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"The Washington Post": Kushner Sought Secret Line to Kremlin; Trump's First Overseas Trip; U.K. Concert Terror; 28 Coptic Christians Killed in Egypt Attack. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired May 27, 2017 - 05:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): His inner circle: the son- in-law and adviser to the U.S. President Donald Trump, reportedly tried to set up secret communications with the Kremlin. The Russian investigation getting closer and closer to the commander in chief. We're in Moscow live with the story.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): In the meantime, the president is wrapping up his first foreign trip at the G7 summit. We have a live report from Sicily ahead.

ALLEN (voice-over): Plus, British authorities make two more arrests connected to the terror attack in Manchester, as the link between ISIS and the attacker is confirmed.

HOWELL (voice-over): 5:00 am on the U.S. East Coast from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN (voice-over): And I'm Natalie Allen. NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: This story dates back to the Trump transition. Jared Kushner reportedly tried to set up a back channel with Moscow so conversations with the Kremlin could not be monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies.

ALLEN: "The Washington Post" reports that Kushner, who is both a top adviser to President Trump and his son-in-law, brought up the possibility of secret communications last December with the Russian ambassador. CNN's Jessica Schneider fills us in.


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.


HOWELL: Jessica Schneider, thank you for the reporting.

Now let's get more reporting from Clare Sebastian, live for us in the Russian capital this hour.

Clare, again, this is a big story in the United States.

But, again, what is the -- is it playing there, is the question.

Is it a big story there as well or is this kind of swept under the rug?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's getting some attention in the Russian media today, George. I wouldn't say it's a big story. There's a few wire services that have retold "The Washington Post" story.

But for official reaction, when we reached out to the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, on the story reported by "The Washington Post," about whether Jared Kushner had asked the Russian ambassador to set up a secure channel of communication, she replied with the phrase, "McCarthyism" or just "internal political squabbles." That was the initial response. We followed up, asking whether or not the ministry had been aware of this request to the ambassador back during the transition. And she would not be drawn on that.

But she said if we want to know more about Jared Kushner's business or political dealings, it would be worth turning our attention to the Middle East, perhaps a reference there to a recent deal with Saudi Arabia to invest $20 billion in U.S. infrastructure through The Blackstone Group, an investment group that Jared Kushner has dealings with in his previous role as head of The Kushner Company, a real estate development group.

But this is very much along the lines of the rhetoric we've seen recently over the past few months from Russia, trying to paint this as internal political chaos in Washington, to say Russia is being used as a tool by Trump's opponents to hurt his administration and trying to deflect this. They're very much aware of how toxic the whole issue of Russia for Trump has become -- George.

HOWELL: There's another meeting in question that is certainly of note. This meeting with the head of the sanctioned Russian development bank that has close ties to the Kremlin.

What more can you tell us about that, Clare?

SEBASTIAN: This was another meeting that happened during the transition, apparently on --


SEBASTIAN: -- the initiative of Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., with Sergey Gorkov, who is the head of VneshEconomBank, which is a development bank here in Russia, not a commercial bank.

But it has been under U.S. sanctions since July of 2014, Ukraine- related sanctions. And the really interesting thing about this, this meeting was a conflicting reports that came out about it, the White House saying that this was a meeting with Kushner in his capacity as an adviser to the then president-elect; essentially, he was a conduit.

But the Russian side, the VEB bank, saying this was a business meeting, part of a road show they were doing in the U.S. So still a lot of questions surrounding that. Of course, not illegal to talk to a bank that's under sanctions but no business could have been done with it.

HOWELL: Clare Sebastian, in Moscow, Clare, thank you for the insight and reporting.

ALLEN: And Jared Kushner, of course, has been traveling with President Trump and it is the last day of the president's foreign tour with another round of talks at the G7 summit in Sicily. Our Nic Robertson is following those talks for us and he joins us now live.

Interesting with this new president and no one there quite sure what they were dealing with perhaps, since he is unconventional, to say the least.

Where have been the commonalities?

Where have they made steps forward on?

