sources and methods.
BLITZER: It's interesting, Dana, because in public, the reason that Comey gave for breaking protocol, holding that news conference last July on the Hillary Clinton e-mail is because Bill Clinton had boarded then Attorney General Loretta Lynch's plane a week earlier and he deemed that inappropriate.
BASH: That's right. That was the public testimony that he gave as recently as May 3.
But in these classified sessions a couple of months ago, Comey didn't even mention that plane incident. Instead, he told lawmakers that this Russian information was the primary reason he took this unusual step to announce the end of the Clinton probe, Wolf.
BLITZER: You could say -- you could argue, obviously, now that we know about this, this is another example of Russian intelligence effectively impacting the election.
BASH: It's almost like a house of mirrors. And it is actually really alarming and scary, if you think about it, especially the chain of events that all of this helped set off. When Comey held his press conference in July of 2016 announcing no charges against Clinton, he also took an extraordinary and many people say inappropriate step of calling her -- quote -- "extremely careless."
Clinton aides are still convinced and were immediately that her reputation was damaged. Now they say that it was damaged to the point that voters never really took her seriously and she never recovered from her reputation being hurt.
That probably wouldn't have happened without this Russian interference. Also, talking to many officials on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, dissemination of fake information is still a really big issue. Multiple sources tell us that Russia is still trying to spread false information in order to cloud and confuse investigations that are going on as we speak -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very good reporting. Thanks very much, Dana, for that, Dana Bash working the story.
Let's get some immediate reaction to all the breaking stories.
We are joined by Congressman Ted Lieu. He's a Democrat on the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf. Honored to be on your show.
BLITZER: So, tell us why we are only now finding out about this fake Russian intelligence memo that was leaked out there that clearly had an impact on the FBI director, even though Comey knew at the time it was fake.
LIEU: Well, first of all, this goes to show that Russia is not our ally.
They actively tried to undermine U.S. elections last year. They're still trying to do it now. And it is important that we take all the steps to counter Russian propaganda.
I disagreed with FBI Director Comey's decisions last year, but I can't second-guess them, because he knew that there were conservative media sites and other media platforms that were more than willing to false Russian propaganda and Russian fake news.
BLITZER: So, his concern, based on what your analysis is, that even though he knew it was fake, there would be some who would believe that garbage.
LIEU: That's absolutely correct. And there was no way for him or FBI to really defend that information without, as we now know, conveying that they knew about certain sources that they would not want disclosed.
So, they would have their hands tied and then you would have all these conservative media platforms propagating this fake news.
BLITZER: The former FBI Director Comey was asked about this Russian document when he testified before Congress in open session, Congressman, back on May 3.
And I want you to listen to this exchange he had with the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: "The New York Times" recently reported that the FBI had found a troubling e-mail among the ones the Russians hacked from Democrat operatives. The e-mail reportedly provided assurances that Attorney General Lynch would protect Secretary Clinton by making sure the FBI investigation -- quote -- "didn't go too far."
How and when did you first learn of this document? Also, who sent it and who received it?
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: That's not a question I can answer in this forum, Mr. Chairman, because it would call for a classified response. I have briefed leadership of the Intelligence Committees on that particular issue. But I can't talk about it here.
GRASSLEY: What steps did the FBI take to determine whether Attorney General Lynch had actually given assurances that the political fix was in no matter what? Did the FBI interview the person who wrote the e- mail? If not, why not?
COMEY: I have to give you the same answer. I can't talk about that in an unclassified setting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, Congressman, if the document was fake and Comey knew the document was fake, why didn't he set the record straight for the American public?
LIEU: I think, in an open hearing like, he can't really talk about classified information.
But this does go to show, again, the immense propaganda machine that Russia has launched upon the United States. And I think we also really need to understand that this is one of the reasons that Trump fired Comey. FBI Director Comey was trying to preserve and protect the integrity and independence of the FBI.
That's why he took the actions he took. And that independence led Donald Trump to fire Comey because he was scared of the FBI investigation into Russia collusion.
BLITZER: As you know, Hillary Clinton believes -- she said it publicly -- that Comey's announcement 11 days before the election that he was reopening the investigation into her e-mail server cost her the election.
So, how much of a role do you believe that fake Russian document played in her loss?
LIEU: I actually believe that Russia's immense cyber-attacks and propaganda machine influenced the election.
I have no idea of how it influenced the election and whether, for example, it caused Michigan and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to go for Donald Trump. There is no way for me or really anyone to evaluate that, other than to say that there was an influence by what the Russians did to the United States last year.
