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Volcano Disaster in Hawaii; President Trump Pushes FBI Conspiracy Theory; Interview With Senator Jeff Flake; Lava, Toxic Gas Posing Growing Threat on Hawaii; Source: Trump Administration Wants More High-Level Talks Assurances From Kim Jong Un Before Summit. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 23, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump takes his assault on law enforcement institutions to a new level, fueling unproven claims about a spy inside his campaign.
Tonight, fired FBI chief James Comey says Mr. Trump is peddling lies that will do lasting damage to the country.
Ready for sentencing. New indications tonight that the special counsel is done pumping former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos for information. We're going to tell you what we're learning about that.
And lava threat. We're live at the Hawaii volcano, as a burning toxic nightmare shows no sign of ending.
Stay right here for up-to-the-minute images of this erupting disaster.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, Jared Kushner's lawyer confirming to me just a little while ago that this client was interviewed a second time by the special counsel's team.
Abbe Lowell acknowledging that Robert Mueller asked the president's senior adviser and son-in-law about the firing of James Comey and about the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia. Lowell also confirms that Kushner has finally been granted a permanent security clearance 489 days into the Trump administration.
I will get reaction from Republican Senator Jeff Flake. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are all standing by.
First to CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger and CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.
Gloria and Shimon, I want to listen to what Abbe Lowell told me in the last hour.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: 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.
ABBE LOWELL, ATTORNEY FOR JARED KUSHNER: So the focus of Jared's cooperation has really 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 in 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 have 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, so, Gloria, what's your reaction?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, my reaction is that they are being very specific with Jared Kushner, because he was at the nexus of all of the things they're investigating.
So, I thought Abbe was pretty candid about what they were asking Jared about, particularly regarding his -- his meetings with Russians, I would assume. Don't forget he was the point person who we were told wanted to establish a back channel to Russia. He was involved in the campaign and had meetings, and also, of course, dealt with Cambridge Analytica, which has been something that has -- that has come up time and time again, and also, of course, the question of obstruction and the firing of James Comey, because we know the Jared Kushner was in New Jersey that weekend when the president made his fateful decision to fire the FBI director.
Those close to Jared say he just supported it, but had nothing to do with the decision. People who are not close to Jared portray him as driving the decision to fire Comey. So, I'm sure that the special counsel wanted to wait awhile, until he could ask Jared, get a lot of other people's stories about what occurred, and then ask Jared Kushner himself to answer these questions.
BLITZER: Shimon, I asked Abbe Lowell if Kushner is a witness, a subject or a target of this investigation. Listen to his response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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 attorney's 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 will tell you that today's witnesses is 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.
BLITZER: Well, that was the question, if he's a witness, a subject, or target.
LOWELL: Wolf, I simply don't use those terms. I never have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He just said he was a witness.
Shimon, what do you make of that?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It's pretty insignificant.
First of all, I think we should not lose sight of the fact that having Jared Kushner's attorney come out like this and speak out, it's rare that we ever see him do this. In fact, I think this may be like the only second time that I have actually seen him on television.
And I think they felt that they were at a point where they feel pretty comfortable that whatever Robert Mueller has been looking into as it relates to Jared Kushner, that perhaps is somewhat over now.
Of course, as Abbe there says, anything can change. The other thing that I think it's important note here is clearly he thinks that Jared Kushner was a witness here. I don't think he would have allowed the special counsel, the FBI agents and those prosecutors to sit there and grill Jared Kushner for some nine hours if he thought that he was a target of the investigation.
That would just pretty much be malpractice on Abbe Lowell's part. So, it's clear that he thinks that he's a witness here. And, Wolf, we should remember that what the Russians here were doing, what they were running, what other countries here were trying to do was influence Jared Kushner, was to try and influence the campaign and eventually the president.
There was -- as we have reported, there was outreach by many different countries to Jared Kushner, specifically with the Russians and different people that were -- had ties to Vladimir Putin to Russia that were meeting with Jared Kushner.
