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Trump-Russia Probe Deepens; GOP Calls ICE on Protesters. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired May 30, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: What else do you think?
ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think, when the congressman references Angela Merkel, I think it's a good thing.
As a taxpayer, as a U.S. citizen, I don't think it was combative, what she said. She said, look, we realize that the U.S. isn't going to continue to pick up the tab. I think it's ironic she said it in a beer joint where, hey, your friends in the beer joint with you, all along, you keep paying his tab, and your friend finally says, hey, I have been paying your tab a long time.
I may still help you, but you're going to have to start picking up part of the tab. And she realizes it. It's not the U.S.' role to continue to pay everybody else's bill. And so we all were supposed to be in this together. That was the whole purpose of what was this put together many decades ago.
And this is fulfilling a campaign promise to the people of this government that we're going to be judicious and prudent in how we spend and use your taxpayer dollars. We have got a $20 trillion debt now. We've got to address this.
We can't continue to pick up the tab for every country, especially wealthy countries. And so I'm happy Donald Trump is doing this. I'm happy Angela Merkel recognized it and actually brought it out. I didn't think what she said was at all negative. In fact, I thought it was quite positive. She said we realize that they are not going to continue to pick up the tab, in her own words.
And that's a great thing.
BALDWIN: Congressman, do you think that we're reading too much into this or we're taking Angela Merkel out of context, as Sean Spicer and Andre are saying, or is the war of words legit and this is an issue between two allies?
DAVID JOLLY (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: No, because the context is this.
On the same trip, President Trump has tried to strengthen his bond with Saudi Arabia. President Trump ha now said we're going to work more closely with Egypt. We know what he's done with Russia. We know his comments about Syria. And we know what he's done on Turkey.
And at the same time, the context is he's withdrawing U.S. leadership from our strongest allies, those in Western Europe, those we stand with. Yes, we can work out the financial situation with NATO. And, of course, they should contribute more.
But the reality is, since 1949, it's been an alliance that has provided for the security of the international community, including the security interests of the United States.
President Trump continues to disrespect that. He did it on the campaign trail. He's continuing to do it as president.
BALDWIN: Gentlemen, appreciate both of you. Congressman Jolly, Andre Bauer, thank you. We have got to keep going.
JOLLY: Thanks, Brooke.
BAUER: Good to be with you.
BALDWIN: All right, top of the hour here on CNN. We begin with breaking news.
The White House responds to exclusive CNN reporting on this investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election, two former intelligence officials and a congressional source telling CNN that Russian government officials discussed having potentially derogatory information about then presidential candidate Donald Trump and two of his top aides, this as one of President Trump's personal attorneys, Michael Cohen, declines an invitation to provide information and testimony to both the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees who are conducting this Russia probe.
Why? Well, Michael Cohen apparently says that their request was overly broad and impossible to answer.
So, let's start there with Jeff Zeleny, our CNN senior White House correspondent.
Jeff Zeleny, first, just the news that -- listening to that briefing, the news Sean Spicer made the news or lack thereof when he was pressed on Jared Kushner?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right. Of course, that was the news. That's the central question here at the West Wing.
And Sean Spicer went through a litany of -- basically a recap of all of last week. But then when it came time to answering these tough questions about what is going on with this investigation, he had few answers, and then he ended the press conference fairly abruptly.
But it's the central question here of if the president knew about this back channel of communication that his son-in-law and now senior adviser set up. That's sort of the central matter hanging over all of this. This is the question, and this is Sean Spicer's answer:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: To the issue of the Russia probe, I'm wondering, Sean, if you can tell us when the president knew -- whether the president knew at the time that Jared Kushner was seeking to establish back-channel communications at the Russian Embassy to the Russian government? And if he didn't know at the time, when did he find out?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that assumes a lot.
I would just say that Mr. Kushner's attorney has said that Mr. Kushner has volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings and he will do the same if he's contacted or connect with any other inquiry.
QUESTION: Did the president discuss it, though?
SPICER: I'm not going to get into what the president did or did not discuss.
But what your question assumes is a lot of facts that are not substantiated by anything but anonymous sources that are so far being leaked out.
QUESTION: Does he approve of that action?
SPICER: You're asking if he approves of an action that is not a confirmed action.
That being said, I think Secretary Kelly and General McMaster have both discussed that in general terms back channels are an appropriate part of diplomacy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So, again there Sean Spicer not saying that this didn't happen, but also, importantly, not answering if the president himself knew about those discussions last year before he was sworn into office, Brooke.
So, from there things went a little south, talking about fake news, other things, clearly, Sean Spicer expressing the frustration that this president believes and the grievances being aired yet again about how he believes he's being treated improperly, unfairly, et cetera.