BLITZER: What is the appropriate next step for Congress to take in light of these late-breaking revelations?
LIEU: I am pleased that the U.S. Senate is proceeding with a bipartisan investigation into not just into Trump-Russian collusion, but also what Russia did to the United States with its massive cyber- attacks, with this fake news, as well as the House Intelligence Committee.
And I'm very pleased there's now a special counsel appointed to investigate the collusion between Russia and potentially the Trump campaign.
BLITZER: And you have confidence in Robert Mueller, the new special counsel who is leading the investigation?
LIEU: Absolutely. He is a fiercely independent person. And if there was collusion, he is going to find it.
BLITZER: You reacted to CNN's reporting that the FBI is looking into Jared Kushner as part of the Russia investigation by tweeting this -- quote -- "Security clearance for Jared Kushner must be suspended NOW," now in all caps. "Russians know -- the Russians now know he is vulnerable and can leverage him with real or fake threats."
Why do you think that's necessary?
LIEU: Well, this example with FBI Director Comey is a -- highlights what can happen.
Even though they had a fake Russian document, they didn't know what would happen if it became public. Now you have Jared Kushner, who he understands that people know he is under FBI scrutiny. Russians can go to him and threaten him with fake or real information. He is now in a compromisable position.
He needs to have his security clearance suspended. I actually called for his clearance to be suspended last month, along Representative Don Beyer, because he lied on his security clearance form when he omitted all contacts with Russia.
BLITZER: But he fixed it fairly quickly after that. Right?
LIEU: Yes, because we -- people pointed out to him that he lied on his security clearance form, so of course he had to fix it.
BLITZER: Have you been briefed on any of these late developments as far as Jared Kushner is concerned? because we are told, yes, he is under scrutiny, but he's not a target of the investigation. He's not a -- you know, they are not looking at anything he did that's illegal or wrong. They just want to scrutinize those contacts.
LIEU: That's correct. The reporting shows he is not a target. But you don't know when someone might turn into a target. He is definitely a subject.
And, again, the Russians can go to him and say, well, hey, we're going to provide information out there that you may not like and all of a sudden he is in a compromised position. That's why his security clearance needs to be suspended until the FBI finishes its counterintelligence and criminal investigation into Trump-Russia collusion.
BLITZER: Besides Kushner's relationship with the fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and his meetings with Russians, the FBI is interested in the role Kushner played in what's called the campaign's data analytics operation.
What are the possible concerns on that issue?
LIEU: The concern is that the Trump campaign and the Russians coordinated or worked together with data to target specific voters and to drive certain messages to certain people and, if they got any of this information knowingly from the Russians, and used it, that would be a problem.
We already know that a Russian hacker by the name of Guccifer 2.0 provided information to a GOP campaign operative in Florida that was then used to target Democratic congressional candidates. So, Russia not only targeted our presidential election. They also targeted a congressional election last year.
BLITZER: "The Wall Street Journal" just reporting now that the White House is considering to have a team of lawyers -- having a team of lawyers vet the president's tweets and other social media posts.
What's your reaction to that?
LIEU: I would highly recommend that. In fact, if I was on the president's senior staff, I would take his phone away from him and not allow him to tweet, because you got foreign intelligence services watching how this person reacts in real time.
They can do a huge profile on him. They are learning a lot of information about our American president. And that's information that we don't really want our foreign intelligence services to have. BLITZER: But if the lawyers vet the forthcoming tweets, that
potentially could diminish that fear?
LIEU: Yes, I will guarantee you, if lawyers vet his tweets, they will all be like happy July Fourth kind of tweets.
BLITZER: That would be it.
Let's move on to another sensitive issue that is coming to the fore today. After saying that the White House doesn't have a position on Russian sanctions, the president's economic adviser, Gary Cohn, has now clarified that the Trump administration won't remove any of those sanctions against Russia, may actually look to get tougher on Russia.
Do you believe that statement has teeth?
LIEU: I do.
On the House Foreign Affairs Committee, there is bipartisan support to push back on Russia with their efforts to undermine not just U.S. democracy, but democracy around the world.
And I have to say it is very troubling that it looks like the American president is undermining NATO at exactly the wrong time. We need to have a strong NATO alliance and we need to push back on what Russia is doing.
BLITZER: How would you rate President Trump's overall performance as he wraps up his first international trip as president?
I would have liked him to have done better. I'm an American. I wanted him to be strong. But he made a lot of puzzling statements. If you read his speech to NATO, he basically went all the way over there and offended a bunch of NATO member countries.
