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AT THIS HOUR
Trump Repeats Unproven Claim Of FBI "Spy" In Campaign; NYT: Cohen Business Partner To Work With Government In Plea Deal; Justice Department To Brief GOP Lawmakers On FBI Source; U.S. Employee In China Injured After Possible Sonic Attack; Pelosi Says She'll Run For House Speaker If Dems Win. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired May 23, 2018 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan right starts now.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: That was awesome. Congratulations, guys. Best highlight reel ever. Congratulations, John. Now we get three hours and not just two of JB. We will all be captivated as always and now to the news.
Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. As the sun came up, Donald Trump threw down. Remember, the big caveat of yesterday, if there was a spy in the Trump campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: If they had spies in my campaign that would be a disgrace to this country and it would be very illegal aside from everything else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: That big if today is gone with tweets like these, "The spy was there in the early -- in early in the campaign and they go after phony collusion with Russia, a made-up scam and may end up getting caught in a major spy scandal." The president going as far to give the story a name, "Spygate."
CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House following all of this. So, Kaitlan, what's behind this change, if you will? Now declaratively saying that there was a spy on his team?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, there has been quite a change from what the president has been saying over the last few days and to what he has been tweeting today. He went from saying this could be an allegation saying it was possible that his campaign was spied on by the FBI to today stating it as a fact even though multiple officials have told CNN that there was no spy planted into the Trump campaign.
Instead, was there an FBI intelligence source, a confidential intelligence source starting their investigation into Russian interference in the election. Now the president said that this morning essentially stating it as fact.
His deputy press secretary was on television a few moments later after he tweeted that and he would even go as to far as to state it as a fact and instead of using qualifiers saying if this happened, if this is true, if this is proven, potential spying.
Still not going so far to say that it actually did happen. Of course, intelligence officials do disagree with that and so does one major former law enforcement official and that is the former FBI Director James Comey, who quickly tweeted back at the president this morning saying that facts matter.
And the FBI's use of confidential human sources is tightly regulated and essential to protecting the country. James Comey said attack from the FBI and lying about its work will do lasting damage to our country.
So, see James Comey saying that there are, of course, James Comey has often been a critic of the president's, but even a former Trump campaign aide, Carter Page, who spoke with this intelligence source wouldn't go as far last night during an interview with Anderson Cooper to say that this person was a spy.
He wouldn't use that term and he wouldn't make an accusation like that without hard facts. So far, Kate, it seems to be only the president saying that this was a spy from the FBI who spied on this campaign.
Of course, all of that going on as we are preparing for this meeting tomorrow between congressional leaders and top law enforcement officials to go over documents related to the Russia investigation.
That certainly has been a big fight between the two of them and something the White House has been between and now White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has brokered this meeting between Devin Nunes and Trey Gowdy, and top law enforcement officials that's going to take place tomorrow.
But that meeting is getting a lot of criticism even though it hasn't happened yet because no Democrats have been invited to attend that meeting. Now, the White House justified that by saying that they weren't interested in being in that meeting.
They didn't express any interest in these documents that Devin Nunes certainly has. But I should note that on Monday Chuck Schumer said that if there's going to be any meeting like this it should be bipartisan -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: There you have it, at least for the moment. Great to see you, Kaitlan. Thanks so much.
So, while the president is dealing with that, Trump's personal attorney is dealing with a new headache of his own this morning and his name is Gene Friedman, the so-called "Taxi King" of New York.
He's a business partner of Michael Cohen's and the "New York Times" reports that Friedman has struck a plea deal with the New York attorney general to cooperate as a possible witness and that could pressure Cohen to seek a deal of his own with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
So, CNN's Brynn Gingras is here with much more. So, you Have What "The New York Times" is reporting, what is Michael Cohen saying about all of this?
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, were they friends, were they not friends? That's the big question here.
BOLDUAN: That's where it starts.
GINGRAS: He calls Michael Cohen a dear friend and his client. Evgeny or Gene as he goes by, Friedman pled guilty to tax fraud yesterday as Kate said. The Russian immigrant dubbed the "taxi king" who is facing a lot of jail time here for failing to pay $5 million in MTA surcharges to New York state for the taxi empire he runs.
Now, as Kate said again, in exchange for this guilty plea. he will be placed on probation, and he has to pay the money back and according to the "New York Times" will help state and federal authorities with their cases.
Now Friedman at one point managed roughly 800 medallions in New York City and that's what gives taxis here value. He managed a fleet for Michael Cohen. The two have known each other a long time.
