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German Chancellor Merkel Comments on Possible Weakening of U.S.-Europe Relations; Reports Indicate Jared Kushner Requested Backchannel Communications with Russia. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 29, 2017 - 08:00   ET


KEN BURNS, EMMY WINNING DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: And that's what we do today when we remember our veterans, when we remember our service members whose names are on the wall, when we participate in the commemoration, we remind ourselves that the partisanship that seemingly occupies every moment of our time is meaningless in the face of the kind of sacrifices that Secretary Hagel and his brother were able to make and the more than 58,000 people on the wall.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Such great points. Ken Burns, Chuck Hagel, thank you so much for being part of our conversation on this Memorial Day.

BURNS: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: We're following a lot of news, so let's get right to it.


CAMEROTA: German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Europe must be prepared to take its fate into its own hands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here in Europe there are a lot of folks looking to hear things from him.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we hit a homerun no matter where we are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trump again targeting journalists, accising the fake news media of fabricating lies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you tweet every day and complain about the media you're not going to get your deals down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jared Kushner sought to develop a line of communications with the Russians that could not be monitored.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any line of communication to a country, particularly a country like Russia, is a good thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There ought to be a review of his security clearance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't trust this story as far as I can throw it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What manner of ignorance, chaos would you have to have think of doing this with the Russian ambassador was a good idea?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Monday, May 29th, 8:00 in the east. Chris is off and David Gregory joins me this Memorial Day.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: And a nice day to join you.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much for being here.

In just hours President Trump will lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery to honor our nation's fallen heroes. It looks as though the weather is cooperating at this moment for these events.

GREGORY: I Hope so. It's worth remembering that one of his first acts I think as president during his inaugural weekend was to visit the Tomb of the Unknown, so certainly appropriate. This is not just the beginning of summer. This is a day to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

CAMEROTA: But first, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says European nations can no longer completely rely on the U.S. and must take their fate into their own hands. Her words come as President Trump returns home from his European trip.

GREGORY: And a pretty busy inbox for the president. Back in Washington he is facing growing questions about his son-in-law Jared Kushner. The FBI is investigating Kushner's contacts with Russia as President Trump lashes out at the media and condemns leaks in a barrage of tweets. We have it all covered this morning. We're going to begin with CNN's Athena Jones live at the White House this morning. Athena?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, David. The president is kicking off the week facing more negative headlines, not just domestically but also abroad, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel questioning the strength of Europe's alliance with the U.S.


JONES: Tensions from the president's first G7 summit following him home. Trump's tepid support for NATO, harsh words on trade, and his lack of commitment to the Paris climate agreement putting him at odds with EU allies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel questioning America's strong alliance with Europe. "The times when we could completely rely on others are over. Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands."

President Trump rating the trip a great success and tweeting a tease he'll decide on a landmark Paris agreement this week. Trump again targeting journalists and leakers inside his own White House, accusing the fake news media of fabricating lies about leaks come out of the White House. The latest bombshell leaks concerning Trump's most trusted adviser, his son-in-law Jared Kushner. During a December meeting Kushner reportedly asking Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak for help setting up a backchannel for secret communications concerning Syria and other matters between Russia and the Trump team, a backchannel that would bypass U.S. surveillance.

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: This is off the map, Michael. I know of no other experience like this in our history, certainly within my life experience.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: My dashboard warning light was clearly on, and I think that was the case with all of us in the intelligence community very concerned about the nature of these approaches to the Russians.

JONES: Kislyak himself, reportedly surprised by the request according to intercepted communications between Russian officials, first published by "The Washington Post." Ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn also purportedly present.

The meeting initially left off Kushner's security clearance form before being amended a day later. Kushner cutting his foreign trip short amid the crisis. A source telling CNN he did not want to be beside the president when the story broke, contradicting White House accounts that his early departure was planned. Democrats now calling for Kushner to have his security clearance revoked.

[08:05:03] REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: If these allegations true and he had discussions with the Russians about establishing a backchannel and didn't reveal that, that's a real problem. But I do think there ought to be a review of his security clearance.