I mean, he says it there himself, Abbe Lowell, that when he talks about undue influence by other -- by other countries. And those are the kind of questions, it seems, that were posed to Jared Kushner, because that is central to one of the main issues that Robert Mueller is still looking at.
BLITZER: Yes, Gloria, Abbe Lowell also confirmed that Jared Kushner finally received his permanent security clearance.
What would -- this is something that had been delayed clearly for a long time.
I mean, as we all recall, he had interim clearance longer than anyone at that level that we know about had ever had. But then, in the wake of the Rob Porter scandal, when they sort of redid all the security procedures at the White House, Jared Kushner lost his clearance, along -- interim clearance, along with a lot of other people.
And what Abbe Lowell was saying was after going through the regular procedure, keeping his place in line, not jumping to the head of the line, that Jared was finally granted his security clearance. They have always maintained that the reason he didn't get it in the first place was because of his complicated business, et cetera.
But we also know that there is a lot of controversy over the filing of Jared's FS-86 forms, which he had to amend multiple times, because the contacts with the Russians that in fact the special counsel was apparently asking him about in April were not listed on his security clearance forms.
And his lawyers have said that initially that was an oversight. But it was really a complication for him, which they had to straighten out. And it looks now as if they have.
BLITZER: So, Shimon, in November, he was questioned for two hours, mostly about the firing of Michael Flynn, the national security adviser, in April, seven hours. Now he gets his permanent security clearances.
Walk us through the process. The FBI and the intelligence community make recommendations. But, in the end, it's up to the White House to decide -- specifically, I assume the president can make that decision.
PROKUPECZ: Well, certainly.
And the president wanted him to have security clearance. I think this was the big issue all along. And then folks like John Kelly, obviously, they instituted some new policies at the White House.
But, in the end, really, Wolf, if the intelligence community, if the FBI was really holding this back and thought that there were still some issues where Jared Kushner shouldn't have security clearance, it's highly likely that he would not have a security clearance.
But, ultimately, yes, the president would be the one to decide. And if the president says, we need to figure out a way how to get Jared Kushner security clearance, then that would happen. But, clearly, if you listen to what Abbe Lowell says here, that they went through the proper channels and the right process to get him the security clearance.
BLITZER: All right, guys, I want both of you to stand by.
Senator Jeff Flake is about to join us as well.
Senator, we're going to get to you in a moment.
But we're learning more right now but the president's son-in-law, senior adviser. The president is pouring fuel on the conspiracy theory at the same time, that the FBI -- quote -- "spied" on his presidential campaign.
Just days after he hereby demanded a full-scale investigation, the president appears to have delivered a verdict himself, tweeting about the unsubstantiated claim as though -- as though it were fact.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.
Pamela, the president escalating this new line of attack against the Russia investigation. PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf.
Yes, that's right, Wolf. In fact, today, he's calling it a big political scandal, not backing down from his claim that there was a politically motivated spy implanted in his campaign, despite the fact that the president has yet to cite any concrete evidence to back that up.
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, 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 the FBI was in fact watching Russia.
QUESTION: Was the FBI spying on Trump's campaign?
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: 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 Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage and influence, which is what they do.
QUESTION: So, why doesn't he like that?
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), VIRGINIA: My hope would be that any such move 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 roundtable in New York, where Trump doubled down on calling MS-13 gang members animals.
TRUMP: I called them animals the other day. And I was met with rebuke. They said they are people. They are 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 tells 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.
BLITZER: Pamela Brown with that report.
Thank you, Pamela, very much.
Joining us now, Republican Senator Jeff Flake. He is a key member of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
There's lots to discuss.
But let me get your quick reaction to these new details we just heard from Jared Kushner's lawyer. What do you think when the president -- what did you think, first of all, to what Abbe Lowell, Kushner's lawyer, told us?
[18:15:03] SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I don't have any window into that.
I just know that Mueller is a professional. He's doing things methodically, as he should. And I trust him. But I don't have any window into the Kushner issue there.
BLITZER: What do you think when the president uses the phrase criminal deep state?
FLAKE: Well, I think that that is completely unfair, and it's not good to sully our institutions like that without proof.