Certainly fighting ISIS is one that all of them are concerned about.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, sure, there's commonality on terrorism but there seems to be disagreement still on trade, disagreement on climate, not particularly a fulsome agreement, according to the Italian prime minister on migration. Their talks yesterday led by the British prime minister, Theresa May, about putting pressure on the Internet companies, the tech companies, social media platforms, to cut down and remove jihadi content because it's seen as inspiring and recruiting young people to join groups like ISIS. There's commonality on that, as well.

But it's very interesting, listening to the Italian prime minister this morning as he was talking about the talks today. And he said, and I was very struck by this, he said, you know, it's important that we have formal negotiations with the hope of reaching concrete agreement.

He seemed to imply that so far the talks haven't been formal and that they haven't been able to reach a lot of agreement. The indications are normally that, after a G7 like this, you might have an agreed document some 20 or 30 pages long.

And what we're understanding at the moment is the agreements might just total a few pages rather than the substantive aspirations of the Italian government, who are hosting this -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Yes, and he's traveled to several countries on this, his first foreign trip, Nic, and we really haven't heard from him whatsoever.

How is that going across?

ROBERTSON: There have been those brief moments when he spoke at NATO headquarters and quite surprised everybody there by not embracing the core principle, Article 5, attack against one is an attack against all, which came into play after September 11th, the first time Article 5 was invoked, if you will, when all NATO allies came to support the United States.

He didn't embrace that there. That was a surprise, his comment there, he talked about how wonderful the trip had been in Saudi Arabia, how he had been hosted so well by the Saudi king, King Salman.

But there's no opportunity on his trip here, and it is usual, for a trip of this length, this magnitude, at least the way that he's described it, this importance, that he's not holding a press conference.

That's unusual. Even after a G7 meeting like this, British prime minister Theresa May held a press conference, had been on record comments by the Italian prime minister, the German chancellor but no chance for journalists to question and talk to Donald Trump about what he's taken away from this visit, what he's learned.

We're hearing from some of his advisers, chief economic advisers, national security adviser on the record. But it's not the same as being able to ask the president questions; his advisers have sometimes been in their statements a little bit contradictory -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And there are a lot of questions about this trip, of course. And he would be getting questions about what's going on back at home within his administration. But we'll wait and see if he has any parting remarks.

Nic Robertson, coverage it for us there, live in Sicily, thanks, Nic.

HOWELL: For more now on the president's first overseas trip, let's bring in Brian Klaas, he's a fellow of comparative politics at the London School of Economics.

Brian, a pleasure to have you with us this hour, 10:09 there in London.

From a big picture perspective, what is the lasting impression the U.S. president left on world leaders there in Sicily, from your point of view?

BRIAN KLAAS, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS: Well, I think the trip from an optical point of view was a disaster and a debacle in how it was viewed in Europe and our core allies within the NATO community.


KLAAS: Trump was seen smiling and dancing with swords with the Saudis and saying, we're not going to lecture you on human rights, and then he went to Brussels and he lectured our closest democratic allies on NATO. Rather than sort of encouraging them to do what they should do, which was spend more on defense, he chastised them publicly. I mean, it was an astonishing move to publicly rebuke the allies that have the United States' back the most on the global stage. And it's not playing well in Europe at all.

HOWELL: Because there are there were a couple of instances where there's video of the president, pushing through to be in position with world leaders and also some handshakes that have just gotten play on social media.

But, again, these are optics that come out of this trip, you know.

What do you make of it?

KLAAS: Well, the optics matter. They're an important diplomatic signal. Anyone around the world looking at this trip has seen Trump smiling and dancing with the Saudi Arabia royal family, which is one of the most brutal and barbaric regimes on the planet, and scowling and shoving NATO allies.

It's not the kind of optics you want but it sends an important signal.

And also this is something, by the way, that ties back into Trump's problems back home because sowing division within NATO is one of the top priorities for Vladimir Putin's regime in Moscow. They want the West to splinter.

So when you have the President of the United States, the linchpin of NATO, lecturing democratic allies in Brussels, this is a dream come true for Putin. And that ties it back to this story back home that won't go away about Trump's ties to Russia and the ongoing investigations.

