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Source: Russians Discussed Potentially 'Derogatory' Info about Trump & Associates During Campaign; Kushner's Contacts with Russia Under Scrutiny; German Leader Signals Deepening Rift with U.S. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired May 30, 2017 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Investigators are trying to figure out exactly why Jared Kushner met in December with a Russian banker with links to Vladimir Putin.

[05:57:18] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russia has been genius at manipulating people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Questions about the relationships with Russia are greater than ever.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to do with Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The White House blaming Kushner's secret back channel request on the Kremlin.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: The naivete here to believe in this environment you're going to have a back channel? That is not secret. It's going to go public.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think his clearance should be under review as we speak.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I don't like it. I just don't.

ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE FBI/SPECIAL COUNSEL ON RUSSIA INVESTIGATION: We must act with honesty and with integrity. You're only as good as your word.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Angela Merkel bluntly saying the U.S. is no longer a reliable partner.

MCCAIN: I think that the Europeans are legitimately concerned.


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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Tuesday, May 30, 6 a.m. here in New York. And we have exclusive new reporting on the Russia investigation. We're going to give you that in a moment. There are several big stories on the starting line.

Congressional and federal investigators reportedly scrutinizing Jared Kushner's meeting with a Russian banker who has obvious links to Vladimir Putin.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump continues the search for a new FBI director to replace James Comey, one of the many pressing issues that he faces this week. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel doubling down on her doubts about the U.S. being a reliable partner for European nations.

So there's a lot to cover. We begin with our exclusive new reporting on the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. Jim Sciutto, Pamela Brown and Dana Bash broke the story, and Jim Sciutto joins us now. Give us the latest, Jim.


Two former intelligence officials and a congressional source tell my colleagues Pamela, Dana and I that Russian government officials discussed having potentially derogatory information about then- presidential candidate Donald Trump and some of his top aides. This in conversations intercepted by U.S. intelligence during the 2016 election.

One source described the information as financial in nature and said the discussion centered around whether the Russians had leverage with Trump's inner circle. The source says the intercepted communications suggested to U.S. intelligence that Russians believed they have the ability to influence the administration through the derogatory information.

I should add the sources, privy to the descriptions of the communications written by U.S. intelligence, caution that the Russian claims to each other could have been exaggerated or even made up.

The details of the communication shed new light on information U.S. intelligence received about Russian claims of influence. The content of the conversations made clear to U.S. officials that Russia was considering ways to influence the election, even if their claims turned out to be false.

CNN first reported the U.S. intercepted discussions of Russian officials bragging about cultivating relationships with Trump campaign aides, including Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, to influence Trump himself. Following CNN's report, "The New York Times" said that Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was also discussed.

CUOMO: All right, Jim. So very tantalizing headline. Do we know anything about who the Russians were talking about specifically, in terms of who around Trump they might be able to influence or who they were working?

SCIUTTO: That's right. Well, beyond Trump himself, none of the sources would say which specific Trump aides were discussed. One of the officials said the intelligence report masked the American names, but it was clear the conversations revolved around the Trump campaign team.

Another source would not get more specific, citing the classified nature of the information involved.

"This is yet another round of false and unverified claims" -- I should say we reached out to the White House for comment and just overnight got this answer. Quote, "This is yet another round of false and unverified claims made by anonymous sources to smear the president. The reality is a review of the president's income from the last ten years showed that he had virtually no financial ties at all. There appears to be no limit to which the president's political opponents will go to perpetuate this false narrative, including illegally leaking classified material. All this, of course, does play into the hands of our adversaries," they say, "and put the country at risk," end quote.

We also reached out to the FBI and the office of director of national intelligence. They did have a comment. I should note that the president himself, as you're aware, insisted on multiple occasions that he has no financial dealings with Russia.

CAMEROTA: So Jim, is this new reporting that you have part of the current investigation?

SCIUTTO: Well, the FBI investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election, which was, of course, recently taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller, includes seeking answers as to whether there was any coordination with associates of Trump and examining alleged financial dealings of key Trump associates.