And having a briefing that includes only Republicans is no way to have transparency.
If you're going to have transparency, then involve both parties. So I hope that the president reconsiders. If there's a meeting or briefing just with Republicans in there, it will do nothing to shed any light, if light needs to be shed on this topic. But I have seen no evidence that there is spying on the Trump campaign.
It's just simply the FBI following leads on, was Russia involved or fought? And I think it was appropriate, from what I have seen. But, boy, if there's a briefing, it ought to involve both parties.
BLITZER: Yes, a lot of people, including several of your Republican colleagues, agree.
You just delivered a pretty scathing speech at Harvard Law School's class day.
You said, among other things -- and I will put it up on the screen -- "Our presidency has been debased by a figure who has a seemingly bottomless appetite for destruction and division and only a passing familiarity with how the Constitution works. The Congress is utterly supine in the face of the moral vandalism that flows from the White House daily. Simply put, we may have hit bottom."
All right, tell us our viewers what made you say that.
FLAKE: Well, I think that our presidency has been reduced.
When we have the president calling for the jailing of defeated political opponents calling his opponents losers and clowns, then the presidency has been debased or reduced. That's what it means.
And for Congress, we need to stand up and reclaim our constitutional prerogative, whether it's passing immigration reform or authorization for use of force. We shouldn't continually say, we will pass what the president wants. We should pass what we think we should do and ask the president to sign it.
He can either sign it or veto it. But we have given far too much. And I think that it's time for the Congress to stand up.
BLITZER: The president is also making some very serious accusations that President Obama, former CIA Director John Brennan, among others, were abusing their power to go directly after him.
Do Republicans have a responsibility to challenge the president when he makes these kind of accusations?
FLAKE: Yes, we do.
And Republicans have a responsibility when the president says, I'm just going to brief Republicans, to say, no, that's not how it goes, particularly when you're talking about defense, intelligence, national security, those kind of issues.
You know, we work in a bipartisan basis. That's the only way to do it, particularly in the Senate. And so we have a responsibility as Republicans to say, that's not how we do it, Mr. President. That's not how you should do it either.
BLITZER: If the president does convince his supporters, though, his base, that the entire Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence community, they were all out to get him -- and that seems to be the narrative that he's trying to get sunk in -- what happens when we finally see Robert Mueller's findings?
FLAKE: Well, that's what I mentioned in my speech, is seemingly bottomless appetite for division, to play off members of Congress against each other, the parties against each other, and to divide.
And so I hope that, when Bob Mueller continues his investigation, which I hope he does, and produces his report, that it's something that brings us together.
And I don't know what's he's going to come up with, but I have confidence in him. And I think we ought to all have confidence in our system.
BLITZER: Senator Flake, thanks so much for joining us.
FLAKE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the breaking news, what we're learning from Jared Kushner's lawyer about his client's second interview with the special counsel, and what that could mean as the investigation goes forward.
And we're also tracking the exploding volcano danger in Hawaii. CNN is live on the Big Island as the lava gushes and overflows.
BLITZER: We're back with breaking news on my exclusive interview with Jared Kushner's lawyer, Abbe Lowell.
He tells me that the special counsel asked the president's adviser and son-in-law about the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia, as well as of the firing of the FBI director, James Comey. This as President Trump is in the midst of a new all-out assault on
America's intelligence, law enforcement community, spreading unproven claims that the FBI spied on his campaign.
Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.
Jim, the president is taking his attacks to a new level.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And we have to remember, Wolf, that these attacks date back nearly two years now.
They started during the campaign, when the first signs of Russian interference in the election came up. The president questioned the evidence behind those claims. They have continued, intensified, as the president has been in office, using the power of that office to further those claims.
And yet, at each turn, the chiefs of the intelligence and law enforcement agencies, those appointed by the previous administration, President Obama, and those appointed by the president himself, have contradicted the president's claims.
And we saw that again in very clear form today.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): The president again today called the Russia investigation a witch-hunts carried out by a -- quote -- "criminal deep state."
And yet, just hours later,his newly appointed secretary of state can see no such deep state exists.
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't believe there's a deep state at the State Department.
REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: You formerly served as CIA director. Do you believe your colleagues at the CIA are part of the criminal deep state?
POMPEO: This term deep state has been thrown around. I would say that the employees that work for me at the CIA, nearly uniformly, were aimed at achieving the president's objectives and America's objectives.
SCIUTTO: In fact, the president's alarming charge that intelligence and law enforcement agencies are out to get him has been contradicted by the heads of each of those agencies, all appointed by the president and confirmed by a GOP-led Senate.
And yet Mr. Trump continues to make the same allegation.
TRUMP: There's never been anything like it in the history of our country. SCIUTTO: Beyond his ongoing public attacks on the nation's
intelligence community, the president has dismissed those agencies' assessments of some of the most critical national intelligence issues.
Trump ignored the intelligence community's assessment that Iran is complying with the nuclear agreement, and instead cited Israeli intelligence from 2003 as justification for killing the deal, intelligence which U.S. officials tell CNN did not change the current U.S. assessment of Iranian compliance.
TRUMP: Israel published intelligence documents long concealed by Iran conclusively showing the Iranians' regime and its history of pursuing nuclear weapons.
SCIUTTO: And now the questioning of U.S. intelligence extends beyond the president's himself. On Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that she was -- quote -- unfamiliar" with the intelligence community's high confidence assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton, an assessment made public in January 2017.
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I do not believe that I have seen that conclusion. What I do -- that the specific intent was to help President Trump win, I'm not aware of that.
SCIUTTO: The former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who served both Democratic and Republican administrations, warns that the president's latest allegation of spies inside his campaign is particularly damaging.
CLAPPER: Politicizing what is a legitimate activity on the part, and an important one on the part of the FBI. They use informants and have strict rules and protocols under this.
SCIUTTO: As the president begins the possibility of face-to-face negotiations with North Korea over its own nuclear program, there's concern now as to how, if the president uses the intelligence provided by the intelligence agencies, for instance, on the question of North Korea dismantling a nuclear test site, the U.S. aware there are other sites that North Korea could use.
Is that colored as a win if the intelligence, Wolf, tells a different story.
BLITZER: Jim, I want you to stay with us.
I want to also bring in some of our other experts on the intelligence community and the national security situation.
And, Josh Campbell, let's start with you.
Previously, the White House tried to make a distinction between the leaders of the Department of Justice and the FBI and the rank and file. Do you think that's changing?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, let's revisit the evolution of whiplash that this organization has undergone.
Now, first, the president and his people on his side were describing the FBI as corrupt. And then they said, no, no, we're not talking about the rank and file. We're talking just about the leadership. The rank and file, they're great.
And then the president went on to say, it's a shame what has happened to the FBI, the entire FBI. And next the president describe FBI agents in New York executing a lawful court order as -- quote, unquote -- "breaking into" the office of his lawyer.
And then next his lawyer Rudy Giuliani described those same agents, the rank and file, as Nazi storm troopers.
And now the organization is being labeled as part of some deep criminal state conspiracy.
So, I no longer speak on behalf of the FBI, but I have to imagine that if you're in the organization right now and you wake up every day and see our leaders calling you crooks, you feel under assault.
BLITZER: Well, Shawn Turner is with us as well.
Why do you think the president has seized on this confidential source and is framing this as though the source was a spy in his campaign? What's the goal?
SHAWN TURNER, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBER: Well, you know, Wolf, no one knows better than the president that words matter.
And when the president uses words like spy and deep state and conspiracy, he's doing that for a couple of reasons. One, it's a continuation of what we now know is an intensified attack on the intelligence community and on the FBI.
The president has gone into fight mode. And we have seen that quite clear, with clearly some of the statements that he's made lately.
The president also knows that any narrative is a living, breathing entity. And he knows that he has to feed that narrative if people are going to continue to buy into it and believe it.
[18:30:12] So I think he's aware of that with regard to those on his base but also with regard to the investigation. He's changed his strategy. There was a time when he was very subtle about attacking the intelligence community and people who -- and the process that the FBI and the intelligence community is going through. But that's become very direct now.
