Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump: 'Criminal Deep State' Put Spies in His Campaign; Kushner Interviewed Second Time by Mueller. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired May 23, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Meeting with Mueller. Even as he finally regains his security clearance, the president's senior advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, meets again with the special counsel's team and is questioned for seven hours.
[17:00:14] Conspiracist in chief. President Trump exceeds all bounds in attacking law enforcement institutions, insisting he's the victim of a conspiracy to spy on his campaign. New warnings about the president's extreme rhetoric.
Power of lava. Hawaii's big island faces clouds of poison gas and rivers of red hot lava as the volcano's explosive eruption poses a grave threat to a power plant. We'll take you there live.
And falling for Kim. As President Trump says his summit with Kim Jong-un is still a possibility, he's lavishing praise on the North Korean dictator and offering to protect him if they can reach a deal. Is the Trump administration falling for Kim's charm offensive?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news. As President Trump unleashes a fresh torrent of unproven allegations, peddling a half-baked conspiracy theory in which a, quote, "criminal deep state" plants a spy in his campaign, the special counsel's investigation moves forward.
The lawyer for presidential son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner reveals Kushner had a second interview with Robert Mueller team lasting seven hours, even as the source says Kushner has now regained his security clearance.
I'll speak with Kushner's lawyer, Abbe Lowell. And our correspondents and specialists, they are all standing by with full coverage.
But let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.
Pamela, the president has now turned his conspiracy complaints into an all-out assault.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The president ramping up the rhetoric, bending the truth to fit the narrative, this new narrative, by incorrectly citing the -- the former intelligence chief James Clapper and not providing any evidence to back up this claim that there was a spy implanted in his campaign.
BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump going farther than ever in attacking America's law enforcement institutions, accusing former President Obama's Justice Department of spying on his presidential campaign.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope it's not so. Because if it is, there's never been anything like it in the history of our country. I hope -- I mean, if you look at Clapper, he sort of admitted that they had spies in the campaign yesterday, inadvertently.
But I hope it's not true, but it looks like it is.
BROWN: Trump referring to comments from former director of national intelligence James Clapper. But what Clapper actually said wasn't that Trump's campaign was spied on, but that FBI was, in fact, watching Russia.
JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": Was the FBI spying on Trump's campaign?
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: No -- no, they were not. They were spying -- on a term I don't particularly like -- but on what the Russians were doing, trying to understand, were the Russian infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage and influence?
BEHAR: So why doesn't he like --
CLAPPER: Which is what they do.
BROWN: The president seizing on the mischaracterization nonetheless. Tweeting, with certainty, "Look how things have turned around on the criminal deep state. They go after phony collusion with Russia, a made-up scam and end up getting caught in a major spy scandal, the likes of which this country may never have seen before."
That after ordering the DOJ to open classified files to congressional review.
TRUMP: They're going to all be in the room tomorrow. We're going to see what happens. What I want is I want total transparency.
BROWN: FBI Director Christopher Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Department of Justice official Ed O'Callaghan will brief just two lawmakers, Republican Congressmen Devin Nunes and Trey Gowdy, leaving Democrats with no seat at the table and no way of knowing what information will be shared.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIR, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: My hope would be that any such briefing needs to be both bipartisan. And my hope and prayer is that the FBI or the Department of Justice would not, in any way, be forced to reveal confidential information. That would go against 75 years of practice. BROWN: Former FBI director James Comey blasting the president for the
order, tweeting, "The FBI's use of confidential human sources, the actual term is tightly regulated and essential to protecting the country." Adding, "Attacks on the FBI and lying about its work will do lasting damage to our country."
TRUMP: We're not undercutting. We're cleaning everything up. This was a terrible situation. What we're doing is we're cleaning everything up. It's so important. What I'm doing is a service to this country. And I did a great service to this country by firing James Comey.
BROWN: The whole episode has further soured an already complicated relationship between Trump and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But both greeted each other warmly today at an immigration round table in New York, where Trump doubled down on calling MS-13 gang members "animals."
[17:05:14] TRUMP: I called them "animals" the other day. And I was met with rebuke. They said, "They're people." They're not people. These are animals.
BROWN: This as Trump's attorneys try to narrow the scope of a potential interview between the president and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Multiple sources familiar with the matter tell CNN Trump's legal team wants any interview with Mueller to only focus on matters occurring before Trump became president, which would effectively eliminate questions related to obstruction of justice.
BROWN: And I just spoke to a White House official who says this classified review is still on for tomorrow. As of now, the plan would include chief of staff John Kelly to go over to DOJ and meet with the two GOP lawmakers along with the other officials before the review, make a quick intro and then excuse himself before that meeting. He will not be participating. No White House official will be part of this.
