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Republican Karen Handel Wins in Georgia; Senate Investigators to "Follow the Money"; Senate Panel Looking at Trump Business Dealings; Suspect Killed After Explosion at Brussels Central Station. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired June 21, 2017 - 00:00   ET



[00:00:34] AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Amara Walker.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Vause in Los Angeles. Thank you for being with us.

There is breaking news from Atlanta with CNN projecting Republican Karen Handel will win the special election for Georgia's sixth congressional district.

WALKER: Many consider the race the first major test for congressional Republicans under President Donald Trump. Together both sides poured in an estimated $50 million into this campaign, the most expensive house race in U.S. history.

VAUSE: And we have the most expensive panel with us tonight. Joining us "L.A. Times" political writer Seema Mehta, Democrat strategist Caroline Heldman, CNN political commentator KABC Radio host and Trump supporter John Phillips.

WALKER: Also with us CNN's senior political analyst Ron Brownstein and CNN correspondent Kaylee Hartung is at Handel's headquarters in Atlanta.

Kaylee -- let's start with you. A hard fought win for Handel but obviously a stinging loss for the Democrat. Take us through the numbers.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, things emptying out at Karen Handel's headquarters tonight. But Republicans saw this race in Georgia's sixth district in the northern suburbs of Atlanta as a must- win. And they were able to do it by a margin of just 13,000 votes in the end.

For Karen Handel to keep a seat that's been held by a Republican for more than 50 years red, she now becomes the first woman elected by the state of Georgia into Congress.

There was so much talk in the lead-up this race about it being a referendum on President Trump. And it became the most expensive race in the history of the House of Representatives because so many folks from all around the country were sending their money to Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff because they don't like what's going on in Washington. They wanted this race to be able to make a statement.

But the conservatives in this state galvanized behind Karen Handel. They didn't want their historically conservative district to become a trophy of sorts for Democrats to carry into the 2018 midterm elections. They wanted to defend their ground.

Now, a lot of jabs were taken over the course of this campaign but tonight a tone of measured stability from both candidates.


KAREN HANDEL (R), GEORGIA CONGRESSWOMAN ELECTION: And we need to also lift up this nation so that we can find a more civil way to deal with our disagreements. Because in these United States of America no one -- no one should ever feel their life threatened over their political beliefs.

JON OSSOFF (D), GEORGIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: The more than 12,000 of you who as darkness has crept across this planet have provided a beacon of hope for people here in Georgia, for people across the country, and for people around the world.


HARTUNG: A big win for Republicans to celebrate tonight. But that doesn't change the fact that Democrats were able to take a district that has been held by a conservative for more than 40 years and have it come down to just 13,000 votes.

WALKER: All right. A lot of lessons to be learned from this. Kaylee Hartung, live at Handel's headquarters. Thank you very much.

VAUSE: Ok. Well, let's break down what all of this actually means moving forward. As we've been saying a lot of money was spent on this race -- a point not lost on the President. He tweeted just a short time ago, "Well, the special elections are over and those that want to make America great again are 5 and 0 -- all the fake news, all the money spent equals naught.

Ron Brownstein -- to you, the Democrats threw everything at this race --


VAUSE: -- including $26 million yet they could not win it. So what went wrong?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, it's a very disappointing night for the Democrats and one that I'm sure is going to prompt a lot of recriminations, some of which have already started about whether Jon Ossoff was too centrist, too bland, too cautious.

But I think to me the big lesson here is that the laws of political gravity still apply even in the era of Donald Trump. I mean this was a district where the Republican incumbent Tom Price who President Trump tapped for the cabinet had never won less than 62 percent of the vote where Mitt Romney and John McCain won about 20 points each even though Hillary Clinton narrowed that to about 1.5 points.

[00:05:09] And what it says to me is that what the Republicans were able to do here was basically turn it from more of a referendum on Trump into more of a partisan referendum and which party you wanted to see in control of the House and basically kind of pull that string, pluck that string of Nancy Pelosi and Democrats, and hold a lot of right of center voters, who normally vote Republican or ambivalent about Trump. And that is I think an important lesson for them going forward.

On the other hand, you know, Democrats now in all of these special elections have won significantly better than the party did in 2016. And if they get out of these deep red places like Kansas, Montana, South Carolina and the suburbs of Atlanta into terrain that is favorable for them like the suburbs of Philadelphia or the suburbs of Los Angeles or the suburbs of New Jersey and they keep that kind of game they still a shot at the House in 2018.