If he was going to do that, he might as well just not have gone there. He was basically saying these NATO countries somehow owe money to the U.S. or to NATO. That's just completely wrong. NATO is not some sort of mafia protection racket. It is an alliance, one of the most important defense alliances in the history of the world and no member nation owes any money to the U.S. or to NATO.
BLITZER: As you know, the president today issued a message for the start of Ramadan, which is a tradition at the White House.
What did you make of the president's message? I know you had a chance to read it.
LIEU: I believe the message was inappropriate, because when you devote an entire paragraph to terrorist attacks, you are somehow imputing to the 99.9 percent of Muslims who are peaceful that somehow they're linked to these terrorist attacks.
That is inappropriate. You just don't do that in a holiday message. It would be as if the president did a happy Easter message, and then did an entire paragraph saying the KKK shouldn't use Christian ideology and pervert it to do violence. That would be inappropriate.
He can talk about that in another place, but not in a holiday message.
BLITZER: What's your reaction, finally, Congressman to your newest Republican colleague to be the new congressman just elected from Montana, Greg Gianforte? He's charged with assaulting a reporter. You saw last night in his victory speech he apologized to that reporter.
LIEU: He should have apologized before the victory speech.
I don't know Greg. I welcome him to the U.S. House of Representatives, but if he did assault, he should be prosecuted for that as well.
BLITZER: All right, Congressman Ted Lieu, thank you so much for joining us.
LIEU: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, we're standing by for new information. There's lots of breaking news unfolding right now. We will take a quick break.
We will be right back.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that President Trump is considering a major shakeup of his senior staff once he returns home from overseas, including having a team of lawyers review his tweets and social media posts before they are sent out.
The Russia investigation certainly has been hanging over this entire trip and clouding his talks with world leaders.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He is traveling with the president. He's at the G7 summit in Sicily right now.
Jim, we saw the Trump White House doing some new damage control today. Update our viewers.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
The president is close to wrapping his first overseas trip. He spent much of the day, as he has during this entire trip, largely avoiding reporters' questions, leaving it to his top aides to clean up and do damage control after the president's comments to other world leaders.
ACOSTA (voice-over): At the G7 summit in Sicily, the Italians put on quite an air show, almost flying as fast as President Trump racing past the cameras as he congratulated Greg Gianforte, the victorious Montana congressional candidate charged with misdemeanor assault after a reporter accused him of body-slamming him.
TRUMP: Great win in Montana.
ACOSTA: With the Russia investigation hanging over him, the president spent another day of his foreign trip dodging reporters' questions.
Instead, the White House trotted out top economic adviser Gary Cohn, who was forced to do some damage control and state the administration wasn't changing its position on sanctions against Russia.
GARY COHN, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: We are not lowering our sanctions on Russia. If anything, we would probably look to get tougher on Russia.
ACOSTA: Cohn was clarifying his own comments, after telling reporters something different: "I think the president is looking at it. Right now, we don't have a position."
While aides snapped this picture of Cohn talking to reporters, the briefing was actually off-camera and closed to the full White House press corps. The White House also did some cleanup after what the president was quoted as telling European leaders in a German publication.
"The Germans are bad, very bad," the president was heard saying. "See the millions of cars they are selling to the U.S.? Terrible. We will stop this."
The president declined to comment, so it was Gary Cohn with the explanation. Telling reporters off-camera, he said: "They are very bad on trade, but he doesn't have a problem with Germany."
QUESTION: Mr. President, can the British trust America with intelligence?
ACOSTA: The president has largely avoided taking questions all week long, a break from what his predecessors have done on nearly all of their overseas trips.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thought I would give you guys a chance to fire off some questions now.
ACOSTA: So far in Sicily, where the volcano Mount Etna is blowing smoke, there have been no diplomatic eruptions, like the president pushing past NATO allies in Brussels.
Here, the leaders signed an agreement to ramp up counterterrorism efforts. And the president released a statement to mark the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, condemning terror as acts of depravity that are directly contrary to the spirit of Ramadan.
The White House says the president is still getting a handle on one major issue, whether the U.S. will stay in the Paris climate change agreement. Just ask Gary Cohn.
COHN: His views are evolving. And he came here to learn and he came here to get smarter.
ACOSTA: Now, one subject that White House officials are trying to avoid is Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser who is now of interest to federal investigators.
Asked about that, Gary Cohn cut off a reporter's question. And, Wolf, we have been told to not hold our breaths on this final day of the foreign trip. The president is likely not to hold a news conference tomorrow. We are told that the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, will be briefing reporters. But we do not expect any surprise drop-ins from the president.