When I asked whether any Democrats will be invited, as they have been calling for, this official said there are no plans to change as of now. So we'll have to wait and see what happens before now and then -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What's their excuse? Why won't they allow some top Democrats to participate, as well, as the Democratic leadership has been asking for? Normally, there's the so-called Gang of Eight -- four Democrats, four Republicans -- that are privy so the most sensitive classified information. What's the White House rationale for only allowing these two Republicans in?
BROWN: That's right. And you heard the president also call for transparency today. Yet Democrats will not be a part of the meeting as of now. Now, a couple White House officials I spoke with said they haven't put
in a formal request with Devin Nunes or Trey Gowdy that has made its way to the White House and that at that point it could be entertained.
The more likely scenario here, though, Wolf, is for there to be a follow-up briefing of some sort with Democrats and other members of Congress who want to look at this classified information, as well. We'll have to wait and see.
BLITZER: All right. We will. Pamela, thank you very much. Pamela Brown.
More on our breaking news. The presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner obtains his long-delayed security clearance even as we learn he was grilled once again by the special counsel.
Our justice correspondent Evan Perez is with us.
Evan, so walk us through. How did Kushner finally get the security clearance?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. As of today, Jared Kushner has been restored with his security clearance. He's got the top-secret security clearance that now allows him to see the nation's utmost closely-guarded secrets. That includes he ow could be able to have access to the presidential daily brief, which is something that he was known to previously have access to.
And, look, part of this has been a process that's been months in the making. As you just mentioned, the White House says that Jared Kushner's clearance was really being delayed by the normal backlogs that they have at the FBI, people who are -- career people doing the investigation of the background, in order to get the final approval for the clearance.
But you remember, he had a temporary clearance that was -- that was restricted that was removed back in February amid the overhaul that the White House was doing following the Rob Porter scandal. Rob Porter was the president's former staff director who stayed on and was able to have a top-secret clearance even though he -- there were all these allegations of spouse abuse.
So Jared Kushner's access to secrets was restricted as a result of that move back in February. But as of now, he now has access to everything that he had access to and he's now able to do all of the meetings that the president wants him to do, Wolf.
BLITZER: And specifically, Evan, does he have secret, top-secret, SCI, which is an even higher top-secret level? Do we know what level of security clearance he has?
PEREZ: Right, exactly. He has top-secret SCI, which means that he's able to see even the most secret programs. Anything that the president gives him the authorization that he needs to do his job. Obviously, he's involved in Middle East peace and a couple of other initiatives of his own. And so now he's able to see all of those things, ,because he has the highest security clearance that you can have as part of his job.
BLITZER: And we know he was questioned once again, this time for seven hours by Robert Mueller's team. What does that suggest to you?
PEREZ: That's right, Wolf. He was questioned for seven hours in mid- April. Now, this is his second interview before the special counsel. The previous interview was back in November, which happened right before Mike Flynn, the former national security advisor, pleaded guilty to federal charges.
That interview, the one in November, was focused only on Mike Flynn issues. We were told -- we're told not that this was more expansive. This had to do with Kushner's role as a member of the campaign. If you remember, obviously, he also had contacts with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. His role in the transition, as well as, Wolf, questions related to what -- what, if any, role he had having to do with the firing of James Comey, the former FBI director.
[17:10:06] We know that Kushner was among the staff, the people who were there with the president in New Jersey, that weekend when the decision was made, when the president made the decision to fire James Comey.
All of those questions over seven hours. Jared Kushner's -- people close to Jared Kushner believe that this means he is done with all of the inquiries, Wolf.
BLITZER: So what does this say about the state of the overall Mueller investigation?
PEREZ: Look, I think what we're seeing is that they're trying to wrap up at least some aspects of the investigation. But we don't know where Robert Mueller is. We don't know -- there's a lot we don't know about what he has found, how much longer he has to go.
It does indicate to us, Wolf, that at least some parts of the investigation, at they're at least trying to tie up some of the ends. But until Mueller decides or announces what he has found, we really can't make any conclusions. There's a lot of investigation here that's been done. There's a lot of questions that we have and the public has that have yet to be answered as a result of this investigation. It's now been going for a year, this month.
BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Evan. We're also standing by to hear from Abbe Lowell, Jared Kushner's attorney. He's going to be joining us exclusively in a little while.
But Josh Campbell, let me bring you in. Used to be a supervisory special agent over at the FBI. You're now a CNN law enforcement analyst.
What do you make of, A, the decision to restore Jared Kushner's top- secret security clearance coming, apparently, after the seven hours of questioning that he went through, a second round of questioning with Robert Mueller's team? JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, he certainly had
some challenges with that security clearance. If you remember back during the start of the administration, where there was a question with respect to how he actually filled out his SF-86. That's the document that's used to collect information that then serves as the basis to start an investigation into someone's life.
And there were questions surrounding his foreign contacts. You remember, it was reported that he didn't list those. And the document actually says here that, you know, you list close and continuing contacts over the last seven years of your life. So there was that issue.
And then as Evan alluded to there, there was the issue in February where the White House actually went through that overhaul following the Porter scandal and downgraded a number of officials from that interim security clearance down to the secret. And folks have been waiting to see what does that mean for Jared Kushner.