WALKER: Seema what does this win mean for the Republicans? I mean this was a district that they were supposed to win and Trump was just tweeting a few minutes ago as well, according to Fox News this was a huge win for the Trump administration. How big of a boost is it for the Trump administration?


SEEMA MEHTA, "L.A. TIMES": Well, I think that -- I suspect that there are a number of Republican members of Congress who were concerned, some people thought imperiled who are breathing a little bit easier tonight.

But I think you have to note that Karen Handel, while she didn't reject Trump, she wasn't a full-throated endorser of Trump. She didn't embrace him. I mean she sort of come from an arms length throughout the campaign. Just a couple of days ago, reporters asked her about that and she said I won't be an extension of the White House.

So I think she (inaudible) her district in that she was a Republican that people knew there but she wasn't identified with Trump. And in contrast, her Democratic rival, you know, they were successfully able to point him as an outsider, this guy that was funded by all this San Francisco cash. They tied him to Nancy Pelosi.

And I think that there was an oath that I think (inaudible) the Republican Party ran her campaign here.

VAUSE: You know, we are hearing from Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to the President also on Twitter. This is what she put out just a few moments ago. "Thanks to everyone who breathlessly and snarkily proclaimed Georgia stakes as a referendum on the President of the United States. Donald Trump, you were right. #winning." Caroline -- the Democrats were hoping this election was a referendum of Donald Trump and a sign of what may be to come for the midterm elections. Kind of a disaster.

CAROLINE HELDMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I wouldn't say. It's not at all a disaster. They can tweet all they want. Symbolically the Republican National Committee right now is worried. The fact that Tom Price won by 20 percentage points the last time he ran on this district and it is now within 2 percentage points, this is a canary in the coalmine.

And I am glad that they're celebrating and doing everything that they should do as partisans. But at the end of the day, this does signal that there's going to be trouble in 2018.

And when you consider that the Republicans are set to lose about 30 seats just based on history, whoever is in power in the White House they typically lose about 30 seats in the House of Representatives in off election years. That means that the House could definitely swing Democratic and this does not bode well for the Republicans

WALKER: John -- yes, what is the lesson to be learned here?

VAUSE: There's a lot of dead canaries they found --

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. What we learned today is that the Trump coalition held. We've been seeing these video clips nonstop of these Republican town halls that look like Wal-Mart on Black Friday. And we've been told there's going to be Republican defections, Republican defections, Republican defections.

And what happened? Karen Handel won by a wider margin than Donald Trump won the district. And what we've also seen is that the Obama coalition is a coalition that's built around one person -- Barack Obama. He used the coalition to win in 2008 and 2012. What happened in the midterms in 2010, in 2013, in the special elections this year -- it's come apart at the wheels.

VAUSE: Seema -- it does seem that the Democrats are struggling to find a way --

MEHTA: Right.

VAUSE: -- to beat Donald Trump.

MEHTA: Right. And I think there's a lot of recriminations right now. I mean we saw statements after their loss tonight from MoveOn and from the Progressive Democrats of America basically saying you weren't liberal enough. You can't just have an anti-Trump message. You know, you need to have a bolder agenda. You need to have a more progressive agenda.

So I think that, you know, in the coming months, as Democrats figure out how they wage these two dozen critical battles in 2018, there's going to be a lot of sort of (inaudible) debate about, you know, do we go the centrist path or do we go that, you know, more progressive path.

VAUSE: I want to bring out one of those statements. I'm going to get to you, Ron, in a second. I just want to read out part of the statement from Democracy for America that came out almost the moment that it was official that Ossoff had lost. Keep in mind this left- wing progressive group chipped in about $65,000 into Ossoff's campaign -- so money not well spent I guess from their point of view.

This is part of the statement. "Most candidates do not have the luxury of lighting millions of dollars on fire by spending close to $12 million on ads behind an uninspiring message. Defeating Republicans in districts that they have traditionally held requires doing something drastically different than establishment Democrats have done before. Specifically running on a bold, progressive vision and investing heavily in direct voter contact to expand the electorate. That's what it will take to win districts like this one in 2018 and take back the House. The same tired, centrist Democratic playbook that has come up short cycle after cycle will not suffice."

[00:10:06] So Ron -- clearly that's the left wing sort of Bernie Sanders side of the Democratic Party. Not angry just about the loss but maybe seeing an opening here to change the direction of the Democrat Party.

BROWNSTEIN: And that is clearly going to be the argument and the debate in the Democratic Party because John Ossoff could not have been kind of more centrist in many ways. I was on "NEW DAY" this morning after him and there was kind of no edge to anything that he said.

