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"The Washington Post": Kushner Sought Secret Line to Kremlin; Trump's First Overseas Trip; U.K. Concert Terror. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired May 27, 2017 - 03:00   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): A bombshell report from "The Washington Post;" Jared Kushner reportedly tried to talk secretly to the Kremlin.

Two more arrests in Britain as the investigation into the Manchester terror attack continues. And CNN investigates the bomber's links to an ISIS recruiter.

Plus we will be live from Sicily, where President Trump is wrapping up his first foreign trip at the G7 summit.

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

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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. Kushner is a top adviser to President Donald Trump and 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.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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: And CNN's Clare Sebastian is in Moscow.

Clare, once again, Russia is at the center of the latest allegation facing the Trump White House.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Cyril, we just actually got a comment on this from the Russian foreign minister, I want to read you, I've got a text message from the Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova (ph).

She called this McCarthyism or just internal political squabble, that specifically in reference to "The Washington Post" reports, that Jared Kushner apparently asked Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak to use a secure channel at the embassy.

Now this is very much in keeping with the rhetoric we have been hearing coming out of Moscow as these, this stream of revelations have come out about alleged contacts between the Trump team and Russia. They have been keen to distance themselves to this, to appear as a calm professional, amid the chaos going on in Washington.

And reference to McCarthyism is another kind of theme that we have seen emerging here, Russia trying to suggest that Trump's opponents are using Russia as a way to hurt his administration.

But certainly this, there have been many moments that these revelations have come out that could have been potentially awkward for Russia; certainly the firing of Michael Flynn back in February, when it was revealed that sanctions were discussed in his contacts with Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, was awkward for Russia.

This is not one of those moments, Cyril, this is not Russia being accused of potentially going against the normal protocol of contacts here. This is something that is more embarrassing for the Trump administration.

VANIER: There is another potential connection between Jared Kushner and Russia; Kushner is also being looked at for ties to a Russian banker, who's believed to be close to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Tell us more about this banker.

SEBASTIAN: Yes, this is Sergey Gorkov, who runs VneshEconomBank. This is not a regular commercial bank. This is a kind of a development bank that funds infrastructure projects and provides credit lines to businesses and commercial banks here in Russia.

He is known to have met with Jared Kushner, that meeting arranged by the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the transition. That was particularly interesting because of the conflicting reports about the meeting that emerged from both sides.

The White House said that Jared Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov in his role as an adviser to the then president-elect, as a conduit, was how Sean Spicer put it. But on the Russian side --

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SEBASTIAN: -- VEB Bank said 2016 road show to advance their new development strategy and they were meeting with Jared Kushner in his capacity as head of Kushner Companies.

So the question still remains, whether this was a business or a political meeting. But certainly these new revelations today about Jared Kushner from "The Washington Post," could be seen to make the argument that this was a business meeting, perhaps less convincing -- Cyril.

VANIER: Reporting live from Moscow, Clare Sebastian. Thank you very much.

Earlier I spoke about all this with CNN political commentator, Ryan Lizza, listen to this.

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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 --

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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 --

LIZZA: Yes.

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 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 --

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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 --

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LIZZA: -- 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VANIER: President Trump is about to start the last day of meetings on his foreign tour. It's going to be his second day in Sicily for talks of G7 leaders. Leaders of five so-called outreach countries in Africa -- Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria and Tunisia -- are also attending. Our Nic Robertson joins us from Sicily now.

Nic, we have been talking to you throughout the foreign trip by Donald Trump. First, tell me this; U.S. allies were a little nervous -- we know that -- about this new U.S. president and their meeting with him.

What impression do you think he is going to leave them with?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You know, I think when we think back to Donald Trump, the candidate, and what his close advisers were saying about what it would be like when he would be president, it would be pretty much the same thing. He would stick by his same words.

And I think that's what the leaders are finding, that Donald Trump, although he sort of appears to be have turned back on NATO, the rhetoric on NATO, by saying that, you know, it's no longer obsolete.

Actually he went to NATO with a very strong message, which is you need to pay your way. We knew that was coming. But we withheld saying specifically and articulating it very clearly for everyone that Article 5, you know, an attack on one is an attack on all.

They'll read a quid pro quo into that. If Donald Trump doesn't get what he wants, then they don't get what they want. It's very much the business man's approach. And I think they're getting the same sense now on climate change, on trade, all the things that he said back in his interviews in the week before becoming president, critical of Germany's trade deficit, a trade deficit with Germany over so many German cars in the United States.

