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Kremlin Allegedly Pleased with Helsinki Summit; Omarosa Releases Recording of Call With President Trump; Peter Strzok Fired Over Anti-Trump Texts; Rudy Giuliani Now Says Trump Never Talked to James Comey About Michael Flynn; Interview with Representative David Cicilline; Prosecutors Rest Their Case Against Paul Manafort. Aired 5- 6p ET

Aired August 13, 2018 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:00] TAPPER: Thanks for watching.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Kremlin joy. A CNN exclusive. Intelligence sources revealed that Russian officials were pleased with the president's summit with Vladimir Putin, especially when the president publicly sided with Putin against the U.S. intelligence community.

You're taped. She was fired repeatedly on "The Apprentice" but Omarosa Manigault Newman has turned her firing from a White House job into the equivalent of a reality show moment by secretly recording it, along with a subsequent phone call from the president. Will she release more secret tapes?

Strzok out. President Trump is publicly reveling in the firing of FBI agent Peter Strzok who sent anti-Trump text messages during the election campaign. The president using the firing to once again attack the Russia investigation as a witch hunt and a hoax.

And deadly intentions. A ground crew worker steals an airliner and taunts controllers by flying wildly for more than an hour before crashing. How did he pull it off? And did he intend from the start to take his own life?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Sciutto and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

SCIUTTO: The breaking news, CNN has learned that the Kremlin was pleased with the Helsinki summit between President Trump and Russia's Vladimir Putin. While President Trump has faced sharp bipartisan criticism at home for that meeting, U.S. and Western intelligence assessments find that Russian officials believe it exceeded their expectations.

I'll speak with Congressman David Cicilline of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees, and our correspondents and specialists standing by now with full coverage.

We begin with our breaking news. A CNN exclusive. The Helsinki summit may have been panned everywhere else but intelligence sources revealed that Russian officials were, quote, "pleased" with the meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin. These sources tell myself and Jenna McLaughlin that U.S. and Western intelligence assessments have found that the Kremlin believes the summit delivered a better-than-expected outcome and that the Russians were especially satisfied with the news conference in which President Trump, standing right beside Putin, voiced doubts about the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

But a source tells us that the Russians were perplexed by the administration's move last week to impose new sanctions on Russia for the nerve agent poisoning of a former spy and his daughter in Britain.

Let's go live now to CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, what is the reaction from the White House there?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So far, Jim, no one in the administration has commented on this new reporting yet but they are commenting on the stunning allegations made by a former White House staffer, one of the highest paid White House staffers during her time here and that is Omarosa Manigault Newman.

The White House and the president issuing several statements hitting back on her allegations today and her recordings of conversations she had with White House staffers and the president himself causing several people inside this White House to wonder why she was hired in the first place.


COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump addressing soldiers at Fort Drum.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm here today to sign our new Defense bill into law.

COLLINS: As former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman escalates her war with the administration, revealing she recorded her conversations with the president.

TRUMP: Omarosa, what's going on? I just saw on the news that you're thinking about leaving. What happened?

OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE: General Kelly -- General Kelly came to me and said that you guys wanted me to leave.

TRUMP: No, I -- nobody even told me about it.

COLLINS: Omarosa breaching major security protocols, secretly taping her firing by John Kelly in the White House situation room, one of the most secured places in Washington with no devices allowed.

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think it's important to understand that if we make this a friendly departure we can all be, you know -- you can look at your time here in the White House as a year of service to the nation and then you can go on without any type of difficulty in the future relative to your reputation.

COLLINS: Trump tweeting today that despite intense pressure to fire Omarosa, he kept her around because "she only said great things about me." Adding, "Wacky Omarosa skipped work, missed meetings and was a vicious colleague." Despite promising this on the campaign trail.

TRUMP: We're going to get the best people in the world.

COLLINS: Asked about Omarosa over the weekend, Trump said this.

TRUMP: Lowlife. She is a lowlife.

COLLINS: Omarosa had no defined role in the West Wing but raked in nearly $200,000 taxpayer funded dollars and carried the title assistant to the president.

[17:05:08] She's also claiming the Trump 2020 campaign offered her a $15,000 a month position if she agreed to keep silent. Something she says she refused to do.

Trump also admitting for the first time she signed an NDA writing on Twitter, "Wacky Omarosa already has a fully signed non-disclosure agreement." But when CNN reported that senior White House staff signed NDAs earlier this year, the White House denied it.

HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I can't say that the report that -- staff were required or asked to sign $10 million nondisclosure agreements is not true.

COLLINS: One White House official telling CNN they don't consider Omarosa's recordings to be a national security threat but noting they're worried she wasn't the only staffer recording conversations.

All this as Omarosa threatened more trouble for the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have more recordings?

NEWMAN: Oh, absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you planning on releasing them?

