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Justice Dept. to Brief Congressional Leaders on FBI Source; North Korea Destroys Nuclear Test Site. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 24, 2018 - 07:00   ET


GEORGE MARTIN, CO-CAPTAIN, SUPER BOWL XXI-WINNING NEW YORK GIANTS: -- unanimous concept. So I support that wholeheartedly.

[07:00:04] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: George Martin, always a pleasure. Thank you for the perspective.

MARTIN: Chris, good run on NEW DAY and the very best to you in the future.

CUOMO: Appreciate it, big brother. Thank you very much.

All right. Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you "CNN TALK" is next. For our U.S. viewers, there is a lot of news on this Thursday morning. Let's get after it.

Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. In just hours, a bipartisan group of top congressional leaders will get briefed on the FBI's investigation into Russia meddling, including the FBI's use of a confidential source to determine if Russia was colluding with the Trump campaign.

Now, this briefing comes only after Democrats complained that the White House was politicizing intelligence by initially only going to have a briefing with Republicans.

Meantime, the president continues to repeat his unproven claim that the Obama administration planted a spy in his campaign.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And there's breaking news from North Korea. Reporters including CNN's Will Ripley just witnessed the regime blowing up tunnels reportedly used for their nuclear testing. Now, this comes as the war of words in the U.S. and North Korea escalating. A North Korean official says it is ready for a nuclear showdown if talks with the U.S. fail.

So let's begin with Kaitlan Collins live at the White House. There's a lot happening today, Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There certainly is, Alisyn and Chris. And what happened now, after initially only scheduling a briefing for two Republican lawmakers to be briefed on that confidential intelligence source in the Russia investigation, there is now going to be a bipartisan briefing today.

Now, how we got to this bipartisan briefing is a very long story that continually changed overnight, even into the late evening. But what it ended with was President Trump telling aides, including chief of staff John Kelly, that he thought Democrats should be invited to that meeting, because he didn't want them to be able to accuse the White House of playing games here and accusing them of being partisan.

Now, that is because the president believes that would overshadow what he sees as the overall larger story here, that there are law enforcement officials the president believes are working against him.


COLLINS (voice-over): The Justice Department announcing that it will hold two back-to-back meetings today about the Russia probe. The first, with Republican chairmen Devin Nunes and Trey Gowdy, and the second with Gowdy and the bipartisan Gang of Eight.

A spokesperson for House Speaker Paul Ryan telling CNN he won't be at the meeting due to a longstanding schedule commitment. White House chief of staff John Kelly, however, will be in attendance, despite this statement from press secretary Sarah Sanders.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president asked Chief of Staff Kelly to set up the meeting. No one from the White House staff will attend.

COLLINS: The decisions to hold two briefings coming after sharp criticism from Democrats for being excluded from the first proposed meeting.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY: I've never seen anything like this. This is highly unusual that you would have such a briefing in the middle of an investigation. Highly unusual. And that it should be partisan is just totally unacceptable.

COLLINS: The White House initially proposing a Gang of Eight briefing next month, then moving the date up to next week, before conceding to hold both meetings today.

A notable change after the White House repeatedly said that Democrats didn't want to be invited.

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: But they aren't asking for the information. They -- for whatever reason, it appears they don't want to is see light shed on this particular investigation.

COLLINS: President Trump pushing back on the charge from Democrats that the briefing is politically motivated.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I want from Rod, from the FBI, from everybody, we want transparency.

COLLINS: But continuing to push his unproven claim that a, quote, "spy" infiltrated his campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What proof do you have that your campaign was spied on? TRUMP: All you have to do is look at the basics, and you'll see. It looks like a very serious event. But we'll find out. When they look at the documents, I think people are going to see a lot of bad things happen.

COLLINS: Government officials telling CNN that Trump's allegation isn't true, but that hasn't stopped the president and his allies from repeating it.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: If they ran a spy ring, that is an absolute red line.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: I'm shocked to hear that they put a spy in the campaign.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS: This is a deep-state political hit job now spying on an opposition party campaign.

