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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Did FBI Hide Trump-Russia Investigation From Public?; Senate Report: Russia Wanted to Help Trump in 2016 Election; Senate Panel Breaks with House on Russia Meddling. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 16, 2018 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:11]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are going to begin with some breaking news from "The New York Times" about the Russia investigation and President Trump and his team.

It's a remarkable new look at how the FBI handled the earliest days of their investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. This revealing report coming as we're also getting new concrete details into another key part of that investigation. Of course, that would be the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Russians connected to Putin and Russian oligarchs.

But we begin with those new details from "The New York Times" breaking now, in which we learned that the original investigation had a secret code name, Crossfire Hurricane, a nod to the Rolling Stones' lyric from "Jumpin' Jack Flash."

"The Times" reports that the agents were afraid of leaks, so much so, they kept details secret from the Justice Department. Only five officials at DOJ knew the whole story.

"The facts, had they surfaced, might have devastated the Trump campaign. Mr. Trump's national security adviser was under investigation, as was his campaign chairman. One Trump adviser appeared to have Russian intelligence contacts. Another was suspected of being a Russian agent himself" -- unquote.

This comes, of course, in stark contrast with the way the Hillary Clinton e-mail case was being handled, with a public press conference from now former FBI Director James Comey and a public announcement that the case was being reopened a week-and-a-half before Election Day.

However, when it came to the Trump investigation, "The Times" writes -- quote -- "The FBI was even more circumspect in that case than has been previously known. Agents considered, then rejecting interviewing key Trump associates, which might have sped up the investigation, but risked revealing the existence of the case. Top officials quickly became convinced that they would not solve the case before Election Day, which made them only more hesitant to act" -- unquote.

"The Times" reports that the FBI was investigating specifically Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. Each was scrutinized, "The Times" writes, because of his obvious or suspected Russian ties.

Joining me now on the phone is Adam Goldman. He's one of the "New York Times" reporters who broke the story.

Adam, thanks for joining us.

What is the most surprising, if not shocking thing you learned in the midst of reporting this?

ADAM GOLDMAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think the most shocking thing I learned is that FBI agents after they opened the investigation actually traveled to London and got an Australian diplomat to sit down and do an interview with FBI agents.

I mean, it was extraordinary. And they took that information and they memorialized it and they used it as evidence in this investigation, something that -- something that Devin Nunes has said doesn't exist, evidence.

TAPPER: And this is the Australian diplomat who had drinks with George Papadopoulos in which Papadopoulos allegedly said that he had been told about this dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Tell us more also about this government informant who met with both Papadopoulos and a different Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.

GOLDMAN: Well, there was an individual who had ties to the FBI who was asked after the investigation opened to make contact with Papadopoulos and who also had frequent contact with Carter Page repeatedly through the -- throughout 2017 in the Virginia metro area.

TAPPER: And President Trump, as you note, he constantly derides the Mueller investigation as a witch-hunt. But, in fact, we see in the early months of Operation Crossfire Hurricane, people weren't eager to do this. The FBI officials were skeptical and very secretive, and when reporters asked the investigation, the FBI kind of threw them off the chase.

GOLDMAN: Yes, that is true.

And I think we were somewhat transparent in our reporting which said we had actually contacted FBI officials, and they were reluctant to provide any information. And in every turn, they could have leaked information that could have been devastating to the president of the United States, Donald Trump. But they didn't.

TAPPER: All right, great reporting. Thank you so much for joining us, Adam Goldman. Appreciate it. Back to the details of that mysterious June 2016 Trump Tower meeting

between Russians and campaign insiders that has become a focal point of the Russia investigation. The thousands of pages of testimony from Donald Trump Jr. and others in the room were released today by the Senate Judiciary Committee revealing a discernible eagerness by top Trump campaign advisers to get their hands on potentially compromising information about the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.

CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, now walks us through all these new details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Senate Judiciary Committee transcripts make clear that at the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians, Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. was expecting the Russians to supply dirt on Hillary Clinton.

This is despite President Trump, his son and others repeatedly claiming otherwise.

[16:05:02]

A Russian lobbyist present for the meeting told senators that Donald Trump Jr. -- quote -- "was definitely in charge" and after some small talk, began by saying something to the effect of, "So you have some information for us."

