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White House Sets Up for Russian Probe; White House Defends Kushner; Kushner Left Overseas Trip; Trump Targets Media over Russia Probe; Tiger Woods Arrested; Merkel Says Europe Can't Rely on U.S. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 29, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you so much. Good to be with you on this Monday. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for joining me, especially on this Memorial Day.

The president back from his nine-day trip overseas, in time to honor the nation's fallen war heroes. He paid tribute there today at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The solemn moment of silence happening in stark contrast to what's going on inside the White House. The crisis now extending to the president's son-in-law, one of his top advisers, Jared Kushner, as "The Washington Post" first reported, back in December, Kushner may have discussed creating a secret back channel so that the Trump transition team could communicate directly with the Kremlin. What's more here, Kushner suggested, according to this paper, quote, "using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications." "The Post" cites U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports of intercepts between the Kremlin and the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

The president himself is defending Kushner to "The New York Times" saying, quote, "Jared is doing a great job for the country. I have total confidence in him. He is respected by virtually everyone and is working on programs that will save our country billions of dollars. In addition to that, and perhaps more importantly, he is a very good person."

Let me add on to that, that two top Trump White House officials are downplaying those reports.


H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We have back channel communications with - in a number of - with a number of countries. So - so, generally speaking, about back channel communications, what that allows you to do is to communicate in a discreet manner. So it doesn't predispose you to any sort of content of that conversation or anything. So, no, I would not be concerned about it.

GEN. JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I don't see any big issue here.

Any line of communication to a country, particularly to a country like Russia, is a good thing. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's get into all of that with John Wagner, White House reporter for "The Washington Post," who just co-wrote a piece about how the president is weighing major changes in his staff because of all of this.

John, thank you so much for coming in.

We'll get to the Kushner piece in a second, but much of the lead of your story is about this war room. What's that about?

JOHN WAGNER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, interesting enough, it sounds like the Trump White House is about to take a page from President Clinton's White House during the days of the Monica Lewinsky and other scandals. They set up a - essentially a crisis management team where you have a number of communications aides, a number of lawyers, a number of political staffers who were essentially walled off from the rest of the White House and they attempt to handle these issues so that to the extent possible the White House can continue to function normally and not have to deal with as much incoming on these issues.

BALDWIN: So if they do that, I know your piece also mentioned a reshuffling of senior staff. Is that because of the war room or bigger issues?

WAGNER: That's in part. The president has kind of made clear, both publicly and privately, that he's not thrilled with how his communications staff is doing. So there's talk of a number of different scenarios there. Perhaps with Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, playing a diminished role, maybe seeing a revolving cast of characters doing the White House briefings in a couple weeks, and there's even talk about, you know, other senior staffers and how secure their jobs are. I don't think we're going to see any immediate changes, but now that the president is back in the country, a lot of these things are being actively discussed.

BALDWIN: You know you talk of a diminished role. You know, all that you all have been reporting, and we've been reporting as well, on this back channel, right, between Kushner and discussions with the Russian ambassador and the Kremlin, tell me about a potential smaller role that you're hearing that Jared Kushner could play as this is all taken front and center, headlines.

WAGNER: Well, I mean, it's interesting he has such an expansive portfolio focused on everything from the Middle East to, you know, innovations in the White House, yet, you know, the public rarely hears from him directly. So I don't know how, you know, noticeable it would be to the public, but there's certainly people who are counselling him within the White House to lay low for the foreseeable future. I -

BALDWIN: Lay low and take on a smaller role are two very different things.

WAGNER: Well, right. I think, you know, we're not going to see much of him publicly. There's some in the White House who have even suggested, apparently not directly to him, but our reporting has shown that they, you know, think he should consider taking a leave until the Russian crisis is resolved. I don't think that's going to happen. I mean the president's statement was pretty unequivocal.

BALDWIN: Yes. John Wagner, excellent reporting, you and "The Washington Post." Thank you so much for joining me on this holiday.

Let's continue the conversation here in just a moment. You know, one person really troubled by the latest news about the president's son- in-law is Senator John McCain, who is actually visiting Australia and just spoke with a TV network there.

[14:05:05] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: My view of it is, I don't like it. I just don't. I don't. I know that some administration officials are saying, well, that's standard procedure. I don't think it's standard procedure prior to the inauguration of a president of the United States by someone who is not in an appointed position.


BALDWIN: Caitlin Huey-Burns, national political reporter for RealClearPolitics is with me here.

Good to see you.