The FBI would not comment on whether any of the claims discussed in the intercepts we've just reported have been verified. By the time Trump took offices -- office, questions about some of his aides' financial dealings with Russian embassy were already under investigation. And soon after the Republican convention, Paul Manafort had already stepped aside because of questions about off-the- book payment he received consulting a pro-Putin candidate in Ukraine. This is what officials told CNN last summer.

Manafort has denied he received any illicit finances. He's also denied any wrongdoing in connection with his work for Trump and foreign officials. He has offered to testify before congressional committees investigating Russia's election interference.

Also former security adviser Michael Flynn is being investigated for failing to disclose payments he received from Russian entities for a trip he took to Moscow in December 2015. On that trip, you'll remember, Flynn appeared alongside President Putin at a gala, in honor of the Russian state media outlet, Russia Today.

Flynn now faces multiple investigations for failing to disclose, on his security clearance claims, payments he received for that Moscow trip from Russian entities. This in addition to questions about lobbying that he did for Turkey.

Alisyn and Chris, there's a lot there. I'd say the key headline is these intercepts were Russians, at least Russia to Russia communications, claiming that they had derogatory information on both the president and the president's aides.

CUOMO: Jim Sciutto, appreciate it. Boy, that is a big headline. Thank you for bringing it to us.

Now, look, President Trump is clearly not a fan of any of this when we're talking about the investigation into Russian meddling. And he has struggled to find ways to tamp it down.

Well, now investigators are reportedly focusing on a meeting in December between Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and this Russian banker named Gorkov.

So CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House with more on that -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Chris, that's absolutely right. The White House continues to wrestle with how to explain many contacts, including contacts by the president's senior adviser, Jared Kushner, with, as we have said before, the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, as well as, as reported by "The New York Times" this morning, new interest in a meeting and conversations between Jared Kushner and Sergey Gorkov, a Russian banker who works for a bank that essentially is under sanction by the United States. Not clear exactly what those conversations were about.

Persistent reports, of course, that there was an intent to set up a back channel with Russia. The administration, on and off the record, has downplayed, not talked much about it. As well has not confirmed or denied. But simply said even if it happened, it's not a big deal.

Jared Kushner, for his part, as well as his wife, Ivanka Trump, have been keeping a low profile throughout all of this in order to, perhaps, see if it just blows over.

Jared Kushner has sent the message that he would like to sit down and explain -- at least he said that through his attorneys -- one possible explanation, as reported by CNN's Gloria Borger, is that it was the Russians who tried to set up the back channel and not Kushner.

Back to you.

[06:05:14] CUOMO: All right, Joe, appreciate it.

Let's discuss what matters here and why with these new headlines surrounding the Russian investigation. Let's bring back Jim Sciutto; and let's bring in CNN political analyst David Gregory; and CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger.

David Gregory, now when we're talking about these latest allegations about Kushner, part of this is timing, right? When he was taking meetings on behalf of Trump or behalf of himself. And then you have that second consideration of what kind of meetings and with whom? What do you think the main things are to focus on?

I think there's a couple things. There is a darker route that I'm sure investigators are following, which is wondering whether the Russians had something on Trump or his associates that was negative, that they felt could be used to compromise the incoming administration. And you have then an administration with key figures trying to figure out what that is, trying to mitigate that, to negotiate over it, something like that.

I think it could simply be naivete, arrogance, bad judgment. An incoming administration and key figures around the president thinking, "We can figure out this relationship with the Russians. We'll do it our way. We know better than these Obama folks and these intelligence folks, and we'll just have at it."

And so you have somebody. Kushner's got no foreign policy experience, who's not the appointed person who handled this kind of portfolio going about it in, again, a naive way, and an arrogant way.