COLLINS: President Trump pushing the deep-state conspiracy on Twitter Wednesday, a characterization his own secretary of state has rejected.

POMPEO: I don't believe there's a deep state at the State Department.

COLLINS: The president also misquoting the former director of national intelligence James Clapper to push his narrative.

TRUMP: I mean, if you look at Clapper, he sort of admitted that they had spies in the campaign yesterday, inadvertently.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: 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.

JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": So what does it mean?

CLAPPER: It's what they do.


[07:05:10] COLLINS: So Chris and Alisyn, the president there saying that James Clapper said something he simply just did not say.

Now, it's important to watch the president's language overall regarding his allegations about a spy being in his campaign, because the president has a history of making outrageous statements like this with no evidence to prove them. But couching them with enough language that later on, when confronted about them, he can say it was something he merely suggested.

There are a handful examples. President Barack Obama wiretapped him; that President Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States; that a cable news host played a role in the death of an intern; that Ted Cruz's father had something to do with JFK's assassination. They go on and on and on, just to name a few. So it's very important to watch the way that the president speaks about these allegations, that there was a spy inside of his campaign.

CUOMO: Kaitlan, thank you.

Joining us now, CNN political analyst John Avlon and CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd.

All right. So the president, we're told through A.P. reporting, said to a confidante, "I'm using the word 'spy,' because it means something to people. And I want to use the harshest words. I want to have the harshest effect."

CAMEROTA: It's nefarious.

CUOMO: Nefarious. Although I don't know that he said that word. But that's part of -- that's part of the reporting. Let's call this what it is from what we know of the facts.

Sam, is there any known fact that supports the president's theory that he was spied on by the government?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Not but the government. But the truth is he was spied on. But it was by the Russians. We have spent so much time talking about an American spy, this fake spy that's supposedly on the campaign when this was Spygate. We know that the spy master, Vladimir Putin, sent Russians to the United States to infiltrate the campaign.

And so we're spending all this time talking about a spy and not talking about the fact that we know there are Russian spies there. We know that Mike Flynn was on the campaign. He retroactively registered as a foreign agent of Turkey. So we're looking at the wrong source of spying, because the president is trying to distract us, I think.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. This is distract and deflect. This is classic Trump. "I'm not the puppet. You're the puppet."

CUOMO: No puppet.

AVLON: No puppet.

CUOMO: No puppet. You're the puppet.

AVLON: Exactly. But look, I think -- you know, it's also we need to give Donald Trump a lot of credit for his -- he has a genius for marketing. And he is a hype man. And so he seized on this phrase "Spygate" as a way of really capturing what he wants to accuse and hopes it gets picked up in the vernacular, and it does. Not only by, you know, is advocates in the media and politics, but it becomes part of the conversation.

To Sam's point is the crucial one, though. The real scandal folks need to remember is that Russia spied on the Trump campaign and tried to influence their elections on our behalf. As the Senate Intel Committee said, the DHS secretary momentarily forgot. That's the real underlying issue. This partisan hearing and the subsequent bipartisan hearing they're going to do is also a departure from investigative traditions.

But everything about this is outside the norms of American politics.

CAMEROTA: But his master branding has just backfired, and we see it because he's backpedaling. OK? So what he is doing is saying the criminal deep state, about the FBI. Then lo and behold, yesterday they had to have a big meeting about MS-13 where the ICE director talked about how helpful the FBI and the Department of Justice have been in cracking down on the criminal gang MS-13. President Trump was right there.

So now today he's trying to parse, "Oh, the FBI is good, that people are good. When I say 'criminal deep state,' here's what I mean." Listen to this.


TRUMP: Well, I'd actually say how is he going to explain to his grandchildren all of the lies, the deceit, all of the problems he's caused for this country?