I would kind of caution here about two things. First, you know, historically there just is not a clear relationship between the results in the elections and in the midterm that follows.

Do you remember the name Paul Hackett from 2005? He was kind of the Jon Ossoff of his day. He electrified Democrats. He ran a great race in the seat vacated by Rob Portman outside of Cincinnati that Portman had gotten 70 percent of the vote in 2004. He got to in 3 but the Republicans held him off and they thought they had kind of found the formula.

Then in 2006, they lost the House and in 2010 the reverse. The Democrats held with Mark Critz in a special election in Pennsylvania, the seat vacated by the John Murtha. And they thought they had figured out the formula to hold these blue collar seats. And in fact, when you got to the general in 2010, they got annihilated in those blue collar seats. So you've got to be cautious there.

And the other thing that I think this does affect the future Democratic debate is it's a reminder that the southern suburbs are different. This is a white collar, well-educated district and those are the kind of voters that generally Donald Trump is having trouble with. But you know what, in 2016 Hillary Clinton won only 28 percent of college-educated whites in Georgia, about half the level that she did in New York and Colorado and California.

And this is a reminder that those voters are more conservative. And what that means I think is that you can't count on simply sweeping those districts all the way across the board. There are places, as I said, in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Denver, Virginia that are more promising but Democrats are probably going to have to go beyond the white collar districts and that's where you go to the Jim Dean argument that you've got to find a way perhaps with economic populism to compete in some of these blue collar places where Trump has been the strongest.

WALKER: Yes. Very fair point there -- Ron. But when we talk about Handel and how effective her messaging was, I mean you were saying Seema that she didn't exactly embrace Trump even she was, you know, happy to take his fund raising efforts along with Mike Pence's. What does this say about President Trump's popularity especially when you see how she won with this message as well of saying look, I'm not the rubber stamp, you know, for the Trump administration.

MEHTA: I think this election was -- I mean it's a special election. And I just think it's so unique that can't necessarily tie it because she wasn't on Capitol Hill having to make votes on his agenda, on his legislation.

So I think when we go to 2018 you're going to have candidates who are running for reelection, I think some of them in California, who will have a clear record in terms of his agenda. If he remains as unpopular now, as he is in certain segments of the population, you know, that's not -- Democrats will be able to make a different case.

That said, you know, the midterms are what -- 16, 17 months away so I mean who know how -- you know, what is going to happen between now and then.

VAUSE: Caroline just talk about the battle within the party between, you know, the Nancy Pelosi sort of establishment wing of the party and the Bernie Sanders, the more progressive side of the party. Who wins that battle? Where is it heading?

HELDMAN: Well, I would very much disagree with the kind of left wing part of the Democratic Party that always have needed to run somehow further to the left. This is a fundamentally Republican district. He needed to run exactly that race.

And so this is where I think you see the Party kind of coming apart, right. You saw this during the primary with Clinton and Sanders. We're going to see a lot of these battles coming up.

It's the same battle actually that's happening in the Republican Party where you have the more, you know, the Tea Party winger, the Trump wing of the party fighting against the establishment. And at the end of the day it weakens both parties so both of them are going to have to figure out how to include that.

And I think they did during the 2016 presidential election because they took essentially Bernie Sanders' platform and put it as the Democratic platform. It was the most liberal platform we've ever seen. That was a good strategy, something the Republicans also need to do. WALKER: Well, obviously right now, the Republicans are in a strong position, right -- John. And, you know, I guess what does this mean for Trump's agenda, the Republicans' agenda especially as the Senate Republicans are trying to get this healthcare reform bill through, done with by the end of the month.

PHILLIPS: Stop talking about Russia? Russia was not an issue in this campaign at all, not raised by the Democrats, not raised by the Republicans. I'd move forward with building the wall. I'd move forward with tax reform. I'd move forward with healthcare reform. And I'd also keep in mind that all politics is local.

Handel ran a race that was tailored to this district. Jon Ossoff is a guy who worked for Al Jazeera and doesn't live in the district. That was never a match. That was a match where someone who lives in San Francisco like Nancy Pelosi would think ok, this guy fits the district. But it's not someone that would ever get elected in that district.

And Democrats continue to make that mistake over and over and over again. And if you look at the map of what Senate seats they're going to have to defend in the midterm elections, they're going to have to win in places like West Virginia, North Dakota, Indiana, Montana -- if that's your message with Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters as the face of your party -- good luck.

[00:15:01] VAUSE: And it was kind of striking how much Nancy Pelosi figured into this election from the Republican side as well.