BALDWIN: So talking to John about Jared Kushner here and now we also have reporting from our own Jeff Zeleny that if you noticed during this, what, nine-day overseas trip of the president's, Jared Kushner left early. And according to Jeff Zeleny, he didn't actually just want to be by the president's side when this news was going to drop. In a sense being protective of the commander-in-chief and his father-in- law. What do you make of that decision?

HUEY-BURNS: Well, it's really interesting too. And we've heard from Kushner's lawyer saying that he will comply with anything that he needs to. But as John alluded to, you know, this certainly is going to be a cloud over this White House given Jared Kushner's proximity to the president Not only proximity but also, you know, he is the most trusted aide of this president. And there was so much that we don't know about him. He's not a public official. He doesn't have experience - proven experience, I should say, with the things that he is tasked with. And he is in an unconfirmed spot, which means that he didn't have to undergo the kind of scrutiny, the public scrutiny, that other people in the administration have.

BALDWIN: He's family He's family.

HUEY-BURNS: Exactly. Yes.

BALDWIN: And, you know, there's all this reporting about he is the eyes and the ears and, you know, top adviser. Yet "The New York Times" has been reporting on some friction between the president and Jared Kushner, including when Jared Kushner's sister pitched potential investors in Beijing to invest with the promise of this, you know, U.S. visa. President Trump's photo even appeared on a slide in her presentation. And so "The New York Times" was reporting that the president, days later, made several snarky comments in the wake of that. So their relationship, not picture perfect.

HUEY-BURNS: Right. And it's also, as you mentioned, family. It's not like another position where he could perhaps, you know, fire that person. The relationship gets a little tricky here. But the fact that this would continue to linger on as he is involved in lots of different issues in the White House and as the president is establishing that war room, trying to at least publicly kind of let them handle that portion of the Russia investigation and get back to domestic issues, which is what, you know, lots of lawmakers on Capitol Hill want to get back to, you know, this creates a big cloud that I think will just linger for months and months and months, putting his job in question.


We know the president is back. The president has been back on Twitter. There was a massive Twitter storm, you know, that I saw when I woke up yesterday morning. Let me just read a couple of them and we'll quote. "It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #fakenewsmedia." Here's another, "whenever you see the words 'sources say' in the fake news media and they don't mention names, it is very possible that those sources don't exist but are made up by fake news writers, #fakenewsistheenemy."

But here's the thing. And when you listen to and read from a lot of these White House reporters, they point out that Trump's White House asks for permission to speak without attribution to reporters all the time. Also a couple of days ago the president said he wanted his administration to find the leakers and now he's saying the leaks coming out of the White House are fake. My question is, or my statement is, you can't have it both ways.

HUEY-BURNS: Right. Exactly. And, you know, not only this White House, but all White Houses talk to reporters on background. Capitol Hill, same thing, lots of different, you know, sources here.

The thing about this too that, you know, raises a big question mark is that the president also cited sources while going after President Obama for his birth certificate -


HUEY-BURNS: And questioning his nationality and things like that. So it really - what he's trying to do is say to the public, look, you know, this is - this is all made up. And to his base of supporters, that really, you know, speaks to them. But it really -

BALDWIN: You can't have it both ways. HUEY-BURNS: You can't have it both ways. And it's really troubling for a White House condemn sources within the White House, but also, you know, in - for journalistic purposes, this raises a lot of concern, I think.

BALDWIN: Yes, I think so too.


BALDWIN: Caitlin, thank you very much.

HUEY-BURNS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Let's move on to this one. Breaking news today. Tiger Woods arrested in the wee hours of the morning today in south Florida, suspected of driving while under the influence. And we have his photo. This is the Tiger Woods mug shot. Once the world best golfer, we are told he was released on his own recognizance with no bond.

Mike Wise is with me. He's a senior writer with ESPN's

Mike Wise, I mean, did you ever think you'd see a Tiger Woods mug shot? I mean he's been trying to come back. It's sad.

[14:10:00] MIKE WISE, SENIOR WRITER, THEUNDEFEATED.COM: Yes. It is, Brooke. It's the latest freefall in his career in many ways. He hasn't won a PGA tour event since 2013. He hasn't won a mass - you know, hasn't won a PGA major event since 2008, before his crash and sudden personal meltdown that featured the divorce of his wife, Elin Nordegren.

And so this is the latest. Tiger's gone through four back surgeries in the last ten years. He's essentially given up his - not his PGA card, but his quest to play in a major this year. And so I don't - you know, I don't know where he goes from here. And then to see this mug shot, it is, it's depressing. It's very depressing.

