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New Reports Indicate Russian Officials Claimed to Have "Derogatory Information" About Trump Campaign Aides; Former DNI James Clapper Discusses Russian Investigation; Interview with Former Republican Governor of New Hampshire, John Sununu. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 30, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: A lot of news including exclusive CNN reporting on the Russian investigation. Let's get after it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russian government officials discussed having potentially, quote, "derogatory information about then presidential candidate Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Investigators are looking into a December meeting between Jared Kushner and a Russian banker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russia has been genius at manipulating people.

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

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The naivete here to believe that in this environment you're going to have a backchannel, that is not secret. It's going to go public.

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

TRUMP: I don't like it. I just don't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We must act with honesty and with integrity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are only as good as your word.


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

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It's Tuesday, May 30, 8:00 in the east. And we do have breaking news, exclusive CNN reporting on the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Jim Sciutto along with Pamela Brown and Dana Bash broke this story, and Jim joins us now with the breaking news. What have your learned, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, here's what we know. Two former intelligence officials and a Congressional source tell myself, Dana, and Pamela that Russian government officials discussed having potentially, quote, "derogatory information" about then presidential candidate Trump as well as some of his top aides, this in conversations intercepted by U.S. intelligence during the 2016.

One source described the information as financial in nature and said the discussion centered round whether the Russians have 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 administration through this derogatory information."

Now, the sources privy to the descriptions of the communications written by U.S. intelligence caution that the Russian claims to each other, quote, "could have been exaggerated or even made up." The details in 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 those claims turned out to be false.

As you may remember, 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, all this 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, so any sense in talking to these officials about the who, Jim? Are there any new names introduced to this?

SCIUTTO: Chris, beyond the president 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 still clear the conversations revolved around the Trump campaign team. Another source would not get more specific, citing the classified nature of the information.

Now, we went to the White House, and overnight we did get the following statement to CNN, quote, "This is yet another ground 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 play into the hands of our adversaries and put our country at risk" end quote. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI would

not comment to us. The president himself has insisted on multiple occasions in public that he has no financial dealings with Russia.

CAMEROTA: OK, so Jim is all of this new to investigators, or is this part of their current investigation?

SCIUTTO: It is part of their big picture. The FBI investigation as we understand it into Russian meddling in the U.S. election recently of course taken over by the special counsel Robert Mueller, does include seeking answers as to whether there was any coordination with associates of Trump. It also includes examining alleged financial dealings with key Trump associates.

The FBI would not comment to us on whether any of the claims discussed in those intercepts we reported have been verified. I should note this as well, that by the time Trump took office questions about some of his aides financial dealings with Russian entities were already under investigation. It is a big picture here, guys. There are lots of threads. But the newest information here is that Russians were telling each other in intercepted conversations that they believed they had derogatory information on the now president, Donald Trump.

CAMEROTA: OK, Jim, thank you for helping us sort through all of it and sharing the breaking news with us. We will get back to you momentarily.

We have some more breaking news, though, to tell you about. A top staffer at the White House announcing his resignation this morning. CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House with breaking news. What's the latest, Joe.

[08:05:03] JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. Mike Dubke is the communications director here at the White House. He submitted his resignation, we're told, on May 18th, and confirming to CNN in a pool reporter this morning that he is leaving. Not clear what his final day will be. He says his reasons for leaving are personal. Nonetheless, his resignation comes at a time when there is a lot of talk and questioning about whether there will be a shakeup here at the White House in terms of staff because the president is concerned that his message is not getting made public.

So this also comes at a time, though, there are also concerns about the White House and its ability to contain the message on the Russia investigation. The president this morning himself tweeting that "Russian officials must be laughing at the U.S. at how the lame excuse for by Dems lost the election has taken over the fake news." That said, the controversy over Russia right now centering on the president's son-in-law as well as his senior adviser Jared Kushner and his contacts and communications with, among others, a Russian banker named Sergey Gorkov. Now those discussions getting closer scrutiny, we're told, from investigators.

Today we are expecting to see the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, deliver a briefing. It will be his first briefing since the news broke about the communications between his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the Russians over perhaps setting up a backchannel with the Russians. Back to you.

CUOMO: All right, Joe Johns, so we see the president once again trying to tap down the significance of the Russian investigation. But I'll tell you who isn't laughing about these questions, the former director of national intelligence James Clapper. He says Russian interference is real. There is no question it was Russia and that these questions, which we called a cloud over the administration about who talked to the Russians and why, they matter, and we need to get to the bottom of them. Here is a taste.