Now, there are two ways to look at this today, Wolf, as far as the action taken in actually providing that clearance. There's one camp that, you know, might look at this and say he can breathe a sigh of relief with respect to Bob Mueller, because now that he's actually being afforded access to the nation's highest -- you know, top secrets, that you know, might mean for him that he's in the clear with respect to any possible jeopardy that he might be facing.
I'm always someone who urges cautious optimism, because there's this second view that, you know, someone like Bob Mueller who's conducting this very sensitive and secretive investigation may not tip his hand and actually provide that information to the White House.
Wolf, I think it shows the challenge in dealing with a family member as a staff member. This isn't just any member of the administration. It would be very difficult for the White House to, you know, receive word from the FBI or from Bob Mueller that, "Hey, we have an issue here we wat to talk about. There's something very sensitive regarding Jared Kushner," if that's the case, when the person happens to be related to the president.
BLITZER: But you believe the White House security -- Office of Security Personnel would grant him top-secret security clearance if the FBI recommended against it?
CAMPBELL: Well, that's the issue. So the FBI doesn't actually make the actual determination as far as the clearance. And if you think about who does that within the FBI, there's a special team here in Washington, D.C., that leads that effort, as far as going through appointees and staff members and individuals who actually receive this clearance. That's separate from Bob Mueller's entity.
So the question we don't -- the subject right now we don't know the answer to, is are those two teams talking? Is Bob Mueller's team talking to those who conducted this background investigation for Jared Kushner to ultimately provide that recommendation to the White House? We simply don't know. BLITZER: Michael Zeldin is with us, as well, a former special
assistant to Robert Mueller, a CNN legal analyst.
What does it tell you, Michael, that the special counsel's team did a second interview with Jared Kushner just last month, and it went on for some seven hours?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That they're moving with pace. They're trying to work their way through the facts and the evidence that is before them and make determinations about various aspects of their mandate.
Jared Kushner fits into many of Mueller's mandate prerogatives. The June 9 meeting at Trump Tower with the Russians. The matter of talking to Kislyak. Flynn speaking to the Russians during the transition. So he's a key player central to many of the aspects of Mueller's inquiry.
I think, to what Josh just raised, he could well be now considered by Mueller a witness, because it's hard for me -- Josh is right, the two sides may not be talking to each other but it may be harder for me to conclude that if Mueller believed that this fellow was likely to be a target or indicted in his investigation, that that message wouldn't somehow have been communicated with those giving a security clearance. So it may be good news for -- for Kushner at this point.
But we can be clear that Mueller is moving forward with his investigation, step by step, Wolf. And he will ultimately take us to his conclusion with respect to the issues and the individuals that those issues touch upon.
[17:15:15] BLITZER: All right, Michael, I want you to stand by. Because the veteran criminal defense attorney, Abbe Lowell, is joining us right now. He represents President Trump's senior adviser and son- in-law, Jared Kushner.
Abbe, thanks very much for joining us.
ABBE LOWELL, ATTORNEY FOR JARED KUSHNER: Thanks for letting me explain.
BLITZER: All right. So your client, Jared Kushner, he sat down with the special counsel for a second time last month. The interview lasted, what, about seven hours? What was the focus?
LOWELL: So the focus of Jared's cooperation has been dictated by what the special counsel wants. Back in the fall, they were interested in understanding some of the issues about General Flynn, and he answered all their questions then.
And in April, we basically followed their lead; and the topics were what were the appropriate topics. You know that they're being thorough and looking at the campaign and, by campaign, the issue that they're investigating is whether there was something called collusion, whatever that means to people. They're looking to see whether there was some undue influence put on by outside countries, particularly Russia.
And they've been looking at some of the post-inauguration issues, primarily the firing of James Comey.
And of course, Jared has had roles in the campaign. He was the point of contact for foreign officials, for that and also in the transition. And he was around the circumstances that were -- ultimately, led to the firing of Comey. So you can assume that they know their topics, and they would have exhausted all of them.
BLITZER: I want to be precise. He was questioned about what happened during the campaign but also what has happened during the presidency, right?
LOWELL: Not as extensively, Wolf. I mean, the topics post- inauguration are very limited, if you think about it. And they should be. Everybody understands that the office of special --
BLITZER: Obstruction of -- potential obstruction of justice, right?
LOWELL: Sorry, go ahead.
BLITZER: Obstruction of justice, the firing of Comey, I assume that was one of the subjects.
LOWELL: You should assume the following: that everybody has said that the office of special counsel is looking at two things. They're looking to see whether there was collusion with Russia in the campaign and whether or not anybody in the campaign was involved and if that violates any law. And they're looking at this broad topic that they call or the media calls obstruction of justice.
They would have asked questions of all their witnesses, including Jared Kushner, about those topics.
