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"The Washington Post": Kushner Sought Secret Line to Kremlin; U.K. Concert Terror; Trump's First Overseas Trip; U.K. Muslims Respond to Manchester Attack. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired May 27, 2017 - 02:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Jared Kushner reportedly tried to set up secret communications with the Kremlin. A bombshell report from "The Washington Post," with the Russia investigation apparently getting closer to the U.S. president's closest advisers.

British authorities made two more arrests connected to the terror attack in Manchester. And CNN investigates the bomber's links to an ISIS recruiter.

Plus, President Trump wrapping up his first foreign trip at the G7 summit. We'll be live from Sicily in the show.

Thank you for joining us, everyone. I'm Cyril Vanier from the CNN NEWSROOM in Atlanta.

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VANIER: Jared Kushner reportedly tried to set up a secret back channel to talk to the Kremlin without being caught by U.S. intelligence. Kushner is a top adviser to President Donald Trump; he's also his son-in-law.

"The Washington Post" reports that he suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities to communicate secretly with Moscow, this during a meeting with the Russian ambassador at Trump Tower back in December. CNN's Jessica Schneider has the details.

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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.

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VANIER: Another very neutral perspective on this, Jill Dougherty is the former CNN bureau chief in Moscow. She's now a global fellow at The Woodrow Wilson Center.

Jill, you're used to Russia's politics and Russia's tactics.

How do you look at this story?

JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Cyril, I think it's extraordinary, number one. It's outside of the framework of anything that I certainly have seen.

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VANIER: Doesn't look like anything you know?

DOUGHERTY: No, not at all. Not at all. It's bizarre on many levels. I think it's bizarre from the American perspective and bizarre even from the Russian perspective.

Face it, they would, if this plan had actually materialized, they would have had people from the Trump administration in the Russian embassy or perhaps the consulate, using very secure communications to talk to the Kremlin, maybe even President Putin.

It's amazing. But the only way that I can really -- sorry.

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VANIER: No, I was going to say, reportedly, Ambassador Kislyak, the Russian ambassador in Washington, was also really taken aback by the suggestion.

DOUGHERTY: Yes, and I can understand why he would be. I'm sure he's never heard anything like that before.

But why would they want to do it?

Again, with the Trump administration, so far on all of these Russia issues, there's kind of a benign interpretation and then it gets more serious and perhaps negative as you go down the chain.

But let's take one interpretation. Donald Trump, during the campaign, mistrusted, distrusted the security services of the United States, the intel community. So he would probably want to circumvent that community.

Why would he want to do that?

Why would he take this route?

I think Donald Trump is a person who reaches out directly to the other guy. Witness the telephone calls that he made early on as the president. He was picking up the phone directly to a number of world leaders, quite an extraordinary number, just picking up the phone, talking to them, without any help from the State Department.

So I can see, in his mind, that he might want to just kind of, even before, let's say, he's in the Oval Office, pick up the phone or his person picks up the phone to Putin -- this is my surmisal (ph) --

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DOUGHERTY: -- makes sense.

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VANIER: Jill, with the benefit of hindsight in that scenario, you've seen four months of the Trump presidency and four months of leaks, including many that come from within the intelligence circle.

So you'd actually have to understand, if you're the president and say you're thinking of resetting relations with Russia, it could make sense to try and secure your own channels of communication.

DOUGHERTY: There's no question. And there's also no question that Donald Trump wants to do -- and I don't think this is an exaggeration -- the biggest deal in the history of the universe. And that would be bring relations with Russia back on track. Maybe get rid of nuclear weapons. Who knows?

But this could be a very big deal that he would do; he said during the campaign, wouldn't it be great, wouldn't it be nice if we had good relations with Russia?

So this could be a combination. Keep it quiet, keep it controlled. Do it directly, personally and make the biggest deal that you've seen in a very long time.

VANIER: What about the possibility that this is all a plant by the Russians, put out there in the stream of communications, that they thought could have been intercepted by Americans just to throw a red herring out there? DOUGHERTY: OK. Let's play that out a little bit further.

Why would they want to do that?

Granted they want to sow a lot of confusing facts.

Why would they want to throw Donald Trump under the bus?

This is not good news for Donald Trump, that he was trying to directly talk with Putin. So they would be revealing something that does not reflect well on Donald Trump.

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VANIER: One answer could be just to undermine American democracy in general, which also --

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VANIER: -- collusion did -- not collusion but alleged interference during the presidential campaign.