In his own testimony, Donald Trump Jr. admitted that he was -- quote -- "interested in listening to information about Hillary Clinton," adding -- quote -- "I had no way of assessing where it came from, but I was willing to listen."

This is a direct contradiction of the blatantly misleading story put out by the White House and Donald Trump Jr. claiming the meeting was about adoptions. Those interviewed say, however, that the Russians did not deliver the promised dirt and instead focused on interest in removing U.S. sanctions on some Russians.

Rob Goldstone, a British publicist who was in the room and helped arrange the meeting, says the focus of the discussion began to -- quote -- "infuriate" Jared Kushner. After a few minutes of this labored presentation, Goldstone said, "Jared Kushner, who was sitting next to me, appeared somewhat agitated by this and said, 'I really have no idea what you're talking about.'"

Don Jr. testified the meeting lasted 20 to 30 minutes and at the conclusion Goldstone apologized to him -- quote -- "for what he believed was wasting our time." Donald Jr. said he believed there to be a -- quote -- "pretty substantial delta" between the meeting's original purpose and what actually took place.

Asked if he informed his father about the meeting and the Russians' offer to supply dirt on Clinton, Don Jr. repeatedly said he did not, explaining that he -- quote -- "wouldn't bring him anything that is unsubstantiated, especially from a guy like Rob, before I knew what it was actually about myself."

However, shortly after arranging the meeting, Don Jr. made an 11- minute phone call to a blocked number. Asked if he remembers who that call was with, Trump Jr. said, "I don't."

Democrats note, however, that former Trump campaign aide Corey Lewandowski testified that candidate Trump's primary residence has a blocked number. A full year later, after "The New York Times" first broke the existence of the meeting, the White House initially claimed the meeting was primarily about adoptions, an explanation disproved when e-mail surfaced showing that Don Jr. accepted the meeting on the premise the Russians were bringing the expected dirt on Clinton.

In his testimony, Don Jr. said he did not know that his father was involved in drafting the initial misleading statement. "I never spoke to any father about it," he said, but the White House acknowledged that the president himself took part in crafting the misleading response.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Now, this Trump Tower meeting goes to two open lines of inquiry in Robert Mueller's investigation, both the question of what was discussed at that meeting.

Does that constitute perhaps a conspiracy, not the collusion, but conspiracy with Russia to influence the campaign?

And, Jake, of course, on the other question of obstruction of justice, because crafting that message of interest there, because were they trying to mislead, not just the American public, but mislead investigators as to the true function of that meeting?

TAPPER: All right, Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

Let's talk it all over with my panel right now.

Angela Rye, let me start with you.

Those close to the president say this was nothing but an attempt at opposition research and it didn't even go anywhere. It was a giant waste of time. I suspect you disagree.

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I disagree just a little bit.

But I think the bigger flag for me in this particular piece is the ways in which they were attempting to close out the Hillary Clinton investigation, but James Comey stepped forward saying that there were these damaging e-mails. Those e-mails ended up being Anthony Weiner's.

They are ramping up this Russia investigation for Donald Trump 100 days before the election, and there was no mention of it. So, we heard this term kompromat, right, for several -- for several months after the election, that there was somebody in the camp. Who would have known that it could have involved the FBI, that it could have involved the Department of Justice? So when we talk about compromising American democracy, some of our key institutions were a part of that. They withheld substantial information, critical information to the American people, even if the investigation wasn't solved.

It still isn't, right? There are some key facts that should have been presented. They were afraid of Donald Trump bullying them. That is essentially what this piece says.

So, we allowed someone who bullied throughout the election and before the election, and before the campaign even started, to bully the Department of Justice and the FBI. That is why they withheld this information.

TAPPER: David, I want to read you an exchange that caught my attention.

Donald Trump Jr. in these documents released, the transcripts released by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Donald Trump Jr. is asked about his response to the offer of damaging information about Hillary Clinton coming from the Russian government in support of his dad.

Question: "Were you surprised when you read that offer?"

Trump Jr.: "As I said, I wasn't sure what to make of it."

Question: "Did it alarm you in any way?"

Trump Jr.: "I don't know that it alarmed me, but like I said, I don't know and I don't know that I was all that focused on it at the time."

Question: "And what about the thing that says it is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." That's in a separate e-mail. "Did you also love that?"

[16:10:03]

That is a reference to the, "If it's what you say, I love it."