I think a thing that I've done for the country, the firing of James Comey, is going to go down as a very good thing. The FBI is great. I know so many people at the FBI. The FBI is a fantastic institution. But some of the people at the top were rotten apples. James Comey was one of them.


CAMEROTA: No, Sam, no. You can't call it a criminal deep state and then say, "Just a couple of rotten apples." You can't tweet out the FBI, quote, "Its reputation is in tatters. The worst in history." No. You don't get to today be like, "I just meant two people."

VINOGRAD: But what else is new? He does this -- he does this with the intelligence community. He does this with the State Department. He likes people in these departments and agencies when it serves his political or personal interests. And we've seen this across the board on every issue.

And the fact of the matter is you can't pick and choose when you like the people that are serving your country. There has to be consistency on every issue, whether it's Russia, he disregards the intelligence community. But then when they're serving a political purpose or making one of his policies that doesn't look good, all of a sudden, they're best friends. It doesn't work like that.

CUOMO: So you have the echo effect on one side, which is basically, you know, FOX News, state TV, saying, "Spy, spy, spy, spy." It's building up what he's saying. OK?

Now on the other side, you have what's supposed to be this earnest attempt at oversight in fact. OK? So we were going to have a meeting today where only Republicans went and got briefed on this. As of 9 to 10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time last night when we were with Leader Pelosi, she did not know that they would be involved in this. She went on to say, you know, in a townhall last night, how wrong this

is. She's never heard of this before. Only now are we told there will be two briefings: a Gang of Eight and that. How big are the implications of this meeting today?

AVLON: Well, I think they're significant solely because the first meeting with Devin Nunes. The concern there is going to be held behind closed doors and Trey Gowdy. And that could be funneled to the Trump administration, given Nunes's pattern of backchanneling the White House. The bipartisan Gang of Eight meeting later in the day, will that be for show? Will it be the exact same information? I mean, bifurcating them itself causes questions. Serious ones.

CAMEROTA: What do you think, Sam, about the idea that there has to be two meetings, for whatever reason, and the idea that just the DOJ and the FBI are opening up their sources and methods to, at the behest of Devin Nunes, reveal who their informant is?

VINOGRAD: I think that this is awful. And the truth is that we have laws that govern when you release information to Congress on intelligence issues for a reason. We have the Intelligence Authorization Act of 1991 that specifically speaks about the fact that departments and agencies should keep certain members of Congress -- and I'm stressing the certain -- fully and currently informed on intelligence issues. That's not what this is.

The Gang of Eight is retroactively briefed on information after Donald Trump's friends and family. And this undermines the historically nonpartisan nature of the intelligence community. So what precedent are we sending we are literally politicizing intelligence and inserting bias into a process, which is an awful precedent.

AVLON: That's the key point. Is that this isn't -- not only departure for our best traditions, but the politicization of intelligence and justice, which is something that has been seen as sacred. And the friends and family plan that Sam just indicated is just an indication of how much of a departure it is.

CUOMO: And Alisyn called it out earlier that it is backpedaling. He said this is about transparency. The president who won't release his taxes says all that matters is transparency. Who's going to believe that? Anyway, thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, John. Thank you.

CUOMO: Breaking news, journalists are witnessing the dismantling of one of North Korea's nuclear test sites, we think. CNN's Will Ripley is one of a select number of reporters who saw it happen. He joins us live on the phone from North Korea.

Will, you got us?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Hey, Chris. Yes, I'm here.

I'm actually on it (ph) and heading back from where we spoke a couple of days ago. We left the North Korean test site about two hours ago. The train pulled out less than an hour ago.

We spent nine hours on the ground at Punggye-ri, the first time the international press has been allowed on site. And what -- what we saw was what North Korea claims is destruction of this test site. So they let us go up to three different tunnels. They opened the door. One of the tunnels was used to conduct five of North Korea's six nuclear tests, most recent last year that triggered a 6.2 magnitude earthquake back in September.