But he has a unique role. He was there in the campaign. He was there in the transition. And he worked in the White House when events occurred after the inauguration that is of interest to the counsel. They asked him questions. He answered every single one. It was thorough.
And I think what's interesting is that, you know, you all -- I don't mean you all at CNN -- I mean, the media gets ahead of itself so often. Right? They've talked about stories about him being under investigation for his finances, for his role in his companies. Let me tell you, those were not the topics.
BLITZER: So what were the topics? What were the specific questions? And were you there during those seven hours?
LOWELL: Well, of course, a lawyer would be in the room with an interview. I think all people that get interviewed should and do have lawyers, so that would be yes.
As to the questions, no. I'll tell you the topics. They were the appropriate topics that Bob Mueller and his team are looking at. They are what happened in the campaign that might suggest that there were some outside influences, primarily this -- what I call the allegations of Russia collusion. Issues of contacts with people, particularly foreigners during the transition. And the topics of post- inauguration, what is lumped into the category of obstruction.
I can't really tell you question by question. It wouldn't be appropriate. What we're trying to do is clear the air. We knew people knew about this. Somebody leaked it. And I want to respect the office of special counsel and allow them to do their work, because Mr. Kushner did. But I'm not going to tell you did they ask, "Where were you sitting in Trump Tower when you saw so and so?" That doesn't make sense.
BLITZER: Is Jared Kushner fully cooperating with the special counsel?
LOWELL: I don't know that anybody could be cooperating more. He has spoken to them when asked. He has provided them with tons of documents that reflect what he's provided Congress and what else they've asked for. He sat down in the fall when they wanted to ask questions about General Flynn. And he was very happy to spend almost an entire work day when they asked again. So I would say it's the definition of cooperation.
BLITZER: Do you expect that Jared Kushner will be asked for more interest views with the special counsel, or was this the last one?
LOWELL: I mean, I am assuming, given the thoroughness by which the counsel's office works and the degree of work that they've done, this should, for all intents and purposes, be done.
If they have a straight question because they go and talk to another witness who says something that they want to have Mr. Kushner corroborate or opine about, it could happen. So no one should say, "Oh, there'll never be another inquiry of any kind."
But after spending a total of over nine hours with them from November and then in April, I can't imagine there's another question they could possibly ask that would be relevant, and he answered every single one.
[17:20:06] BLITZER: Has Jared Kushner been told if he's a witness, a subject, a target of the investigation?
LOWELL: The answer to that is those are words that you guys in the media report and they make no sense to people who are practicing lawyers, because --
BLITZER: These are legal terms, as you know.
LOWELL: They are not. They exist in the United States Attorneys Manual for primarily the purpose of telling people when they're supposed to be given their rights before they go into a grand jury or get a subpoena.
I have done this for a bunch, and I'll tell you that today's witnesses are tomorrow's indicted person. So I don't ask that question. What I do ask is whether somebody is the focus of the investigation or whether somebody should be expecting more questions. Those are questions that I ask.
But these are just the titles that are handy for the media to use. And so I didn't ask.
But I would tell you that, in my experience, the kinds of questions they asked, the kinds of statements he made, the kinds of information he has reflects that they understand that he's a witness to the events. But I don't --
BLITZER: Well, that was the question. If he's a witness, a subject or a target. So --
LOWELL: I don't -- Wolf, I simply don't use those terms and never have.
BLITZER: Let me try to pin you down. Has he specifically been told that he's not going be charged?
LOWELL: That is like -- why would anybody ask that question? Let's put it this way.
The answer to your question, I think, is the special counsel, nor any other prosecutors, indicated that they have any intention to believe that Mr. Kushner has done anything that would remotely merit being charged.
So it's a checklist question for you, for sure. Is he a target, is he a subject, is he a witness? The better answer is there's nothing he's done and nothing that I've seen that would indicate that anybody would have an interest of him other than of his being a witness to events. And nobody has indicated they have any intention of saying to him, "You've done something wrong that would merit any charges." That's just remotely not the case.
BLITZER: Let's talk about Jared Kushner's security clearance, which has now, we're told, been restored. Who made the decision to restore his security clearance? How did that happen?
LOWELL: The intelligence community and the FBI. It happened in the normal course. It happened the way it happens for thousands of people. It goes to initially the bureau, who does a background investigation. It takes a lot of time. It then gets passed (ph) through various agencies. It gets to the White House. There's a special office that does security measures. They're all career people. There was no nobody in the political process that had anything to do with it. There was nobody who pressured it. It was just done the normal, regular way.
BLITZER: And what --
LOWELL: And in fact -- in fact, you know, the delay that people reported about, and reported about, was caused by the things we said, which was a backlog in a new administration.
And remember, Mr. Kushner has extensive holdings that each and every one required somebody to look at to determine the nature of the finances, and so of course, it took a long time. But it was done in the normal process, only by career people that do it every day and have done it for years that way.
BLITZER: And is it secret, top-secret, SCI? What level of security clearance?