BALDWIN: It is. It is. It is. And, you know, you mention all those different back surgeries. I was just reading, he said more than a month ago, he underwent some sort of fusion surgery on his back and put out, you know, "it was instant nerve relief. I haven't felt this good in years." And that was just as recent as a month ago, Mike.

WISE: Yes, I don't - I don't even know exactly what to say, except for, professionally, I remember back when Mike Tyson had this dominant streak where everybody expected him to return to the Mike Tyson again and there was this almost false hope pining for like an old girlfriend or something. That's what - that's what America wants from Tiger Woods. We want to see him be the golfer he was again. And I'm afraid it's not going to happen.

And if he can come back to any semblance, meanwhile get his personal life back in order, if, in fact, the arrest on suspicion of DUI charges prove to be true, and he, in fact, has to go to court and at least provide some community service, everybody - Tiger - you just want to see Tiger get well in all ways.

BALDWIN: You mentioned his personal life and that divorce. You know, since the infamous divorce, we know he dated Lindsey Vonn for a while.

WISE: Yes.

BALDWIN: Do you even know who he's been hanging out with, anything more about his personal life recently?

WISE: Shockingly, Brooke, I don't hang out in those circles. But - but -

BALDWIN: You don't? You had me fooled.

WISE: No, but it - you know, I - look, I think the biggest thing, whenever I see him quoted, and he rarely opens himself up except for on his own blog, I see him talking about being the father he wants to be for his children and trying to reconcile that before anything else in his life, even golf. And so here's hoping that happens. Clearly being arrested at 3:00 a.m. in Jupiter, Florida, last night does not put you on that trail.

BALDWIN: How - you mentioned Mike Tyson. I mean this sort of Tiger Woods fall from grace.

WISE: Yes.

BALDWIN: Is this one of the more stunning falls you've covered in sports?

WISE: I think so. I remember Jennifer Capriati basically being arrested for shoplifting, at one time being the number one tennis player in the world. Mike Tyson is the most recent example because he was such a dominant fighter. And then to not only lose his career in the ring, but - lost his title in the ring, but to essentially go to jail and spend time in a penitentiary for being convicted of the rape of a beauty contestant in Indiana years ago. That's the most - that's the most conspicuous fall. But this one - this one's equally troubling because Tiger Woods was bigger than Mike Tyson. He was as big as Michael Jordan, anybody in the prime of their career.

BALDWIN: He was an icon. Icon.

WISE: Yes, he was the - it was - icon was not thrown around lightly for Tiger Woods as it is now for many athletes. He was in that - he was in that Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods. I mean there were just a few athletes that had such a dominant streak and had so much going for him. And to see him just slowly go down this path, it's depressing. I just hope he gets - look, I'm one of these people, get your personal life in order first and then worry about the professional.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes. Totally. I just - you know, listen, America loves a good redemption story. I wish him the best as well.

WISE: Yes. BALDWIN: Mike Wise, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

WISE: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Moments from now, the man in charge of the special investigation into the Trump campaign ties to Russia will make rare public remarks. Stand by for Bob Mueller in a commencement speech there in Massachusetts.

Also ahead, a stunning remark by one of America's closest allies. Why Angela Merkel says after meeting with President Trump, Europe can't rely on the U.S. anymore. We'll discuss that.

And, two heroes sacrificing their lives to defend two total strangers on a train during a racist attack. One of those strangers, a teenage girl, is speaking out about what haunts her.

You're watching CNN on this Memorial Day Monday. We'll be right back.


[14:18:31] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN.

Despite America's division, the rhetoric, the hate we too often see in the headlines, there are still heroes among us, even in the unlikeliest of places, even on a train. It's Friday afternoon, two young women, teenagers, riding a commuter train in Portland, Oregon. One of them wearing a hijab, when a monster begins to yell out racist and anti-Muslim slurs at them.


DESTINEE MANGUM, TARGET OF PORTLAND TRAIN ATTACK: He told us to go back to Saudi Arabia. And he told us that we shouldn't be here and to get out of his country. He was just telling us that we basically weren't anything and that we should just kill ourselves.


BALDWIN: That young woman tells us she and her friend moved to the back of the train to try to get away, but then a stranger steps in. He defends them. He says to the man, you can't disrespect these young ladies like that. More strangers step in. That's when the knife comes out. The suspect starts to stab right there in broad daylight on a train in America. One of the girls says she just heard arguing, fighting, and then suddenly sees blood everywhere.

Two of these heroes didn't survive. They died defending strangers. One, a military veteran, a father of four. His name, Ricky Best. The other, a recent college graduate, economics degree. He had just started his career, his life. And today one of the teens they saved is saying thank you.