CUOMO: Are you 100 percent sure that Russia was behind the election meddling that you describe?

JAMES CLAPPER, FMR. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: 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 is no doubt in my mind.

One other point, Chris, that I need to respond to is we could not make a call as to whether or not this interference actually affected the outcome of the election. We did not see any evidence of voter tallying, that is a mechanical process of counting votes in any of the 50 states. But we didn't have either 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 was or was not an impact.

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

CUOMO: Right.

CLAPPER: -- our 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 are 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 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, as long as they hang over us like 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 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.

[08:10:11] CLAPPER: Well, 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 have 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 there wasn't any, but I just didn't see evidence of it before I left.


CUOMO: Now, the clarification matters because this is a big point when it comes to Clapper. He went on to say the FBI straddles intel and fact finding, right, and that they were doing that assembly of any potential evidence, anything that could become proof. So he's saying I didn't see it on the intel side and I wasn't running that part of the case.


CLAPPER: I don't know what they have.

CAMEROTA: Evidence versus intelligence, as we've learned from Phil Mudd who says those things are distinct.

CUOMO: Right. But what he said is the questions are real and matter based on what he's seen, very different to what the president of the United States is saying, trying to dismiss the whole inquiry.

Let's bring back Jim Sciutto and bring in CNN political analysts April Ryan and Alex Burns. April Ryan, what do you take from that interview?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I take a lot. I remember when that statement came out from DNI and Homeland Security in October talking about the fact that Russia was indeed trying to tamper in the 2016 elections. And look at where we've come from October to, what is it, almost June, 2017. I take a lot.

And one thing I go back to the president's tweet this morning saying that Russia is smiling or Russia is happy. Russia is happy that they are playing such a part in our conversations in government movement right now. But this is a real issue for former head like Clapper to say this, that he doesn't show for sure that there was collusion but thinks there is still question marks. We need to take it seriously. This is not just someone off the street or an unnamed source. This is someone who was involved in finding out possibilities of what was going on. At the time, it was just starting to percolate. Now there is more coming out, and I believe there are more question marks and more alarm bells. And you just don't know how far this is going to go.

CAMEROTA: And Jim, that leads us to your new reporting, your breaking news this morning, that is that intel sources tell you there are these intercepted communications between Russian officials where they are heard talking about, quote, "derogatory information" that they may have on Donald Trump that they could use to leverage the Trump campaign. But that still doesn't correct the dots, correct me if I'm wrong, with collusion between them and the Trump campaign.

SCIUTTO: It doesn't. I mean, keep in mind, you have so many pieces, so many strands in this web, right? These are all continuing issues of investigation. One, was there collusion? Two, the backchannel now is a new line of investigation. Three, does Russia actually have derogatory information on Donald Trump? Remember the first time this came up was with the dossier, right, which was unconfirmed, uncorroborated information but important enough that both president- elect Trump and president Obama were briefed on it by the senior most intelligence officials in January during the transition period.

So these are, like many things in this investigation, worthy of investigation according to the FBI and the intelligence agencies, but they haven't reached a conclusion. And I do want to get to that point you made, Chris, there. James Clapper has been quoted many times by Trump and other Trump supporters as having in effect eliminated evidence of collusion. That's not what he said. And he clarified again today. He said this is the FBI's job, particularly because it involved a U.S. person. One, there may be been new evidence that came since he left on January 20th, but, two, he keeps that counterintelligence stuff in the FBI's lane. That was not his job. James Clapper has never said there is no evidence. He's said that he's not aware of it and really shouldn't have been because it's not his job. That's something that has to be made clear. Like so many of these questions, there is no conclusion on them yet. There are strands, there are clues, but the FBI, the House and Senate Intel communities, they are still investigating these questions.

CUOMO: Right. And look, it's unsatisfying for people. I get it. It's complicated. Clapper is very careful in how he speaks. All these intel guys seem to be. And it sets up a very interesting struggle, Alex, because what the president is banking on is you can't prove a crime. That's clearly where he is putting all his eggs, OK, that there's going to be no proof of a crime. That's the bar that's being set. Is it the right bar? And is that likely to pay off politically for the president?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Chris, it is certainly not the bar that is typically set for investigations of a White House and the conduct of a president and his team.

[08:15:05] What the president is trying to do, in addition to what you just described, is he is trying to keep this on a very, very narrow question. Is there explicit evidence of criminal collusion between President Trump and his associates and Russians or agents of the Russian government? That is not how investigations work.