[11:05:04] They were business partners and it would appear, investigators hope Friedman has insight into Cohen's business practices, which, of course, is the basis of the DOJ's current investigation.
And Friedman's guilty plea also comes just days after news broke that Jeffrey Yohai, the son-in-law of former Trump campaign chief, Paul Manafort, has reached his own agreement, so we are seeing a domino effect.
The big question which has always been is if Cohen if he's charged by New York's Southern District, will he provide useful information to the special counsel's investigation. Michael Cohen seems to be distancing himself from all of this news of this plea deal and from Friedman.
This morning he tweeted this, quote, "I am one of thousands of medallion owners who entrust management companies to operate medallions according to the rules of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.
Gene Friedman and I are not partners and have never been partners in this case or any other." So, there you have it, Kate. That's why there are differing stories on what exactly will happen, but I'm sure investigators will get to the bottom of it.
BOLDUAN: They at least know and maybe we'll find out along the way. Great to see you, Brynn. Thank you so much. All right. Joining me now to discuss is Shan Wu, a former federal prosecutor, a defense attorney who was representing -- a former federal prosecutor who was representing Rick Gates at one point, the Trump campaign aide, who has struck a deal in the Russia investigation, and also CNN Politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cilizza.
Chris, first to you, Sarah Sanders, let's first talk about the meeting that is happening tomorrow. Sarah Sanders says the Democrats aren't invited to the meeting because they didn't ask for it, they didn't ask for the information. Does she have a point?
CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: You said you didn't want to come to the party. Does she have a point? Well, I think what it is, Kate, is it's an extension of the politicization of an entity, House Intelligence Committee, and the intelligence world more generally that hasn't traditionally been all that polarized.
So, I think when you saw the report come out earlier from Devin Nunes and House Intelligence Committee Republicans only saying this is what we found. There is no collusion and we didn't find that the Russian government was working to elect Donald Trump.
House Intelligence Democrats saying that's not at all our conclusion and that's your first big sign in the real break of what's traditionally been a relatively bipartisan panel, again, bipartisan in relation to Congress is relative.
But a relatively bipartisan (inaudible) this is the next step of that. You would think in years past you would have the corresponding at least ranking members on the House Intelligence Committee so that the top-ranking Democrat and on the Government Oversight Committee, the top-ranking Democrat on those two.
At least have them in there, as well, just as a sort of a box checking endeavor that just shows that the House and the intelligence world now is not immune from the polarization that's gripped the entire country.
BOLDUAN: But, Shan, you worked for the Department of Justice, could the Justice Department at this moment just demand and say sure, we have to hold this meeting, but it has to be bipartisan.
SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think they could and to follow up on Chris' point, I mean, I think it's a very odd political move for the Justice Department to make to agree to only have the Republicans come in.
I mean, when I worked for Attorney General Reno, the departments were extremely cautious about looking as though it was favoring one side or the other even the way this deal was brokered, which is the White House chief of staff.
I'm relieved to hear that he's not going to be reviewing it because he doesn't have any oversight whatsoever. So, I think the department could do that and it seems very odd that they've agreed to the ground rules and it's probably because they're trying to find an appeasement strategy here.
BOLDUAN: Let's see exactly. They still something like 24 hours before the meeting so it all can change before that, but Shan, Michael Cohen's business partner or maybe not depending on who you are talking to. The "New York Times" says that Gene Friedman is now going to cooperate with state and federal investigators, and it makes wonder if that would include the special counsel. Do you think that's the case, Shan?
WU: I think it is and it's important to remember that the New York State AG, the previous one was quite aggressive with regard to any of the Trump businesses and actually had asked for an exemption to be put through that if there was a presidential pardon granted that that would exempt New York from pursuing his matters.
So, his plea agreement as is common apparently requires him to cooperate with both federal as well as state investigations. One thing I would note as was already reported, he got a very, very good deal. The amount of loss was greatly reduced which is important.
He's looking at no jail time and sort of something that made me smile was the fact that when he talked about his lawyers, it's a standard litany of questions. I always tell my clients when the judge says are you satisfied with the service of your lawyers and the answer was yes.
[11:10:05] He wasn't just yes, he was like, I am, quote, "extremely satisfied" so he got a very good deal.
BOLDUAN: Maybe that says it all in that one statement. But, Chris, this all -- everything that Michael Cohen is facing, unless it means that he would flip, this could all have nothing to do with Donald Trump.
CILIZZA: Well, I would say currently based on what we know, has nothing to do with the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling, right? The Michael Cohen stuff was referred to the Southern District of New York by the FBI and the Mueller probe, but not related directly to it.
