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"The Washington Post": Kushner Sought Secret Line to Kremlin; Comey Feared Intelligence Would Discredit Probe; Trump's First Overseas Trip; G7 Leaders Gather for Summit in Sicily; 28 Coptic Christians Killed in Egypt Attack. Aired 12mn-12:30a ET

Aired May 27, 2017 - 00:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Jared Kushner, the U.S. president's son-in-law, reportedly asked the Russians to open a secret channel of communication with the Kremlin. The Russia investigation apparently getting closer to Donald Trump's inner circle.

Another stunning revelation, this one about ex-FBI director James Comey. CNN learned Comey knew a critical piece of information related to the Clinton e-mail investigation was planted by Russian intelligence.

Plus British authorities make two more arrests connected to the terror attack in Manchester.

Hi, everyone, thank you very much for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier, live from the CNN NEWSROOM in Atlanta.


VANIER: Jared Kushner reportedly tried to set up a secret back channel that would have allowed him to talk to the Kremlin without being monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies. This is being reported by "The Washington Post."

Kushner is a top adviser to President Trump. He is also his son-in- law. "The Washington Post" reports that Kushner brought this up with the Russian ambassador in a meeting at Trump Tower in December. CNN's Jessica Schneider has the latest.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New reporting that the president's son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, proposed setting up secret methods of communication with the Kremlin back in December.

"The Washington Post" first reported this; now "The New York Times" is adding that the back channel of communication was meant to discuss strategy in Syria and other policy issues. U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports told "The Post" that

the intelligence community picked up these details when Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak reached out to his superiors in Moscow.

Now during a meeting in December, "The Post" reported that Kislyak said that Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the U.S. to correspond directly with the Kremlin as opposed to the State Department or another agency setting up a secure communication, which is usually typical.

Now "The Post" and "The New York Times" report that this meeting between Kushner and Ambassador Kislyak was also attended by Michael Flynn, the fired national security adviser, who is himself under investigation.

"The Post" suggests that Kushner wanted this back channel to Russia to avoid being picked up by U.S. intelligence that regularly listens in to these foreign phone calls. No one from the White House is responding to this report and neither Kushner nor his lawyers are putting out any statements -- Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: I spoke about this with CNN political commentator Ryan Lizza to find out what he makes of this. Take a listen.


RYAN LIZZA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it fits in with the pattern that we have seen that has caused the FBI to look at Jared Kushner and others, former Trump officials, very carefully. And it's a pattern of concealing contacts with Russians.

We saw this with Jeff Sessions, who is now the attorney general of the United States. He did not disclose a meeting he had with the Russian ambassador. He never really explained why.

We saw this with Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, who is now under a criminal investigation by the FBI. He had a very sensitive conversation with the Russian ambassador. He was -- that -- the nature of the conversation was picked up by U.S. surveillance. It was then leaked to the press.

And when he was asked about it by his superiors at the White House, he lied about it. When that eventually became public, he was fired.

We see what the President of the United States, frankly, who has tried at every turn to thwart the congressional investigations into Trump's relationship and his associates' relationships with Russia, and culminating with the president firing his FBI director, who is running an investigation on this.

So the latest news, Jared Kushner telling the Russian ambassador that essentially he wanted to circumvent U.S. communications systems and essentially use the communications system of an adversary to communicate with the Russians -- (CROSSTALK)

VANIER: I mean, that's one of the many eye-popping details there.

Who does that?

I mean, even if you're in your 30s and you're not used to world diplomacy, using the security apparatus of another country, especially a country that is not at that point in time an ally --


VANIER: -- that just doesn't happen, does it?

LIZZA: It does not happen. And it's just not that it's not an ally. It is a country that Kushner, if he had had his security clearance by then -- and he would have if he was having these kinds of sensitive conversations -- he would know from American intelligence a few things about Russia.

One, this country is not America's ally. They are thwarting American interests in places all over the world.

Two, that they ran a multifaceted interference campaign in the U.S. election the year before. So he would have known those things at this meeting, which makes it all the more puzzling --


LIZZA: -- as to why he would suggest to the Russian ambassador, hey, let's set up a secret back channel communications system, you know, using your nuts-and-bolts --


VANIER: -- Russian facilities on U.S. soil.