LOWELL: And so you will know from all of the work you've done that what somebody's clearance is itself a piece of classified information. And I'm very hopeful to hang onto mine, so I can't answer that question.
BLITZER: Well, let me ask you this. Will he have access to the presidential daily brief?
LOWELL: I will tell you this. That he has been restored in a permanent clearance to get all the material that he needs and all the material he got in the past in order to do the job the president has asked him to do. And so that may answer the question the way you asked it.
BLITZER: Well, if he's going to be an adviser on the Middle East and China and other sensitive issues like Mexico, I assume he will have access to that presidential daily brief. But you don't want to answer that question. But we'll leave it on that -- on that front.
Abbe Lowell, thanks so much for joining us.
LOWELL: And thanks for giving me the opportunity to explain.
BLITZER: We'll continue this conversation down the road. Appreciate it very much.
Let's bring back our legal and law enforcement analysts to get some reaction to what we just heard.
Michael Zeldin, once again, you used to work for Robert Mueller. What stood out to you from what we just heard from Abbe Lowell, who's obviously a very experienced lawyer here in town?
ZELDIN: Well, there are a couple of things. First and foremost, it struck me, as we talked about before the segment with Lowell, that Mueller is moving in a very methodic way through all of the topics that are a part of his mandate, and Abbe ticked them all off. And that's good to know that Mueller is checking his boxes that way.
It was interesting to me, as well, that Abbe indicated that there was no questions about personal finances. All of the media stories about 666 fifth Avenue and the like, the areas that we think of as, you know, the red line that president drew for personal financial issues was not, according to Abbe, part of the conversation.
[17:25:09] And then, I think, finally with respect to Abbe's unwillingness to decide whether he was -- what level he was: a target, subject or witness. I think it's pretty clear that Abbe is confident that his client is a witness at this point and is not likely to be charged by Robert Mueller. That's how I think they walk away from this interview, feeling they comprehensively answered their questions. They didn't address personal finances, and he's most likely, at this point, a witness.
BLITZER: Yes, that's the way I heard it, as well.
Joey Jackson is with us. What stood out to you, Joey?
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, just as a point of disagreement, I know he's a very well-respected and and experienced defense attorney. However, I've been practicing for 20 years, and I beg to differ with regard to the media making up terms "witness" and "target" and "subject." These are terms that I discuss regularly with the United States attorney or a district attorney, for that matter, at the state level. We do, in fact, in the normal parlance refer: "What do you like my client as? What is he? Is he a witness to events? Is it someone, the subject that you are looking at or is he the specific or she the specific inquiry of your investigation?" So that's significant, No. 1.
No. 2, as it relates to anyone breathing easily, I would not say that. Let us remind ourselves of what Mueller has done. He is not only investigating and looking at the issue of collusion or the issue of obstruction, but we know it's a crime to lie to the FBI.
And so I'm sure that, you know, Mr. Kushner stated his piece and was asked questions and was forthcoming. In the event he was not, however, it would be of concern. If you look at Papadopoulos, if you look at Flynn, if you look at Vander Zwaan, if you look at the people who have pled guilty, they have pled guilty to lying. So to the extent that he was truthful and honest, then there's nothing to worry about. In the event that that is not the case, then I think that there's an issue.
Finally, Wolf, I don't draw the connection between the security clearance and offering and what, if anything, he said to the special counsel. This has been a special counsel that hasn't had leaks. This is a special counsel that has kept their information very close to their vest. And this is a special counsel, if I think had concerns or objections, I'm not sure that they would be calling, raising objections about any security clearance.
I think they will be quiet. They will wrap up their investigation. And if there are things that Mr. Kushner has to answer to, he will answer to. In the event he doesn't, then he's home free. But I do not draw -- I'm one that does not draw any causal connection between the issuance of a security clearance and what, if anything, he said or did not say to the special counsel.
BLITZER: Yes, fair point. Josh Campbell is still with us, as well.
Josh, you heard Abbe Lowell's explanation for why Jared Kushner's security clearance was restored, why it took so long to get that security clearance. Does that all make sense to you?
CAMPBELL: Yes, Wolf, I'm with Joey on this as far as not drawing that distinction between the two topics. So in one -- you know, in one end we have the special counsel investigation looking into what Jared may or may not know. And then on the other hand, we have the intelligence community and the White House security office trying to determine his suitability for access to classified information. I don't know if we can say for sure that those two sides will be talking to each other.
One thing that stood out to me with respect to the interview itself, is you know, we get paid in this business to parse the word of lawyers, and one thing that was interesting, although you know, it appears as though, you know, Mr. Kushner was cooperative, one thing that his attorney mentioned is that he answered every question. Well, you know, when I was an FBI agent interviewing people, I sat across from people who also answered every one of my questions. That doesn't mean that they answered them accurately or fully. And I'm not suggesting that's the case here. I'm just saying we have to kind of parse this lawyer speak.
