Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. Standing on the World Stage Uncertain Under Trump; Sources: Russians Discussed Potentially 'Derogatory' Info about Trump & Associates During Campaign; White House Communications Director Resigns; Interview with James Clapper. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 30, 2017 - 07:00   ET


AMANPOUR: ... business. They have also written letters to this administration, saying do not pull out of the climate accords, because this is actually not bad for American business. There's a lot of business to be made, as you know, in alternative energy and all of that.

[07:00:15] And as for the NATO 2 percent, Germany has pledged the 2 percent, which is not a treaty obligation. It was aspirational after Russia invaded and annexed Crimea and Ukraine, and it's meant to be delivered over the next 10 years by all NATO members. So it's fetishized right now in the public debate, but it is not a treaty obligation.

CUOMO: "Fetishized." Good word. Christiane, thank you very much for the insight, as always. Thanks to you, our international viewers for watching us here on NEW DAY. For you, CNN NEWSROOM is next.

For our U.S. viewers, we have exclusive reporting on a big part of the motivation for the Russia investigation. Plus, we're going to talk live with the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper. What do you say? Let's get after it.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Russian officials discuss having potentially derogatory information about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Why is it they thought they were immune from being manipulated diplomatically or worse by the Russians?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: New interest in a meeting between Jared Kushner and Sergey Gorkov.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was he trying to accomplish by creating indebtedness to someone like the Russians?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we should definitely be asking for is for Jared Kushner's security clearance to be taken away. He's a liability to the U.S. government.

ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR, RUSSIA INVESTIGATION: If you are not honest, your reputation will suffer and what's lost, a good reputation, can never, ever be regained.

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


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. We begin with breaking news for you.

We have an exclusive. CNN is reporting on the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.

CUOMO: CNN's Jim Sciutto, along with Pamela Brown and Dana Bash broke the story. Jim joins us now. What's the headline, my friend?

SCIUTTO: Chris, here's the headline. Two former intelligence officials and a congressional source tell CNN that Russian government officials discussed having potentially, quote, "derogatory information" about then- presidential candidate Donald Trump and some of his campaign 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 discussions 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, quote, "They had the ability to influence the information through the derogatory information."

But the sources privy to the descriptions of the communications written by U.S. intelligence caution the Russian claims to each other, quote, "could have been exaggerated, even made up."

Now, the details of the communications do shed new light on information U.S. intelligence received about Russian claims of influence. The contents 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.

As CNN first reported, you may remember, 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 that CNN report, "The New York Times" said that Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, had also been discussed.

CAMEROTA: OK. So do we know who the Russians were specifically talking about in these intercepted communications.

SCIUTTO: Beyond the president himself, none of our sources would say which specific Trump aides were discussed. One of the officials said the intelligence report masked the American names, but it was still clear that the conversations revolved around the Trump campaign team.

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

Asked for comment, the White House overnight gave CNN the following statement, 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 10 years showed 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 does is play into the hands of our adversaries and put our country at risk," end quote.

Now, the office of the director of national intelligence and the FBI, they would not comment. The president himself has insisted on multiple occasions that he has no financial dealings with Russia.

CUOMO: All right, so put this into context for us. What does this mean in terms of a window into the investigation?

SCIUTTO: Well, this is what we're told. The FBI investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election, that's the big-picture target here and now recently taken over by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, does include seeking answers as to whether there was any coordination, collusion with associates of Trump and also examining alleged financial dealings of key Trump associates.

[07:05:08] The FBI would not comment to us on whether any of these claims discussed in those intercepts have been verified by the time Trump took office. You may remember the questions about potential financial ties between his aides and Russian entities were already under investigation.

CAMEROTA: OK, Jim. Stick around. We want to talk to you more in a few minutes.

Meanwhile, President Trump is trying to move past the Russia investigation. "The New York Times" is reporting that investigators are looking into a December meeting between Jared Kushner and a Russian banker with ties to Vladimir Putin.

CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House with more. What have you learned, Joe?

JOHNS: Good morning, Alisyn.

The White House really wrestling with this Russia investigation. The controversy now, as you said, centering on Jared Kushner, the top adviser to the president and his conversations back in December with the Russian banker, Sergey Gorkov.

And that, of course, reported this morning by "The New York Times." In addition to the scrutiny that's now under way about the conversations between Jared Kushner and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.

The question, of course, whether Jared Kushner was trying to set up a back channel of communications with Russia. Now for his part, Jared Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, have been keeping a low profile so far, with Jared Kushner floating the explanation through counsel that he's very willing to sit down to talk to people to explain all of this, one of those possible explanations, as reported by CNN's Gloria Borger, the possibility that it was Russia that wanted to set up a back channel in order for the president's national security adviser to talk to the Russian military about Syria, though that explanation certainly has a lot of questions surrounding it.