DOUGHERTY: That's totally true but I think they would want to do as much good for Donald Trump as they could. After all, he was the guy, if anyone was going to do it, who would improve relations. And so I don't think they would want to reflect negatively upon him.

VANIER: All right, Jill Dougherty, thank you so much for coming on the show. Thanks.

Egypt is burying its dead after a devastating terror attack that killed 28 people on Friday, many of them children. Several gunmen opened fire on a bus full of Coptic Christians, who were on their way to a monastery.

In retaliation, the Egyptian air force launched airstrikes in Eastern Libya, targeting what the Egyptian president called "terror camps." Ian Lee has more.

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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.

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VANIER: As Ian mentioned, Egypt's Copts have faced a spike in persecution. No less than five major attacks in the past few years. In January 2011, shortly before the toppling of Hosni Mubarak's regime, a major church in Alexandria was bombed, killing 21 people.

In 2013, more than 50 churches and facilities were attacked in a 24- hour period.

Then in 2015, ISIS released a video, showing the beheadings of 21 Copts kidnapped from Egypt in Libya.

In December of last year, a bomb ripped through a Cairo Coptic church, killing 25 people.

And on Palm Sunday this year, you might remember that ISIS-aligned fighters bombed two Coptic churches that killed 45 and injured dozens more.

British authorities have made two more arrests in the Manchester terror investigation; 11 people are now in custody, as investigators try to unravel a network that they say helped bomber Salman Abedi.

Meanwhile, a Libyan militia says it has detained Abedi's father and brother and that the brother admits the siblings were members of ISIS.

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VANIER: Our Atika Shubert is in Manchester with more on Abedi's possible ties to terror.

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ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (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 -- Atika Shubert, CNN, Manchester.

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VANIER: The Libyan coast guard intercepted more than 500 migrants in a wooden boat off of Libya's western coast. One day earlier, coast guard officials narrowly rescued dozens of migrants who were clinging to a sinking boat. Several were already dead by the time rescuers got there.

Despite the dangers, the stretch of water between Libya and Italy has become a route into Europe for many migrants, a route that's claimed thousands of lives.

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VANIER (voice-over): President Trump has got one more day in Sicily before heading back to Washington. We'll see what's ahead for the president on the last day of talks and review his first foreign trip. Stay with us.

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VANIER: The Trump administration is giving stricter screening powers to U.S. embassies in their review of visa applicants hoping to travel to the U.S. The new guidance was released the same day a federal appeals court upheld an indefinite freeze on President Trump's travel ban, aimed at blocking people from six predominantly Muslim countries.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the Department of Justice will appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

President Trump is about to start the last day of meetings on his foreign tour. It will be his second day in Sicily for talks with G7 leaders. Leaders of five so-called outreach countries in Africa -- Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria and Tunisia -- were also attending. Also attending is Nic Robertson, who joins us now from Sicily.

Nic, over the last few days, President Trump has met with several of America's traditional allies: the E.U., NATO, now G7 leaders. And we know that there was some apprehension, certainly from the allies' perspective, before meeting this new U.S. president, who had often been critical of them.

Can you help us navigate what came out of all this, the areas of agreement and disagreement?

Let's start with where they still disagree.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, there's still disagreement on climate change. What we're told here is that, at the discussions yesterday, they spent about 15 or 20 minutes discussing the climate.

And this was an environment where we're told President Trump listened to everyone. He let them speak, he didn't interrupt too much.

So there's a real sense there, this is the way it's being communicated to us, at least, that he was in learning and listening mode.

But there isn't an agreement there. According to the Italian prime minister, there is not really a strong agreement, maybe moderate agreement on the issue of migration.

On the issue of trade, it's not quite clear where things stand between all the parties from yesterday.

But what we were again told by President Trump's advisers is that he was speaking about free trade, about fair trade but trade whereby, if countries, he said, you know, treat him -- treat the United States badly, then the United States will reciprocate. That was essentially what they were saying.

So it doesn't appear that there's a big sort of agreement on the issue of trade. We've yet to find out what the sort of so-called chirpers, those who go behind the scenes at the end of the day and pick up the verbal language and piece it together into a final communique, it's not quite clear what they'll come up with.

But the basic understanding at the moment is that these communiques at the end of a G7 summit like this can be 20 or 30 pages long. The sense here is, because there isn't so much agreement, that potentially it could be quite short, four or five pages, even.

VANIER: So in that case, Nic, where is the agreement that does exist, as far as we know?

And what are the areas where Mr. Trump has potentially reassured his allies?