The second thing being, I think, that this should hopefully give some sense of comfort to the White House legal team as they're trying to determine, you know, whether they continue in the showdown with Mueller as far as sitting down and doing -- and writing questions or in person because, as Mr. Kushner's own lawyer just said, the people doing the interview asked the appropriate topics. So I think that should give them some sense of comfort that this isn't the witch hunt that they're trying to make it out to be.
BLITZER: Michael Zeldin, do you think Abbe Lowell, Kushner's lawyer, was trying to link the security clearance issue with Kushner's status in the Mueller investigation? He basically said he's simply a witness.
ZELDIN: I think for sure that's what he is trying to say. And he may well be right. That -- his point being, if this client of mine was likely to be indicted or was a target of the investigation, then surely, Mueller's team, notwithstanding the fact that it doesn't leak, would have notified the White House offices that offer clearance advice and, ultimately, the clearance that this was a problem.
So maybe he's, maybe optimistically but I think probably realistically, linking the two together and feeling that his client is home free except, of course, for the issues that Joey and Josh raise about if he was untruthful that he always faces 1001, lying to a federal investigator.
But until such time as that is proved, I think it's probably safe to conclude that walking out of that interview and receiving the security clearance, Abbe feels that his client answered those questions truthfully. He's a witness, and that he could go on with his life.
BLITZER: We're getting a whole lot more reaction very quickly to the Abbe Lowell, the interview with Abbe Lowell, Jared Kushner's attorney.
We're also just learning that the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has just met with the president. We'll have much more on that. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We're following breaking news. I just spoke with the attorney for President Trump's son-in-law and top advisor, Jared Kushner. Abbe Lowell told me Kushner has been questioned a second time by investigators for the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Lowell also confirmed that Kushner finally has been granted his full security clearance.
[17:35:09] Let's bring in our political and legal specialists.
And Gloria Borger, you've been doing an enormous amount of reporting on all of this. What stood out to you from the questions and answers we got from Abbe Lowell?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I thought -- I thought Abbe was pretty candid about the areas that Jared Kushner was questioned about in April for seven hours.
And you know, we've always known, because Jared was present at so many events, that it's likely that he would have been questioned about the campaign itself and ties to Russia and his Russian contacts during the transition. And of course, this question of obstruction and -- and the firing of James Comey, because Jared Kushner was in New Jersey that weekend that the president decided to fire -- to fire Comey. Kushner people say that he's supported the decision, but he did not drive the decision. Other people say he drove the decision.
So, you know, it's clear to me that -- that these are issues that the special counsel is looking at in great depth.
BLITZER: David Axelrod, what stood out to you?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, on what Gloria was talking about, it is interesting to me that the areas that Abbe Lowell outlined are very much down main street for what this probe was supposed to be about. There were no surprises there. There were no extraneous topics. We've heard a lot from the White House and from people on the -- a lot of insinuation that this -- this probe has gone far afield, that it's a fishing expedition and so on. It sounds like a very disciplined pursuit.
I was also interested on the -- on the issue of his security clearance. Not just by what Abbe Lowell said but what sources said, that this was all done by the book, that it was done through the process, there was nothing unusual about it. It is very unusual this late in an administration for someone to get their security clearance. So that wasn't true, but the sources that leaked this said -- stressed that the president wasn't involved in this.
So I think it was very important that -- for them to say this was all done by the book; it was all straight up; there was no angle here. And it wasn't ordered by the president.
BLITZER: Samantha Vinograd, you used to work on the National Security Council. You know something about security clearances. You're serving in the government. What did you think? SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I hate to
say it, Wolf, but the president has made a mockery of the security clearance process.
Abbe Lowell just went on the television and said that Jared Kushner's security clearance followed standard operating procedure. He played hide and seek with the facts. Jared Kushner's security clearance was delayed, because he missed misreported or failed to disclose hundreds of foreign contacts the first time he filled out his forms. He failed to disclose the Trump Tower meeting the second time he filled out his forms. And there are various other examples. So this is not just a normal operating procedure for the investigators. This was something very different.
And the president does have the legal authority to declassify information when he wants, to whomever he wants. That's his -- legally speaking. he has a right to do that. But as we know, the president has chosen to do that with members of his inner circle and his family when it suits his interests.
So let's just call this what it is. This was special treatment by the president. And Jared Kushner's security clearance was left open over the course of several months, over a year, when anybody else would have had their investigation closed.
BLITZER: Well, let me get David Axelrod in on this, as well, because we're learning new information about the Mueller probe. The president is pushing the theory that his campaign was infiltrated by a spy, by an FBI spy. How concerning is that to you?
AXELROD: Well, what concerns me is this sort of campaign that's being run to try and discredit the Mueller probe and to discredit the Justice Department, the FBI and everyone involved in it.
I think that what the president has decided is that he wants to make sure that, whatever conclusions Mueller draws, that he can paint them as political. And you know, we heard him early in the administration, before he even took office, suggest that Barack Obama had -- had bugged his campaign. This is in that same category.