They were very dark. We weren't allowed to go inside the tunnels. But we saw, essentially, explosives as far as we could see down into the tunnels. And they closed the door, brought us up to this observation post, and they'd blow the tunnel up. Then we'd go to the next tunnel and see it, and then they would blow that one up. They blow up probably nine or ten buildings on the site, as well. Buildings that used to house the researchers and house all the equipment to measure -- to measure the magnitude of the nuclear tests.

So at least -- you know, at least on the surface, it seems that the North Koreans were following through on this promise. But you know, there were only journalists in our group. There were no experts who were there to verify exactly what was happening. We don't know how far into the tunnels the explosions actually happened. We don't know if they just closed off the entrance, which could be bulldozed open again.

Or if in fact, the tunnels are, indeed, completely destroyed as the North Koreans have claimed. And when we tried to ask them about how we would e able to verify, the only answer to us was, "You've seen it with your own eyes. We're being transparent. We're taking steps towards denuclearization."

So clearly, they're trying to send a message to President Trump ahead of this planned summit in Singapore on June 12. They want him to believe that they are following through on their promise to get rid of their nuclear weapons.

But, you know, all we can say is what we saw. And we saw a lot of explosions. And we weren't able to interview any officials in depth about what was essentially happening. But the North Koreans say Pyunggye-ri is now shut down for good. So if that really is the case, we can only show you the pictures.

And I'll tell you what. When we get back to Wonsan and can actually see this video, it is really extraordinary stuff. Just to see this place that we've heard about for so many years. Never been allowed to see it until now.

[07:15:04] CAMEROTA: Well, what an assignment. I mean, just -- it's so incredible to have you there as one of the journalists on the ground and to give us all of the context about whether or not you can believe your own eyes. So we'll look forward to seeing that video when you get back. Thank you.

CUOMO: And the key insight from him, there were no experts, only journalists. So do they know what they're seeing? Do they know the significance of it? It's a little bit of a gray area.

CAMEROTA: All right. Meanwhile, with North Korea now threatening a nuclear showdown with the U.S., is this summit with President Trump still going to happen? Senator Angus King weighs in next.


CAMEROTA: Senator Jeff Flake taking on President Trump in a commencement speech at Harvard Law School. Listen to this.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Our presidency has been debased by a figure who seemingly has a bottomless appetite for destruction and division and only a passing familiarity with how the Constitution works. And our Article I branch of government, the Congress -- that's me -- is utterly supine in the -- in the face of the moral vandalism that flows from the White House daily.

[07:20:07] I do not think that the founders could have anticipated that the beauty of their invention might someday founder on the rocks of reality television and that Congress would be such willing accomplices to this calamity.


CUOMO: Now, Senator Flake prefaced this by saying, "Here's the good news." I'm not kidding. I'm not kidding. Check the transcript. He said, "Here's the good news" and then said all of that.

CAMEROTA: That's how he prefaced it. I'm not kidding. Here's the good news. And then said all of that.

Let's bring in John Avlon. Who slipped Jeff Flake the truth serum for his own truth? He is now able to speak, because he's leaving the Senate.

AVLON: But look, first of all, senators should speak their own truth even before they know they're not up for reelection. But what's extraordinary about this speech is that you've got a sitting senator of the same party in a blistering critique of a sitting president. It's not like anything in the same moral universe of critiques of previous presidents.

This is really strong, almost dystopian language about our commander in chief. It's a warning. And it may be that Jeff Flake is setting himself up to a primary challenge. The president, that's been rumored. But he has certainly been strong and really principled and blistering in his critique in a way that exceeds even John McCain and Bob Corker.

CUOMO: Flake ended that rift by saying, "So where is the good news? It's that I think we've hit bottom." Do you believe that?

AVLON: You have to hit bottom before you can admit you have a problem to get better. I do believe that there is a civic silver lining to the stress test during his ordination, and that's what Jeff Flake is pointing to. So we -- democracy cannot be a spectator sport. It's all about we, the people and people who sort of said it's someone else's problem. You end up enabling extreme voices taking over the political process. And that's what we're seeing.