Trump Jr.: "I don't know. I don't recall."

Question, do you understand that would be problematic and Trump

Question: "Did you understand that would be problematic?"

Trump Jr.: "I didn't think that listening to someone with information relevant to the fitness and character of a presidential candidate would be an issue. No."

Question: ""Were you surprised when you read that offer?"

Trump Jr.: "As I said, I wasn't sure what to make of it."

"Did it alarm you in any way?" "I don't know that it alarmed me."

So, I mean, I guess the question is, do you think he's being forthcoming?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure. Absolutely I do.

TAPPER: You do?

URBAN: Yes.

Look, we're all looking at this and viewing this through the lens, right, of today vs. the lens of June or -- of that year. Right?

During that time period, I will tell you, I worked on the campaign, the campaign was worried about a floor flight at the convention. The campaign was not worried or even cognizant of anything to do with the Russians.

So, I business believe Don Jr., yes.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think there is three big questions that come out of reading the Don Jr. transcript.

First of all, let's just put it on the table. He was seeking information from the Clinton campaign -- no one -- about the Clinton campaign. No one denies that. But there is three problems.

He claimed he has no idea who people who were meeting, what they were trying to do. He said he didn't vet them, didn't know who was coming to the meeting, absolutely no controls.

I don't know if I fully believe that. He needs to explain that more. The second thing, he said they kept talking about the Magnitsky Act and sanctions. He said he never knew what that meant. He had no idea about that. That needs more explanation.

But, lastly, he says that he never had any conversations with his father about that. I don't find that believable.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: You don't buy it that he didn't...

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: Knowing what a micromanager Donald Trump is, and how closely he monitors his staff, is it believable that there was a Trump Tower meeting with Donald Jr., with Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump had no knowledge of it? OK, that needs to be aired out.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: But there's lots of meeting. This is a campaign. You know how many meetings take place in a day? You have been in campaigns. (CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But with people from the Russian government?

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: Don Jr. testifies that they were seeking a deal for Trump Tower in Moscow in late 2015 and even early 2016.

So these are people that they had been talking to. When you look at timeline of how many contacts there were, it is clear that the Russians were trying to penetrate that campaign over and over again.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Donald Trump Jr. says he would not tell him about this -- his dad about this because the information was -- quote -- "unsubstantiated" information and he would never bring that to his dad.

I just want to remind you that one of the president's former big top advisers, who has since been fired, Bannon, Steve Bannon, said in Michael Wolff's book, "The chance that Don Jr. did not walk these jumos" -- I guess that is a reference to the Russians -- "up to the his father's office on the 26th floor is zero."

Now...

URBAN: I disagree with Steve on that. We will part ways. I do agree with Angela Rye, in that this investigation has been botched since day one. Right?

RYE: That is not what I said.

URBAN: Sure you did.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: They undermined Hillary. And...

RYE: Oh, you agree that they undermined Hillary?

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: I said I agree with this, that the FBI has botched it since day one.

(CROSSTALK)

RYE: I didn't say that they botched the investigation. What I said is, they botched the election. And I'm saying the reason that...

(CROSSTALK)

RYE: No, no, no, the reason that they came out is to make sure that they -- that hands were clean about Hillary Clinton, but then they withheld for 100 days from the American people that this investigation was ongoing.

They forgot to tell us that there were four people critical to the president right in his inner circle being investigated.

URBAN: Well, how is that not botched, though?

RYE: Because they didn't botch this investigation. They botched the election for us. They compromised our democracy.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: I think where you are on solid ground is the fact that they were intimidated by Trump.

URBAN: Come on.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: They were worried that if they let any information out, it would boost his case that election was rigged.

(CROSSTALK)

RYE: But, Amanda, it is -- the concept that it was rigged against them is -- at this point, it just semantics, because I'm saying that they botched a key component of the election. They created another pathway for Russia to interfere.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: Well, I'm not sure the FBI should come out and let everyone know every time an investigation is opened.

I do agree with James Comey when he said, we will let the people know once the investigation is closed and what our thoughts on that were. To go to the public, any candidate agents are looking into him, that would mess up elections all over the place.

(CROSSTALK)

RYE: I think that point was the comparison between Hillary Clinton non-mails, because they were Anthony Weiner's, right, which is where I started.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: The consequential one, that James Comey -- the press conference in July of 2016 where he said the investigation is closed and she's guilty of extreme carelessness.