And, again, he ended the briefing, it seemed to me a bit more abrupt than a lot of people were expecting, right.
BALDWIN: Quickly, yes.
Jeff, thank you, Jeff Zeleny for us at the White House this afternoon. ZELENY: Thanks, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Let me add to Jeff's reporting there.
We also have this about increased scrutiny of the president's son-in- law Jared Kushner and his ties to Russian banking executive.
So, Shimon Prokupecz, CNN crime and justice produce, has this exclusive new reporting.
Shimon, what do you have?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN PRODUCER: Well, that's right.
Back in December, when Kushner met with this banker Sergey Gorkov, we first didn't learn about it until really March. We have now learned that the FBI has been scrutinizing that meeting. It doesn't mean that Jared is necessarily the target of the investigation.
But, certainly, they are looking at it. They want to know what that meeting was about. It's still not really clear to U.S. officials, to those of us sort of in the media what this meeting was about, because the bank after the meeting sometime in March issued a statement basically saying that it was about a business, sort of personal business.
As you know, White House sources and other officials have recently said that the meeting was sort of a way to build communications with Russia, being like a direct connection, direct communication with Vladimir Putin.
So, all this is still being scrutinized by the FBI. From a counterintelligence perspective, they really want to know, was it this man, was Sergey Gorkov sent there by the Russian president to try and wage some sort of influence, to try and -- or was it more to just get knowledge about what the campaign was thinking and what the president was going to eventually do with Russian sanctions?
BALDWIN: All great questions waiting for some answers in time.
Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much for your excellent reporting.
Let's fold all of these Russia-related questions into our next segment here.
I want to bring in former undercover KGB agent Jack Barsky, and author of "Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiance as a KGB Spy in America." Also with me is Amy Pope, who served as deputy homeland security adviser for the National Security Council under President Obama.
So, great to have both of you on.
Jack, we will get to this bank meeting here in a second, but first on the CNN reporting on the derogatory information that they apparently had on the president or his inner circle, do you see, if it's it's legit derogatory and not some sort of exaggerated information, is that a legitimate threat?
JACK BARSKY, FORMER KGB AGENT: Listen, we're stepping into a realm of unknown.
I operated there. And it gets to a point that we are speculating on top of speculations. You don't -- you understand one thing about the Russians, and it has not changed in history, that they are trying to play everybody they are dealing with.
BALDWIN: How do you mean?
BARSKY: Play means, you know, you throw stuff out, you throw information out to see how you can confuse everybody.
And this has been the game, their game since they got involved in the U.S. elections and with this hacking and so forth.
BALDWIN: But this has been going on, you know, since the Soviet area, Jack, the kompromat collection.
BARSKY: Yes, that's absolutely true.
But now they have a whole lot more powerful instruments at their disposal, such as the Internet. Yes.
BALDWIN: Amy, this doesn't mean the president was compromised in any way, does it?
AMY POPE, FORMER DEPUTY HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: It doesn't mean that. It means that there was a conversation that was overheard about whether the president or his team were compromised.
But if it is in fact true, and if this is a legitimate conversation that was intercepted, then of course that's reason for pretty significant concern, because, of course, it means that the Russians would have leverage over U.S. foreign policy. And that is a big deal.
BALDWIN: What about -- Jack, back over to you. According to this breaking news Shimon was just reporting on this meeting between Jared Kushner and this Russian banker, Putin confidant under sanctions?
The bank says it was all business. These White House sources on background saying essentially that this was all about potentially setting up a -- sending a message to Vladimir Putin, maybe talking about Syria. What's your read?
BARSKY: I have said this since I have been asked these questions.
Every time you do business with a major figure, a major economic figure out of Russia, you're doing business with somebody who was there by the grace of Vladimir Putin.
[15:10:00] So, to what extent there is a direct connection or a loose link, we
don't know. But trust me that I think our business people need to be better prepared when they're dealing with Russians.
BALDWIN: So, you're saying this Russian banker would have had to have the green light from his friend Vladimir Putin to then -- he would be blessed to have this meeting with Jared Kushner and everyone involved?
BALDWIN: Go ahead.
BARSKY: Not necessarily the meeting, per se, but there is a connection. You understand, this is an oligopoly or whatever you want to call this.
BARSKY: Thank you so much.
There's a ruling class in Russia. And there are some senior politicians and the major economic players. And they are all in cahoots. So, you know, and players don't necessarily all get their marching orders on a daily basis from the top.
They're intelligent enough to know what to do there. But they are all pursuing the same interests. And they all go ultimately back to the big boss, Vladimir.
BALDWIN: But with the big boss, Vladimir, you know that it would be one degree of separation between Jared Kushner and then the leader of Russia with this confidant, this banker as the in-between, potentially?
BARSKY: And that is unfortunate.