We'd like everyone to stay with us. We will take a short break.

There's a lot more of our coverage to get to, including a closer look at the tens of millions of dollars which was poured into this election campaign. We will break down the money, we'll tell you where it came from, and how it was spent.


WALKER: Welcome back, everyone.

Recapping the closely-watched congressional race in Georgia, and CNN is projecting Republican Karen Handel as the winner over Democratic newcomer Jon Ossoff.

VAUSE: Handel won with the most tighter margin than her predecessor Tom Price. He's now the Secretary of Health and Human Services which is why they held this election in the first place. But the district remains in the red column just like it's been since the 1970s. And the outcome could give some comfort to Republicans facing midterm elections next year.

WALKER: Now Handel didn't say much about President Trump during her campaign but that changed at her victory rally.


[00:19:49] HANDEL: And a special thanks to the President of the United States of America.

CROWD: Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump --

HANDEL: But let's not forget our equally great Vice President Mike Pence --


WALKER: All right.

Back with us: Seema Mehta, a political writer for the "Los Angeles Times", and Democratic strategist Caroline Heldman.

VAUSE: Also CNN political commentator John Phillips and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein.

Let's just take a close look at the money because everyone's talking about how much money was spent on this race. These numbers are coming from the FEC and they're correct as of the end of last month so they're fairly right.

Jon Ossoff raised more than $23 million; Karen Handel almost $4.5 million. And for Ossoff the money reported from California and New York. It was a very different story though for Karen Handel. She really didn't get a lot of money from anywhere else apart from Georgia.

She did, however, manage to raise a lot of money from outside groups including one super PAC, $6 million from a super PAC as well. So, Ron -- if money talks then money here is saying everyone thought that this was a crucial race to win.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. It's -- well, it's also just a reminder of just how intense our politics are and the feeling now. And this became such a, you know, intensely-fought race simply because there weren't a lot of other ways for people to kind of express their passion.

Look, you know, I think what you have in this race in the end is kind of a reversion to the norm. And as John was saying before I think it is a reminder that even Republican voters, Republican-leaning voters who are ambivalent about Trump can be held by Republicans, I think, by making this less about him and more about kind of the underlying partisanship and which party do you want to control.

But it is worth noting I think above all, there was one poll out on Friday by one of the local pollsters. It put Trumps approval rating in the district at 50 percent. Karen Handel ran about 2.5 points ahead of that.

His approval rating in the district then is about 11, 12 maybe 14 points better than it is nationally. So that means that there are going to be places where the dynamic looks different. And I would point to the main intervening event between electoral event between now and next -- you know, the midterm election are going to be the governors elections in Virginia and New Jersey this fall where Donald Trump's approval rating in both states in the most recent poll is under 40 percent and the Republican gubernatorial candidates, as a result are polling in that range as well.

He is still a big shadow over this midterm election. But what this says is that it simply -- it has not collapsed on him in terrain that leans toward Republicans.

WALKER: And Seema when Ron Brownstein was talking reversions to the norm especially with this election, I mean does that pretty much mean that money is not always a good predictor of who will win and election? It sounds simplistic but a lot of times it's true.

MEHTA: Right. And let's not forget in California a couple of years ago, we had a governor's race where somebody spent $180 million and lost. So (inaudible) spent maybe a fifth of that amount. So no, money is not a determinant but it's always interesting and it's always better to have more money than less.

I think the Republicans did a really good job of pointing to where Jon Ossoff's money was coming from. So much of it was coming from out of state because it reinforced this idea that he is not one of us. And Republicans like to talk about San Francisco, Republicans like to talk about Nancy Pelosi and when he's getting, you know, six figures from San Francisco that was I think -- they did a nice job using that message against him.


VAUSE: And Caroline to you, I mean how damaging was that for Jon Ossoff in the end. I mean as Seema was saying the money's great, but it also turned into a political attack ad.

HELDMAN: Absolutely and he was very effectively painted as a carpet bagger. He did live right outside the district so that his girlfriend could attend medical school closer to that location. It was easy to do that because he really wasn't the kind of stock standard candidate which is why it was important for him to run to the center, to try to appeal to that.

But at the end of the day, I couldn't agree with Ron more that the fundamentals matter and that party matters. And if it's not about Trump, if those candidates ran away from Trump and made it not about him then they were able to effectively make it about party. And this is Republican district.

WALKER: John -- how much do attack ads matter though. I mean it got pretty nasty especially that ad that was condemned by both Democrats and Republicans where Jon Ossoff was basically linked to last week's shooting at the Republican congressional baseball practice? Do you think this ad actually helped Karen Handel? Or do you think most people didn't see it and it just kind of fell by the wayside?