JONES: But President Trump affirming support for Kushner, telling the "New York Times" "Jared is doing a great job for the country. I have total confidence in him." And Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly playing defense on the Sunday talk shows.

JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I don't see any big issue here. Any line of communication to a country, particularly a country like Russia, is a good thing.

JONES: Officials telling CNN the White House is considering creating a war room to manage fallout. Kushner's wife Ivanka spotted with President Trump's private attorney Marc Kasowitz at the White House Sunday.


JONES: Jared Kushner says he is willing to testify before Congress. Meanwhile, the president met with senior advisers on Sunday to discuss a way forward. And the looming question this week is when fired FBI director James Comey will testify before Congress, this as the special counsel ramps up the Russian probe. Alisyn, David?

CAMEROTA: All right, Athena, thank you very much. Let's bring in our panel to discuss all of this. We have CNN politics

reporter and editor-at-large Chris Cillizza, "Washington Post" Congressional reporter Karoun Demirjian, and former U.S. undersecretary for political affairs, Ambassador Nicholas Burns. Great to have all of you.

Ambassador Burns, let's just start with what Angela Merkel said about European nations may having to go it alone. This is based on her interactions with President Trump, what she heard President Trump say in front of NATO. How significant is this?

AMB. NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Alisyn, it's a very significant statement by the senior leader in Europe, the most experienced global leader today. She's reflecting the fact that there are profound differences right now between the Trump administration and Europe on trade, on -- certainly on Russia, definitely on climate change, and over NATO. And NATO has been the glue that has bonded us to the Europeans for 70 years. It took us all that time to build this great alliance. We have so much in common with the Europeans. They are fighting with us in Afghanistan. They're making sacrifices, they're fighting with us against the Islamic State, and I think it reflects the feeling that the Trump administration is not prioritizing NATO.

For some reason the president did not reaffirm the Article Five security pledge to the Europeans when he was at NATO headquarters. And there is I think profound decline in American influence, and that's a sad day for all the Republicans and Democrats who have worked so hard since Harry Truman to build up this alliance. I think it's a very significant statement. It should be troubling to us because NATO is vital for the United States. We really need these allies.

GREGORY: Yes, and Chris Cillizza, to pick up on that, it was Jon Meacham who commented over the weekend that not since pre-World War I have we seen a resurgent Russia, Germany talk about going it alone, and more passive United States and more America first isolationist United States, and we know how that turned out. You're arguing that, in fact, the national security area, foreign affairs is where Donald Trump may have his biggest influence yet. Negative influence, positive influence, or do we know?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: We don't know. Like many things with Trump, I think we know he's willing to do and say things other politicians and presidents have not previously been willing to say and do, David. He represents unorthodoxy, uncertainty.

And yes, I think we tend to focus -- when we look at his slogan, "Make America Great Again," there's a tendency to focus on the domestic policy. But the truth of the matter, and the ambassador can speak to this, is that you can always change more in terms of foreign policy than you can in terms of domestic policy as president. You're very circumscribed as a president in terms of domestic policy, largely through Congress. President Trump struggles with the health care Bill, funding for his border wall, these are things we've seen already. But think about it. He has pulled out of the Transpacific

Partnership. We now see him waffling certainly on the Paris climate change accord. You can impact large scale change. Now, you can't do everything. Obviously treaties and that sort of thing Congress has a role in. But you can do many things. Keystone pipeline, which we don't tend to think of as a foreign policy issue but certainly has that impact.

His influence, I think whether it's four years or eight years, will be felt more powerfully, and I think Angela Merkel's comments speak to this, more powerfully in the way in which the U.S. views itself in the world and the way in which the world views the United States than anything he will do domestically. I think that is a reality driven home by the last nine days where he's been abroad.

GREGORY: Just to follow up on that, Karoun, this is why you have a president who seems to admire strongmen around the world for what they can achieve through those tactics rather than in concert with allies.