Nobody who has read the facts of this would say that the president's campaign was being spied on, but this is the meme that has been picked up by right-wing media and by the president's supporters in Congress. And it's all part of an effort, Wolf, to try and discredit the probe in advance.
It doesn't bespeak a great sense of confidence about what Mr. Mueller is going to say. Because if you were confident about it, you'd say, "let him do his investigation, because it's going to clear me, and -- and that's going to be -- and Mueller's credibility will be an asset to me." That's not the tact they're taking here.
[17:40:08] BLITZER: You spoke with Sally Yates, David, the fired acting attorney general. She weighed in on the president's attacks on the Justice Department. Let's watch this clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: This has really taken the assault on the rule of law to a new level. Really, from the beginning of this presidency, Trump has not observed the time-honored norm that's been in place, at least since Watergate, that there should be a real division between the Department of Justice and the White House.
It certainly -- DOJ is part of the executive branch. We all recognize that. But for the public to have confidence that the law is not being used in a political way, presidents in both parties have recognized that those decisions really need to be left to the people at the Department of Justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So what else can our viewers look forward to, hearing more from Sally Yates on "THE AXE FILES"?
AXELROD: Well, first of all, you know, she's a 27-year veteran of the Justice Department. She knows all the major players. She knows Mueller. She knows Rosenstein. And she offers some real insights into them and how they operate.
She also gives some new details about her interaction with the administration during that brief period when she served as acting attorney general. Both about the Flynn matter and also about the matter that got her fired, her refusal to defend the travel ban. And then there's some very interesting insights into her own life and career that I think will surprise people, Wolf.
So it was a great conversation.
BLITZER: Yes, we're looking forward to it. And to our viewers, be sure to watch David's interview with the former acting attorney general Sally Yates on "THE AXE FILES" this Saturday. Saturday night, 7 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.
Up next, Democrats are demanding access to a Republican-only briefing by Justice Department officials on some highly-classified information, even as President Trump escalates his conspiracy claims about a spy in his campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When they look at the documents, I think people will are going to see a lot of bad things happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[17:46:50] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We have more breaking news ahead as we get more details about Jared Kushner being questioned for seven hours by Robert Mueller's investigation. We're also watching as President Trump peddles his conspiracy theory
about a spy allegedly planted in his campaign. Key Republicans are to get a briefing from justice and intelligence officials tomorrow.
Now, one very influential Republican says Democrats should also be allowed in. Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju.
Manu, lawmakers are scrambling to figure out who gets to go to this highly classified briefing.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and tension is rising on Capitol Hill, Wolf, about this briefing.
Just earlier today, one Democrat who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, Joaquin Castro, actually approached the House Intelligence Chairman, Devin Nunes, and told him, he wants Democrats to also attend the meeting. And Devin Nunes replied, according to Castro, I'm not going to play that game, not answering whether or not Democrats should be allowed to come to this briefing.
Now, the person who will go to that briefing, along with senior administration officials, is Trey Gowdy, the Congressman from South Carolina.
I tried to ask him on multiple occasions whether or not Democrats will attend, and he said it's up to Devin Nunes or whoever started that meeting. Something that Devin Nunes himself is saying -- not saying whether or not Democrats should be allowed to come.
Now at the same time, Wolf, several Republicans are demanding that they should also take part in this meeting, including Chuck Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman; Lindsey Graham, who sits on that same committee; and Senator John Cornyn, the number two Republican.
And Cornyn, Wolf, is saying that it would be a, quote, good idea if Democrats were also invited to that briefing.
Now at the same time, Wolf, though, there is a split among Senate Republicans about whether or not to allow Democrats in the briefing, with Chuck Grassley not so certain that's a good idea but with someone like James Lankford, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, telling me they should also attend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: But do you think the President should be intervening in this dispute?
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, SENATE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY: I think that anything that comes from -- with every president and everybody he appoints to these cabinet positions, so I'm talking about Republican or Democrat, every one of them comes before a committee and said we'll cooperate with congressional oversight. So if his people that he appoints said that he was going to -- they
were going to cooperate with congressional oversight, then I think he has a responsibility to make sure they do cooperate.
RAJU: But do you think Democrats should also be part of that to avoid the appearance of partisanship?
SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK), MAJORITY MEMBER, SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: I mean, on the Senate side, we tend to be able to work very hard on that to be able to make sure that Republicans and Democrats work together. Because at the end of the day, we have to resolve these issues in a bipartisan manner, look at the central facts because not every American can look at all of these issues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, Wolf, tonight at this hour, there are still ongoing discussions about exactly what that meeting would look like and whether or not they would actually are going to documents at this meeting or whether or not there is just going to be a briefing to have another meeting in the future.
[17:50:55] One -- some conservative allies of the President, Wolf, including Mark Meadows, telling me earlier that he does not expect that these documents will ultimately be turned over, about this confidential FBI source, to these two Republican congressmen.