Today, for the first time, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, is expected to take questions in the briefing room for the first time since this news about the back channel reporting got out there on television and in the newspapers.

Back to you.

CAMEROTA: That will be an interesting briefing.

CUOMO: Always interesting. Always interesting.

CAMEROTA: Yes, must-see TV.

CUOMO: Let's bring in the panel.

CAMEROTA: Let's do that. Jim Sciutto joins us again with his new reporting. Also with us are CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich; and CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger.

There is a new tweet that we should read you, because it is about Russia. The president just put this out: "Russian officials must be laughing at the U.S. and how a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election has taken over the fake news."

David Sanger, it sounds as though he is not paying much creed to all the new reporting on Jared Kushner and Jim Sciutto's new reporting about these intercepted communications.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, he's probably not, Alisyn. But what's interesting about that tweet, he's sent out others in previous weeks and months that were close to word for word the same. Is that we tend to separate out, I think, among all of us who are covering this -- my colleagues at the "New York Times," and certainly yours at CNN -- we separate out two different issues.

One is what happened in the election, whether or not the president was lawfully elected. I don't think there are many people -- there are some, but I don't think there are many who believe that he was legitimately -- who disagree that he was legitimately elected. I mean, we don't know if the Russians had any influence...


SANGER: ... on the actual outcome.

Then there's the question of what the Russians were trying to do, what they tried to do influencing the campaign and then later on whether or not there was any collusion with anybody.

In the president's mind, he tends to seem to merge these two and take any discussion of the Russian activity or potential collusion as an effort to delegitimatize his election.

I don't think that the rest of us who are working on reporting these issues tend to sort of confuse those two. You can believe that he was legitimately elected and then also believe that the Russians had this effort under way. And these tweets tend to say, now the only reason this investigation is going on is to delegitimatize his presidency.

CUOMO: Jackie, look, the problem is every time he tweets something like this, it's in defiance of the fact, and it creates another cycle. Because there are obviously more than enough officials willing to line up and say, no, these questions deserve investigation.

Now, the legitimate criticism would be, yes, but you guys never talk about the Russian interference. We're always reporting on the questions about him and the people surrounding him. Where's all the information about how they did the hacking and what we do to stop it? Is that a fair point?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But you can't separate the fact that -- that it appears that the administration was talking to the Russians. There are so many questions that haven't been answered.

[07:10:08] In terms of look at this latest Jared Kushner issue. Why did he want to use the Russians' communications to establish this back channel? We didn't have an answer to that. Who instructed him to do this? Because it's highly unlikely that he was -- that he was freelancing.

But to your point, Chris, all of these things are valid questions. It's not that one isn't and one is. It's just the president seems to take issue with, you know, anything that involves the people closest to him and this just keeps getting closer. That's just a matter of fact.

CAMEROTA: Jim, I want to get back to your breaking news and your new reporting. And that is that you have these news sources who confirmed to you that there were these intercepted Russian communications, where you hear Russian government officials talking about basically how to leverage the Trump campaign and that they claimed, in these intercepted communications, to have some sort of derogatory, probably financial information that they might use to be able to leverage the Trump campaign.

But I want to get the Trump's side take on it. Basically, is it possible that, you know, the Russians were playing three-dimensional chess here while the Trump team was just trying to, you know, establish some communications with another major world power, and they were basically used as pawns and didn't know that?

SCIUTTO: It's possible. I spoke with Michael Hayden yesterday, former CIA, NSA director. And he said it doesn't have to be a nefarious explanation. It could be -- it could be just naivete or hubris. Right?

Jared Kushner, the Trump team imagined, yes, we can handle this. We're going to do it back channel. We'll go, you know, we'll deal with the Russians directly.

And maybe it reflects a distrust of the intelligence community. The reason they wanted to do it this way was because they didn't want their conversations listened to. They didn't want this back channel revealed.

But I have to take -- make two points here. One, the president's tweet this morning, calling this all fake news. It's not the first time we've heard it. It's a deliberate attempt to muddy the waters. And as you said, Chris, it denies the facts. Because set aside what we in the media are reporting. It is the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Democrats and Republicans on those committees who say this is still an open question, a question of collusion.

It's the FBI. James Comey before he was fired testified under oath that collusion is still an open question. This is one of the topics that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, who served both Democrats and Republicans, says it's still an open question.

So it is, frankly, untrue to call it fake news or just the media making things up, because you've got two -- actually more than that, because the Judiciary Committee also involved. You have more than one Hill committee looking into this. You got the FBI, and now you have a special counsel.