During this entire foreign trip, Wolf, we have seen more of Gary Cohn and other top advisers than the president of the United States -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta in Sicily for us, thanks very much.
Let's bring in our team of analysts and specialists.
Bianna Golodryga, you know, "The Wall Street Journal"'s report that the White House now considering have a team of lawyers vet the president's tweets before he posts those tweets, other social media posts, is that at all realistic?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS: Yes, I will believe it when I see it.
I mean, I think the president doesn't tweet or seems to stick to protocol for a couple of days, and everyone thinks we are seeing a changed man. Maybe the Wi-Fi just isn't working so well where he is out in Italy.
But -- but the truth of the matter is, how can you make this work? What, are you going to have you a lawyer with you at 2 in the morning or at 11 in the morning or on the weekends or on the golf course? It's not feasible. And at the end of the day, it really is a matter of the president deciding to change his behavior and his habits. And I don't think that's going to be very likely.
BLITZER: Some of his more controversial tweets have been at 6:30 in the morning, 6:45. A lot of us remember those tweets.
Susan Hennessey, the president's own words, though, on these social media posts -- Twitter and others -- they've created some legal problems for the president, as well. A vetting system, though, if they do it right now by lawyers -- outside lawyers, inside lawyers -- is it too little too late? SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right, so certainly, he's still
going to be held accountable for everything he said in the past, which has caused a great deal of consternation in the White House and potentially, actually, prolonged these investigations. You know, that's what -- he really shouldn't be commenting on these matters at all. And that's what any lawyer is going to advise him.
I think that's what makes it particularly unrealistic. Because really, you're asking President Trump to go against his every instinct, let lots and lots of news stories come out and just not comment on them and go through sort of the official White House spokespeople. He's proven himself really disinclined to do that in the past.
BLITZER: Kaitlan Collins, you're a White House correspondent. You saw the story "The Wall Street Journal" just posted: "Trump Eyeing White House Shakeup." We've reported similar things over the past few days, but it looks like he's coming back and may decide to get rid of some folks and bring in a whole new team, create the so-called war room to deal with these crises.
KAITLAN COLLINS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "DAILY CALLER": Yes. I think we're hearing three or so people may get fired when he returns from this trip. So what we have to ask ourselves is will it really change anything? This is a White House where Donald Trump runs it. If he changes who his spokesperson is, how is that really going to affect his message?
Because a lot of the problems that have come out of the White House are from Donald Trump's tweets. They're not from Sean Spicer or from Sarah Sanders. They're from the president himself. He's not going to replace himself.
So we're not sure if the shakeup will make all of that big of a difference.
What's interesting to me is to see that, while he's been on this trip, he has not tweeted at all like he did the week before, when he was going after James Comey and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Since he's been on this trip, he's stayed on message. And the only things that have been posted on his Twitter account are graphics that are created by a White House staffer.
BLITZER: Yes. Nice tweets about how wonderful meeting all these world leaders has been.
You know, John Kirby, you saw Dana Bash's report about this fake Russian document that the FBI director at the time, James Comey, had. He knew it was fake, but it clearly influenced his decision making to go public last July in that extraordinary news conference on the Hillary Clinton e-mail server.
JOHN KIRBY, CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, I certainly wouldn't want to get ahead of Director Comey -- former Director Comey and what his thought process was. It wouldn't be -- wouldn't be appropriate for me. But clearly, we'll never know, really, if this thing had leaked, what it would have done. And there's no way to predict that.
But take a couple of steps back and just think about, if this reporting is true, what it means. Not the threat of a leak, but just the perceived potential of a leaked document that we knew was fake in advance and what that could do to the investigation and to the election. This is -- this is the degree to which, the depth to which the Russians have permeated our system and sewed doubt in our own election system. And I think that is really the big story.
BLITZER: Because Bianna, the fear was that, if that document had leaked to the public, there would have been a whole bunch of anti- Hillary Clinton folks, conservative media, others who would have believed that there was this conspiracy going on between the attorney general, the Hillary Clinton campaign to basically cover up any wrongdoing on her part.
GOLODRYGA: Maybe, obviously, hindsight being 20/20, it would have had the conversation at least started as to Russia's involvement at all, at least through these cyberattacks.
I mean, remember, this happened just a few months after we found out that the DNC had been hacked, and at FBI one agent called somebody, a tech guy at the DNC, said, "Hey, something sounds fishy" going over there and never followed up on it.
So I think maybe the conversation would have been had with the nation. We now know that president, that the FBI director may have been a bit too cautious, as to approaching the situation, without wanting to come across as being political. They told the Russian counterparts to knock it off. Maybe they should have been a bit more aggressive, knowing now what we do.