[08:10:00] KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": Right, it's just that he's running a very different country than most of those strongmen are. Most of the other countries where you have those types of strongmen leaders, you have a very weak judiciary, you have a legislative branch that exists largely to rubberstamp what the president's wants to do, that's not the case here, and you have resistance to a lot of executive actions even coming from members of his own party, or if not outright resistance then disquietedness and the desire to assert themselves in their constitutional role.

But certainly that, you know, Trump is not somebody who is a -- not a diplomat who holds his words back, let's say. There is a style of diplomacy to what he's doing, but he's certainly very out there, and he's himself, and he hasn't changed that simply because he entered the Oval Office.

CAMEROTA: So Nick, there obviously is an intersection between what happens on the foreign trip and now domestic policy, and at the nexus of that is Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and top adviser. CNN has reporting as well as other outlets that Jared Kushner was trying to do something many say was unprecedented, and that is establish a backchannel with Moscow, with Russia, to communicate outside of the bounds, the communication lines of the government. How do you see this?

BURNS: Well, I think there's so much we don't know about this, and certainly Jared Kushner deserves the chance to defend himself in the court of public opinion, but it's a strange story if it's true, because in a transition, you want to be careful. You want to obviously first build bridges to your allies in Europe and in Asia. With the Russians you've got to be careful.

And the most I think damning part of the story if it's true is that there was a proposal we use Russian embassy communications, not U.S. government communications. That would be I think quite worrisome. And it gets to the larger point, Russia is the dark cloud hanging over this administration. The president has run the weakest policy towards Russia of any president since before World War II. The Europeans want us to contain Russia, help them contain Russia. Another reason for their frustration with us is that President Trump has not investigated the interference in our election and is not standing up to Putin in eastern Europe.

GREGORY: Right, those are important points. And Chris Cillizza, part of what's interesting about this is not just the judgment of doing that in any circumstance. We heard like Jeffrey Lord on our air this morning, well, RFK, JFK's brother, had his 100th birthday, by the way, today, had a backchannel to the Russians. That was during the Cuban Missile Crisis to avoid nuclear Armageddon. This is not after the Russians manipulated your election and then you want a way to communicate sotto voce with the Russians. It's crazy. But the tweet storm reflects something else which is the president wants to put all of this together to say, no, no, no, this is all a conspiracy against me as a way to deflect from it.

CILLIZZA: That's exactly right, which by the way, David, is his default position in the blaming of the media. If you want a through line from June, 2015, when Donald Trump announces for president and today, there's hard to find a through line. But I would suggest the through line there is the media criticism because the media stands for elites and people who they think they know better. They're all together. They're all conspiring, so that all fits a piece for him.

I think generally, though, with what Donald Trump is saying and doing, what's strange about it with Kushner is its context. This is your point, David. This doesn't happen in a vacuum. This is more smoke on top of Mike Flynn not disclosing the nature of his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, jeff Sessions not disclosing the fact that he had conversations with Sergey Kislyak. Whatever is going on with Carter Page, which is always very dicey. Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, multiple meetings, aside from this reporting on a backchannel, multiple meetings with Russian officials not disclosed.

So it's not a one-off, which is I think what a lot of the Trump allies are trying to say. Oh, why is it bad that we're having a backchannel with someone we need to have a better relationship with? OK, but in the broader context, there's so much smoke here, right? There's so many things you're like that's change, it can't be dismissed as a one- off. That's not how the world works. Widen the aperture even slightly, and you think, why are there so many of these communications? Why does Donald Trump, if he says it's all fake news, a total hoax, a witch hunt, why is he not the first guy saying Bob Mueller, I am thrilled that this is happening. This is exactly what we need. Instead he runs down the investigation, which you think would be the opposite of what he would want to do.

CAMEROTA: So Karoun we've seen fortunes rise and fall in the White House these past four months. Sometimes Steve Bannon is in, sometimes he's out. What does that mean for Jared Kushner, who, of course, as we've said, is the top adviser and the president's son-in-law? How could he ever be out?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, that's a very good question and it doesn't seem like the president is turning on his son-in-law right now because his son- in-law is the latest character to emerge at the center of the latest allegations surrounding this administration and the campaign team and transition team's Russia ties.