HOWELL: That leads me into my other question about Russia, this administration, they were hoping to turn a corner from all the controversies that are brewing here in the States. But now there are more questions as Mr. Trump returns and they're going to great lengths to avoid questions from journalists.

KLAAS: Yes, this story is rotten to the core. Jared Kushner shouldn't have been at any of these meetings in the first place. He's an unqualified real estate developer and everyone in the world knows he wouldn't be in those meetings if he wasn't married to Trump's daughter.

Then once he did these meetings and tried to establish a secret back channel to Russia and subsequently lied about it, Trump then fired the FBI director who was investigating his own son-in-law.

I mean, this is an enormous story of significance beyond partisan divides. And I think people who are defending this as normal behavior are simply deluding themselves. This is not normal behavior for a president to do.

If you want to discuss Syria with another foreign power like Russia, you can do it openly. You don't have to do it secretly. You don't need a secret back channel and you don't need to lie about it or fail to disclose it on security clearance forms.

So I think people need to take stock of this and say, do we really want to defend this behavior?

It is clearly rotten and there's something to it. And it needs to be investigated rapidly, because either the president's chief adviser, one of his main advisers, is compromised or has dubious dealings with the Russians or he's breathtakingly naive in his dealings with one of the most important foreign adversaries the United States has on the global stage.

Either way, it's a catch-22 and it's terrible news for the United States and its people.

HOWELL: Our international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, just a few minutes ago, talked about the lack of a concrete agreement coming out of G7. There are so many issues that were the focus; climate change, one of them. One question still remains, whether the U.S. president will back out of the Paris climate accord.

How significant could that impact be on that agreement?

KLAAS: It would be enormous. Any sort of major environmental international pact requires the U.S. and China to be involved for it to have any sort of meaning. So it would be a massive symbolic move. But it would also take the teeth out of the agreement.

And I think that as we see more reporting from the G7, what is going to emerge as a narrative -- and an accurate one, I would suggest -- is it's very likely going to be 6-1, with Trump being the one on issues related to the environment and trade.

And this is a problem because it's -- the G7 is a core leader on the global stage of the agenda for the West. And when that group splinters, it is much harder for American interests to be served along with allies abroad.

HOWELL: Brian Klaas, live in London, thank you so much for your insight.

KLAAS: Thanks.

ALLEN: British police make more arrests in the Manchester bombing case. Coming up here, we'll let you know what we've learned about the bomber's possible ties to terror group.

HOWELL: Plus, a bus packed with families targeted in a deadly attack. How the Egyptian president is vowing to fight back as NEWSROOM continues.





HOWELL: A car bombing has killed at least 18 people in Eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border. Six people were wounded there.

ALLEN: The explosion hit near a bus station in the city of Khost Saturday morning. No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing so far.

HOWELL: British officials are scrambling, trying to uncover a network they say is behind the Manchester concert attack. They just arrested two more people and they say 11 men are now in custody.

ALLEN: Meantime, a Libyan militia says it has detained the father and brother of the attacker, Salman Abedi. It says the brother confessed to being in ISIS with the bomber and to speaking with him by phone 15 minutes before Monday's blast.

Our Muhammad Lila is in Manchester and he joins us now with the latest on the investigation and standing in front of this beautiful memorial as people there continue to remember the victims.

Muhammad, hello.

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Natalie, and, yes, you're absolutely right. It's been raining this morning and people are still literally standing out in the pouring rain to come to this vigil and pay their respects. Police are describing this as a very fast-moving investigation. The

raids continued just this morning here in Central Manchester; police arrested two more men. That brings the total number of people currently in custody to 11.

And at one of the locations that police raided this morning, they carried out what they could a controlled explosion. It's unclear if they found some sort of explosive or incendiary device or if they found a suspicious item that they just wanted to dispose of.

And as you mentioned, this is now very much an international investigation. A big part of that is focusing on the suspect's time that he spent in Libya. It's believed that he spent almost a month there before returning here to Manchester.

Now there's a Libyan militia group in Tripoli and, of course, Libya is awash with militants ever since the regime change there. But the Libyan militia group there says that it arrested the suspect's brother. They say that, under interrogation, the suspect's brother admitted that he was aware of the plot, that he was in Manchester, helping his brother prepare the plot and that his brother phoned him just 15 minutes before the attack took place.