BLITZER: You're a former lawyer over at the National Security Agency. What do you make of this development? Because it seems very, very strange indeed.
HENNESSEY: Well, it certainly puts the decision of Jim Comey to have that press conference in additional context. Right? Sort of knowing what he knew at the time. Actually, I think this makes his decision more defensible. Sort of understanding the complexities.
It's also not clear whether -- what we are talking about in terms of what he knew was fake. So there's inaccurate intelligence. Right? So a real intelligence document that just says something that's not true. Loretta Lynch actually hadn't -- hadn't been co-opted by the DNC. Certainly, he would have provided some assessment of the accuracy of that information.
[18:35:07] Then there's a separate question about it being sort of disinformation, a forgery, a document essentially designed for release.
So it's not clear the extent of what Comey knew and when. But in the past, we know that he's held back information in order to really preserve the appearance of integrity and independence for the FBI. BLITZER: Well, the argument -- the argument here -- and you work with
classified information, John Kirby, at the Pentagon, at the State Department, your whole career. You're a retired rear admiral. The argument, apparently, he didn't want to release, even knowing about this fake document because it could potentially undermine sources and methods--
KIRBY: We do.
BLITZER: -- and that would undermine U.S. national security.
KIRBY: We knew--
BLITZER: Is that realistic?
KIRBY: Yes, it is. Yes, it is. Again, I don't want to second-guess his decision making. It wouldn't be appropriate. But I think that is clearly a justifiable reason to hang onto that and to be careful with it.
I also wonder to the degree with which, again, if the reporting is true, how much some of this sort of contends that there was tension between Loretta Lynch and Jim Comey, that he wouldn't share some of this stuff with her. I find that really interesting.
GOLODRYGA: And it doesn't answer the question, of course, that Comey received a lot of criticism for as to why he offered his own opinion about Hillary Clinton's actions throughout this process, as well. That has nothing to do with this document being fake or if, actually, it was authentic.
BLITZER: The whole -- all the developments, Kaitlan, we're now seeing about the president's son-in-law, his senior adviser, that Jared Kushner, that all of this is unfolding right now. He's not suspected of any wrongdoing. He's not a target of the investigation.
But they're scrutinizing his contacts with Russian officials, including the Russian ambassador to the United States, and looking at other issues. His lawyer is saying he's willing to cooperate. He already is cooperating. He's handed over -- handed over information. What do you make of this?
COLLINS: Well, that's what we need. We need for him to cooperate. We need to hear from Jared Kushner about the nature of what these meetings were. Because the White House has repeatedly failed to clarify what happened during those meetings.
And they also have made several misstatements about who was involved in the meetings, how frequently they happened, and when they happened. And they've had to go back and clarify those.
So what we don't know is what happened in those meetings. And that's a concern, because this is a person who is very close to the president. He's in his family. He has his ear, and he's a trusted ally of Donald Trump's. So that's why it's important.
But the main thing we need to know is to hear from Donald -- from Jared Kushner.
BLITZER: From Jared Kushner himself. And Jamie Gorelick, his lawyer, a former Justice Department official -- she was deputy attorney general during the Bill Clinton administration -- says he's more than happy to cooperate, whatever you need.
GOLODRYGA: And he offered to -- he volunteered to testify, as well. Of course, this was a few months ago. One has to wonder whether or not that offer still stands.
But arguably, no one is closer to this president -- not even Michael Flynn -- than Jared Kushner. His son-in-law, obviously. I remember watching them throughout the campaign. Following each of the debates, The first person that this president would turn to and walk up to was Jared Kushner.
It is a bit disconcerting that he didn't disclose the meetings with the Russian ambassador, with the CEO of a sanctioned Russian bank; and why we're finding out about that after the fact. It is a bit unnerving.
BLITZER: And some Democrats now, including the Democratic National Committee, they want to at least suspend his security clearances. He's the top adviser on a whole host of issues involving Mexico, the Middle East, the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Saudis, Europe. Is that at all realistic? You know something about security clearances.
GOLODRYGA: Right. So this really gets to the core of people's original concerns about the president's son-in-law working in the White House and the reason why we have anti-nepotism laws in the federal government. And that's that, if an ordinary individual, there were serious questions about their meetings with foreign officials, whether or not they'd appropriately disclosed enough information on their security clearance forms, it would be entirely within the realm of possibility that that person's clearance would be temporarily suspended while that investigation was ongoing.
It seems an impossibility or completely off the table in this case, frankly, because he is Donald Trump's son-in-law. And so I do think we are -- we are seeing a really pretty vivid illustration of some of the perils of having a president's family members work in the West Wing.