[14:20:02] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANGUM: Thank you to the people who put their life on the line for me because they didn't even know me. And they lost their lives because of me and my friend and the way we looked. And I just want to say thank you to them and their families and that I appreciate them because, without them, we probably would be dead right now.


BALDWIN: The third hero right now in the hospital. And despite his serious wounds is expected to survive. His mother says, as badly hurt as Micah Fletcher is, he blames himself.


MARGIE FLETCHER, STABBING VICTIM'S MOTHER: I am feeling very, very lucky and thanking God. I'm feeling bad for my son who thinks it's his fault.

They missed the jugular by a millimeter. They cut one of the carotid arteries. And he will have some paralyzation.


BALDWIN: The man accused of this attack. He has a history of white supremacist activity in Portland. Critics slammed President Trump over the weekend for not condemning these attacks as quickly, but today he tweeted this. Quote, "the violent attacks on Portland on Friday are unacceptable. The victims were standing up to hate and intolerance. Our prayers are with them."

CNN's Polo Sandoval is covering this one for us today.

And just, Polo, let's go back to the heroes. Tell me more about these heroes, these strangers who stepped in on that train.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, let's start with the youngest of these heroes, Micha Fletcher, the lone survivor, the only one who survived the attack and lived to tell about it. As you mentioned, he is still in the hospital right now. However, doctors saying that he is expected to pull off a recovery. Here, as you see from these pictures, he is, at least, in high spirits right now.

And then, sadly, the other two gentlemen that did not make it. Taliesin Namkai Meche. We are told that he had just started his career in economics. He had just bought a house and he planned to get married and eventually fill that house with children. Sadly, that will never be.

And then on this Memorial Day there is Ricky John Best, the 53-year- old Army veteran that's describe by his employer as the, quote, "model public servant." He used to work as a technician for the city of Portland. Recently we heard from his oldest son, Eric. His spoke to CNN's - to a CNN affiliate KPTV. Take a listen.


ERIC BEST, FATHER KILLED IN TRAIN ATTACK: He died fighting the good fight, protecting the innocent. Honestly, that's what he would probably have wanted.

We're all people in that we all bleed red and it doesn't matter who - what color or religion. It doesn't matter really. We're all human beings.

I miss him. We all miss him. He was a hero.


SANDOVAL: Yes, a true hero indeed. Obviously he wore that title even before he stepped on to that train on that Friday afternoon.

We are told that Mr. Best actually retired from a career of 23 years with the Army. He leaves behind his wife, four children, one of which we just heard from right now.


BALDWIN: Our condolences with the families, the city. We'll talk to the mayor of Portland, Oregon, next hour.

Polo, thank you so very much.

Moving on. One of America's closest allies says it can't rely on the U.S. anymore. Why German Chancellor Angela Merkel felt compelled to say this after her recent visit with President Trump.

Also, new images released in the Manchester bombing investigation. The suspect here, big blue suitcase. What authorities think might be in that big blue suitcase, coming up.


[14:28:05] BALDWIN: The leader of Germany, one of America's closest allies, now says Europe can no longer completely rely on the United States. And must be prepared to take its fate into its own hands. German Chancellor Angela Merkel comments coming just hours after President Trump returned to Washington back into this Russia scandal that's now gripping the White House.

So Tim Lister, one of our CNN contributors, is joining me now.

And, Tim, when you first heard this from Chancellor Merkel, how bad is this? What does this reveal that she would say such a thing?

TIM LISTER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Chancellor Merkel never says anything by mistake or off the cuff. She's trained as a physicist. She's been in power for 12 years. She's not the sort of person who makes remarks that aren't really well thought out. And even though her setting was a Bavarian beer tent, these remarks were very carefully calibrated to send a message to Europe, to send a message to the German people, but also to send a message to the United States and to the United Kingdom that Europe simply has to get its act together because it does not see sufficient interests on the part of Donald Trump or leadership on the part of Donald Trump of the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, which has been basically at the core of this strategic partnership for more than 70 years, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So you have Chancellor Merkel saying what she did at the, you know, essentially a beer garden, meaning what she said. You have this white-knuckled handshake between the newly elected president of France, Macron, and we're now hearing his side of it, that he intended to hang on to Mr. Trump's hand, that it, quote, wasn't an innocent handshake and that Macron wanted to send a message that the French aren't going to be walked all over. Why do you think he would do that, say that?

[14:29:50] LISTER: I think it appealed to a core constituency that he wants to grab with legislative elections coming up in France. Of course the presidential election is out of the way. Now he has to build a coalition in parliament. And there's a galist (ph) sentiment in France that's actually quite hostile to the United States.