Now of course one of the criticisms of that kind of information is that it was obtained under interrogation and we know in Libya, of course, with many of these militia groups, it's unclear what that interrogation entailed because if it entailed some sort of torture or forced coercion, then some of that information may not be considered reliable.

So one of the first things that investigators here in Manchester will want to do is to be able to speak to that person in Libya, who's currently believed to be in custody right now so they can get as much first-hand information as possible.

ALLEN: Meantime, this, of course, happened at the end of an Ariana Grande concert. She did send out a tweet, how broken she was but now she has something else to say.

What can you tell us?

LILA: That's right. If you remember --


LILA: -- right after the concert, Ariana Grande said that she was heartbroken and she flew immediately back to the United States. She put some of her other concerts on this tour on hold.

She's now broken her silence with a very emotional and a very powerful statement.

I want to read one excerpt of that, where she says, "Our response to this violence must be to come closer together, to help each other, to love more, to sing louder and to live more kindly and generously than we ever did before.? That was just part of her response.

ALLEN: I'm sure she's been quite changed and quite moved by this.

We thank you, Muhammad Lila, for us.

Now for more, here's George.

HOWELL: And for more on the bomber, Salman Abedi, and his ties to Libya, Jomana Karadsheh is now live in neighboring Tunisia.

It's good to have you with us.

What more do we know about this investigation?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, George, what we're getting is from family and friends in Tripoli and also from the special deterrent force. That is one of the main and most powerful armed groups in Tripoli that is nominally under the control of the interior ministry.

Now following the attack on Manchester, they have detained two members of the Abedi family; the father, Ramadan Abedi, and also the younger brother of Salman Abedi, Hashem Abedi.

They've also brought in two siblings and the mother of the bomber and also questioned them but released them. The main information that we're hearing from this special deterrent force is coming from 20- year-old Hashem Abedi, according to this militia. They're saying that he has provided them with information.

Of course, we don't know the circumstances under which this alleged confession took place.

He says that he and his brother were members of ISIS, that Hashem Abedi was planning to carry out an attack in Tripoli, that he was in the United Kingdom along with his brother, Salman, in what they described as the planning phase for that attack. And they say that Salman called his brother, Hashem, in Libya 15 minutes before carrying out the attack in Manchester.

But we do not know the details of that phone call. But they say that Hashem knew of his brother's movements, knew that he was planning something but he did not know the details of when and where that attack was going to take place.

Why these brothers, the Abedi brothers, were in Libya in the first place, we're learning this from family and friends, who say that their father, Ramadan Abedi, who returned back to Tripoli following the overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi and the revolution in 2011, he was concerned that his sons were getting into some sort of trouble, some sort of gang violence back in Manchester.

So in April, he brought them back to Libya, he confiscated their passports to make sure that they don't go back to Manchester. But according to the special deterrent force, according to this family friend, Salman deceived his family, told them that he wanted to go to Saudi Arabia for perform the Umrah pilgrimage, took his passport and flew back to the United Kingdom and that, a few days later, he carried out the attack in Manchester.

While we're hearing from Libyans saying they don't believe that the planning or training for the attack took place in Libya because, according to this armed group, from what they say Hashem told them, is that the planning took place starting in the end of 2016.

But you would still assume that British investigators, Western intelligence agencies will be really looking carefully into what took place during his time in Libya, whether it's this trip or previous trips, who he may have met with or spoken to, considering the situation in Libya, that lawless country, where you have so many armed groups and ISIS operating in that country, of course -- George.

HOWELL: Jomana Karadsheh, with very important background there, live in Tunis, Tunisia, thank you so much.

ALLEN: Another terrorism attack to tell you about; the Egyptian government promises to fight back against terrorism after a deadly attack. At least 28 people were killed after a gunman targeted a bus packed with Coptic Christians.

The families were heading to a monastery in Southern Egypt. In retaliation, the Egyptian air force launched airstrikes against what the president is calling "terror camps" in Eastern Libya. Our Ian Lee is following the latest from Istanbul, Turkey, for us.