NEWMAN: I don't know. I'm going to watch to see. They've been threatening legal action. They're trying to figure out how to stop me. I'm expecting that they're going to retaliate and so I'm just going to stand back and wait.


COLLINS: Now, Jim, the president was more than happy to mention Omarosa on several occasions today but there is one critic of his he made no mention of. That's Senator John McCain. When the president was at Fort Drum today signing a massive Defense spending bill that is named after Senator John McCain who has brain cancer and who made it a top priority, as the president went down his list thanking people for their help in getting that through, he did not mention John McCain once -- Jim. SCIUTTO: Of course, John McCain, a decorated veteran.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins, thanks very much.

The president gloating over another firing, that of the FBI agent who exchanged a series of anti-Trump text messages with a colleague in the run-up to the 2016 election. The president today responded to that firing on Twitter writing, quote, "Agent Peter Strzok was just fired from the FBI. Finally. The list of bad players in the FBI and DOJ gets longer and longer. Based on the fact that Strzok was in charge of the witch hunt, will it be dropped? It is a total hoax. No collusion. No obstruction. I just fight back." Exclamation point.

Of course the president may call it a witch hunt, but a federal judge who was appointed by President Trump today upheld Robert Mueller's appointment and constitutional authority and cited opinions by three other federal judges to back up her decision.

Let's bring in CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, what reason did the FBI cite today in firing Peter Strzok?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, they haven't told us. You know, quite simply. I mean, it's usually their practice not to comment on personnel matters so we have not received any comment from them. But according to Strzok's attorneys and as you can imagine they believe that this was politically motivated. A continuous pressure by the president, the tweets. Certainly maybe there's other pressure.

They felt that this is the only reason why Peter Strzok was fired. You know, and of course, you mentioned these texts. And just to kind of remind viewers of what some of these texts were, which created this entire controversy, it was texts between Peter Strzok and a woman, another FBI employee, Lisa Page, that kind of set off these entire events.

Certainly there was some interesting texts when he said to her -- she asked him a question in one text saying, Trump's not ever going to become president, right? Right? And then he of course responds, no, he won't. We'll stop it. He had to answer for those texts when he testified before members of Congress saying he was talking about voters.

But what's interesting is that, you know, we have to keep in mind that the inspector general did an entire investigation into this and people close to Peter Strzok cite this saying look, you know, they found there was no bias here by Peter Strzok. He also --

SCIUTTO: As to the investigation.

PROKUPECZ: In the investigation.

SCIUTTO: His bias is expressed in the tweets, and not affect the investigation. PROKUPECZ: That's -- exactly. Then they also say that the internal

investigators who investigated Peter Strzok didn't recommend that he be fired. In fact they said a 60-day suspension with a demotion but the deputy director went further than that and just on Friday fired him.

SCIUTTO: And the deputy director is a career FBI official?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. He's a career FBI official. Remember, he replaced Andrew McCabe who was fired as the deputy director. Of course, he also -- people close to him say he was fired because of political pressure.

I mean, just think about it. There have been now three people, high- profile people within the FBI who have been fired in some way as a result of this investigation or had a part in this Russia investigation, James Comey, Andrew McCabe and now Peter Strzok.

SCIUTTO: James Comey was fired -- the president said publicly Comey was fired because of the Russia investigation. Right? Not for -- because he wanted him to end the investigation.

PROKUPECZ: Right. In terms of when you think about it, all of the controversy that has surrounded this investigation, and some of the fallout from it, it's really has been something that the FBI has had to deal with.

[17:10:06] No doubt that they view this as something maybe now that they can put away with the firing of Peter Strzok and perhaps maybe move on from this chapter. But, you know, this isn't over for Peter Strzok. Certainly I think his lawyers plan to appeal this and fight this in court.

SCIUTTO: Understood. So the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani going to that part, of course that part of the ongoing investigation, he seemed to contradict himself on whether the president asked James Comey if he could drop the Flynn investigation. He has said in the past that Trump asking Comey to drop it, it is OK. Have a listen to how he explained it then.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: How is he a good witness for the president if he's saying that the president was asking him, directing him, in his words, to let the Michael Flynn investigation go?

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: He didn't direct him to do that. What he said to him was, can you give --

STEPHANOPOULOS: Comey says he --


SCIUTTO: So there Giuliani says all he said is can he give him a break? Now he's telling CNN that Trump never said that to me in the first place at all. Have a listen.


GIULIANI: There was no conversation about Michael Flynn. We maintain the president didn't say that.


SCIUTTO: So on the one hand, Shimon, he says, listen, all he was saying was, can you cut the guy some slack? Now it appears the new story is that well, he never said anything to him at all about Michael --


SCIUTTO: About Michael Flynn. What's happening here and how to reconcile this?