So if it does lead to more people taking civic responsibility and straightening their civic backbone, that's a good thing. The one contradiction is, is that Jeff Flake is leaving the Senate.

CUOMO: Right.

AVLON: In the face of a tough primary and opposition from --

CUOMO: And he's badmouthing the president of his own party when a lot of people within his own party says, "Wait, what do you mean this is a bad time? Cut regulations. Economy is good. Got out of the Iran deal. Got rid of the ACA mandate. We're doing great."

CUOMO: There's a lot of great things in the economy. And President Trump deserves credit for some things and credit where credit is due. But what you just described is a chapter from "Profiles in Courage," when you stand up to your constituency, based on what you believe in.

CAMEROTA: John Avlon, thank you very much for your insights into all of that. Joining us now to discuss all of this is independent Senator Angus King of Maine. Good morning, Senator.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Good morning.

CAMEROTA: What's up with these two meetings today? Why do we need two meetings to meet with the FBI and the DOJ about this informant?

KING: Well, I'll answer that question in a minute. But I can't resist on commenting on John Avlon's final observation. And that is every member of the Senate in "Profiles in Courage" lost the next election. It was the end of their career. So, you know, it's a great -- it's one of the greatest books, I think, about politics. I just reread it about six months ago.

CAMEROTA: I mean, and what does that tell us?

KING: Well, it tells you that political courage can come at a cost. And that's just -- that's the reality. But all of those people changed history. And they're remembered when a lot of their colleagues that didn't exhibit that kind of courage have long been lost to history.

CAMEROTA: OK. That's a good silver lining. Yes, go ahead.

KING: Why are there -- why are there two meetings? I don't know. I think the reason there probably were two meetings, is that they scheduled one with Devin Nunes and Trey Gowdy, Republican members of the House. There was such an outcry from just the general public and also from the Democrats here in the -- in the Senate and House that they said, "Well, we'd better have another meeting." First, yesterday, the other meeting was going to be a week from now. And now I understand this morning the other meeting is going to be a couple hours later. There really ought to only be one meeting so everybody sees the same data, the same information.

CAMEROTA: Well, that's the point. Are you going to learn different things? Are different things going to be shared at these two different meetings?

KING: Well, I suspect that Rod Rosenstein and Director Wray will say the same things in the two different meetings. But we've all had the same experience of you hear sometimes what you want to hear in a meeting. That's why I think it's always better to have a larger group so that everybody walks out with the same understanding.


KING: But that's the way it's going to happen. But at least they are having the second meeting. You'll have a broader group of people there to understand it.

But it's -- the other question is, what's this meeting all about? Is it about general issues of the Russia investigation or is it about this narrow issue of the FBI, frankly, doing its job, which is to follow up on reasonable allegations of espionage, of people from a foreign power trying to infiltrate a presidential campaign. That's what the -- that's what the FBI is supposed to do. It would be malpractice if they didn't follow up and try to explore what was going on, whose ever campaign those people were working for.

[07:25:03] CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, you raised the perfect point. And so the fact that the president is trying to call this standard operating procedure a spy scandal, do you think from talking to your constituents that it's having an effect?

I mean, do you think that the people of the FBI, the men and women who try to fight crime -- and I've been talking about how there was that split screen yesterday about talking about the FBI in glowing terms when they're fighting MS-13 and then calling them the criminal deep state when they're doing their job trying to figure out if there was any Russians that tried to collude with the campaign. Do you think that that's having an effect on their crime fighting role?

KING: Unfortunately, I think it is. I think people are hearing that. It's being repeated. They hear "deep state." They hear "conspiracy." They hear "criminal deep state," "criminal conspiracy," "Spygate," all of those things.

And I think people are -- the fact that the president has never yet acknowledged what the Russians did in this 2016 election, he's never -- he's never said, yes, this is -- this was an attack on our democracy, which should be firmly repulsed and we should be preventing its future occurrence. He's never said that. And that means -- I've got constituents in Maine and people across the country who are saying, "Yes, this is -- the whole thing is a hoax. It's a witch- hunt. There's nothing to it."