Certainly we know, Ian, that ISIS has been targeting Coptic Christians but what makes this even more sad is that these people were in a van, kind of in the middle of nowhere, so no recourse, nothing they could do when suddenly they were attacked.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And when you look at the pictures, you can see that this van was in the middle of the desert, which makes it easy for these assailants to slip away after the attack.

It's been difficult for Egypt to really secure the country and secure the Christian community, which is --


LEE: -- roughly about 9 million people because it's such a large country and the Christians have these monasteries all over. This bus going from Minya, which is very -- there are a lot of Christians living there -- to St. Samuel, when that attack happened.

The president convened an emergency session of his security council to talk about it, they also -- he directed the air force to carry out these airstrikes and he said that he'll target these terrorist camps, whether they're inside or outside Egypt, very strong words, and calling for the international community to back him and calling for solidarity and support against terror.

But this is something that Egypt has faced for quite a while, while no one has claimed responsibility for this attack. ISIS has said in the past in statements that Egypt's Christians are their favorite prey -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Yes. And they certainly are acting like that in the past few months with their attacks.

As far as these terror camps go, Ian, how many are there?

How vast is ISIS operating in this region, in Egypt?

LEE: Well, in Libya, we know that ISIS has a foothold there. And as we heard from Jomana, they're all over the country, from the east to the west. And when I've spoken with Egyptian generals, they tell me one of their main concerns, if not the main concern, is that long border with Libya because militants can slip across the border and slip back. They have been battling the militants on that western frontier for quite some time. And it has been a real struggle for the Egyptian military to try to root them out because that border is so porous and because of the instability in Libya.

And so you do get attacks like this into Egypt from time to time because they just have a hard time finding them and locating them. And so, for the Egyptian government, it's something that they'll likely continue to struggle with as the instability in Libya continues.

ALLEN: Ian Lee, live for us in Istanbul, thank you.

HOWELL: The Iraqi military says it has started the final stage of liberation of Mosul from ISIS. This after months of intense street fighting. The terror group's control of that city has now shrunk down to just a few neighborhoods in Western Mosul.

The military did not say how long this final push might take. Leaflets have been dropped over the ISIS-held parts of the city, urging civilians there to flee ahead of the advancing Iraqi forces.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. Still ahead this hour, we have more on a meeting between President Trump's son-in-law and a Russian banker trained in the ways of Moscow intelligence.

ALLEN: Plus, how former FBI chief James Comey reportedly reacted to Russian meddling in last year's presidential election.



GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It's 5:30 am on the U.S. East Coast. Welcome back to our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. This is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell. Good to have you with us.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): I'm Natalie Allen. Our top stories this hour:


ALLEN: Again, our top story: President Trump's inner circle amid growing scrutiny of Russia contacts with his administration.

HOWELL: CNN's Randi Kaye has been looking at a meeting between Mr. Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and a Russian banker. It happened while Kushner was part of the Trump transition team.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the man Jared Kushner met with in December of 2016 just a month after Kushner's father-in-law, Donald Trump, was elected president.

His name is Sergey Gorkov. He is a Russian banker, the chairman of VEB Bank. He also has ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin, who appointed him to head the bank. Gorkov graduated a Russian academy that trained people to work in Russia's intelligence and security forces.

Here's how the White House explained the nature of Kushner's meeting with the banker.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Jared did a job during the transition in the campaign where he was a conduit to leaders. He wants to make sure that he was very clear about the role he play that we talked to and that's it.

KAYE: That may be true. But it doesn't square with what the bank itself has said about the meeting. In a statement, the bank said its executives met with Kushner not as a representative of the White House but as head of Kushner company.

The bank said its leaders met with numerous global financial executive as it developed a new strategy for the bank.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It's interesting that the Russians seem to contradict what Jared Kushner said when he said that he was acting as the liaison between the campaign and foreign governments. So I'm sure that that will be an issue that we will try to clarify.

KAYE: What exactly was discussed between Kushner and the banker remains a mystery.