And that's why I strongly that believe Mr. Kushner is completely unqualified to operate in this realm today, based on the history that he has and the inexperience he has in international affairs.
BALDWIN: The other piece of the reporting -- Amy, I will pose this to you -- is that these discussions centered on the president or the then incoming president's finances. That's at the heart of this.
I mean, look, there are so many pieces of this that raise questions. If to the extent that there's information that the Russians believe that there's derogatory information about the president or his team, if it involves his finances, if his son-in-law, who is going to be a senior adviser to the president once he gets into the White House, is then having meetings with a banker connected to a foreign adversary, there are so many different pieces of this that are troubling that really need to be untangled, so that we can fully understand what's going on here and what interests may or may not be compromised, and what concerns the American people should have about the way we're running the government today.
BALDWIN: Again, just to reiterate what you hear from the White House on this, that Jared Kushner is ready, willing and able to cooperate with any questions Congress has.
Amy Pope, thank you. Jack Barsky, thank you very much.
BARSKY: You're welcome.
BALDWIN: Thank you.
POPE: Thank you.
BALDWIN: We have candid new details on the president's mind-set. A friend tells CNN he's becoming -- and I'm quoting -- "emotionally withdrawn," what that means. We will discuss it.
Also, a Republican says he called immigration agents. He says he called ICE to round up protesters. Then a scuffle breaks out between these state representatives. We will talk live to the one accused of threatening that Republican.
And new details just in on the DUI arrest of Tiger Woods, how police found him and what happened during his Breathalyzer test.
I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: But the president retweeted this morning an article about that back channel that was based on an anonymous source that said that there was an effort to set up a back channel, that it was the Russians who suggested that, and that it was to talk about Syria.
Was the president not confirming that that effort -- that there was an effort and the facts that I just said?
SPICER: I think what I just said speaks for itself.
QUESTION: But he was -- but you said that, first of all, that the article was based on anonymous sources.
SPICER: Which it is.
QUESTION: But the FOX article that the president retweeted was also based on anonymous sources. Why are those sources -- or this source, rather, that they used more credible than the ones in "The Washington Post" article?
SPICER: Again, I don't think -- there's two issues at hand.
One is the dossier the statement that Jared's attorney has provided. Second is, is whether or not -- the dossier that is largely the basis of this was largely discredited in the first place. Most of the publications here refused to even publish it in the first place.
So, again, I'm not going to get into confirming stuff. There is an ongoing investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: That was a question from Francesca Chambers -- she's the White House correspondent for "The Daily Mail" there -- to Sean Spicer.
I have got David Catanese standing by, senior politics writer for "U.S. News & World Report," and Philip Rucker, White House bureau chief for "The Washington Post."
Philip, speaking of your paper, let's begin with that question.
PHILIP RUCKER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes.
BALDWIN: I thought it was an excellent question. Basically, Francesca is asking and she is pointing out the hypocrisy, really, of the president. Why is it OK for him to retweet an anonymously sourced FOX News they and take that as gospel, and yet rip sources in your paper?
RUCKER: Yes. It was pretty ridiculous.
I would also point out, frankly, Brooke, that I was on the foreign trip with President Trump last week. And several of the briefings that his administration officials had were on background, were -- they wanted to be quoted anonymously.
They would not give their name to provide information about the activities of the president. So this administration is just trying to kind of have it cute here and play it both ways. But they use anonymous sources to conduct their own business.
BALDWIN: Let me just reiterate your point. For people watching at home, and they don't know how this works...
BALDWIN: Essentially, if you're on this trip and you're talking on background to someone within the White House, right, let's say you're in Riyadh, and they give you information, and you go to the paper, and you make sure that a single source confirmed or what have you, therefore, that's a source from the administration that you're allowed to report out.
RUCKER: Yes. BALDWIN: These are sources from the White House.
I just want to make sure people at home understand that.
RUCKER: That's right.
And when a source is anonymous, that is not that they are made up or fake or anything like that. It's that there are officials in the government, they work at the White House or in the administration. And for whatever reason -- and, usually, we disclose that reason in our stories -- they are not permitted to speak on the record because they don't have permission to or because they might face some sort of retribution for disclosing their names.
RUCKER: But these are real people, real sources with real information.
BALDWIN: Yes. Thank you. I just think that beared repeating.
RUCKER: Thanks, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Now, David, speaking of Riyadh, I have Riyadh on the brain, because I was thinking of what Sean Spicer was saying in his description of that Middle East speech and how, you know, amazing it was, according to Sean Spicer and the White House.
And so I thought it was noteworthy that instead of -- when he was heaping on the praise and quoting people, instead of quoting current leaders, let's say, in that part of the world, he was actually pointing out quotes from TV pundits, like he was talking about the former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and what he said about the speech on TV.