ROBERTSON: Well, I think the strongest reassurance and certainly where there appears to be the strongest agreement is on fighting terrorism. And that really was part of the central narrative of President Trump's whole, more-than-week-long overseas trip.

So there does seem to be agreement on the need and the strength to fight terrorism and British prime minister Theresa May chaired a session that was aimed at strengthening and cajoling and telling Internet service providers or Internet companies, some of the tech companies, the social media companies, that they need to do more, need to take responsibility for making sure that jihadists cannot use their platforms to recruit.

There was a strong agreement on that narrative as well. I think there's generally an agreement that all the countries need to work together but quite a few of the leaders here were new to this kind of summit. And it very much appears as if President Trump was holding out on some of the things that that he has always been holding out, where he has those differences, they weren't necessarily narrowed.

VANIER: All right, Nic Robertson, reporting live from Taormina in Sicily, thank you very much.

We'll continue to get a lot more from Nic --

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VANIER: -- throughout this last day of Mr. Trump's visit before heading back to Washington.

Thanks a lot, Nic.

We'll take a short break. When we come back, Muslims in the U.K. respond to terrorists after the Manchester attack. We'll tell you what they're saying.

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VANIER: Intense flooding caused by the Indian monsoon has killed over 90 people and left many more missing in Sri Lanka.

Derek Van Dam joins us now from CNN's International Weather Center.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's a difficult story that we seem to report on a yearly basis. It's the monsoon rains that they pray for every year, they need relief from the extreme heat and drought. But sometimes that relief comes in a short period of time, too much, too quick, this is the result, 110 missing. Over 90 people have perished because of the flooding in southwestern Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan ministry of foreign affairs has made an urgent appeal to the United Nations for aid and assistance. Floodwaters, unfortunately, still rising. In some areas people have been cut off by water surrounding their entire homestead and their businesses.

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VANIER: Singer Ariana Grande says she will return to Manchester, England, for a benefit concert. She initially suspended her tour and returned to the U.S. following Monday's suicide bombing in the Manchester Arena that killed 22 people and wounded dozens more. Now she's planning a benefit to raise money for the victims and their

families. She thanked her fans for their support and said the attack's victims will be in her heart forever.

Ramadan is getting under --

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VANIER: -- way for Muslims around the world. But for those in the U.K., they begin the holy month with that bombing still fresh in their minds. Our Muhammad Lila spoke to Muslims in Manchester, who are rejecting the terrorists' message.

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MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The call to prayer echoes and the faithful begin to gather. This isn't just any mosque. It's the biggest and oldest Muslim congregation in Manchester. Many of its worshippers were born and raised in the U.K.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody on this land is my brother or sister.

LILA (voice-over): Worshippers like Gulnar Banukangadre (ph), the U.K. is the only home she knows, a home whose colors she's wearing on her hijab.

GULNAR BANUKANGADRE (PH), MANCHESTER WORSHIPPER: We'll get through this. We'll be more stronger. We'll rise above.

LILA (voice-over): As we remove our shoes, we walk inside the prayer hall. This is more than just a weekly sermon. It's the first Friday prayer service since the devastating attack that claimed 22 innocent lives, some as young as 8 years old.

LILA: How did it make you feel when you found out the person was a Muslim?

You're thinking about it now, I can see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sorry.

LILA (voice-over): It's a sadness that permeates the air, as the imam or prayer leader speaks from the pulpit, known as a member.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, he might have had a Muslim name but we disown his actions, we disown his character, we disown his behavior.

LILA (voice-over): Outside, a different crowd gathers. It's Amir Khan (ph), the champion boxer and one of the U.K.'s most recognizable Muslims. He grew up just a few minutes outside of town.

AMIR KHAN (PH), BOXER: The person who did the bomb is spoiling it for us, just giving us all a bad name. And obviously I don't want to be one of them people walking on the streets and someone pointing at me, saying, you're a terrorist. Or people being scared to sit next to me on the bus or the train. LILA (voice-over): Back inside, we sit down with the imam and we ask him if the Muslim community should be doing more to stop these kinds of things from happening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To say that the Islam community themselves are the answer to that problem in themselves is very unfair. There are multiple facets, multiple layers we're talking about, kind of psychosis, we're talking about psychological issues.

LILA (voice-over): That answer may not satisfy everyone and some in the community are afraid of reprisals. But he says now is not the time to hide. It's time to be proud of who they are and where they're from -- Muhammad Lila, CNN, Manchester.

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VANIER: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. "WINNING POST" is next on CNN but first I'll be back with the headlines. Stay with us.