So the president here is muddying the waters on what is an open topic of investigation, whether it be collusion, back channel communications, et cetera. And folks have to remember that. No matter how many times he tweets that, these are still open questions being investigated by Democrats and Republicans and civil servants far from the corridors of the "New York Times" and CNN, et cetera.

CUOMO: And also, David Sanger, the president discounts incompetence, negligence, you know, ignorance, in terms of things that you need to find out and discover and reveal through the course of investigation.

His bar is, well, do you have any proof of a crime, you know, which is an artificially high bar for government action. But to his own point, with Kushner, why did he meet with these bankers? If it was for back channel communication to start a nicer dialogue, fine. Then you get into this incompetence how he did it. But if it was for money for any of his own deals, he's got trouble.

And the question that they want to know right now, as Jim echoes in his reporting, is why meet -- if this is true, why meet in a secure Russian facility outside ostensibly the intelligence community of the U.S., in their eyes?

SANGER: This all goes to the critical question here, which is what's the content of these conversations?

Back channels have happened before with foreign governments. It happened with Kennedy. They happened with Nixon. That's not necessarily new. The two issues here are what was discussed.

The banker, for example, would have a considerable interest in having sanctions lifted against Russia. These are the sanctions that were put in after the annexation of Crimea and the military activity that destabilized Ukraine.

Now, if those sanctions were lifted, the bank would benefit some, and the bank's clients would. The Trump campaign talked about lifting sanctions some during the course of the campaign. They haven't discussed it since. It's hard to imagine it happening now.

[07:15:09] If that was part of the content of the conversation, it raises a whole new set of questions. It doesn't necessarily mean, as you say, any of this is a crime, but this is delicate stuff. It has to be handled very carefully. At a minimum, I think it's fair to say right now they didn't go at it with the care they needed to.

CAMEROTA: Jackie, we have some breaking news that we will let all of you and our listeners know. CNN has just confirmed that White House communications director, Mike Dubke, has resigned. So we had heard that there might be a shakeup in the communications team. People had mentioned, obviously, Sean Spicer. Was he going to step aside? We've heard that Sean Spicer is going to be giving the briefing today at 2, but his boss, Mike Dubke, has resigned. What do you make of it?

KUCINICH: Well, I mean, as we know, Trump has been very unhappy with his communications team. But this also -- Dubke was one of the last ones in, into that communications team. Yes, he was brought above several Trump loyalists, people who had been with him for quite a while.

But it's a tough team to assimilate with. Axios was reporting that he never really gelled with the team that he was supposed to direct. And -- and particularly with this Russia scandal growing, I mean, we remember that Trump was very unhappy with the initial response to it.

So apparently, he is the one who's taking it on the chin. What we don't know, is that this is the first or if this is one step to try to rectify something the president has been extremely unhappy with.

CUOMO: So Jim Sciutto, he's not happy. We know that. And, you know, they've been working as a multi-headed animal there. Right? I mean, Dubke wasn't really calling any of the shots. This was done by somewhat of committee. There's been all this word about shakeups. Do you believe this is the first and that we may see more?

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, it gets to an essential question. The Trump view seems to be that this is all about messaging, that the issue here is his point of view, his achievements, et cetera, are not getting across to the American public.

That's an open question. Is it just about messaging or is there actual opposition -- there appears to be -- to some of Trump's fundamental positions? Whether it's the approach to NATO, you name it. So it appears now that the shake-up is purely in the messaging group

and, in fact, allowing the president himself to message for himself via Twitter, occasional news conferences, et cetera. Whether that solves the issues here is an open question.

CUOMO: He's always been his best defender, which is why we invite him on the show all the time. I mean, if nothing else, he changes the message so quickly. He has points of emphasis, the president, that others can't echo. He should do more of it.

CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much. It will be very interesting to watch the White House briefing today at 2 p.m., as well as all day long the developments. Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. So aside from the politics, we have a great guest for you today. He talked to Congress. Now the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, is going to talk to you on NEW DAY. What matters in all this Russia investigating and why? What is he concerned about? There is the man, James Clapper, on NEW DAY next.


[07:22:13] CUOMO: All right. Two big headlines for you this morning. The senior communications director for the president, Mr. Dubke, is out. This a potential reflection of the president's continuing dissatisfaction with all things Russian investigation.

On that front, CNN has new information for you. Russian government officials are said to have discussed having potentially derogatory information about then presidential candidate Donald Trump and some of his associates during the campaign. Sources warn the information could have been exaggerated. The Russians could have been wrong about what they have, or they could have just been making it up.

But what role does information like this play in the larger investigation? And what matters to you in all of this?

Joining us now is a man with excellent perspective. James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, testified on Capitol Hill about Russia's efforts to meddle in the election.

Mr. Clapper, thank you for joining us.