LIZZA: Yes, so that is jaw-dropping. And, frankly, to me, this question of where is the evidence of collusion between the Trump folks and the Russians?

Well, this sounds a lot like collusion. This sounds a lot like we don't -- we're worried about being picked up by either the FBI or other American intelligence and we need to hide and conceal our communications.

So let's use your stuff instead.

VANIER: OK, but, wait, Ryan; let's look at this with an open mind.

If you've got negotiators, diplomatic negotiators, trying to cut a huge diplomatic deal, say a huge turnaround in U.S.-Russia relations, which apparently was what Donald Trump was hoping to do.

LIZZA: Yes. VANIER: Then wouldn't it be fairly normal, in fact, to seek secret channels of communication so that there is no reporting on it, there is no speculating on it?

It doesn't damage your negotiating. You do it secretly. It's been done in the past for major diplomatic deals.

LIZZA: Well, I guess what is so strange is essentially, if you want to talk to the Russians about sensitive American issues and you want to do some sort of reset, the way do you that is you talk to the ambassador.

You don't need -- I don't -- as far as my understanding, I don't quite understand what the necessity of using Russian communications equipment to talk to Moscow, why that's necessary. You just sit down and talk to their ambassador.

And then the second question is, why not wait until the president is sworn in on January 20th?

Why -- why go through the troubling of setting this up?

VANIER: They would have had just a month and a half to wait. I'm glad you point that out, before, of course, they would have had all the levers of power and all the tools of U.S. intelligence and communications.

LIZZA: Absolutely. But so that's why I come back to you, so maybe -- there's obviously a lot more we need to learn about this and we need to hear from Jared Kushner. We need to hear him explain it.

Apparently Michael Flynn, who, at that time, was the incoming national security adviser, was also in this meeting. We need to hear Flynn's account of this. I don't think we'll necessarily get the Russian ambassador's side of the story on this.

But tonight we have more questions than answers. But the pattern of all of these leaks and revelations of the last two weeks are Trump officials hiding contacts with Russian officials. We just don't know why.

VANIER: Right. And so far at this hour there's been no comment as you mentioned either by the White House, by the Russian ambassador or even by the lawyer of Michael Flynn who was sitting on that meeting.

Ryan Lizza, CNN political commentator, thank you so much.

LIZZA: Thank you.


VANIER: Now CNN has learned of a new development about former FBI director James Comey. It shows how Russian interference impacted the decisions of top U.S. officials during last year's presidential campaign. Our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, explains.


DANA BASH, CNN SR. U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: CNN has learned that then FBI director James Comey knew that a critical piece of Russian information related to the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation was fake, but felt he needed to take action anyway because he was concerned that, if the information became public, it would undermine the investigation and the Justice Department itself. This is according to multiple sources, talking to my colleagues, Shimon Prokupecz and Gloria Borger, and myself.

Now, 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 that earlier this week "The Washington Post" reported on this intelligence and the doubts about its credibility.

The fact that Comey felt he had to act based on Russian disinformation is a stark example of how Russia's interference impacted decision- making at the highest level 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 of e-mails between then DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and a political operative said that Lynch would make the FBI Clinton probe go away.

Now, according to one government official, in classified briefings, Comey told lawmakers that he was afraid the information would, quote, "drop" and undermine the investigation, but he didn't tell lawmakers that he doubted the accuracy of the information even in a classified setting a few months ago. According to sources close to Comey, the FBI felt that the validity of the information really didn't matter because if it became public, they had no way to discredit it without burning their sources and methods.

Now think about the chain of events all of this help set off.

When Comey held this press conference in July of 2016, announcing no charges against Clinton, he also took an extraordinary and what many people say inappropriate step of calling her "extremely careless."


BASH: Clinton aides are convinced that her reputation was damaged with voters and she never recovered. Now that probably wouldn't have happened without Russian interference. Also talking to many officials on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, dissemination of fake information is still a major issue.

Multiple sources tell us that Russia is still trying to spread false information in order to cloud and confuse ongoing investigations -- Dana Bash, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: President Trump is set to wrap up his first foreign tour with one last day in Sicily. We'll see how his G7 has been going so far.