And Meadows is saying that contempt of Congress should be on the table for the Deputy Attorney General if those two congressmen do not see those documents.
But at the same time, Wolf, Democrats demanding a gang of eight briefing with the leaders of Congress on both sides to sit down, have a briefing, get information about this confidential FBI source and everything that occurred. But no word yet, Wolf, if that's going to happen.
BLITZER: Yes, that's the normal way of doing it -- four Democratic leaders, four Republican leaders. They're privy to the most sensitive information.
Manu Raju, thank you very much for that.
Earlier this afternoon, the President predicted, and we'll know next week, whether his meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un will take place as scheduled next month.
Testifying before Congress today, the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, told lawmakers Kim Jong-un did not use notes or talking points during their meetings in North Korea.
Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.
Brian, the Trump team continues to lavish some praise on the North Korean leader. BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They do, Wolf, even as President Trump
is trying to hedge his bets and say that this summit may very well not occur.
Mr. Trump and his team have completely changed their tone on Kim Jong- un, praising a man they derided not long ago and even offering him security.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, the diplomatic dance has reached an almost unthinkable point where an American president is offering to protect a brutal North Korean dictator.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will guarantee his safety. Yes, we will guarantee his safety. And we've talked about that from the beginning. He will be safe. He will be happy. His country will be rich.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not something American presidents do, so this is totally extraordinary, something we've never seen before. And I hope we never see again.
TODD (voice-over): Lately, President Trump has been describing Kim Jong-un in almost statesman-like terms.
TRUMP: He really has been very open and, I think, very honorable.
TODD (voice-over): Not all that long ago, Mr. Trump was referring to Kim as slightly less than honorable.
TRUMP: Little Rocket Man, he is a sick puppy.
TODD (voice-over): And in a tweet, the President implied strongly that Kim was short and fat.
How drastically has the dynamic changed? Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, after returning recently from a meeting with Kim, talked about how impressed he was with Kim's command of the issues.
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: He is very knowledgeable in the sense that he knows the files. He's very capable of engaging in a complex set of discussions. When I ask him a question about something that's a little off, he answers it. There's no note cards.
TODD (voice-over): Analysts say Kim's been engaged in a grand charm offensive since New Year's Day when he opened the door for diplomacy with South Korea.
His sister, Kim Yo-jong, has played a critical role in the offensive, successfully cultivating South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Winter Olympics.
And Kim's appearance in April at a summit with Moon in the DMZ, experts say, was a masterstroke in diplomacy and image making.
TODD (on camera): Is he playing the U.S. in its allies?
DR. PATRICK CRONIN, SENIOR ADVISOR AND SENIOR DIRECTOR OF THE ASIA- PACIFIC SECURITY PROGRAM, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: Kim is playing everybody right now. Kim has agency here. He has a strategy. He knows what he wants, and what he wants is he wants to retain nuclear weapons while breaking the sanctions regime and inviting real investment and economic prosperity into this country.
TODD (voice-over): Veteran intelligence officials and diplomats praised Kim and Trump for bringing at least a temporary peace. But tonight, human rights monitors warn of Kim's deceptions.
TODD (on camera): What is the reality there during this charm offensive?
GREG SCARLATOIU, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE COMMITTEE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA: The reality of North Korea has not changed. This regime is keen on developing its nuclear weapons, its ballistic missiles. While it is doing that, 30 percent of North Korea's children are malnourished, 120,000 men, women, and children are held as political prisoners.
TODD: What happens if Kim's charm offensive doesn't work and diplomacy falls apart? Analysts say look for the mistrust between the U.S. and North Korea to deepen, for Kim to probably go back to his aggressive posture and for the chances of a miscalculation and a possible military confrontation to go way up, Wolf.
BLITZER: Even, Brian, as we talk about this so-called charm offensive, there's a report from the Pentagon just made public which throws more cold water on it, right?
TODD: That's right, Wolf. The Pentagon has just made public an assessment of Kim's regime, his weapons program, and his motives. The report was prepared before President Trump agreed to meet with Kim.
But it is stating, it concludes, that Kim's regime wants to maintain control over the North Korea people, that its main goal is, quote, perpetual Kim family rule, and that it will try to maintain that by keeping its nuclear weapons program.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you.
Coming up, the breaking news. As President Trump steps up his attack on democratic institutions, peddling a conspiracy claim about an alleged spy in his campaign, his senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is grilled by the Special Counsel's team and is asked about campaign contacts with foreigners.
[17:55:07] We have new details from my interview with Kushner's attorney, Abbe Lowell.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Wide ranging interview. Jared Kushner's lawyer tells me about his client's second interview with the Special Counsel, revealing important lines of questioning. What does it tell us about the state of the Russia probe and Kushner's fate?
[18:00:01] Intel community attack. President Trump takes his assault on law enforcement institutions to a new level, fueling unproven claims about a spy inside his campaign.