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Anti-Muslim White Supremacist Kills Two in Portland; Tiger Woods Arrested on Suspicion of DUI; Trump Transition Sought Secret Communications With Russia?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 29, 2017 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's begin with the president.

President Trump begins his first week back from his major overseas trip, and the reset his White House was hoping for remains illusive, the crises hitting his administration now reaching his son-in-law and one of his top advisers, Jared Kushner.

As "The Washington Post" first reported, back in December, Kushner may have discussed creating this secret back channel so that the Trump transition team could communicate with the Kremlin. What's more, Kushner suggested, according to the paper -- quote -- "using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications."

"The Washington Post" cites U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports of intercepts between the Kremlin and the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. That's the very same ambassador at the heart of the firing of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

"The Post" reports Flynn was at the meeting when Kushner reportedly made this offer. But the president is pushing back and so are several of his top aides, namely National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

Want you to listen to this audio from an off-camera briefing with reporters.


H.R. MCMASTER, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We have back-channel communications with in a number of countries. 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.


BALDWIN: Let's begin the hour with our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, how is the president responding to all of this?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, the president is definitely defending his son-in-law.

He's certainly concerned by just the gravity and the deepening nature of this Russia investigation. But the president is defending his son- in-law. But it sounds like he's doing that as much as for internal divisions inside the West Wing here as much as anything else.

But let's take a look at this statement that the president gave to "The New York Times" in a story that they have this morning about his son-in-law. It says this.

It says: "Jared is doing a great job for the country. I have total confidence in him. He's 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's a very good person."

But, Brooke, I think a couple things here. One, the president simply having to issue a statement defending his son-in-law certainly is pretty extraordinary. But, two, there's no mention of any of the matter at hand here of this Russia investigation.

His statement does not talk about that at all, in fact. So the question here is, as the White House, as the president tries to change the subject and get back to their agenda of doing something that they were elected to do, the Russia investigation is hanging over them here and the question is, what happens to Jared Kushner?

He was first among equals among all the advisers. I'm told he's willing to talk to the FBI, willing to talk to members of Congress here and he's going to keep his head down internally. But what it's allowed, Brooke, is for some of his rivals inside the West Wing, Steve Bannon and others, to sort of resume their previous positions of strength here.

So all of this is going on as, again, this White House tries to get back to the subject, back to their agenda. But now the Russia investigation is one of their agenda items, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes, Jeff Zeleny, all of this at play. Thank you so much.

Let's continue the conversation with an expert on U.S. intelligence. With me now, Evan McMullin, a former CIA operations officer who also launched a third-party run for president against Donald Trump.

Evan, good to see you.



BALDWIN: First just on the news that Kushner reportedly wanted to set up this Russian back channel, your response?

MCMULLIN: Well, I was shocked.

And I think the term back channel is very generous to Jared Kushner. A back channel in the traditional sense, in the diplomatic sense is something that a president would sign off on. It's an officially sanctioned effort to communicate discreetly with a foreign government.

That's fine. We do that, as McMaster and others have pointed out. The problem is that this was not that. This was covert, secret communications or a desire to set them up with our largest adversary using their equipment at their facilities.

This was before they took power, before the inauguration.

BALDWIN: Pre-inauguration, right.

MCMULLIN: So, they can still have communications with the Russian government before inauguration. Some would say that that needs to be managed carefully, and I agree with that, but you could still have that.

The concern is that they wanted secret communications with Moscow at a time when they knew that Moscow and its role in our election was under scrutiny. And they wanted it now and they wanted to be secret. And the question is, what is it that Jared Kushner and presumably his boss, the president, wanted to communicate with such urgency in such secrecy with the Kremlin? Lots of questions here.

BALDWIN: Yes, we don't know the answer to that. I'm sure there are multiple committees, and including the special counselor, who will want to.


But to your point on back-channeling, we will get back to you. But on former CIA -- former CIA tweeted -- quote -- "At the CIA, if I arranged coms with Russia outside official channels and set up a secret meeting in a third country, I would be tried for espionage," she tweets.

Tried for espionage, would you agree?

MCMULLIN: Absolutely.