The fact is, it was one of the most serious attacks on our country. It was sophisticated. It came right from Putin. There's no question what they were trying to do. And there's no question that they're going to be back and do it again. And as long as the president keeps denying that, it does have an effect. I don't know what -- I can't put a number on it. I'd say 20 to 30 percent of the people think the whole thing is a big waste of time. When in reality, it is a grave issue that needs to be dealt with. Otherwise, they're going to keep doing it.

CAMEROTA: Yes. One last question about this meeting today. Are you happy that the FBI and DOJ are revealing the identity of their confidential informant?

KING: No. I think that's a mistake. I think it's unfortunate, because it could have a chilling effect on people willing to work with the agencies on a confidential basis.

Again, we're not talking about evidence in a court here. If you're going to -- if there's a -- if there's a court action, if there's some criminal action, witnesses do have to come forward. But this was simply trying to gather information not on a criminal matter but on a counter espionage matter. And the determination whether a presidential campaign had been infiltrated by people that were working cooperatively with a foreign adversary.

And -- and again, s I said at the beginning, that's exactly what the FBI is supposed to investigate. They were trying to protect Donald Trump's campaign. They weren't trying to infiltrate and steal his debate notes or something, which he implies that a spy was in his campaign. They were -- they were trying to find out whether somebody was trying to infiltrate his campaign and -- and convey information or gain information from the Russians.

If I had -- if I had somebody in my campaign doing that, I'd want to know it. I wouldn't want -- I'd want the FBI to find out about it so we could put a stop to it. And he -- he keeps bringing it back to -- somehow, they were able to -- he used the term, "This was political spying," as if they were doing this to get information on him. In reality, they were doing it in a very quiet, confidential way to not cast aspersions on his campaign in the midst of the election.

CAMEROTA: Senator, before I let you go, do you know that it's my co- host's last day on NEW DAY today?

KING: I heard a rumor to that effect. And I wore one of my best lobster ties just for that occasion.

CUOMO: I don't know that you have any other tie.

KING: Oh, I have a few. I have a few. But we're going to miss Chris. Chris, your questions were always good, straightforward. And you follow the facts. That's -- that's what you're supposed to do. So we'll miss you in the morning. But you're going to have to readjust your whole clock, man, staying up until 9 or 10 at night. I'm sure that's a whole new world for you.

CUOMO: I'm up anyway. I'm completely crazy. I work all the time. But let me return the favor. In "Profiles in Courage," which I recently reread also -- uh-oh -- is Angus doing the "I can't hear you" thing that he does when he thinks he's going to get hit?

CAMEROTA: He's just leaving.

CUOMO: Are you trying that trick again?

CAMEROTA: He's taking out his earpiece and leaving.

CUOMO: Senator, can you hear us?

KING: Well, we're going to miss Chris for sure. And I'll miss your questions. It always cleared my sinuses early in the morning when you'd come after me.

CUOMO: All right. Thanks. Senator, can you hear us?

KING: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK. Thank you.

CUOMO: Anyway, in "Profiles in Courage" -- I don't believe that, by the way. I think he does it as a device. The "Profiles in Courage" --


CUOMO: Kennedy, in the forward to it, the intro quotes Hemingway and says that courage, "Profiles in Courage," is defined as grace under pressure. Senator King, even though that was a cheap trick that he did there, is one of our few that we have there right now who, no matter what's coming his way, he shows grace under pressure. So I return the favor. He's been great.

CAMEROTA: We always appreciate him coming on, even despite the technical audio gremlins that we often have.

CUOMO: That's what I do when they tell me to wrap? What? What's they say?

CAMEROTA: Sorry. Lost you. Lost you.

CUOMO: Go longer?

All right. Republican Senator Ron Johnson wants to talk to more than 30 current and former --