BLITZER: And related to all of this, we do see some confusion, some conflicting statements, John Kirby, coming in from Gary Cohn, the president's top economic advisor, among others, about Russian sanctions.
BLITZER: Will they be changed? Will they be strengthened? You've seen all that confusion.
KIRBY: Yes. I think somebody got Cohn and told him to clean up the mess. He clearly wasn't on message when it came to -- to sanctions against Russia. And here they are, you know, at the G-7. And he's, you know, indicating that they might not, you know--
BLITZER: It used to be the G-8 when Russia was part of it.
KIRBY: Of all places to say this, that's the worst to do it. So I think they obviously told him to go out there and clean it up.
I'm gratified to hear that sanctions are still in play. And I'm even more gratified to hear that they're thinking about strengthening them. I think as long as Russia continues to refuse to comply with the Minsk agreement and continues to violate the territorial integrity of Ukraine, those sanctions ought to stay in place.
[18:40:05] BLITZER: Kaitlan, you saw what the former House speaker, John Boehner, said today. He weighed in on the Trump presidency. Let me be precise at what he said. He said that President Trump has -- let me read precisely what he said: "Everything else he's done has been a complete disaster. He's still learning how to be president of the United States."
Pretty strong words from John Boehner.
COLLINS: They were very surprising words from John Boehner.
A lot of people focused on John Boehner saying he never wanted to run for president. But that's something we've heard before. But what was most surprising was how critical he was of Donald Trump and Paul Ryan. He said that the presidency has basically been a disaster, except for his foreign policy statements, and that he said that tax reform is a dream that's not going to happen for them.
So it will be really interesting to see what Donald Trump has to say in reaction to that John Boehner interview.
BLITZER: You know, the whole notion of what Boehner is saying right now, that -- I guess he's a free guy. He can say whatever he wants, and he's being rather blunt.
GOLODRYGA: He is being rather blunt. He's John Boehner being John Boehner. He's always been rather blunt. But of course, he saw this coming. He saw this division in Congress. He saw the rise of the Tea Party. Saw the rise of the Freedom Caucus, and he knew this tension that, obviously, Paul Ryan inherited. He saw it coming, and obviously, he thinks that this president, at least right now, is not equipped to deal with it.
BLITZER: What do you think?
HENNESSEY: I mean, I do think he has sort of this, you know, sitting back drinking his glass of wine and enjoying it all unfold.
I do think it speaks to some of the internal divisions in the Republican Party right now. Sort of it's astonishing to hear Boehner say what probably a lot of Republicans are currently thinking. And so I do think that that speaks to the current climate in Congress
and the lack of sort of candor we're seeing as the Republicans themselves are grappling and confronting a president that they don't necessarily recognize as one of their own.
BLITZER: You know it's interesting. Just now, the White House is pushing back on this "Wall Street Journal" report. The headline, "Trump Eyeing White House Shake-Up." They're suggesting that this report is not necessarily true.
KIRBY: Shocked to hear it.
BLITZER: But what would be wrong if there are some serious problems with the White House deciding, you know what? They might need some new, fresh blood. They need -- they may need to shake things up.
KIRBY: Well, there's nothing wrong with that. Look, he's the president of the United States. This is his staff. And he has -- he's in perfectly right to, if he wants to move things around or change things.
But I want to go back to what we were talking about earlier. He is not just the commander in chief; he's the communicator in chief. It has to start with him. So whatever changes he makes, it has to really start with his own philosophy about how to communicate and articulate American domestic and foreign policy.
BLITZER: And it's interesting, you know, Kaitlan, that they're also suggesting this notion of having lawyers vet the president's tweets and his social media posts. Not true. That's not going to happen.
COLLINS: I don't think that's going to -- I don't think Donald Trump would let that happen. That's his one outlet. It was reported this week that the only app on his phone is Twitter. He is not going to let that go. He not going to have a lawyer standing over his shoulder, telling him what to do and what not to do. He doesn't let ---that's not the way he runs his White House. And I don't think he's going to let that happen.
KIRBY: It's a shame that--
BLITZER: The White House officials are calling that part of "The Wall Street Journal" report, about lawyers vetting the tweets, B.S.
Yes. Well, this is his M.O., as well, this sort trepidation as to who will go, who will stay? We talked about this for months now. Will Reince Priebus go? Will his communications director leave? I mean, we're also hearing about some names, blasts from the past, Corey Lewandowski, David Bossie possibly coming back, as well. I think some critics may say that they feed some of his worst manners and habits. So we shall see.