BALDWIN: Absolutely.

MCMULLIN: Absolutely

There's not a question. In the world of espionage, communications are a critical, very sensitive. topic, how communications are conducted, who controls them.

BALDWIN: Does it matter that he would have been a private citizen, granted, on the transition team and incoming administration, but a private citizen vs. the CIA?


MCMULLIN: Private citizens can be guilty as well. He had access to the president-elect. He was one of the president-elect's closest advisers. They were heading into a situation, the presidency, in which they would have enormous power, especially over sanctions, for example.

Reuters has reported that the FBI is investigating to see whether Jared Kushner was actually involved in conversations with the Russian bank in which there was a discussion about whether sanctions could be relaxed, and then the bank could offer financing to Trump associates in response.

You have to wonder, is this what they wanted to talk about? Is this what these covert, secret communications were necessary...

BALDWIN: Maybe he didn't know protocol. He's not been in politics before, never been in government.

MCMULLIN: I think that's certainly part of it. And that's a very important point, Border Patrol

People seem to think that naivete is something that comes separately from espionage. That's just not true. Many people who get into these situations do so out of incredible naivete, hubris, ego. There are many things that are involved in decisions to commit treasonous acts, to commit espionage.

And so to say that Jared Kushner was simply naive and therefore it couldn't have been espionage, couldn't have been treasonous, I think, is a misunderstanding of how this works.


You mentioned H.R. McMaster, also Secretary Kelly have come to his defense on your back about back-channeling. But if you haven't heard what they are saying in defending him, listen.


JOHN KELLY, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Whatever the communication is, it comes back into the government and shared across the government. So it's not a bad thing to have multiple communication lines to any government.

QUESTION: Using their equipment in their diplomatic facilities?

KELLY: Well, again, don't know -- I don't know if all of that is true. I would just say that any line of communication to a country, particularly a country like Russia, is a good thing.


BALDWIN: They are downplaying it.

MCMULLIN: They certainly are.

And I'm sad to say that Secretary Kelly is misleading the American people. It's very, very disappointing. He says that any communications with a country like Russia, a foreign adversary, is -- are a good thing. It's just simply not true.

If that were true, then espionage contacts would be OK. That could be a good thing. It's just absolutely not true. And notice that he -- neither he nor McMaster refutes the underlying report, which is that there was this offer, discussion about covert communications with the Kremlin.

They don't dispute that. They simply go back to explaining why a back channel is a good thing. Look, this is not a back channel. And I wish we would stop using that term to describe it. That's what the administration wants to say to describe it. That's not what Americans, that's not what those of us who are concerned about our national security should be -- should say about it.

BALDWIN: Point taken. Point taken. And, again, he has said to Congress, yes, you will meet with them, give up information of any of these meetings, very cooperative so far, but the probe is widening, including now the president's son-in-law.

Evan McMullin, thank you so very much on that.

MCMULLIN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Let's talk now that -- the political ramifications of all of this. "The Washington Post" reports the Trump administration is preparing a special and focused strategy to handle all of the fallout coming from this Russia probe, including these latest allegations involving Jared Kushner.

With me now, CNN political director David Chalian and CNN political analyst Jackie Kucinich, who is also the Washington bureau chief for The Daily Beast.

So, we had walked. I talked last hour to John Wagner, who was on the byline of the "Washington Post" piece, where he was reporting on how the Trump administration, David, is creating a war room, sort of the Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton days, with lawyers and communication experts.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And you can understand why, Brooke, right, because the goal here is to try to wall off people who focus solely on that.

You just heard Jeff Zeleny say to you this is now an agenda item. So that is a realization that this is true. And so try and get a team solely dedicated to that. Those are the only people that answer those questions. Every time somebody from the podium gets questioned about the Russia investigation, say talk over there, and then, more importantly perhaps, free up everyone else in the West Wing who is not working on that at all, and then the administration the flexibility to actually try to enact an agenda.


It is just a strategy that attempts to cordon off what is going to be an all-consuming thing, so that the entire administration is not engulfed by it.

BALDWIN: Then you have the Jared Kushner issue, Jackie, which we were just discussing.