PHILLIPS: Well, after the 2016 election, I don't think we're wilting flowers anymore. I think we're pretty much game for anything. And what happened in this race was child's play compared to what happened in the 2016 election.

On the point of the money, I think a lot of these donors from here in California would have been better off investing their money in "The Mummy" with Tom Cruise than giving their money to Jon Ossoff because they came up with nothing.

[00:24:53] And I point out too that in the midterm elections, the Democrats are going to be fighting in districts that are just as tough if not similar to this district where you have incumbent Republicans who won in 2016, a presidential election, by sometimes double digits and they're going to have to try pick them off -- I don't think that's going to happen.

VAUSE: Let's bring Ron in very quickly -- Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, real quick. John -- your point about incumbents is right. There is an incumbent advantage. On the other hand, if you look at Charlie Cook, my colleague their, you know, voting index are 75 Republican held districts that are more favorable to Democrats than this one even though it has those characteristics of those white collar voters who have been cooler toward Trump as I said.

This is a reminder. The southern suburbs are different. Hillary Clinton only won 28 percent of college whites. In Georgia Michelle Nunn didn't do much better in 2014. This is a tough nut to crack for Democrats and I think it points to them toward the reality that they're probably going to have to win in some blue collar -- more blue collar places as well. And that's where you get back to that argument that we talked about before, the internal Democratic argument about a more populous message.

PHILLIPS: Or all the districts in California that they say they're going to target which means they're going to have to --


BROWNSTEIN: Yes. And they're going to have to win -- they're going to have win those places.

PHILLIPS: -- Huntington Beach -- these are white collar districts where the incumbents won by double digits and that's a very tough pot.

MEHTA: On that point -- I mean Orange County though we elect great Democrats for the first time since the Great Depression in the presidential race. So I think Orange County is going to be fascinating to watch not just because, you know, I used to live there. It's not that far from here. There are four races that are going to be really interesting there.

But on the point of the money, also, you know, you have one race right now so you had all these donors focusing their energies, there are all these volunteers focusing their energies on one race. They're not going to have the luxury of doing that in 2016 on either side of the aisle. It's not a question whether we'll see.

And then lastly on that ad, the controversial ad you brought up. I think that was a small maybe (inaudible) reply on Fox News. So I think more political reporters and pundits aren't actual (ph) voters. VAUSE: And to that point Caroline -- I mean a lot of people who were

phoning in to the Georgia district 6, you know from out of state, from California. People weren't answering their phones. They said they had enough. They're being flooded with phone calls. And there was news on one of the channels in (inaudible) another news service to run all of the ads. There were so many ads it was ridiculous.

I mean this is not exactly, you know, a blueprint moving forward to the midterm.

HELMAN: No, it's not at all a blueprint moving forward. But the fact that the Democrats got so close and both sides were dumping money into this, right -- over $50 million combined -- that doesn't bode well for Republicans who know this was a very unusual race as you're pointing out. It is not the norm.

But it signals that there are going to be some big shifts in terms of Donald Trump and his coattails or negative coattails if you will in 2018.

The only reason that Ossoff got anywhere near this is because of Donald Trump, because his approval ratings are in the tank, right. It's 36 percent now with the latest poll. Two-thirds of Americans think that somebody on his team had something to do with Russia, two- thirds of Americans think he's not handling that well and he is now under investigation. So we can't disregard the fact that even though he didn't win, this does not look good for Republicans in 2018.

WALKER: I can say as someone who lives in Atlanta and having been inundated by all these ads I mean it was just excruciatingly painful to ever watch television. I think all of us will agree that the good thing is that that's over.

PHILLIPS: It's not worst than (inaudible) though. I remember --


PHILLIPS: I was in the middle of the desert and all I got was mariachi music and --


VAUSE: What's worse? I don't know.


WALKER: All right. We're going to take a short our panel.

We'll come back with more. We're going to focus more on the Russia investigation and the implications of that.

Stay with us.


[00:32:30] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: It is 9:32 here on the West Coast. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, I'm John Vause.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Amara Walker. Thanks so much for staying with us.

VAUSE: We are following breaking news out of the state of Georgia. CNN projecting Republican Karen Handel has won the special congressional election for the Sixth District. Democrats had hoped the young up start Jon Ossoff could deal the White House. It's first election defeat since President Trump took office.

WALKER: But Handel came out on top by about 4 percent. The race took on a huge national profile as a potential bell weather for the 2018 midterms. Both sides poured tens of millions into what became the most expensive House race ever.