CUOMO: What is your take on the headline of the morning, about what CNN has discovered about these Russian officials saying they may have something on Trump?

CLAPPER: Well, rather than commenting on the "eaches," I will just say that there were a series of communications and dialogues that we grew -- I say "we," members of the intelligence community that were aware of this, were very concerned about.

We didn't know the intent, didn't know -- and certainly didn't know the substance of these conversations and dialogues. But given the context of all the other things the Russians were doing to interfere with the election, undermine us, and, of course, my personal experience, their long track record going back to the Soviet era of undermining us and, whenever they can, suborning or co-opting, that this, you know, raised the -- raised the red flag for us. And that's why we were concerned.

And so what this merits, what it requires, I think, is an airing, a transparency and play out this investigation. This is something the country badly needs to clear up this cloud that's -- that's hanging over us right now.

CUOMO: It's true. And look, many people say the problem is the cloud. The problem is any of these questions. So let's use this time well to inform the skeptics.

The skeptics start with one basic premise: Why do I care about this Russian interference? People like you say they've always done this. It didn't change the outcome of the election. All the votes were counted the right way. They didn't meddle with the machines. Why do I care about what Russia does? I bet the U.S. does the same stuff.

[07:25:06] CLAPPER: There's been a long history of Soviet and -- interference going back to the Soviet era in our elections, but never, ever has there been a case of the aggressiveness and the direct actions that the Russians took and their conduct of a multifaceted campaign to interfere with our election.

So in addition to the hacking that got all the attention, there were very sophisticated, slick propaganda efforts, principally through RT, a government funded -- Russian government funded entity, their use of trolls to seed social media with erroneous information. And many other outlets either wittingly or unwittingly picked this up.

So that across the board, the aggressiveness in this campaign was unprecedented. And I think American citizens should be very concerned about a foreign government, particularly our primary adversary, interfering with the most important foundational processes we have in this country, which is free and fair elections. That is a serious, serious affront. And if there's ever been a clarion call for vigilance, this is it.

And as I said before, the Russians can only be chortling about this. And they are going to be further emboldened to continue this interference in our political process. And this is a serious problem that -- that all Americans should be -- should be concerned about.

CUOMO: So to put a fine point on it, are you 100 percent sure that Russia was behind the election meddling that you described?

CLAPPER: Absolutely. The evidence, which unfortunately we could not detail in our intelligence community assessment was, in my view, overwhelming. And that is why the assessment that we did enjoyed such a high confidence level. And there's absolutely no doubt in my mind.

One other point, Chris, that you -- I need to respond to. Is we could not make a call as whether or not this interference actually affected the outcome of the election. We did not see any evidence of voter tallying; that is the mechanical process of counting votes in any of the 50 states.

But we had neither the authority, the expertise, nor the capability to assess whether or not this interference actually affected the outcome of the election.

CUOMO: All right. Just to be clear, you're saying you didn't look at that aspect. Not that you looked but couldn't determine whether there were -- there was or was not an impact?

CLAPPER: That's right.


CLAPPER: We did not make that -- that's not -- not within our authority...

CUOMO: Right.

CLAPPER: ... or expertise or capabilities, that's correct.

CUOMO: All right. So the idea that, hey, look, the Democrats are just front-running this issue about Russian interference to explain what happened in the election. You're saying, no, there are legitimate questions.

So from the -- if you're an American citizen, what do you want to know from the fruit of this investigation? What needs to come out of it?

CLAPPER: Well, I think the -- what I indicated before is what was the intent of this dialogue? What was the content of the discussions? And we didn't know that, or at least I didn't, when I left the government on the 20th of January. And so as long as these questions linger, and as long as they hang over us like this, this -- this is going to be a terrible distraction to getting anything done.

And so the sooner there is clarity about this and transparency, the better for the country. For this administration, for both parties and for the country at large.

CUOMO: All right. Now, you're talking about the second head of this beast, which is the questions that go to communications and any potential collaboration or conclusion -- collusion with members of the Trump administration.

The president, you know his position on this. And the reflection of that in the citizenry is this. Where's the proof? It's all unnamed sources; it's all leaks. Nothing has come out that shows any degree of essential wrongdoing or, certainly, criminality by anyone involved in the campaign, so there must be nothing there.

CLAPPER: Well, I don't -- I wouldn't go so far as to say that. But I also have to say that, with specific respect to the issue of collusion, as I've said before -- I've testified to this effect -- I saw no direct evidence of political collusion between the campaign and -- the Trump campaign and the Russians.

CUOMO: Now clarify that point.

CLAPPER: That's not to say -- that's not to say there wasn't any, but I just didn't see evidence of it before I left.

CUOMO: Clarify that, because people use you and those words as an example of this premise, which is there's nothing there.