Apparently, the whole thing is called like Jared island. This is how some of the Trump staffers are referring to him to "The New York Times" as they discuss his special status in the White House.

What do you make of the fact that he left that overseas trip early, almost protective of the president, knowing the news was going to drop on this Kremlin communication?


And there definitely are two -- a couple different factions in the White House, one of which is definitely circling the wagons around Jared Kushner, and the other that are sniping behind his back and saying exactly what you said, the whole Jared island conversation.

But this is one of the reasons that having a family member so close to power is problematic. The president is family above all else. Jared Kushner is his daughter's husband, so he's not someone that is very easy to dispense of, and nor does the president want him to be dispensed of.

So this is -- so the fact that the president is responding so vehemently to this, and he had an on-the-record comment in "The New York Times." How often does that happen? Just shows how seriously they are taking this and how problematic this is going forward, even if Jared Kushner does go to the Senate and tells them what he knows.

BALDWIN: So this is on the agenda. Then we also know the president is back because his Twitter has been afire in the last 24 or so hours.

And part of that, David, includes tweets like this one: "It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #fakenewsmedia."

Another one: "Whenever you see the word sources say in the fake news media, and they don't mention names, it's very possible that those sources don't exist and are made up by fake news writers, #fakenewsistheenemy."

But reporters are pointing out, listen, Trump's White House asks for permission to speak without attribution to reporters all the time. And Trump is wanting his administration to find the leakers. And he's coming out and saying the leaks are fake. You can't have it both ways, David.

CHALIAN: Certainly on anonymous sources, I find little sympathy for the White House when they complain about stories of anonymous sources. It's not just particular to this White House. Nearly every White House has used that complaint and yet folks that work in White Houses love to remain anonymous.

So, yes. But when it comes to the leaks here, notice the movement of President Trump on this. He was asked flat out in February at a press conference, well, whoa, you're saying that the news is fake or that the leaks are fake? He said, oh, no, no, the leaks are real.

Well, now he's calling the leaks fake. So he has moved on this as the news that has been leaking out has been less and less favorable to him.

BALDWIN: My gosh, I think you just gave me a headache.


BALDWIN: Jackie, Jackie, big week ahead. What should we be looking for?

KUCINICH: It's a really open question, Brooke, to be honest. Congress is out of session.

And I don't believe -- last time I looked at my phone, there wasn't an agenda set for the White House. There is talk about the president weighing in finally on the Paris climate agreement. There's been some reporting that he might decide to pull out of it. But, again, his daughter Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have -- at least initially were telling him to stay in it.

So, we will have to see if that does come down, because we have also heard they have had a meeting that they've been supposed to have in the White House over this agreement rescheduled several times. So it's sort of an open question at this point on what the White House decides to focus on this week.

BALDWIN: Paris accord, infrastructure, health care, we will see if they can take some of the momentum from that trip and parlay it into something back here at home.

KUCINICH: We will see.

BALDWIN: Jackie and David, thank you both so very much.

CHALIAN: Thanks, Brooke.

Breaking news now involving golf legend Tiger Woods. Look at this, his mug shot. He was arrested this morning, suspected of driving under the influence. What we know, we will tell you coming up.

Also ahead, new pictures of that Manchester concert bomber and his blue suitcase -- why authorities are asking for the public's help.

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

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[15:18:46] BALDWIN: Breaking news out of South Florida. Once the greatest

golfer in the world, Tiger Woods, arrested early this morning, suspected of driving under the influence near his home in Jupiter.

He was booked into a local jail. We're told he was later released on his own recognizance with no bond.

Let me bring in CNN sports analyst Christine Brennan, who is also a sports columnist for "USA Today."

And, Christine, talk about a fall from grace. No one ever thought they would see a mug shot of Tiger Woods. It's sad.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Brooke, it's absolutely sad.

And as someone who has been quite critical of him over the years in the sports media, there's nothing but sadness here, and, of course, the horror of what could have been, if driving under the influence, as the authorities say, what he could have done, the harm he could have done, not only to himself, but others on the road in the middle of the night in Jupiter, Florida, the decision-making.