Though Jared Kushner has offered to answer the Senate intelligence committee's questions about not only this meeting but another meeting he had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak --


KAYE: -- that same month. It was Kislyak who had suggested Kushner meet with the Russian banker. The fact that Kushner didn't mention either of these meetings on his White House security clearance forms may also be topic of inquiry. So he did rectify that the day after the omission.

There's also the concern that the Russian bank has been under U.S. sanction since July of 2014. And when Kushner met with Gorkov, he was still CEO of Kushner company. And critics question whether he was looking for financing for a pricey Manhattan real estate project.

The meeting itself didn't violate a U.S. sanction. But investigators will want to know what was said.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a feeling that it related to financial issues since it involved a Russian bank. But to his credit, he is willing to testify on that issue. And I hope that the committee really thoroughly looks at what the reasons were why he engaged in that conversation.

KAYE: Seems that Jared Kushner in who barely speaks beyond a whisper in the president's ear may soon be called upon to do a whole lot of talking -- Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


HOWELL: CNN has also learned a new development about the fired 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 has more.


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."

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


ALLEN: A former U.S. national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, has died. He served under President Jimmy Carter during the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late '70s.

Mr. Carter described Brzezinski as brilliant, dedicated, loyal and a superb public servant. His death was announced on Instagram by his daughter, MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski. She called him the most inspiring, loving and devoted father any girl could ever have. Zbigniew Brzezinski was 89.

It's time to change the U.K.'s foreign policy on terror. That is the message from the head of Britain's opposition. Coming up here, we'll show you why it is sparking controversy.

HOWELL: Also in Sri Lanka, dozens of people are dead and missing after monsoon rains trigger flooding and mudslides. We'll have the very latest on the conditions there as NEWSROOM continues.




ALLEN: Welcome back.

There was little kindness but plenty of criticism for the head of the British opposition when he linked terror attacks to the U.K.'s foreign policy.

HOWELL: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was speaking as election campaigning resumed following this week's bombing in Manchester. Diana Magnay has more now from London for us.


DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Unusual scenes for unusual times, Britain's threat level at critical, the likelihood of an attack imminent. Troops next door to heavily armed police on Britain's streets.

Election campaigning is back on. Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn relaunching his by saying the war on terror hasn't worked, that Britain must refine its policies abroad to stop attacks back home.

JEREMY CORBYN, LEADER, U.K. LABOUR PARTY: No government can prevent every terrorist attack. If an individual is determined enough and callous enough, sometimes they will get through.

But the responsibility of government is to minimize that chance, to ensure the police have the resources they need, that our foreign policy reduces rather than increases the threat to this country and that, at home, we never surrender the freedoms we have won and that the terrorists are so determined to take away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could say it's a courageous thing to do, the first day of election campaigning, to basically say that these attacks are at least in part down to British foreign policy. I don't think that's going to go down well with a lot of the electorate, particularly maybe among placing voters. And the Conservatives will be relentless in the way that they attack him for saying this.

MAGNAY (voice-over): And so they were. The Tory backlash hardly missed a beat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not only is his timing crass and insensitive, right in the middle of an investigation, right while people are still in hospital and it's cheap politics. I think I was pretty upset he doesn't seem to understand his own history. Salafist jihadism has been around way before the interventions --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- in the Middle East.

MAGNAY (voice-over): British home secretary Amber Rudd, too, on the defensive already over cuts to the police force, lashing out at the Labour leader.

AMBER RUDD, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: The time to debate foreign policy (INAUDIBLE), we can do it in the House of Commons. But to suggest that there was any justification for the horrors that took place on Tuesday night is completely outrageous.

MAGNAY (voice-over): But will voters find it outrageous? The latest UGov (ph) poll for "The Times" newspaper, the first to be carried out since the Manchester attacks, suggests the conservative leader for Labour is shrinking.

MAGNAY: That's not what Theresa May would have anticipated when she stepped outside Downing Street 1.5 months ago and called for a snap election. Then she had a comfortable double-digit lead in the polls, reduced in large part because of social care policies in her manifesto, dubbed the dementia tax by her opponents, which have proved massively unpopular.

She had hoped to bolster her majority in Parliament. Now if this latest poll is anything to go by, she may even see that reduced -- Diana Magnay, CNN, London.