This particular individual, unfortunately, is a victim of the president, because this is a president who always needs someone to go after. And if he's got Mueller, if he's got other individuals who are part of this investigation, he has no problem with adding another one. And I think that's what he's done with this confidential informant.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's bring in Dan Glickman, as well. He's a former member of Congress who was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He's with the Aspen Institute.
Dan, we learned that Jared Kushner's security clearance has now been fully restored. Yesterday the president, by the way, signed a security clearance reform bill that he expressed some concerns about. Instead of a veto, this method is a statement in which the president said it's within his authority to ultimately control who has access to classified information. As someone who has studied this over many years, what do you make of that?
DAN GLICKMAN, ASPEN INSTITUTE: Well, I suppose the president has ultimate authority, but he also has to subscribe to the rule of law. And the way this president is dealing with the lack of trust in our major intelligence institutions, whether it's the CIA or the State Department, we just heard my fellow Kansan Mike Pompeo say there's no deep state, either at the State Department or the CIA.
So the president thrives on chaos. He thrives on getting people to attack each other. And in the process, maybe he thinks they'll forget about the substantive claims of collusion or the other things that are being investigated. But I think most people in America want this investigation to be thorough and not to be stopped by this kind of rhetoric.
BLITZER: Jim, you know, we learned even more about Jared Kushner since he had his security clearance revoked. It's not like those issues have been resolved. Have they? What's the logic here when we see that he now has full top-secret security clearance?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Ultimately, the decision on the security clearance that rests inside the White House. Now, White House staff made a decision to grant that clearance over a recommendation to the contrary from the FBI. That's unlikely.
Keep in mind, we're a year and a half into this administration. Jared Kushner with a senior -- with a senior post, law enforcement agencies have had a year and a half to look through the many questions that arose from his filling out of his SF-86 security form, including many omissions, such as not mentioning the Trump Tower meeting in 2016 with Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.
But they've had time to look through that, and if they still had major objections, you'd have to assume they would make those clear. It would be very difficult for him to receive the clearance, as we now know -- we now know today that he has received it.
BLITZER: You know, Dan Glickman, when you hear the president say and what he tweeted this morning about this -- not just a deep state but a criminal deep state that is out to get him, you've been around for a long time. What do you think?
GLICKMAN: I think it's outrageous. I think it's doing a lot of damage to the public's trust and belief that our government is acting in their best interests. And it hurts America. It hurts America around the world. The president wants to build up this country, and the lack of bipartisanship and working on these issues is also deeply disturbing.
But the president's rhetoric is certainly not helping him, and it's certainly not helping America either.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody stick around. There's more news that we're following, including more on the Kushner collection. After my exclusive interview with Jared Kushner's lawyer, what do we know about the state of the Russia investigation right now and whether Kushner might be cleared, or charged?
And volcano watch in Hawaii. The gripping images and the urgent threat to residents. We're going live to the disaster zone.
[18:38:39] BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, Jared Kushner's lawyer confirming to CNN that President Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor sat for a second interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team. In an exclusive interview with me last hour, Abbe Lowell said that the Mueller investigators asked Kushner about Russian collusion, foreign contacts and the firing of the FBI director James Comey, as well as more.
Let's dig deeper with our specialists and our analysts. And David Chalian, Kushner's lawyer outlined that Mueller was asking about these contacts with foreign officials, about the firing of Comey. So that sort of reflects two tracks of this investigation, right?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Without a doubt. The collusion track -- the so-called collusion track, and the obstruction track. And I think Abbe Lowell made it crystal clear to you that he believed, just from the seven hours he spent with Mueller's team and his client, that those two paths are still clearly being actively pursued, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Sabrina Siddiqui, why do you think Abbe Lowell has now decided to come out with all these details?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, I think it's notable that, on the same day Jared Kushner's security clearance was reportedly restored, you have his attorney revealing the details of his second interview with the special counsel, to put forward this narrative about the ways in which the president's son-in-law is cooperating.