Plus more arrests in the Manchester bombing case, what we've learned about the bomber possible ties to terror groups. Stay with us.




VANIER: Welcome back.

So will the global deal on climate change survive Donald Trump's first visit to Europe?

Well, there is just no guarantee. Climate change was one of several contentious issues between the U.S. president and other G7 leaders on Friday. Mr. Trump prepares to wrap up his first trip abroad, a trip that has kept him at arm's length of the political maelstrom back home in Washington. Jim Acosta reports.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (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 bodyslamming him.

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 damage control and state the administration wasn't changing its position on sanctions against Russia.

GARY COHN, NATIONAL ECONOMIC DIRECTOR: We're not lowering our sanctions on Russia. If anything, we would probably look to get tougher on Russia.

ACOSTA (voice-over): 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."


ACOSTA (voice-over): 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."

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: I thought I'd give you guys a chance to --


OBAMA: -- fire off some questions now.

ACOSTA (voice-over): So far in Sicily, where the volcano, Mount Aetna, 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: One subject the White House is trying to avoid is Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, who's now of interest to federal investigators. Asked about that, Gary Cohn cut off a reporter's question. The White House is telling reporters, don't hold your breath; there won't be a news conference on the president's final day of this overseas trip -- Jim Acosta, CNN, Sicily.


VANIER: British officials say they are trying to contain the network that they believe is behind the Manchester suicide bombing attack. They've just arrested two more people so 11 are now in custody.

Meanwhile, a Libyan militia says it has detained the father and the brother of attacker Salman Abedi. According to the militia, the brother confessed to being a member of ISIS along with the bomber and to having spoken with him over the phone just 15 minutes before the blast.

Atika Shubert is in Manchester and she's been looking into the bomber's past to find out more on his possible connections to terrorist networks. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: British police have told CNN that Abedi was known to authorities but they didn't say exactly what his connection might be to any known terror networks.

Well, we spent the day going to his old neighborhood and investigating. What we found was a very concrete link to a terror recruiter.

SHUBERT (voice-over): Where did Salman Abedi turn to ISIS?

Two possibilities, Syria and Libya. But the answer may be much closer to home. Last year, Abedi was seen with this man Abdalraouf Abdallah, also British Libyan but now in prison, convicted for funneling fighters into Syria.

A seasoned veteran wounded in the 2011 Libyan revolution, Abdallah needs a wheelchair, which is why several worshippers at the Aratman (ph) Mosque remember him and Salman, helping to push the wheelchair at Friday prayers. Khalid al-Kouncil (ph) saw them together a year ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you remember seeing Salman Abedi at the mosque?

KHALID AL-KOUNCIL (PH), MOSQUE WORSHIPPER: Yes, I see him sometimes in here in the mosque. He come usually (INAUDIBLE) on Friday (INAUDIBLE) because he comes, last time I see him, (INAUDIBLE) he was pushing the guy with the (INAUDIBLE), that disabled guy.

SHUBERT: Also from Libya?

AL-KOUNCIL (PH): Yes, he was from Libya, yes. He was very quiet. He was come to the mosque; he sat in the mosque and pray and he goes. It seems like he's a normal person.

SHUBERT (voice-over): The mosque is in Manchester's rough Moss Side (ph) neighborhood. Khalid al-Kouncil (ph), a Libyan mechanic here for 17 years, told us the attack has hit the Muslim community hard.

AL-KOUNCIL (PH): Every single Muslim is affected with this, what he done, because everyone he looks to the Muslim, what he done. And this is actually, it's not right things to do. He affect me, affect, I mean, too many brothers in here, he affected them. And even now, we fear, even my wife, she is scared to go to the town.

SHUBERT (voice-over): The Abedi family attended the larger mosque in the upscale Didsbury area. The sermons against ISIS and extremism pushed Salman to the fringes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Abedi family, especially the father and the older brother were quite respected and well-known in the Libya community here. And there were normal people. There was nothing abnormal about them.

However, Salman was kind of isolated and inverted. He was not engaging with the Libyan community here and actually most of his friends were outside of the Libya community.

SHUBERT: The picture that's emerging of Salman Abedi is that of a lonely young man, drifting between communities here but he didn't have to go far to find other young men and women vulnerable to extremism.