ALLEN: An Australian woman convicted of drug smuggling in Indonesia 12 years ago will finally go home. Schapelle Corby, glimpsed briefly in this video in Bali, will be deported Saturday.

HOWELL: She was arrested in 2004 while traveling in Indonesia with family and friends. Authorities at the airport in Bali found more than four kilos of marijuana in her bag.

Corby said she had no knowledge of the drugs until customs officers found them. A year later, following a high-profile trial, Corby was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

ALLEN: Corby, now 39 years old, served nine years of her sentence. She was released in 2014. She's remained on parole, unable to leave Indonesia until now.

At least 91 people are dead, dozens more missing in Sri Lanka after monsoon rains triggered flooding and mudslides.

HOWELL: This is believed to be the worst flood in Sri Lanka since 2003. The military is assisting with search and rescue operations in the south and west of that country. Rescue agencies say some 20,000 people have been forced to leave their homes.

ALLEN: Derek Van Dam is following it for us. He has got more on it.

You say this is the time of the year but this is one of the worst.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, this is the annual onset of the monsoon rain. It comes; people expect it; they hope for it, they wish for it because they need the relief from the heat.

But, unfortunately, this was a little bit too much too quickly and the water levels are still rising.

Check out the footage, look at what some people are having to deal with there. It is a dire situation. Some people have been cut off, their homesteads cut off by the water, surrounding their businesses and their homes. The Sri Lankan ministry of foreign affairs making an urgent appeal to

the United Nations for aid and assistance. Military boats, helicopters, all sent in to help with the rescue operations that are currently ongoing as we speak.



HOWELL: All right, Derek, thank you very much.

Still ahead this hour, the woman that you see here has been writing letters to U.S. troops since World War II. She keeps putting pen to paper. That story ahead.






HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM.

So this story is about a great-grandma in the U.S. state of California, who really appreciates the troops. From World War II to the Afghanistan conflict, she's been sending U.S. forces letters for over 70 years now.

ALLEN: Amazing. For all that work, she has earned, as you can imagine, many penpals and a lot of fans in uniform. Here is her story from Karafin Sumabar (ph) affiliate KCBS, K-CAL.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): At a time when most conversations are instant, Aileen Cooper (INAUDIBLE) the art of letter writing isn't lost.

AILEEN COOPER, LETTER WRITER: I wish you safe every step of the way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): The 98-year old started sending letters to America's troops back during World War II. They've gone to soldiers in harm's way and the wounded in hospitals.

COOPER: One in Florida, he had to have a new ear. And I'm sure he was very, very depressed.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): All of Cooper's letters are at least four pages long. And she makes sure no two are alike.

COOPER: TTYL, which means "talk to you later."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): What Cooper is serving up at her kitchen table is comfort food for soldiers' souls. And they can't seem to get enough.

They've sent her commendations and flags from their bases.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): We connected Cooper with one of her Marines.

COOPER: It's like, oh, my goodness. I'm just so pleased.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Cooper first wrote Staff Sergeant Chris Cantos (ph) years ago. He was in a remote area of Afghanistan with no wi-fi. The only contact the Marines there had with home: letters.

SSGT. CHRIS CANTOS (PH), USMC: She would always send us clippings and jokes. She would tell us about her day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Cooper's family says her connection to the troops is personal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She said she wrote every day to her -- to my brother and a lot of soldiers don't get any mail at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Cooper's other son, Larry, served in Vietnam. He survived but still struggles with posttraumatic stress disorder.

COOPER: All the time I think of these people and then their family's at home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): So six years ago, Cooper started counting her letters. Since then, she's sent nearly 7,000. Her hands are getting tired. But this grandma to the troops tells us her mission is far from over.

COOPER: I decided that I'm going to write as long as I can. And I just respect everything that you do.


ALLEN: How about that one?

Very, very sweet.

HOWELL: Heartfelt and means a lot to the people who get --


ALLEN: Grandmother of the day. HOWELL: Yes. Thank you for being with us. I'm George Howell.

ALLEN: I'm Natalie Allen. Thanks for watching.