And in all of this, I think wherever the investigation takes us, it's hard to escape the idea that there wasn't bad judgment being used here, because you have a foreign power that we knew at the time had engaged in trying to manipulate the election, trying to tile the election toward Trump. We know that this is a foreign power that had manipulated -- or tried to -- tried to manipulate two previous administrations in their own diplomatic dealings. Right?

And so at the very least, it seems so naive and reckless to think that you're not going to be used by the Russians here. So I think that's kind of the broad overview, and I think this is where the special counsel and the investigation have to be plunging ahead.

CAMEROTA: David Sanger, what do you see here?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Alisyn, it all sits on what the content of the conversation was. There's nothing illegal about back channels, although I agree with David completely, that it's very fraught if you're doing back channels when you are in a transition.

There have been back channels done before. Nixon engaged in some. Kennedy engaged in some during transition times, but they are really a lot easier to go do once you're in office.

So why would he meet the banker? Well, if the explanation that the White House would prefer, that this was set up by the Russians, he's setting up a way for Putin ultimately to be able to talk, maybe that will turn out to be bad judgment but not illegal.

The difficulty is that the bank that the banker represents would have had a huge amount to benefit from the lifting of the U.S. sanctions and international sanctions against Russia because of the Ukraine military activity and, of course, seizing Crimea. There was talk early in the Trump transition, and talk by Mr. Trump

during the campaign in interviews, about moving ahead to lift those sanctions. If that was being done while there was a government in place, the Obama government, that would be pretty problematic. So that's the sort of fine line that I think the investigators are going to be focused on.

CUOMO: And then you have the "X" factor, which is if they could show that Kushner was meeting with this banker for his own personal financing purposes, then he'd have a very big issue.

Jim Sciutto, we keep hearing from the White House and Trump defenders this is about style, not substance. This was not about, you know, Kushner looking for money or trying to work the Russians in a wrong way. This is just about their experience level and not about anything worse.

John McCain disagrees when it comes to just simple style points. Listen to what he said.


MCCAIN: My view of it is I don't like it. I just 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.


CUOMO: Now, we keep hearing this, Jim. The one president at a time thing. You can dismiss that as a formality, but that's not how officials are taking it. What do you hear?

[06:10:05] SCIUTTO: Listen, you know, style -- style matters. Right? Because beyond the issue of what the law is, whether laws were broken or not, there are norms.

Well, one being there's one president at a time. That's not just a fashion. Right? I mean, that's something that's important, in part, because here you have an impression, or at least a question because the outgoing president, who was still president of the United States at the time, had a different approach to Russia and the incoming president was there. So the question, we don't know the answer, but it's a reasonable question. Was there an effort by the Trump administration to undermine the policy of the Obama administration, specifically on sanctions against Russia.

That's a fair question to ask, whether any law was broken or not.

Then you get to the issue with both Davids -- which both Davids mentioned, which is was there a naivete here? Right? Was there an opening to exploitation by Russia? I asked Michael Hayden about this yesterday, and he said it doesn't have to be nefarious to be a problem.


SCIUTTO: Because here you have a private citizen without experience. Russia is very adept at this kind of stuff. They're looking for some sort of advantage there.

Then the final thing I would just say is, if it is true that Jared Kushner was looking to have these conversations in some sort of Russian secure facility outside of the ears of U.S. intelligence, what does that say of the incoming president's view of American intelligence services? And why would you -- would you want to have that kind of a conversation in private? It raises a lot of legitimate questions.

GREGORY: Can I raise this point? So I think it's important to to think about a broader context, as well. A few minutes ago, I said that you had two administrations that have been manipulated by Russia. I want to be clear what I mean by that. They proved to be untrustworthy. Right?

Putin, after 9/11, signaled cooperation with the Bush administration. That proved to be an untrustworthy channel, diplomatically, in terms of invading former Soviet republics and whatnot toward the end of the Bush administration. There was an attempted reset under the Obama administration. They proved to be untrustworthy diplomatic, in terms of interlocutors on that path forward.