When you have a special prosecutor or a special investigation, they may start with the question of collusion and they may end up with who knows what. So, questions of did everybody reports their contacts with Russian agents at the appropriate time, did everybody disclose their personal finances appropriately, all of that is in inbounds. So, the question even of criminality is a lot more complicated than the president would like people to believe.

CAMEROTA: And, April, look, I just sat down with these die-hard Trump supporters. On Election Day, they would have given him an A. Slowly, a few of them are starting to question his leadership because in large measure of this Russia stuff, there is a lot of smoke.


CAMEROTA: So even though nobody has connected the dots and there's no smoking gun, it's just enough to clearly knock him off from the agenda that he had set out and to plant the seed of doubt with some people.

RYAN: Alisyn, there is a lot of concern, not just for Democrats but for Republicans and for this president's die-hard base. And you have to remember, when they voted for him they wanted something different. And they didn't necessarily know what that different was going to be. But the difference now is the fact that there are questions about how the democracy is being handled.

And many of his die-hard fans or supporters, they talk about the Constitution, and they talk about patriotism. But when you bring in the fact that you have another government possibly tampering in one of the most sacred pieces of our process, the election process, that raises some question marks. Then to find out that Michael Flynn had some dealings or was paid from Turkey and Russia and then Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of the president, wanted to do a back channel, it makes people wonder.

I'm not saying that there is collusion, but there are question marks. There are a lot of question marks. And for some, there are alarm bells. And, yes, I have talked to a lot of Republicans, high ranking Republicans who are saying, you know, they have buyer's remorse right now and their conscious is kicking them.

So, we have to find out where everything lies, what's happening. But I understand why people are questioning.

CUOMO: So, Jim, you have James Clapper who says, by the way, it is not just that they had these discussions, it's the content of the discussions and what they know about them that's fuelling the investigation. That's important for people to remember.

But how do you square that with Secretary Kelly, you know, the homeland security secretary, coming out and saying the back channel stuff with Kushner doesn't bother me? JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well,

Secretary Kelly works for the president, right? I mean, he's a respected man with a long military career. He comes from inside the administration.

And, listen, you're going to have different views from Democrats and Republicans, but also within Democrats and Republicans. I mean, you saw John McCain, he's a Republican. But he's uncomfortable with this. So, you have a fundamental disagreement as to whether this matters. I suppose, ultimately, it's up to the American people to decide.

One thing we do know is that by tradition and norms, you do have one president at a time and that during the transition period, foreign policy is still run by the outgoing president, not the incoming president, and that's particularly germane when it appears the two have a difference of opinion here. So, it creates the impression that the incoming president is seeking to undermine the policies of the outgoing president, specific in this case to sanctions against Russia.

That creates problems for U.S. allies, adversaries trying to read what the U.S. is really going to do. So, you know, ultimately, it's up to the American people to decide. But there is disagreement on it and it is not along party lines because many Republicans are uncomfortable with it as well.

CAMEROTA: OK. Alex, tie this all up for us. We know "The New York Times" has reporting where they are trying to figure out, in terms of Jared Kushner, what his motivation was for meeting with a major Russian banker. Why would he do that and why would he need a secure back channel to the Russians?

BURNS: Well, this is I think the big question of the week that the White House is really going to have to answer. So far they have been trying to take this view that they don't really need to comment on this. Jared can take care of himself, we're going to focus on our policy agenda.

The reality is if this were any other staffer in any other administration, not a blood relative or a relative by marriage of the president of the United States, it's actually very hard to imagine the administration standing by this person, even as far as they already have.

CAMEROTA: But wait a minute? But why is that? Because what they say -- what the administration says and what Jared Kushner is, we were trying to meet with leaders in Russia.

[08:20:00] What's so bad about that?

BURNS: I'm not saying that there's not potentially a valid explanation. I'm saying that he administration as a whole has not really stood squarely with Jared Kushner in presenting a single, consistent rational for this behavior. And if it was a matter of setting up a backchannel to talk about Syria policy, the administration is in a position where they could disclose all those facts. CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much for all of the reporting and

sharing it with us.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

CUOMO: So, there is no question about the newsworthiness of these Russian questions. But how does the White House deal with them. That's become as big a part of this story. Tweets like what we saw from the president this morning. They always seem to make the situation worse.

We're going to talk about it with a former Governor John Sununu, next.


CAMEROTA: The first casualty of the Trump White House announced this morning in terms of the communications office. The communications director Mike Dubke is resigning.