And then you're talking about his announcement in two weeks before the election.

(CROSSTALK)

RYE: That wasn't the point I was raising. The point that I was raising is, there was an open investigation

against Trump and his inner circle 100 days before the election. That is when it was initiated. Two weeks before the election, they are talking about something with Hillary that was not Hillary. That's the issue.

TAPPER: David, I want to just ask you.

Operation Crossfire Hurricane, they were looking into top Trump associates during -- during the campaign. You were in Pennsylvania a great deal.

[16:15:04]

URBAN: Sure.

TAPPER: No one has ever alleged anything about you. Did you have any suspicion or wonder about the individuals, Paul Manafort or Carter Page?

URBAN: No.

TAPPER: Or Michael Flynn? No?

URBAN: Never heard of Carter Page.

TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: Ever.

General Flynn I think I met briefly at a rally in Pennsylvania, the Union League at a defense -- a speech. Papadopoulos, never heard of him. And Paul Manafort, obviously, yes.

But, no, had zero suspicion whatsoever. Again, we're running a campaign day in and day out. You've been on a campaign, you guys have been on campaigns --

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But campaigns have controls. You don't let anybody walk up to Trump Tower and shop information that are suspicious.

URBAN: But I'm saying, that's not where I was. I'm talking about on the ground. Jake asked the question on the ground on a day to day basis. No.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We want to keep this panel going in the next block.

Coming up, did Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee just throwing their House colleagues under the bus when it comes to the Russia investigation?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:20:17] TAPPER: This afternoon, the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee led by Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina said clearly and decisively that the Russians wanted to help President Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton when they interfered in the 2016 presidential election as ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju joins us now from Capitol Hill.

Manu, Senator Burr backing up the intelligence community and breaking with his House counterparts.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it. The House Intelligence Committee Republicans are increasingly isolated in their view disputing central assertion of that intelligence community's assessment that Vladimir Putin orchestrated a campaign in 2016 with the express intention of electing Donald Trump president.

Now, Richard Burr, the chairman of the committee, issued a statement, along with Mark Warner, essentially backing up the intelligence committee's finding, saying in his statement, we see no reason to dispute the conclusions of the 2017 assessment. And, Jake, I talked to a number of other top Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee, John Cornyn, as well as Senator James Lankford, Senator Collins of Maine, all of them said that they agreed with the intelligence committee's assessment at this point.

But at the same time, House Republicans on that committee, Jake, today are still standing by their assertion disputing the key premise, but it seems like they are alone in that view for now, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Manu, the Senate Judiciary Committee released thousands of pages of transcripts about the Trump Tower meeting and apparently Democrats are still not happy. Why not?

RAJU: Yes, that's right. They say that they're not enough has been investigated. Just five of those eight participants actually were interviewed by this committee, one of the three people who were not interviewed was Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, as well as the -- Donald Trump Jr. did not turn over a number of key documents over to the committee, including how the 2017 statement from the White House was put together disputing -- that misleading about what the meeting was initially about.

Now when I talked to Democrats about it, they said there is more to look into.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: My impression from watching Donald Trump Jr. in that meeting is that he abated and contradicted himself in many of his answers. I have no confidence that he has told the whole truth. SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: I'm deeply disappointed that the

Judiciary Committee on a bipartisan basis did not issue relevant subpoenas. I think we are retreating from the field, not asking obvious questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: And one of those obvious questions that Democrats say they want answers is whether there are any communications between President Trump and Donald Trump Jr. ahead of that 2016 meeting. There was one phone call that occurred, that that number was blocked out and it's uncertain if that was President Donald Trump. Donald Trump Jr. insisted he didn't have any communications, but, Jake, he would not -- did not know for sure if that phone communication was with his father -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Let's talk about the phone call with the panel.

So, Trump Jr. made a 11-minute phone call that was blocked after he got off the phone with Amin Agalarov about setting up that meeting with the Russian government lawyer. Trump Jr. testified he didn't remember who he called during that 11-minute call. Cory Lewandowski, separately, as Democrats point out, said that President Trump's home number in Trump Tower was a blocked number. A lot of people have blocked numbers. So, it doesn't necessarily mean anything.