What I think that the Trump people could be accused of at this point, which is not about legality, which is being investigated, is why is it they thought they were immune from being manipulated diplomatically or worse by the Russians? A foreign power that had just sought to manipulate and tamper with our election, and it proved completely untrustworthy as diplomatic partners to two prior administrations.

So that hubris with which they approached and said, "Let's just barrel forward with representatives of the Putin administration and bankers and all the rest. We can make this work." When you had a guy, in Michael Flynn, the national security adviser, who had already been compromised. That to me is what's suspicious.

CAMEROTA: David Sanger, hold that thought. We're going to take a quick break and come back to you in a moment.

Panel, stick around.

CUOMO: All right. We'll get some great context for these issues, because in the next hour, we're going to talk about these threads and questions with the man on your screen, the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is doubling down on her doubts about President Trump, insisting that Europe can no longer count on the U.S. How badly fractured is this critical relationship? We discuss that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [06:17:00] CUOMO: Donald Trump was elected, in part, to shake things up at home and abroad, and now there is pushback from a key ally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, signals a deepening rift with the United States insisting Europe can't completely rely on the USA.

CNN senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen live in London with more. Heavy words.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Very heavy words, Chris. And a lot of frustration there building up in Berlin. And there were a lot of things that President Trump said while he was in Europe last week that really rubbed Angela Merkel the wrong way, it seems.

Some of the things he said about trade with Germany, where he said the Germans were bad for exporting so many cars to America. But also the lack of what the Germans feel is a security commitment to European allies was really something that I think really hurt a lot of people in Germany, prompted Angela Merkel to say the following thing: "We know that transatlantic relations are of immense importance for us all. They rest on mutual values and interests, particularly when we are in times, as we are, of intense challenges." And here comes the important part. "The last few days have shown me that the times when we could completely rely on others are over." Obviously, referring to this current White House.

It was interesting, because she qualified those remarks. She said, "We still believe in transatlantic relations. We're just not sure what we're getting from this White House."

And you know, Angela Merkel, Chris, right now is in an election campaign. However, her political rivals who are running against her are actually supporting her in what she said, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Thank you very much for all that. Let's bring back our panel. We have David Gregory and David Sanger. Also joining us is Sarah Westwood. She's a White House correspondent for "Washington Examiner." Great to see all of you.

David Sanger, so you heard Angela Merkel there. She said the time we could rely on the west, or completely rely on others is over. Germany's foreign minister put an even finer point on it.

Let me read to you what he said. The short-sighted policies of the American government stand against the interests of the European Union. The west has become smaller. At least it has become weaker. What's the significance of all of this?

SANGER: Well, Alisyn, these are remarkable comments from our closest allies. I mean, think about this trip the president took, where he arrives in Saudi Arabia. He's treated like a visiting king. The relationship is in incredibly warm.

He then gets to Europe with our more traditional allies, and it's a -- it's a series of alienating comments on both sides, and some alienating actions. So why is that important? A few things. First, the United States

since the end of World War II has always been a leader of the Atlantic alliance. And that means that not only been the biggest contributor to NATO, which is one of President Trump's complaints; and presidents before him have said more should be contributed by others. But it also means that those countries have relied on the United States, its nuclear umbrella, its moral compass, its ability to lead.

[06:20:04] And what you were hearing from Chancellor Merkel was "Those days are over. We may need to seek our own way." At another point yesterday, she said, basically, "We can't trust the British that much after Brexit. And we can't trust the Americans." Those were the two -- two of the major victors of World War II with whom Germany had come into this alliance after the war was over.

And if we look back at this moment as a temporary blip, that will be one thing. If we look back at it as a major breach in a relationship that stretches back 70 years, that will be another.

CUOMO: Sarah, how much of this is about President Trump pushing on real issues that make Merkel uncomfortable? That the E.U. is being criticized, that you know, the other major allies have been putting their 2 percent to defense-oriented work the way NATO lays out, specifically Germany.