So, how will President Trump respond to the growing cloud of Russia this week as his son-in-law is now the focus of the Russian investigation?

So, let's bring in former Republican governor of New Hampshire, John Sununu.

Good morning, Governor.

JOHN SUNUNU (R), FORMER NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR: Good morning. How are you, Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: I'm well. Let's dive into all of these different Russian threads because I want to gauge your feelings on these separately.

Let's talk about what Jim Sciutto, our Jim Sciutto is breaking this morning in terms of reporting. There are these -- there were these intercepted communications picked up by our intel agencies that heard Russian government officials talking about some kind of what they called derogatory information they had on Donald Trump, then a candidate, and whether or not they could use it to leverage the Trump campaign.

[08:25:16] Are you troubled?

SUNUNU: In the 2016 campaign, that's right. I came on your show with derogatory business information on Donald Trump during the primary. Why is it a surprise? Why is it a news story that the Russians in Washington would convey the same material to the Russians in Moscow?

The same story that you're quoting at the bottom of the story noted that the same sources that gave your reporter that information conceded that it was possible that the Russians were exaggerating or even making it up.


SUNUNU: Why is this even a story worth talking about?

CAMEROTA: It is only a news story, you're right, if, as part of the investigative thread it turns out they were able to leverage the Trump campaign and they were able to somehow use the information they had to help get the Trump campaign to do something that they wanted them to do. So, this is just one more thread down that line where, as you know, congressional committees and the FBI are trying to figure out if they can connect those dots.

SUNUNU: Everybody was talking about Trump's business problems. Why is that news now again?

Look, let's put this whole thing in context. You have to tell me what you think the venality (ph) was that they could have conveyed.

CAMEROTA: Well, do you think that Jared Kushner, in attempting to set up a backchannel as has been reported, do you think that the Trump campaign wanted something out of the Russians and there was a dove tailing of agendas?

SUNUNU: In the ten weeks between an election and an inauguration, there is a lot of discussion going on between all members of -- or potential members of an administration with all kinds of folks. When I was named chief of staff, a lot of ambassadors that were slight acquaintances tried to become good friends in that ten weeks. It is not unusual.

You guys have made back channel a derogatory term. Back channel is a positive asset.


SUNUNU: Nixon could have not have done China -- Nixon could not have done China without a back channel.

CAMEROTA: Yes, even --

SUNUNU: Kennedy used back channels. Go ahead.

CAMEROTA: During the Cuban missile crisis. I mean, so, you're saying that during the transition when there is another president, that you are comfortable with the incoming administration using a back channel, if the reporting is correct, using Russian equipment so as not to be caught on the U.S. surveillance and intelligence equipment? You're comfortable with that kind of back channel?

SUNUNU: Well, let's speculate on why -- I don't think it happened that way. But let's speculate on why it might have happened. There might have been concerns that the intelligence community was feeding Obama the information that he probably shouldn't have had.

And you know what, with what you are reporting now on what has come out from deep sources in the intelligence community, if that was a concern and I doubt it was, but if that was a concern, they were pretty smart to have those feelings, weren't they?

CAMEROTA: Is there anything about the Russian investigation connected to the Trump campaign that troubles you?

SUNUNU: Yes. But the reporting that's taking place and the exaggeration of venality and the suggestion -- look, it's now seven months since the election. And to this day, no one has cited a single piece of evidence.

In your last session, you guys were patting yourselves on the back because you said Clapper had passed the responsibility off to the FBI. But you forget that in the last weeks of the administration, Obama allowed all his intelligence agencies to share their information and there is no question in my mind that when that happened, since Clapper's group had originated this, that anything the FBI had would have gone back to Clapper.

So, it's nice for Clapper to try and wash his hands of it by throwing it in the FBI's lap, but he was -- had access in those days to whatever the FBI had. There is nothing there.

CAMEROTA: So, Jared Kushner, meeting with a major Russian banker of a massive bank that has ties to Vladimir Putin, nothing to see there?

SUNUNU: Well, tell me what you think is to see there and I'll comment on it.

CAMEROTA: What do you think would be the motivation?

SUNUNU: I don't think there is anything there.

CAMEROTA: Why would they do it?


SUNUNU: So, you're implying -- you're implying --


SUNUNU: Because during the ten weeks everything is trying to meet somebody who is going to be in the administration. Everybody who is involved in business, everybody who is involved in politics.


SUNUNU: I can't tell you how many people tried to meet with me between the times I was then chief of staff --

CAMEROTA: And did you meet with a Russian banker when everybody tried to meet with you?