VAUSE: Well, a lot more on that in a moment. But we now will report on the U.S. Senate investigators who are looking closer at potential financial ties between the Trump team and Russia, including the president's own business dealings with Russian interest.

WALKER: Plus, we have reason to doubt the president's hints of a possible White House taping system.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has the story.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, White House spokesman Sean Spicer still won't say if tapes of the president's conversation with former FBI director James Comey exist, but he continues to promise the president himself will answer the question.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has said that he will make an announcement on this. I expect it this week, and so when he's ready to make that announcement, we'll let you know.

SCHNEIDER: The House Intelligence Committee has demanded any tapes by Friday and the Senate Intelligence Committee is pledging to follow the money as part of its probe. Committee members just got word they'll get access to data from the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Unit as part of their investigation into possible collusion or financial ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

RON WYDEN, U.S. SENATE DEMOCRAT: I have long felt follow the money questions are right at the heart of our work in terms of telling the American people what has happened in our Democratic institutions.

SCHNEIDER: Meanwhile, Michael Flynn is facing even more fire from Congress. A pair of top House Democrats now digging into whether Flynn may have misled officials by omitting a trip to the Middle East from his security clearance form, where he worked to secure an energy deal between Russia and Saudi Arabia in the summer of 2015.

House members are demanding documents from Flynn about that trip, and another one in October 2015, which he disclosed but left out significant details.

Senate Judiciary Committee member Sheldon Whitehouse in an interview with Wolf speculated Flynn's silence so far means there could be a deal in the works.

[00:35:00] SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE MEMBER: All of our signals are suggesting that he's already cooperating with the FBI and may have been for some time.

SCHNEIDER: It's a possibility fired FBI Direct James Comey alluded to during his testimony, June 8th.

ANGUS KING, U.S. SENATE INDEPENDENT: Would closing out the Flynn investigation have impeded the overall Russian investigation?

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: No. Unlikely except to the extent -- there's always a possibility if you have a criminal case against someone and you bring it and squeeze them, flip them and they give you information about something else.

SCHNEIDER: But law enforcement sources had not indicated if Flynn is cooperating or not. House investigators don't know precisely when Flynn travel to the Middle East, but they cited discrepancy between this June 10th, 2015 testimony he gave to the foreign affairs committee.

MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: I just came from a trip, fairly extensive trip to the Middle East and this was one of the big issues that came up.

SCHNEIDER: And the fact he listed an August 2015 start date on the financial disclosure form he submitted after he was fired as national security advisor. Flynn's attorney declined to comment.

Reuters is reporting the FBI is also looking at Flynn's business partner, Bijan Kian in its inquiry of whether payments from foreign clients to Flynn's consulting company were lawful. Kian played a central role in Flynn's contract with the company controlled by a Turkish businessman that Flynn initially failed to disclose.

It's not clear whether Kian is a target of the criminal investigation or federal agents are trying to build a better understanding of how Flynn's company operated.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What do you want to get out of Bob Mueller tomorrow when you meet?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I'm not going to go into it.

SCHNEIDER: Special counsel Robert Mueller is expected to meet with senior members of the Senate judiciary committee and others on the Hill this week to make sure there are no conflicts between his investigation and their own probes.


WALKER: All right, back with us.

Our "L.A. Times" political writer Seema Mehta and Democratic strategist Caroline Heldman.

VAUSE: Also CNN political commentator John Phillips and CNN's senior political analyst Ron Brownstein.

Ron, let's start with you again. A lot obviously going on with the Russian investigation. But what do you see the significance of special counsel Robert Mueller's meeting with congressional leaders?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, certainly one of the question has been since he was appointed how they would establish their lanes so that nothing that the congressional investigation does interferes with his investigation, which is ultimately I think more consequential.

There is a logical division of responsibility in the sense that, you know, the intelligence committee is really best suited to explore the underlying questions of Russian interference in the election and the special counsel is best suited to deal with all of the criminal questions that arise over possible collusion and/or obstruction of justice. So that makes sense.

You know, in practice, it's sometimes been difficult to do this in the past when you think of the other investigations, but I would assume that's what the principle matter on the agenda would be for them.

WALKER: And, John, the investigation is moving full steam ahead obviously. And Mueller clearly expanding his investigation now to include possible collusion or Russian meddling into the election, but also if President Trump obstructed justice.

This has to be quite unnerving for the White House, would you say, especially with all these distractions. How can they get their agenda accomplished?