When you look at the context in which his security clearance was revoked, that was amid the controversy over Rob Porter, the president's former secretary, which exposed that there were several staffers in the White House who were operating on interim clearances.
[18:40:12] But now you have a narrative, at least from Kushner's legal team, that suggests that he is not the subject of a criminal investigation; otherwise, it would be unlikely that his security clearance would be restored. So this allows him to sort of conflate two issues that may not be entirely related.
BLITZER: Michal Zeldin, do you find it sort of odd that Kushner's attorney, Abbe Lowell, said in the interview with me, he didn't even ask if Kushner is a witness, a subject or a target in this investigation?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I did, Wolf. I thought that Abbe was trying to say in his narrative that Kushner was in fact a witness, but what he was trying to say, I think, as well, is one's status as a witness or subject or a target is movable. That you could be a witness today and a subject tomorrow. So he doesn't like to use those terms, per se.
But clearly, I think the message today was "My client is seen by the special counsel as a witness. Whatever you want to call him, he is not in the crosshairs of a likely indictment."
BLITZER: David, listen to what Abbe Lowell said about Kushner's security clearance. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ABBE LOWELL, ATTORNEY FOR JARED KUSHNER: It was just done the normal, regular way.
BLITZER: And what --
LOWELL: And in fact in, 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 expensive holdings that each and every one required someone to look at to determine the nature of the finances. And so of course, it took a long time, but it was done the normal process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So what do you think, David? Does that add up to you?
CHALIAN: Believes it was done in the normal process. Here's the thing, Jared Kushner, as you know, Wolf, has a pretty expensive portfolio that the president has assigned from him from day one. If they understood the normal process and how long it was going to be to get him into a full security clearance environment, why all those things were being assigned to him from the get-go, I think, it's still a question for the White House to answer.
BLITZER: Sabrina, we now know that Mueller completed the second interview with Jared Kushner, seven hours. And that they're preparing to sentence, even as we speak, in the coming days, George Papadopoulos. What does that signal to you?
SIDDIQUI: Well, it could signal that there is at least one phase of the investigation that is nearing its conclusion. George Papadopoulos, of course, pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI about the nature of his contacts with the Russians. But it's also important to remember that he was arrested last July and
has since been cooperating with the special counsel. So it could also just mean that, at this point in time, Robert Mueller and his team have gathered all of the information that they can from Papadopoulos as a witness.
And we also know that it's hard to imagine this investigation nearing its conclusion without an interview with the president, and that is something that Mueller's team is still in talks with when it comes to, with respect to the president's legal team, what the parameters of that interview might look like. I certainly would not imagine the investigation concluding without that sit-down.
BLITZER: And Michael, the president in a tweet earlier today was -- seized on that so-called confidential source that was used to try to find out what the Russians were up to in the U.S. election.
Let me put it up on the screen: "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. What goes around comes around."
How concerning is that to you?
ZELDIN: Well, Wolf, I think what it does say is that Rosenstein was absolutely correct in appointing a special counsel. This behavior really is Exhibit A of the need for a prosecution to be taking place outside of the Justice Department. Can you imagine how it would be proceeding if this was handled by career people who would be subject to the president's whim in being fired?
So I think the behavior of the president is unacceptable. It's an attack on law enforcement, as many other guests have said. But as I say, it is an example of the need for an independent counsel on this investigation, more than anything else.
BLITZER: It's very interesting, David, because the president this morning tweeted just two words. One of his tweets, quote, "Witch hunt."
Now look at the use of that phrase over the past few months. If you take a look at this graphic we've put up, you see going back to May of last year and how recently since March it's gone up, up, up. It's a steep increase. What does that tell you?
CHALIAN: It tells me that the president and his team has ratcheted up the effort to discredit the Mueller investigation.
[18:45:01] And you noted, witch hunt he's been using for the last 15 months or so. But the increase in volume is all about a deliberate concerted effort try to win an argument in the political realm with the American people in mind here at the end of this process, to rally the president's supporters and make sure that a healthy enough percentage of Americans will question no matter what Mueller delivers at the end. WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And the use of that word witch hunt only in
that graphic from tweets. Not from what he's actually said but from his tweets.