He's still going on about the same thing here in Italy. So I think for the leaders they're going to be drawing that conclusion that their early understandings and now they have sat in a closed room with him and listened to him and heard what he has had to say about climate, you know, his explanation, in part, on climate is, yes, I get climate. I get the climate issue. It's something that's important to me. I have won awards on it, is what we're told that he told the G7 leaders behind closed doors.

So I think they will come away looking at that, looking at some of the body language, the handshake with Macron, the pushing past the Montenegro prime minister at NATO.

They'll come away with, well, this is kind of the Donald Trump we thought we were getting. And that may not be as positive as perhaps they had hoped their impressions may have been later.

VANIER: I wonder, Nic, what are you going to come away with?

We have been talking to you since the beginning of the trip. All, every step of the way. This has been a rich, eventful, dense trip, starting in the Middle East, ending there in Sicily. And it's really the first steps of Donald Trump on the world stage for someone who was not a diplomacy oriented guy.

You are a big picture guy, what will you take away from this?

ROBERTSON: This is a president who has gone out onto the world stage and he's been entertained by the Saudis. He's had the red carpet rolled out in Israel. He got to meet the pope, which was a big deal for him. He has been to NATO and he has been here to the G7.

And I think, you know, it's created an impression; for days after the trip to Saudi Arabia, he was telling everyone how it was great. No one had seen anything quite so big.

But, for all of those who have seen these things before, they recognize the symptoms of how these countries deal with visiting dignitaries and, particularly, dealing with visiting American presidents.

So, yes, I think he has been able to escape some of his domestic turmoil. The world has got a better or at least the world leaders have got a better judge of the man.

What has actually been achieved, the message has been finely tuned for each different country he has been to.

So has he built a coalition on ISIS, which was part of this?

Well, he has talked a lot about it. But we don't have the substance for it. So I think, in retrospect, we will have to judge this on what was achieved.

And the question I would ask is, in terms of what he's achieved, what are Donald Trump's takeaways from this, what has he really learned?

And we are not being privy to that here because he is not giving a press conference at the end of this more than week-long trip. And that is very unusual. And Theresa May was here at the G7 for a day; she gave a press conference. We heard from the Italian prime minister, who's hosting it. We've heard quotes from the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

But we are not getting --

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ROBERTSON: -- to hear Donald Trump. And we are not getting to ask him questions. His advisers will come out and speak. But it's not the same as speaking to the man himself.

So that's my takeaway: what has he actually learned?

And perhaps, we're not really going to find out just yet.

VANIER: Yes, that's a very good point, if the journalists can't ask him questions. Nic Robertson, thank you so much. We'll talk to you throughout the day of course.

Now we're going to take a short break here on CNN NEWSROOM. When we come back, more arrests in the Manchester bombing case. What we know about the bomber's family detained in Libya.

Plus: a bus packed with families targeted in a deadly attack. How the Egyptian president is vowing to fight back. Stay with us.

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VANIER: British officials say they're trying to contain a network that they believe is behind Monday's Manchester suicide bombing attack that killed 22 people, many of them children. They've just arrested two more men. So 11 are now in custody.

Atika Shubert in Manchester has been looking into the bomber's past to find out more on his possible connection to terrorist networks.

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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 --

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SHUBERT: -- 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 --

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: The Egyptian air force launched airstrikes on so-called "terror camps" just hours after a deadly attack on Coptic Christians Friday. State television reports 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 being held for the 28 people who were killed when gunmen fired on their bus. Many of those victims were children; 23 others were injured in the attack, some are now in critical condition. CNN's Ian Lee has the latest.

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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.

(END VIDEOTAPE) 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 friends. Authorities at the airport in Bali found more than 4 kilos of marijuana in her bag. Corby 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. She was 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 until now.

At least 91 people are dead and dozens more missing in Sri Lanka after monsoon rains triggered flooding and mudslides. This is believed to be the worst floods in Sri Lanka since 2003. The military is assisting with search and rescue operations in the south and in the west of the country. Rescue agencies say some 20,000 people have been forced from their homes.

Derek Van Dam from CNN International Weather Center has been looking at this for us, working on this throughout the day.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: There is also a urgent appeal to the United Nations for aid and assistance right now as well. That's coming from the Sri Lankan ministry of foreign affairs. Floodwater continues to rise. And there's more rain in the forecast. Check out the footage coming from this region and just what residents there are having --

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VAN DAM: to deal with. We heard from Cyril a moment ago, 20,000 people forced from their homes. And the latest figure here is 110 people missing from what they're calling some of the worst flooding in decades.

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VANIER: And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I will be back with the headlines in just a moment. Stay with us.