It seems also if there's talk of a staff shakeup at the White House and rethinking the communication strategy and if that happens Kushner's approach may end up prevailing. He as we reported has wanted to go on the attack, to step out more forcefully against in various episodes of these allegations coming out.

And the White House is actually maybe not gone as far as Kushner wanted, but if they decided to change strategy you actually might find that Kushner ends up becoming closer to the president and his thought process and his philosophy for how to do this prevails.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: It's going to be interesting to see particularly this week if the president hires true outside counsel, not his counsel he's had Mark Kasowitz for a long time, but a Washington hand who forces him to shut down and allow the investigation to proceed without his interference. That will be the thing to watch for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: David, can I make a prediction?

GREGORY: Yes, Chris?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He won't -- thank you.

GREGORY: There's no evidence that he will.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Past his prolog, he won't.

GREGORY: He had a great lawyer representing him in the Trump University case, clearly blew him off, didn't listen to him. It's a tall hill to climb. Thank you, panel, very much.

The Trump White House in damage control mode as we've been talking about. How is the administration handling the latest Russia revelations? We'll continue that conversation right after this.



GREGORY: Talking about it all morning, President Trump facing questions now about his son-in-law amid reports that Jared Kushner tried to set up a back-channel with Russia amid the barrage of Russia revelations there was word there could be a White House shakeup, something we have heard before.

Let's discuss with CNN political commentators, Ben Ferguson and Jennifer Granholm. Welcome, both of you. Happy Memorial Day.

Ben, by the way, let me just show you the president honoring men and women who served and sacrificed for America on Twitter, "Honoring the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to America, home of the free, because of the brave." Nice sentiment on Twitter.

At the same time, Ben, there's talk again of a staff shakeup. We've heard this before. We don't know that it's going to happen. Clearly the White House is in a renewed crisis mode. How would this shakeup actually work and what impact do you think it would have positively for him?

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, there's two things that I find pretty curious about this. One, there have been reports coming out of this White House in theory since pretty much about a week after the president was inaugurated that were saying a staff shakeup was coming.

How many times have we been told that Kellyanne Conway or Steve Bannon was gone or the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer? I don't put any weight into these claims. At some point, you just have to be exhausted and realize that there's an awful lot of people that are trying to leak information and cause problems to this White House.

And the reality is, until there is a change, and remember there's a lot of changes in White House staff, whether it's Bill Clinton or Barack Obama or George Bush 43 or 41, yes, there will be changes that come but everyone keeps saying, well, there has to be a shakeup.

Until it happens I don't even speculate because I think what the president has said pretty clearly and what we've seen is even when everyone else is expecting a shakeup he's doing his job in the White House and until there's a change, to me it's a nonissue.

GREGORY: So the issue, wherever you are, Governor Granholm, on the substance of the Russia investigation or things the president has said and done, you've been a chief executive, and for a chief executive, the key is, are you going to rely on the advisers you put around you?

Are you going to listen or do you, as appears to be the case with President Trump think the only way forward is a mode that he perfected during the campaign, which is to lead himself to be the ultimate spokesman? That is not working for him in the same way that it did during the campaign. It's hurting him particularly when there's legal jeopardy.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, the irony is, David, that normally when you set up a war room to deal with the crisis which is allegedly part of the shakeup --

GREGORY: Which of course the Clinton White House had great experience with.

GRANHOLM: Right and every -- I mean, governors have war rooms. I set up war rooms because we had a national blackout or the auto industry was going into bankruptcy. You have a war room for a specific crisis.

In this case, the war room is because the president has created the crisis. He's not listening in the war to his generals. He is creating the problem. He's created essentially a circular firing squad although he's the one who is pulling the trigger. That is not a great way to do a staff shakeup. I'd rather him see a war room, let's have a war room on the opioid crisis, which you talked about earlier today. Let's have a war room on creating jobs in America in a global economy. It's such a waste of human resources to have a war room that focuses on yourself.

FERGUSON: With all due respect, let me say this --

GREGORY: Go ahead, Ben.