KIRBY: I think -- back on Twitter. It is possible to have a staff process in place. I've worked for several cabinet officers in the last several years, and that's how it's done. So that it's done in a smart measure deliberately and that people do get to look at it. Whether it's lawyers or not, I guess they can decide. It can be done.
And back on the shakeup, I hope one of the things he doesn't do is, I hope, cancel the daily briefing. I mean, that is really important. It shows that this government is open and willing to have scrutiny placed upon it by a press corps. And there's an awful lot going on in the world. That daily briefing is really, really special. And he should not be--
BLITZER: One official telling our Jim Acosta the president's tweets speak for themselves.
HENNESSEY: It's further evidence the president continues to think that he has a messaging problem. He doesn't have a messaging problem. He has a policy problem, a personnel problem and a president of the United States problem.
BLITZER: Everybody stay with us. Don't go too far away. There's more news unfolding right now, including Hillary Clinton publicly taking on President Trump, even as she tries to reassure a very friendly audience that she's moving past her crushing election loss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm doing OK.
I've gotten to spend time with my amazing family, especially my grandchildren.
Long walks in the woods. Organizing my closets, right? I won't lie. Chardonnay helped a little, too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm doing OK.
I've gotten to spend time with my amazing family, especially my grandchildren. Long walks in the woods, organizing my closets, right?
[18:45:04] I won't lie. Chardonnay helped a little, too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Hillary Clinton delivering a stinging account of a presidency destined to end an obstruction of justice charges and disgrace. She was speaking about Richard Nixon but clearly alluding to the current commander-in-chief at the same time.
[18:50:00] And her jabs at President Trump didn't end there.
Let's go to our senior Washington correspondent Brianna Keilar. She's over at Wellesley College in Massachusetts where Hillary Clinton spoke to graduates of her alma mater.
Brianna, Hillary Clinton seems to be getting more and more outspoken with each new appearance.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Especially before friendly crowds, Wolf. And this one her at Wellesley, her alma mater, was certainly that. She did have positive words for the grads. She urged them to use their talents to change the world. She said that they should keep going. She said that multiple times.
But this is a speech that will be remembered for her skewering of President Trump.
KEILAR (voice-over): Hillary Clinton described her unexpected post- election activities to graduating Wellesley seniors.
CLINTON: Long walks in the woods, organizing my closets, right? I wouldn't lie. Chardonnay helped a little, too.
KEILAR: A windup of a roast to the president of the United States.
CLINTON: You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason. Some are even denying things we see with our own eyes, like the size of crowds.
KEILAR: As Clinton delivered the commencement speech at her alma mater, she also issued a dire warning.
CLINTON: When people in power invent their own facts and attack those who question them, it can mark the beginning of the end of a free society.
That is not hyperbole. It is what authoritarian regimes throughout history have done. They attempt to control reality.
KEILAR: They were her most scathing comments about Donald Trump since her interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour earlier this month.
CLINTON: I'm now back to being an activist citizen and part of the resistance.
KEILAR: And today, she urged graduates to also resist and channel their frustration.
CLINTON: You didn't create these circumstances but you have the power to change them.
KEILAR: It was 48 years ago that Clinton gave the student commencement address at Wellesley, a speech that brought her national attention after she rebuked the Republican senator who spoke before her and the politics of then-President Richard Nixon.
CLINTON: We were furious about the past presidential election of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice.
After firing the person running the investigation into him at the Department of Justice.
KEILAR: Of course, Nixon wasn't actually impeached but the point was not lost.
She slammed Trump for his new proposed budget.
CLINTON: It is an attack of unimaginable cruelty and the most vulnerable among us, the youngest, the oldest, the poorest and hard working people who need a little help to gain or hang on to a decent middle class life.
KEILAR: Her bitter loss to him in 2016 entangled in her advice to the class of 2017.
CLINTON: In the years to come, there will be trolls galore, online and in person, eager to tell you that you don't have anything worthwhile to say or anything meaningful to contribute. They may even call you a nasty woman.
KEILAR: Now, uncharacteristic for President Trump. He has not been reactive for several days now, Wolf, on Twitter. It was as if Hillary Clinton was daring for him to react. He has not so far.
The RNC, though, did take her to task, saying that her speech today was a stark reminder of why she lost in 2016. They went on to say that instead of lashing out with the same partisan talking points, she would be wise to look inward, talk about why she lost and expanding and put it on the dwindling base of Democrat Party supporters, ending, we won't hold our breath, though -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Brianna, thanks very much. Brianna Keilar reporting for us.
From Brianna, let's go to Bianna.