Tiger is 41. He's not 21. He has two kids. He's an adult in every way. That he would make a decision to drive while under the influence of something, we're not sure what it was yet, it's astounding. The fall from grace is just stunning. And I can't even believe we're discussing this.


BALDWIN: I was going back, Christine, just to try to understand what he's been up to recently.

I know he's been in and out of action for years. He wants to get back. He keeps getting hurt. He had some back fusion surgery as recent as a month ago, where he said it was an instant nerve relief. And he put out there: I haven't felt this good in years.

That was last month.

BRENNAN: It was last month, yes.

The surgery was mid-April. And he just said last week that he's hoping to come back. And, now, we haven't seen him much. He's played three times worldwide in two years. He's also, Brooke, had four procedures. That was the fourth, four surgeries on the same spot in his back over the last three years, so four different surgeries in the exact same spot on his back over three years.

This was the latest. But this was what he felt was necessary to finally alleviate the pain that he's had, which is why we haven't seen him out on the golf course. So one would have thought he would have been in a very good place and he would have been happy.

I think it also shows, though, the depths of where he is. He cannot play the game he loves. He was groomed for this from the age of 2 or 3. He's won 14 major titles, but none now in nine years. And I think just the difficulty of his life and this public demise and this fall from grace is astounding, maybe not surprising entirely, except again the decision-making of a man, a multimillionaire, who has got his life together, one would think, to make this decision.

He will obviously regret that and live with it for his entire life.

BALDWIN: What do we know about his personal life just over the past couple of years especially? You mentioned his two kids after that infamous divorce.


So, that was in -- the run-in with the fire hydrant was Thanksgiving of 2009, and then the cascading debacle of his personal life falling apart, all self-induced, which then of course led to his divorce.

He has two kids, a boy and a girl. They play soccer. He takes them to and from school. He goes to their games. He has a good relationship with his ex-wife, Elin. And by all accounts, he's living a very nice life, except for, of course, the back problems that he's had and the surgeries that he's had to endure.

He doesn't play much golf because he hasn't been able to play the game of golf. He opened a restaurant. He's seen around town in Jupiter in Florida. And, as I said, by all accounts, he's living a relatively normal life. Sol, again, this is something that is just a misstep that just he could not afford to make. And thank goodness, of course, no one was injured.

BALDWIN: Thank goodness. We wish him the best. And you're right. Thank goodness for him and for anyone else who could have been on the road.

Christine Brennan, thank you so much.

BRENNAN: Brooke, thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next: a shocking attack on a Portland, Oregon, Metro train, two men killed, another barely survived after stepping in to defend two girls from a man shouting anti-Muslim slurs. We will hear from the hero's family members and I will speak to the mayor live in Portland moments.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He died fighting the good fight, protecting the innocent. Honestly, that's what he would have probably wanted.



[15:27:08] BALDWIN: Despite America's division, the rhetoric, the hate we too

often see in the headlines, there are still heroes hong us, even in the unlikeliest of places, even on a train.

It's Friday afternoon, two young women, teenagers, riding this 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, VICTIM: 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: The young woman there tells us she and her friend moved to the back of the train to get away. But then a stranger steps in. He defends them and says to the men, you can't disrespect these young ladies like that.

More strangers step in. That is 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, then saw blood everywhere.

Two of those heroes didn't survive. They died defending strangers, one a military veteran, a father of four, the other a recent college, economics degree. He had just started his career, started his life. Today, one of the teens they saved is saying thank you.


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 life because of me and my friend and the way we looked. And I just want to say thank you to them and their family, 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 injured as Micah Fletcher is, he blames himself.


MARGIE FLETCHER, MOTHER OF VICTIM: 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: And this is the man accused of the attack. Apparently, he has a history of white supremacist activity in Portland.

Critics slammed President Trump over the weekend for not condemning these attacks. Today, he did tweet this -- quote -- "The violent attacks in Portland on Friday are unacceptable. The victims were standing up to hate and intolerance. Our prayers are with them."

With me now, the mayor of Portland, Oregon, Ted Wheeler. He joins me by phone.

Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for coming on. My condolences to your city, to these families.