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think it should be, because all indications are they are cooperating with the investigations. And if you look at this Georgia election that we've been talking about so much tonight, it was not an issue in the campaign. Voters in Georgia didn't care.

And the Democratic nominee, Jon Ossoff, didn't bring it up. He wasn't campaigning on the subject. And it isn't because they didn't test it. It isn't because they didn't look into whether or not that would be an effective tool against the Republican candidate. I'm sure they explored it and they decided there wasn't anything there.

VAUSE: OK. You talked about, you know, obviously voters and Georgia's 6th Congressional District in care.

There was a new poll out from CBS that shows the president's approval rating is at its lowest ever at 36 percent. But what is interesting is what within those numbers. And in particular, there is overwhelming disapproval of the way the president is dealing with the Russian investigation. Among anything else, that has been the biggest drag on his support and his approval.

So, you know, as you said, they may not care about the Russia investigation in Georgia, but they care on how they do in other parts of the country. So how do you explain the difference here?

CAROLINE HELDMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I actually think it's a residue, right? So we also know from 5:38's analysis that Democrats are favored in general, a generic candidate running for the House is favored at 7 percent.

So I think that's where you see it. It's a general sentiment, where you are not trusting the party in the White House and that actually has an effect on elections, even though -- and I think it probably had an effect on this election.

Again, 20 points is what Tom Price won by last time. There is no way he should have gotten this close. So I don't think that it is -- Republicans can say this doesn't matter.

Kind of like Hillary Clinton's e-mail scandal. Early on, people didn't matter. But now we have the president of the United States being investigated for potential obstruction of justice. This is not something that's going to go away overnight, and it's not something that the Republicans can run away from.

In fact, they really need to be concern about 2018, because the moment at which the Democrats take the House of Representatives will be the moment at which they start impeachments proceedings, which 43 percent of Americans want at this moment in time.

WALKER: Let's go back to Georgia's special elections, Zima, why didn't -- as John was pointing out, why didn't Jon Ossoff bring up Russia and, you know, be more aggressive when it came to --


SEEMA MEHTA, POLITICAL WRITER, LOS ANGELES TIMES: As we discussed earlier, Donald Trump is more popular in this district than he is in the country as a whole.

So I wonder, I would like to see what those poll numbers on Russia looked like in this district.

But, also, this investigation, obviously, it's nowhere close to done. There's been a lot of smoke, there's been a lot of allegations -- the contacts, the meetings, you know, potential financial ties. We don't know where it's going yet. So I think, you know, depending on what happens in these three plus investigations, you know, we could be in a whole new different place next year.

I mean, either I ran to be totally cleared or you know either (INAUDIBLE), we just really don't know. But I also think with some of the members of Congress we are running in 2018, they have different ties with Russia where this could be brought up in different ways.

For example, Dana Rohrabacher, who is running in Orange County. Kevin McCarthy, House majority leader, was caught behind closed doors joking that he believe there are two politicians that Putin pays -- Dana Rohrabacher and Donald Trump.

You know, he said it was a joke, but, I mean, his ties to Russia, I think will be examined more closely than perhaps some other people's ties with Russia.

VAUSE: Ron, a closer look at this two. It seems that while, you know, the Russia issue is dragging on Trump's poll numbers, it -- many Republicans, in fact, a majority of Republicans don't see this as being a significant issue.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Well, look, our politics have become deeply, deeply troubled. And what is striking is how much of the Trump coalition views any questioning of him as a questioning of them, you know.

The idea that he is their voice, particularly a lot of these blue- collar, non-urban, older, white voters who have felt kind of marginalized economically, culturally, politically, they view him as their champion. And to the extent, he is being pushed on to defense. They view it as an attempt to kind of marginalize them.

But, you know, the numbers don't lie. That is not the majority of the country. And, yes, I go back to my point from before. If you look at the polling in this district that came out last Friday, Trump was at about 50 percent in this district. That's about where Karen Handel ran, and the final numbers are coming out now. She's down to about under 52 percent.

If that is the case and the history of recent House elections is somewhere around 85 percent of the people approve that president vote for his party's candidate in the House, then 85 percent of the people who disapprove vote against his party's candidate, if that holds up as you move into less Republican leading terrain than the four, you know, big special elections we've had so far, the environment will get more challenging. And the place for that will probably play out first will be in these governor's races in November in New Jersey and Virginia.

VAUSE: OK. Good time for a break. Thank you, panel.

We'll be back in a moment. We'll have more on the story out of Brussels. Soldiers shooting dead a man suspected of carrying out a terrorist attack. We'll have details on what witnesses heard the man yell before setting off his explosives.