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": That's certainly part of it. I mean, Trump's push to have NATO members meet their 2 percent of their GDP commitments to defense, that's aimed largely at countries like Germany that have failed to meet those commitments. And it seems like the immediate catalyst for Chancellor Merkel's comments was President Trump's refusal to endorse the Paris Climate Accords at the G-7 meeting, if there was a time and a place for President Trump to reaffirm America's commitment to that deal, the G-7 would have been the setting for that. It didn't happen.

And I think that ruffled some feathers, particularly among European leaders like Merkel, who view the Paris climate deal as a bellwether issue for American leadership. But these tensions have clearly been simmering for some time now.

President Trump represents this populist wave in America that has also affected support for the E.U. in Europe. And obviously, he has cheered openly euro-skeptics like Nigel Farage. Chancellor Merkel is someone who is the face of the E.U. in a lot of ways and preserving it through this populist wave.

She's in an election year in a country where President Trump is deeply unpopular. So it's almost surprising that we haven't heard this election from her earlier, that she's waited until now to voice doubts about the Trump administration, given the amount of uncertainty the president has created.

CAMEROTA: And particularly since, David, we've heard criticism -- President Trump criticizes Angela Merkel before this. I mean, it did seem as though there was some bad blood, and -- but now it has morphed from whatever personality conflict they had into a geopolitical conflict.

GREGORY: Well, something more fundamental. I mean, I think we have to separate breaches on policy, areas where you're going to have disagreement. We saw that as we've been discussing over the past couple of days, over the Iraq War and how it broke America with western Europe for a period of time. But never fundamentally. Right now, you have differences over trade, over migration policy in the broader fight over terrorism, and about climate.

But I want to underline what David said. The reason why the United States led the Atlantic alliance after World War II is that there had been two world wars on the continent that killed tens of millions of people on the continent alone, let alone American losses, as well.

So this was an effort to have America lead so Europe wouldn't continue to kill itself, and act as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. That's just as true today.

We may have disagreements on issues between the United States and the European Union. We're major trading partners. And there is a fundamental alliance that is critically important against a resurgent Russia.

Here you have the specter of Germany saying, "We've got to go it alone." I mean, that hasn't happened since before World War I, which turned out to be so disastrous. That's what I think is important about this moment we don't want to lose sight of. These people are more than our friends. Family in the global order that America leads.

CUOMO: The question is, is this an opportunity where President Trump mollifies, or does he double down? We'll have to see.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much.

CUOMO: All right. Up next lawmakers nearly coming to blows inside the Texas state house. You see this video? What started it? A representative claiming he was actually the target of a death threat. There's a new law at play that was behind this kerfuffle. We'll take you through it when NEW DAY continues.


[06:28:39] CUOMO: Former Panamanian dictator and convicted drug trafficker Manuel Noriega has died. The 83-year-old recently underwent an operation after suffering a hemorrhage following brain surgery in March.

In the 1980s, you'll remember Noriega went from a big U.S. ally to wanted man, culminating in a 1989 U.S. invasion, flushing him out of Panama. Noriega spent almost 20 years in U.S. prisons before extradited to France and, ultimately, back to Panama.

CAMEROTA: ISIS is claiming responsibility for two deadly car bombs in Iraq. At least 11 people were killed and 35 hurt following this blast near a retirement development in central Baghdad. This after another car bomb hit the same region, killing at least 10

people and injuring 40 more. The aftermath of that is on your screen. Right now, you can see children in the area. This was outside of a popular ice cream shop as families were breaking their fast for Ramadan.

CUOMO: No question they were targeting the most vulnerable there.

All right. So there's a new law banning sanctuary cities, an it's triggering protests and this, this near brawl in the Texas legislature. What happened?

Well, you had Republican Representative Matt Rinaldi. They say he triggered the chaos. Now, that's going to be disputed among partisans. But he called ICE agents to turn in protesters who are holding signs that read, "I am illegal and here to say."

Rinaldi claims he was then assaulted by Democratic lawmakers.