Asked if his dad has a blocked number, Donald Trump Jr. said he didn't know, which is interesting thing to say about your dad's phone number.

Do you find this credible?

CARPENTER: No. I just don't, because I think this meeting had significance and I think Donald Trump is a micro manager and I think these people were in very close communication. In this transcript, Don Jr. also testified he called two other blocked numbers and revealed, that yes, those were Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner. So that leaves one more open.

I believe investigators know who that number would be and gave him the chance to say who he spoke with. And that will be revealed, I believe that Don Jr. will have to go before a Senate hearing at some point because there are so many contradictions, so many unanswered questions and this is going to have to get back to Jared Kushner at some point. He was in that meeting.

And the thing that was most stunning about the transcripts was how Don Jr. revealed there is absolutely no fire wall between the campaign and the Trump Organization. Everything was completely mixed together. And so, this investigation is most certainly going into the Trump organization, and Jared Kushner was another person who had one foot in the campaign and one foot in the business.

TAPPER: Angela, do you think this is a winning strategy for the Democrats to focus on these hearings as opposed to other issues, you know, the Rust Belt and jobs and health care. It doesn't seem clear to me that even if this -- it's important to investigative this, that when it comes to the midterms and 2020, this is really going to bear Democrats any fruit.

[16:25:06] ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, Jake, what's so challenging is -- I don't think that I have personally even shaken the trauma associated with the 2016 election. So, there is something about gaslighting that just makes you want to get to the bottom of the thing --

CARPENTER: I could tell you more about that.

TAPPER: She has a book about gaslighting.

RYE: Shameless plug and I'm glad you took that opportunity. It is a good one.

I think that my reality is from garnering more supports for an agenda, no, it does absolutely anything. But I think it is inherent for what has to happen from a historical standpoint, for protecting a democracy that still has -- still has a long way to go to be representative of all people in this country, they have to get to the bottom of it. I hope that Democrats will learn to walk and chew gum at the same time because it's imperative. Not just for this election.

TAPPER: And I want read some more from the Donald Trump Jr. testimony because I mean -- I do think there are some credibility issues in terms of what you believe. Here is an excerpt question.

"The Washington Post" has since reported that your farther was involved in drafting your July 8th meeting, is that correct? That's the statement that was false, explaining that Russia meeting, the Trump Tower meeting.

Trump Jr., I don't know. This is about, is it correct that the dad was involved. I don't know. I never spoke to my father about it.

Question, to the best of your knowledge, did the president provide any edits to the statement or other input? Trump Jr., he may have commented through Hope Hicks. Question, and do you know if his comments provided through Hope Hicks were incorporated into the final statement? Trump Jr., I believe some may have been but this was an effort through lots of people, mostly counsel.

Question, did you ask him to provide any assistance with the statement? Answer, no. She asked if I wanted to speak with him and I chose not to because I didn't want to bring him into something he had nothing to do with.

The idea that he doesn't know if his dad was involved in drafting that statement and that he never spoke to his father about it, I don't know that I find that credible.

URBAN: Again, I believe Don Jr. in this case. There is a lot of lawyers and layers and people. Hope was a fixture at the president's side and other folks were during the campaign. So, what Don said I believe is a completely credible scenario.

CARPENTER: Could we rewind just a second?

URBAN: Yes.

CARPENTER: Because the Trump -- that statement, the first statement drafted was a lie.

TAPPER: A lie. Yes, that the Trump Tower meeting was about adoption.

RYE: Yes.

CARPENTER: Because it was a lie. And Don Jr. was asked about that in the transcripts and the best explanation that he could come up with about why they lied is that he said -- well, I was asked if I ever met Russian officials and so he tried to draw a distinction between Russian officials and Russian people, which isn't really credible. And so, there is just so many questions about why did you lie that aren't answered.

RYE: Well, it's also an issue because this is an administration that coined the term alternative facts.

TAPPER: Right.

RYE: This is an administration that regularly calls real news fake news. Donald Trump Jr. has been a part of that. So, that also goes to credibility.

URBAN: I think, look, I think he's trying to be technical and precise there. Russian officials, listen, it's a legal proceeding. The guy doesn't want to get in trouble.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

The White House is scrambling to respond after North Korea is apparently backing away from the upcoming nuclear summit with President Trump. What is President Trump's next move.

Stay with us.

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