WALKER: Also outrage is growing over the death of an American student who returned from North Korea in a coma. Now the U.S. is weighing its options for possible retaliation. Stay with us. Back in a few minutes.


[00:47:20] WALKER: Hello, everyone. Recapping our top story.

Republican Karen Handel is celebrating a hard fought win in Georgia's sixth congressional district. CNN projects Handel the winner over Democrat Jon Ossoff, but the win is by a smaller margin than usual in the long-time Republican stronghold.

VAUSE: The 30-year-old Democratic newcomer appeal to voter who (INAUDIBLE) to President Trump. The campaign drew national attention, but relentless ads linking him to Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi appeared effective among other things in holding him back.

WALKER: And in other news that we are following. Belgian soldier shot and killed a man suspected of trying to bomb the Brussels's central station. No word on the identity of the suspect. But authorities are treating this as a terrorist attack.

VAUSE: No one was injured and witnesses say the suspect yelled Islamist slogans before setting off at least one small explosion in an underground area of the crowded station.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): When I walked down the platform, there was a man screaming, screaming and screaming. He was talking about Jihadist and things like that. At some point, he screamed "Allahu Akbar" and detonated the small suitcase he was holding next to him. Then people started to escape.


VAUSE: Officials have not confirmed if the suspect yelled "Allahu Akbar" or God is great.

WALKER: All right. Back to the U.S. where there is growing pressure on the Trump administration's to take action against North Korea after the death of an American student. Otto Warmbier died on Monday, less than a week after returning home in a come coma. The 22-year-old was detained in North Korea for 17 months for so-called hostile acts against the country.

President Donald Trump met with the Ukrainian president, Tuesday, and expressed his outrage over Warmbier's death. He also appeared to point fingers at the Obama administration.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a total disgraced what happened to Otto, and should never, ever be allowed to happen. And, frankly, if he were brought home sooner, I think the result would have been a lot different.


VAUSE: Since taking office, Mr. Trump has tried to persuade China to put pressure on Pyongyang over its nuclear program. He tweeted on Tuesday, "While I greatly appreciate the effort that President Xi and China to help with North Korea, it has not worked. At least I know China tried."

It wasn't exactly clear what Mr. Trump meant by the tweet. Even members of his own administration seem confused.

WALKER: A warning now, the police video you are about to watch in our next report is quite graphic. It's just been released and shows the chilling moments leading up to the fatal shooting last year of Philando Castile.

VAUSE: A jury in Minnesota found Officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty last week in Castile's death. Until now only those involved directly in the case had seen the police dash cam video.


JERONIMO YANEZ, MINNESOTA POLICE OFFICER: The reason I pulled you over, your brake lights are out so you only have one active brake light and that's going to be our passenger side one. Your third brake light and on this one back here, it's going to be out. Do you have your license and insurance?

CASTILE: Sir, I have to tell you, I do have a firearm on me.

YANEZ: OK. OK. Don't reach for it then. Don't pull it out.

CASTILE: I'm not pulling it out.

REYNOLDS: He's not pulling it out.

YANEZ: Don't pull it out.





YANEZ: Don't pull it out! Don't move!



WALKER: Gosh, it really is very difficult to watch. This incident ignited nationwide protests after Castile's girlfriend streamed the shooting's aftermath on Facebook live last year.

More protest took place after Yanez was found not guilty.

VAUSE: He testified he fired his weapon in self defense because he thought Castile was reaching for his gun. The police department now says it's best if he leaves the force and says he will not be returning to active duty.

WALKER: Time to take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to get back to our breaking news. Just ahead, Republican Karen Handel scoring a win in Georgia's special election. We're going to check the numbers -- next.


[00:55:00] VAUSE: 09:55 here in Los Angeles. Our breaking news this hour U.S. President Donald Trump claiming a victory in Georgia's special congressional election.

Republican Karen Handel beat Democrat Jon Ossoff in what many saw as a test for Donald Trump's presidency.

Handel will take over seat vacated by the now health secretary Tom Price.

WALKER: All right, let's check out the latest numbers with 99 percent of the vote in Handel has 52.7 percent while Ossoff has 47.3 percent.

VAUSE: Close at what Democrats were looking at. Same when Tom Price held the seat by about more than 20 points. The Republicans looking at and saying, well, Donald Trump held that district by just 1.5 percent.

So it's a win depending on where you look at it.

WALKER: Quite the difference in the popularity.

Yes. Well, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Amara Walker.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Stay with us. We'll be back with a lot more of our breaking news right after this.