SHUBERT (voice-over): Around the corner from Abedi's house at Whalley Range High School, Zahra and Salma Halane caused a stir when they ran away from home to join ISIS.

Even when the Halane twins reached Syria, they met up with an old friend from Moss Side, Ralph Hosti (ph), notorious for being ISIS' most prolific British recruiter, believed killed in a drone strike.

Local media, citing British investigators, say he, too, is linked to Abedi.

Many came here to escape wars at home and now some worry about raising their kids here.

AL-KOUNCIL (PH): Is everybody here worried about his children.

SHUBERT: You have sons of your own.

AL-KOUNCIL (PH): Yes, yes, you have to worry about them.

SHUBERT (voice-over): Violent extremism, he told us, is a danger no parent can afford to ignore.


SHUBERT: Now British police have said they are rolling up this network. However, keep in mind, that hundreds of fighters Britain to go join the war in Syria. Many of them have returned. So it's difficult to know exactly --


SHUBERT: -- how much of this network has been wrapped up.


VANIER: Atika Shubert, reporting there from Manchester.

The Egyptian air force launched airstrikes on so-called terror camps on Friday just hours after a deadly attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt.

State television reports that the camps were in Eastern Libya. CNN has not confirmed that. The Egyptian president says he acted in the interests of national security.

Meanwhile, funerals were held for the 28 people who were killed when gunmen fired on their bus; many of the victims in that bus were children. And 23 others were also hurt in the attack, some who are now in critical condition. CNN's Ian Lee has the latest from Istanbul in Turkey. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're getting pictures of the aftermath of the attack. And what you can see is a burnt-out bus riddled with bullets. We're told that 10 assailants carried it out. They were dressed in fatigues. They had black masks. Over 2 dozen people, many of them men, women and children. The injured were taken to Cairo to a hospital.

This bus was traveling from Minya to St . Samuel Monastery along a desert road. to a month stare along a desert road. This is isolated. It is a lawless area. The assailants were able to slip into the desert.

Egypt security forces are scouring it, trying to find them. The president, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi convened an emergency session of his security council to discuss this attack.

Egypt is already in a state of emergency since last April's attack, when ISIS had two suicide bombers blow up at two different churches, killing 45 people. When I talk to Christians after such attacks, they tell me that a lot of the time that they blame the government for not providing enough security.

That is a tall order, though, as there is believed to be roughly 9 million Christians living in Egypt. While no one has claimed responsibility for this attack, it does bear the hallmarks of ISIS. And ISIS has said in the past that Egypt's Christians are their favorite prey and that they will create a river with their blood -- Ian Lee, CNN, Istanbul.


VANIER: An Australian woman who was convicted of drug smuggling in Indonesia 12 years ago will now be going home. Schapelle Corby, glimpsed briefly in this video here in Bali, will be deported on Saturday. She was arrested in 2004 while she was traveling in Indonesia with family and with friends.

Authorities at the airport in Bali found more than 4 kilos of marijuana in her bag. Corby at the time said she'd had no knowledge of the drugs until customs offers found them.

A year later, following a high-profile trial, Corby was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Corby , who is now 39 years old, served nine years of her sentence. She was released in 2014 and she has remained on parole, unable to leave Indonesia, that is until now.

Still ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, dozens dead and missing in Sri Lanka after monsoon rains trigger flooding and mudslides Derek Van Dam is getting ready to tell us about that -- after the break.



VANIER: Intense flooding caused by the Indian monsoon has killed over 90 people and left many more missing in Sri Lanka. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam from the CNN International Weather Center joins us now with more on the tragic event.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's a sad story, Cyril, with 110 people missing from these devastating floods --


VAN DAM: -- that seem to occur on a yearly basis with the onset of the monsoon rains. The Sri Lankan ministry of foreign affairs made an urgent appeal today to the United Nations for aid and assistance. You're looking at some of the footage coming out of that part of the world. This is Colombo in Sri Lanka.

The floodwaters continue to rise in some areas; people have been cut off by water surrounding their homesteads and their businesses. You can imagine that this goes beyond just the flood threat. It also is a health disaster because, once the waters finally do recede, you can imagine the problems with the stagnant water that will be left behind.


VANIER: And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'll be back with headlines in just a moment.