Now, do I think that there is pressure on Cohen to flip in exchange for a plea deal? Yes. Do I think that that pressure is related to a belief? I don't know if it's a knowledge, but certainly a belief that he knows things about Donald Trump or Trump associates, Jared Kushner, Don Jr., whoever.
That other people do not know, that he's privy to information? Yes, I do think that, but currently, these are two separate endeavors. They have strings attached between them, but they are want fused together.
BOLDUAN: Let me ask you both quickly this, Chris, what do you think has changed overnight the president from going to if there was a spy in my campaign to there was a spy?
CILIZZA: I mean, this is standard operating procedure for him. I know this is a new thing as it relates to the spy or informant or confidential source, but nothing has changed. He's using this sort of aligning of facts that don't exist, candidly, to make a case to his base that the entire FBI and Justice Department are somehow deeply compromised. And in the end, he will use that argument to rebut any negative findings of the Mueller probe. It's not new. It's just a new arm of it.
BOLDUAN: But Shan, then if the AG comes back and says no spies in our midst, among us, will Donald Trump -- what happens then?
WU: I think that the president is already setting the stage for undercutting that potential verdict from the IG and I think the only thing that's really change is I think he was very heartened by the fact that this meeting has been brokered. I think he's going to try to fold that into his potential attack on him.
BOLDUAN: Great to see both of you. Thanks so much.
Coming up for us, another mysterious attack on American diplomats overseas possibly. This time in China, this is scary stuff. Moments ago, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he spoke out about this and said that the attack in China is very similar to the so-called sonic attacks in Cuba. What do we know? What's happening here?
Plus, for the first time ever an African-American woman becomes a major party's candidate for governor, and she's not the only woman who made history in last night's primary contest. We'll go through it.
And the race against the clock to protect a major power plant from this massive wall of molten lava. We'll go once again to Hawaii where they are not out of danger.
BOLDUAN: This morning, U.S. officials have issued a health alert in China after reports of another possible sonic attack on an American government employee there. A U.S. official stationed in Southern China reported feeling and this is how the government is describing it abnormal sensations of sound and pressure and now is suffering a possible brain injury.
Remember last year there were mysterious sonic attacks in Cuba against U.S. Embassy employees and their families. Just now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked if there could be a connection.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have medical teams that are moving to be on the ground there. We are -- we are working to figure out what took place both in Havana and now in China, as well. We've asked the Chinese for their assistance in doing that, and they have committed to honoring their commitments under the Vienna Convention to keep American foreign service officers safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BOLDUAN: Joining me right now CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, and John Kirby, a CNN military and diplomatic analyst and former spokesman for the State Department under President Obama.
Elise, first to you. There is still real mystery about what happened in Cuba, but Pompeo seems to suggest that this is very similar. What are you hearing?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, he seems to suggest that the kind of pressure of sounds and these symptoms which when we talk about a mild, traumatic brain injury, we're talking about symptoms like a concussion, nausea, dizziness, loss of balance and those are symptoms that are consistent with what happened in China.
They still don't know what happened in Cuba and I think what's really interesting is the government -- the administration was very clear at the time in accusing the Cuban government.
LABOTT: But you didn't hear Secretary Pompeo say anything about whether the Chinese government would be involved and praising the Chinese government for cooperation. So, the secretary is waiting for a panel and what they call an Accountability Review Board from the independent panel that was set up by the State Department to find out what went on in Cuba.
He should be getting that in the next week or so and surely medical examiners will be using that as they try to determine what happened in China. That employee has been brought back to the U.S. for observation. So, far, we think it's an isolated case, but we haven't heard anything else.
BOLDUAN: I mean, John, the Trump administration brought home a bunch of administration employees from Cuba when this all happened. Just to remind everybody, I know you know this, remind everybody that we know the Americans what they were dealing with when they came back. We're talking about hearing loss, dizziness, problems with their vision, headaches.
[11:20:03] I mean, what do you make of the fact that this happened in Cuba and now something very similar is happening in China. Do you see a connection?
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I don't know. It will be interesting to see what the Accountability Review Board comes back with. There could be -- I mean, look, for this kind of thing, if it's a sound-based weapon and we don't know that it is.
It would either be infrasound which is very low frequency or ultrasound, very high frequency and both which could be weaponized and used in a deliberate way and I think they're going to be trying to -- now that they have another patient from a different place. I'm sure they're going to be tracking those symptoms and that individual's condition with those that came back from Cuba to see if there are real forensic similarities and go forward from there.