What do you think?
GOLODRYGA: Look, she's a private citizen right now. She spoke at her alma mater. She has a right to speak her mind.
[18:55:01] She has a right to give whatever commencement speech she wants. And I see no problem with her saying what she did and who are we to judge her at this point.
I think that, obviously, there were veiled and maybe not so veiled attacks directed towards the president. But I think she spoke to other issues that we've seen sort of generate throughout the country, not just President Trump-related but we're seeing it play out in politics and the landscape and the narrative throughout the country. She addressed and spoke to some of those.
BLITZER: I suspect, Kaitlan, if President Trump were here in Washington right now, or in Mar-a-Lago, or in New Jersey or somewhere, he'd be tweeting about that speech.
KAITLAN COLLINS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, DAILY CALLER: Or at least by 6:00 a.m., but he's asleep in Sicily right now. So who knows what we're going to get when he wakes up and sees this highlights from the speech.
But I do think she talked away from the graduates to roast to Donald Trump. I don't know if a failed presidential candidate has ever been so critical of their opponent so shortly after the election. She went on and on and on about Donald Trump today and did not hold back at all.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by for a moment because we're following a potentially dangerous situation that's involving Chinese and U.S. warplanes.
I want to quickly go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
What are you learning, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.
The Pentagon watching closely at several incidents between the U.S. and Chinese military. The latest now revealed today actually occurred Wednesday when a Chinese fighter jet armed came within 200 yards of a U.S. Navy surveillance plane flying south of Hong Kong in the South China Sea area. The plane flew 200 yards in front of the U.S. aircraft, began doing maneuvering turns, making it unsafe and unprofessional in the eyes of the U.S. military, making it very difficult for the U.S. crew to be able to maneuver out of their way.
This is the second incident in several days, in about a week. Another incident, a Chinese aircraft flew near a U.S. plane that does radiation detection. It was on station and the Chinese aircraft actually flew inverted, upside-down over that U.S. military aircraft. You known, no injuries, thank goodness, no crashes, nothing like that.
But this is the whole question of miscalculation. When you get engaged in these aerial stunts, essentially, they can become very dangerous, they can have unintended consequences, the U.S. doesn't want to see this happen. They are talking to the Chinese about it, Wolf.
BLITZER: As they should be. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.
John Kirby is with us, a retired admiral, former Pentagon spokesman.
How dangerous do you think this could be?
KIRBY: Potentially very, very dangerous. I mean, the P3 aircraft is a multi-propeller aircraft, so it doesn't have the maneuverability of a jet fighter and it doesn't take much miscalculation on the part of a jet fighter pilot to really put lives in danger and to potentially have a collision right there in the air.
This is a behavior that the Chinese have been participating in now for almost 20 years. You might remember when President Bush first took office and we had a P-3 go down because of this just kind of situation. It's very dangerous.
And I know did Pentagon has taken this seriously. They have communicated in official channels to the Chinese about their concerns over this. I would also note that they've done some analysis, and the ratio of unsafe intercepts to safe intercepts are about equal.
I'm not saying that's good or bad. It's just that not every one of these is so dangerous as these last two. The other thing is we can't assist necessarily ascribe this to the Chinese military chain of command. Often times, what we've seen in the past.
The Pentagon suspects that these last two are simply hot dog pilots going out there and doing this on their own without upper approval.
BLITZER: Why are we seeing -- are they sending a message? Why are we seeing this now?
KIRBY: Yes. They have been frustrated and annoyed at U.S. surveillance flights for many, many years. I think that's what this is about. There's no indication that these intercepts have anything to do with recent navigation operation that surface ships in the Navy have conducted in the South China Sea. It doesn't seem to be related to that, could very well just be hot dog pilots. It doesn't make it right, doesn't make it anymore professional.
And again, I think they're doing all the right things in terms of communicating their deep concerns over this.
BLITZER: This comes on the heels of some dangerous encounters with Russian warplanes, Iranian ships in the Persian gulf.
KIRBY: And Russian aircraft.
BLITZER: And Russian aircraft as well. So, there's a lot of serious issues unfolding right now.
BLITZER: All right, guys, everybody. Thanks very, very much for all of that.
Heads-up about some important programming coming up here on CNN. On Sunday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Cory Booker will be among the guests on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION". That's Sunday morning, 9:00 a.m. Eastern. Dana Bash will filling in this Sunday for Jake Tapper. You'll want to see that.
Monday Memorial Day would have been John F. Kennedy's 100th birthday. CNN will have a special night of programming on President Kennedy. That's Monday beginning at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
Thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.