Stick around. There's more breaking news we're following.
I want to go to Hawaii right now, the Kilauea volcano eruption and the growing threat from lava and toxic gas.
CNN's Scott McLean is on the Big Island for us tonight.
Scott, this eruption has been unfolding now what? For three weeks?
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is the nightmare that never ends for these people, Wolf, or seemingly never ending between the gas, the lava, the earthquakes, the ash cloud. There is plenty to worry about for people here. And now, one other thing, and that is a geothermal plant that is being threatened by lava. It's this one right behind me.
And notice, if you look at closely. There's a little hill that's formed of lava around it, and that is actually good news for people in this area because it is pushing lava in one direction in the opposite direction of that geothermal plant. In fact, that lava is cascading downhill all the way to the ocean. You can see on the horizon there that white plume of smoke where it is entering there.
And so, right now, we know at that geothermal plant, the lava is about 250, 300 yards away. I spoke to the company today. They say that the danger is relatively limited. They've managed to cap all the 11 geothermal wells.
But if they were to breach or if those caps were to fail, the danger is hydrogen sulfide and a plume of that gas going up. And it is irritating at best and really potentially deadly worse.
I want to show you one other thing, Wolf, and that's this fissure over here. You can hardly see it in the daytime, but you can see the massive hill that it's created over the past week and a half as it's been erupting. It's really died down in recent days. You can just see that plume of smoke there.
This is actually the fissure that caused the only injury so far at Kilauea. It launched a lava bomb the size of a bowling ball at 57- year-old man named Darryl Clinton who was trying to protect two homes in that area. In fact, you can see one of the roofs down there actually 100 yards away.
I actually visited Darryl Clinton in the hospital yesterday afternoon, and he is in surprisingly in good spirits. He has a metal rod in his leg. He's had two surgeries already, and he'll likely need more.
Just the heat of this lava bomb even set his porch on fire. He says, though, he does not regret his actions and to his credit, the two homes he was protecting, they are still standing. A couple of other things to mention, the Leilani Estates neighborhood,
Wolf, that's where we saw some of these first fissures open and lava bubble up, some of those cracks, they are widening. In fact, some homes are at risk of falling into some of those cracks. So, it is still touch and go for the people who live there.
Obviously in this area, things can change quite quickly with this lava, and so, the National Guard is on standby with helicopters to evacuate neighborhoods within four hours if the situation were to change. But, of course, we don't know how long this is going to go on. And that is really the number one question on everyone's minds.
BLITZER: Certainly is. Scott, standby.
I want to bring in our meteorologist Jennifer Gray.
Jennifer, give us the scope of the area affected.
JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, when you think about the Big Island, the area that's being impacted is a relatively small area. But for those people that are affected, this is huge deal, and they are in this for the long haul. This is not going to end anytime soon, most likely.
This is where those lava fields are in the peak. And you can see those areas in red, that's the lava heading to the ocean. That's that three-mile journey to the ocean.
That geothermal venture is just nearby. And we can zoom in on that, and you can see those two fissures impacting that. Number six, and then the other one right here to the north, fissure 22, those are the ones that keep going with those lava fountain and those are the ones impacting that plant.
But just as Scott was saying, most of the lava is heading away from the plant. Here it is right here, and you can see the bulk of it going away. And then there's that hill he was talking about that the hardening lava.
So, it's basically helping it go away from the plant. And so, that was the biggest concern of the most recent days was that plant, supplies 25 percent of the island's power. A well breach can release that hydrogen sulfide. But most of the wells have been capped with steel plates, so right now it does remain stable, Wolf.
BLITZER: Explain the different kind of hazards, Jennifer, associated with this eruption.
GRAY: Well, there are many hazards but one especially in the most days has been laze.
[18:50:02] And, basically, it forms when lava reaches the ocean. So, just as we were talking about, that lava taken a three-mile journey to the ocean. It sends up a lot of steam, made of hydrochloric acid and even tiny volcanic gas particles, and so when you breathe that, it can be extremely harmful to your lungs and also irritating to your eyes. And also, vog has been something else that has been a concern. It's basically when the sulfur dioxide reacts with atmospheric gases and it creates basically toxic air particles. It's just another form of air pollution. It can cause irritation to the lungs and the eyes and cause breathing problems.