It could be intrinsic to infrastructure. It could be non-deliberate, but it does sound suspicious that this individual has exactly the same kind of symptoms that they had in Cuba. Remember, they didn't really bring them all back from Cuba until they had several.
I mean, it was -- it took them a while to kind of realize what they had. So, they're acting very, very prudently in not waiting any longer and getting this person back and getting them the healthcare they need.
BOLDUAN: Honestly, it's straight-up terrifying and let's hope there are answers when this report comes out as you said, Elise, next week, they need answers. This is wild. Elise, John, great to see you. Thank you so much.
Coming up for us, a historic night for women in politics. A Democrat in Georgia just became the first African-American woman to get a major party's nomination for governor. Is it a sign of things to come in the midterms? We'll debate it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Nancy Pelosi and the group, you heard her the other day. She wants to raise your taxes. They want to get rid of the tax cut bill and raise your taxes. Nancy Pelosi came out in favor of MS-13. That's the first time I've heard that. She wants them to be treated with respect. Can you imagine having Nancy Pelosi as the speaker of the House? Can you imagine?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: That was President Trump going after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi during a speech last night making it pretty darn clear that Republicans think running against Pelosi once again is the path to keeping their majorities. Is that the case?
Joining me right now a member of the House Democratic leadership, Congressman Joe Crowley of New York. Congressman, thanks for coming in.
REPRESENTATIVE JOE CROWLEY (D), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS: Thanks, Kate. Great to be with you.
BOLDUAN: So, if Donald Trump is laying out the strategy last night, Republicans are making no secret that they're going to go after -- run once again against Nancy Pelosi in the midterms. Does the minority leader make it harder for Democrats to win? CROWLEY: Well, I think what you clearly heard in the last segment was the divider in chief. He's doing nothing to bring this country together and to cast dispersions on Nancy Pelosi and that group.
I guess he's talking about me and Democrats in the House and Senate isn't doing anything to bring us together and quite frankly, it's once again, the president and his party are bankrupt of any ideas to move the country forward.
They just keep going back to the same old playbook and I simply don't think it's going to work this year.
BOLDUAN: The playbook has worked before running against Nancy Pelosi, is running against Nancy Pelosi, is the Democratic minority leader, is she making it harder for Democrats?
CROWLEY: Well, what I would suggest is if you look at what happened in the elections yesterday, Georgia and Kentucky and elsewhere, we are seeing record numbers of women being selected as Democrats, being our standard bearer this November.
And I believe that the enthusiasm that is out there for Democrats across the board and I think, you know, like-minded independents is going to ensure that Democrats take control of the House of Representatives.
And I think the attacks upon Nancy Pelosi and upon the party again is reflective of a lack of ideas that they have to move the country forward. They simply want to go back and attack, attack, attack. That's the old playbook and it's not working. We see it poll after poll. It's simply not going to work.
BOLDUAN: Well, Congressman, whether or not Democrats win back the House in the midterms, there's a whole lot of talk about who will be leader of the Democrats in the House come January. Last month "Politico" was reporting that they spoke with nearly 30 Democratic lawmakers and aides and almost all said it is no secret that you're gunning for it if there is a shake-up. Are they all wrong?
CROWLEY: Well, I think, you know, don't always read what you believe, and don't always believe what you read. I think what we are focused on --
BOLDUAN: But are they all wrong?
CROWLEY: Let me answer. What we are focused on is winning back the House of Representatives. Nothing else matters. Nothing else matters but winning. Nancy Pelosi is agnostic about winning. She just wants to win.
We just want to win, and we'll let the politics deal with itself after that. I've said repeatedly I see no situation by which I would be anything other than supportive of Nancy Pelosi. So, let's move forward. Let's win in November and we'll take it from there.
BOLDUAN: The president said that he has more tax cuts coming before November. Are you aware of another bill in the works?
CROWLEY: I've heard some rumors about that and I think the big difference here, Kate, is going to be that they simply will not be able to pass it with the 50 plus one vote. It will take 60 votes to pass it in the Senate and finally, maybe they'll have to start talking to Democrats.
They didn't do that in the last go around in the tax cuts that was passed, and Democrats, we want to offer a better deal to the American people, better jobs, better wages and a better future.
And part of that is revisiting that tax bill making it fairer and getting it down to the middle class and working poor in our country and providing $50 billion to invest in our teachers and our schools and make being a teacher a solid part of the middle class once again. Those folks have been forgotten. That's what we are talking about in Democrats side of the aisle.
BOLDUAN: There's a big question, though, what should Democrats be running on right now. The reason I ask is because I have gotten two different answers from two different Democrats, who have come on the show.