FERGUSON: It's just not accurate that there is a war room. Full disclosure, I talked to this White House pretty regularly and there are several others who are talking to this White House pretty regularly. This idea that there's been some war room that's been set up to deal with his communications or his staff or to figure this out, that is just not accurate.

The people that are saying there's a war room are not connected to this White House. They do not know what's going on in the inside. This White House actually has been running pretty smoothly for the last couple of weeks and if anything, I think what you've seen with the president --

GRANHOLM: Because he's been out of the country.

FERGUSON: That's not true. I have been talking to them before then and what you are seeing from this president is I think there is one thing you recognize, it's OK to bring in new voices. It's OK to bring in older voices that I used to have around me and it's OK to now have maybe a different perspective come in and have their say at the table. That's what I think this White House has done, but to imply that it's a war room is just not accurate of how this White House is running.

GREGORY: Jennifer, let me ask you this, whether there's a war room or not we'll find out. I mean, clearly they are retooling how they'll talk about the investigation. He's talking to counsel. If he hires outside counsel worth anything and I know some of the people he's talking to, they are going to tell him you need to isolate this investigation and let your legal team handle it.

[08:25:03]If you want to call that a war room that's certainly going to be different than the setup. But there's something larger and I'm curious about the strategic thinking here.

You know, the president I think all of this stuff about fake media is ridiculous and without substance so I'll say that, but as a strategic point it's similar to what Nixon did in that there was a way to say look, there is the left, the organized left, there's the left in the media kind of conspiring against me and there's a big audience for that.

Jennifer, do you think there's a danger among Democrats in Congress, and in the grassroots feeding that cycle yet again, and allowing Donald Trump to use that argument more effectively?

GRANHOLM: Well, that's an interesting point, David. I do think, you know, the historical comparisons with Nixon, I know set off alarm bells for everybody. The joke that Hillary Clinton told at Wellesley, but you got to admit there are comparisons here. They both hated the media. They both caused the intelligence community --

GREGORY: That was before Watergate, by the way, I'm not bringing that up the Watergate comparison for your point.

GRANHOLM: What I'm saying is that they both caused the intelligence community to be so alarmed that there were leaks, in the case of Nixon, it was Deep Throat who was from the intelligence community. He's an associate director of the FBI. Here we don't know the identities, but there are obviously patriots inside of the government who feel alarmed by what they are seeing.

FERGUSON: David --

GRANHOLM: So we don't know it's going to end in the same way. All I'm saying is that it is not wild to draw some comparisons, especially since they both fired the investigator.

FERGUSON: Let me say this.

GREGORY: Go ahead, Ben.

FERGUSON: First off you're not a patriot if you're leaking to undermine the president of the United States of America because you don't like him.

GRANHOLM: No, that's not why they are leaking.

FERGUSON: Many of them are leaking to hurt this president because they don't like this president. Second thing is, I think it's exhausting and irresponsible to keep bringing up the word Nixon with Donald Trump. When Donald Trump comes out and says he doesn't like the media, let's just look at the last couple of weeks.

Shakeup is going to happen, that's been for the last two months, hasn't happened. The White House counsel is looking into defending this issue of impeachment. That was also fabricated and not true and never happened.

This president has a war room. There is not a war room. So if you're the president and you walk out every day, and by the way let's throw Nixon on top of that every time we want to talk about the president, I would hate the media, too, because the stories that this White House is spending time dealing with right now are nothing but stories of one person who doesn't like the president. It's fabricated.

GREGORY: I'm going to take the last word here because what I'm doing is actually invoking history. I'm not talking about Watergate. I'm talking about Richard Nixon and his rise to power, how he hated the media. There's similarity in that. I don't have to talk about Watergate.

So what I am doing is not irresponsible, I'm pointing to historical precedent and patterns that this president is using. Ben and Jennifer, thank you very much. I'll take the last word on that -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, way to show them how it works, David. Hillary Clinton back on the national stage and taking aim at President Trump.

Coming up, the "New York Magazine" journalist who visited Clinton in her Chappaqua home and says Hillary Clinton is furious. That's next.