And then we've also been concerned with acid rain. And that can contaminate drinking water and also be hazardous to marine life -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Our meteorologist Jennifer Gray, thanks for that report.
And to our viewers, you can see more of these truly amazing images of the Kilauea lava flows live around the clock on our Website, CNN.com. Amazing, amazing pictures.
There's more breaking news coming up. A new demand from the Trump administration ahead of the president's proposed summit with Kim Jong- un. We're learning new information.
Stay with us.
[18:55:53] BLITZER: There's more breaking news tonight. The Trump administration apparently growing increasingly concerned about the planned summit between the president and the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is working the story for us.
Elise, you're getting new information from your sources.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
Well, a senior official involved in the planning for this upcoming summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un says the Trump administration wants additional high level talks with North Korea and assurances from Kim Jong-un before the summit that he is committed to giving up his nuclear program.
Top White House officials will travel to Singapore this weekend, but their focus is to confer with the North Korean delegation on logistical and agenda items. This official said that on top of that, substantive discussions would need to place between North Korea's leadership and either Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or other top administration officials.
Pompeo -- you heard Pompeo yesterday say he would be ready to meet with North Korean officials to, you know, make sure things are ready for the summit. And this would be after the completion of military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea. You remember North Korea threatened to withdraw from the talks if those joint exercises proceeded or if the U.S. continued to insist that North Korea abandon its nuclear program and that's prompted, Wolf, all this concern in Washington about Kim's true intentions.
Now, the official say the key point is whether or not Kim Jong-un has made a decision to denuclearize. If he has, the officials say it shouldn't be that difficult to get an agreement on an agenda. But if he hasn't and is going to play the same games as he is in the past, the summit won't be that successful and they want to know if there's a chance for success before the president goes ahead, Wolf.
These officials said the U.S. side also wants a sign of good faith that Kim has made a strategic shift to denuclearize.
BLITZER: Lots of questions right now. Elise, thank you very much for that report. We'll see what happens.
Finally tonight, very different story. The porn star Stormy Daniels is being honored for her legal battle against President Trump by the city of West Hollywood out in California.
Our national correspondent Sara Sidner is on the scene for us.
Sara, what, the city proclaimed this Stormy Daniels Day and is giving her a key to the city?
SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In just a few moments, Wolf, May 23rd will become known here in West Hollywood as Stormy Daniels Day. The mayor and the city council was about to hand over the key, the ceremonial key to the city, to Stormy Daniels.
And why is that? We asked the mayor that very question. He talked about the fact that Stormy Daniels in his mind, is really a face of the resistance and that West Hollywood is the center of the resistance against Donald Trump and his policies when it comes to the LGBTQ community, when it comes to DACA recipients, when it comes to sanctuary cities, when it comes to Planned Parenthood.
And when I asked him exactly why she got chosen even though she has gotten criticism, he has gotten criticism for this in some corners, others have praised him, here's what he told us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR JOHN DURAN, WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA: So here we have plodding along, fighting day in, fighting day out, resisting these policies, fighting for our people and along comes this unlikely heroin in the form of a porn star. Stormy Daniels, who is actually speaking truth to a very powerful person on the planet, taking on the bully and making him expose all the hypocrisy, all the corruption, all the two- faced problems within the Trump administration.
So for all of those reasons, we're going to acknowledge her with a day today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: We should be hearing from her and the mayor in just a few minutes. The ceremony, by the way, is not being held at West Hollywood City Hall. It is being held at West Hollywood Chi Chi LaRue's, which is a sex toy shop. Stormy Daniels should be here in just a few moments along with the mayor and city council and as you can see, there's a crowd of folks here waiting for this to happen -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Not surprised. I'm sure it's a pretty significant crowd over there in West Hollywood, California.
Sara, thank you very much. Sara Sidner reporting for us.
That's it for me. To all our viewers, thanks so much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.