He talked Jim Woolsey and Jane Harman. What did you make of his choice to do that?
DAVID CATANESE, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": Well, that's what his boss is reading and watching. We know he's a media consumer. Right?
He loves -- I mean, he doesn't love it, but he watches the critics. He consumes the critics. So, I think Sean Spicer is sort of regurgitating what his boss likes.
He probably sees these clippings and these snippets from Sunday morning shows. And they pull them all together and validating the position. Look, but I think, bigger picture, though, Sean Spicer also in this briefing read the quote from Merkel, which has been sort of taken as a bigger critique of the president, where he read the quote from her, and it didn't sound as bad, actually.
CATANESE: It was that she never really mentioned Trump. She said, we're just going to have to dependent on the world.
Now, we, as pundits and American journalists, basically have interpreted that through analysis as that is a slight against Trump. This is a break in the alliance.
But I think when Trump supporters inundate my inbox and they have a complaint, that's the type of thing they're talking about. They're saying, you're taking it a bridge too far, that's your analysis, but really she didn't mean that and that's your interpretation, that's your bias.
And I think that is something that we have to wrestle with as journalists, as we provide analysis. We should be fair and really provide the context that that is analysis and not exactly what she said.
BALDWIN: Point taken. Point taken 100 percent.
Philip, back over to you on your piece from today on how the president consumes intelligence. Tell me about that.
So Ashley Parker and I have a piece at "The Washington Post" today that gets at this. We talked to the CIA director. We wanted to the DNI director. And we just wanted to drill down and get some really specific details about how President Trump consumes intelligence.
You will remember, during the transition period, he would rail against the intelligence community. He refused to take some of the briefings that were offered to him. But there's been a real evolution.
He now goes to intelligence briefings every single day. It's a staple of his schedule. He likes it. He wants the information in little bite-size nuggets. He likes maps, visuals, killer graphics. That's the term the CIA director use, anything that can help him visualize what is happening around the world.
What he doesn't like to do is read long memoranda or documents that explain sort of the history an issue. He just wants to get to the point.
BALDWIN: But he's taking it in, and he's taking it in, in more of a visual means, as you and Ashley point out.
CATANESE: And not always recognizing the nuances or subtleties of the information he's receiving.
BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.
David Catanese, finally to you on some of Gloria Borger's amazing reporting today, where she's been talking to sources and friends of the president. And what the line is, it's about the president made a -- quote, unquote -- "non-offer" of the FBI job to his friend New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, saying something along the lines of, you don't want it, right? Now, we also do know that they are having two potential contenders
over at the White House today. But what does that tell you about the state of play on finding a replacement for Comey?
CATANESE: I think it's a big struggle.
And I think, frankly, Chris Christie would be, you know, very problematic to go up to the Senate and get confirmed, because, if you talk to Democrats, they want something -- and, frankly, some Republicans say this, too. They want someone nonpolitical, someone not tied to Trump, not necessarily loyal to Trump, but loyal to the institution.
So, I think that's what the problem with Joe Lieberman was with, frankly, Democrats. I think you would have the same problem if Christie was up there. You would have the same problem if it was a Rudy Giuliani. Any sort of the friends from the Trump land, you're going to have that opposition.
So I think he would do himself better to go out of the political range and try to really pick someone that isn't necessarily loyal to him. I mean, look, he wants to pick someone that he can trust, but that's the fine line here for this pick. And that's why I think he is really struggling with it.
BALDWIN: Two contenders today, TSA -- a former TSA director and a former assistant attorney general under President George W. Bush.
Gentlemen, excellent conversation. David Catanese and Philip Rucker, thank you all both so very much.
RUCKER: Thank you.
CATANESE: Thanks, Brooke.
BALDWIN: A fight erupts between lawmakers after one Republican says he called immigration agents to round up protesters. We will talk live to one of them who was accused of threatening that Republican.
BALDWIN: Welcome back. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
To now a very public breakdown of civility in a place literally built for civilized debate. It happened inside the Texas capitol on Memorial Day, the final day of the state legislative session. Basically, a schoolyard shoving match broke out among several state lawmakers right there on the house floor. See for yourself?
In the backdrop, you have hundreds of protesters rallying against this new law that bans sanctuary cities in Texas. Republican Matt Rinaldi says he saw signs that declare some demonstrators were undocumented, so he stood up and told fellow lawmakers that he called ICE, he called immigration officials. And Rinaldi says that is when one lawmaker assaulted him, while another threatened him, prompting Rinaldi to issue a warning he was willing to shoot his gun in self-defense.
The accused lawmakers deny any assault or threats. We reached out to Rinaldi, I should point out, not once, not twice, three times, to speak with him, but so far got no response.
Who we did get a call back from, and I'm grateful to both --