PROKUPECZ: Complete 180. I mean, really the only person that can answer this is the president, right? And you can understand why Mueller would want to talk to him and then keep in mind, that is one of the key issues within the obstruction investigation. Did the president try and influence the Flynn investigation, essentially firing the former FBI director because of the Flynn investigation?

This whole idea that he's told the FBI director, you know, can you see your way out of it, can you see your way to let this go? So certainly the only person that can really answer that is the president. You know, lawyers can spin and say whatever they want. But ultimately -- but, you know, as we have said, there's this concern from the Giuliani team, from the lawyers on the president's side, that there's perjury trap and so they're saying like, this is why he's, you know.

SCIUTTO: A perjury -- an (INAUDIBLE) point is, perjury -- the way to avoid a perjury trap is to tell the truth.

PROKUPECZ: Tell the truth. That's what we keep saying.


PROKUPECZ: So the question is, will -- will the president ever sit down with the Mueller team?

SCIUTTO: Shimon Prokupecz, thanks very much.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island. He's a member of both the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees in the House.

Congressman, thanks very much for taking the time.


SCIUTTO: First, we'll begin on the Strzok firing. Trump is arguing that because Strzok played a role in the Clinton e-mail investigation and he did that the whole investigation should be redone.

Now we should note that's not what the inspector general's report concluded. The inspector general of the FBI. And President Trump did welcome that report at the time. But how concerned are you about the pressure that the president is applying in public on the FBI and this investigation?

CICILLINE: Well, I think everyone should be concerned that this president continues to try to influence an ongoing criminal and counterintelligence investigation. He's been attempting to undermine the individuals leading the investigation, the conclusions that they reached but the Peter Strzok is just the most recent example.

Now let's remember, FBI agents are allowed to have personal opinions but they're required to set aside those personal opinions and make judgments based on the law and the evidence. That was not only the testimony of Peter Strzok, it was the conclusion of the inspector general who did a very lengthy investigation. Lots of interviews. Thorough examination of documents. And he concluded that there was no evidence that Peter Strzok's personal opinions in any way affected his judgment in this investigation.

And as a consequence, when it was referred to for disciplinary action, the Office of Professional Responsibility said that he ought to be suspended for 60 days and demoted. That was rejected very unusual to reject the conclusions of the Office of Professional Responsibility, and he was fired. I think we all have to be concerned that the president's effort is being successful to interfere with an ongoing investigation.

But of course, the president is going to try to take the firing of Peter Strzok and somehow say well, because he was fired for this, you shouldn't be able to continue the investigation about Russian attack on our elections. That's laughable. They are two separate things. Peter Strzok I think is being treated unfairly. He acknowledged that he shouldn't have sent tweets but they didn't affect his judgment, they didn't affect any decision. That was also the conclusion of the inspector general.

They should have followed the regular recommendation. 60-day suspension and demotion. I think we all have to be concerned. Why, in fact, was he fired? We need to have some oversight hearings to make a determination of as to whether there was any political influence in that decision.

SCIUTTO: If I can, the president's lawyer now, Rudy Giuliani, revising you might say the explanation for that conversation that fired FBI director James Comey recounted and took contemporaneous notes of. The president asking him to go easy in effect on Michael Flynn.

[17:15:02] As you heard just moments ago first Giuliani seemed to make the case, this is a number of weeks ago that, listen, that's OK for the president to do that, he was just asking him to go light on an adviser, but now Rudy Giuliani says that the conversation never happened. Why does the president's story and the president's lawyer's story keep

changing on us?

CICILLINE: Well, it shouldn't. Obviously the facts are the facts. And I think Mr. Giuliani has shown a propensity to sort of change his assertion of facts depending on what he thinks will serve the president. I think it's very clear that the special counsel is proceeding both with this criminal investigation and with the obstruction of justice investigation. And I think Rudy Giuliani has decided it would be better for the president if the conversation never happened.

That may in fact be true, it would be better, but the conversation did happen. Mr. Giuliani acknowledged it, the president said I fired James Comey because of this Russia thing. He yucked it up with Russians in the Oval Office after he did it, kind of celebrating what he had done. So I think the facts are pretty clear.

I think Mr. Giuliani is now recognizing this is a real problem for the president of the United States. When you asked the attorney general of the United States or the FBI director in this case to go easy and see a way to not proceeding in a criminal investigation, that's obstruction of justice. And so I think Mr. Giuliani is hoping that he can explain that away by denying it happened but he's already said it happened. There's tapes of it, you know, video from television.

SCIUTTO: Yes. One consistency is the inconsistency of Giuliani's characterization.


SCIUTTO: If I can get your reaction now to the controversy around Omarosa's new book as well as the conversations that she taped. In his tweets today the president has admitted that he ignored the warnings of his chief of staff about Omarosa and the reason he gave, he said in that tweet, is that she said great things about him.

What does Omarosa's behavior tell you about the broader culture under President Trump where you have virtually anybody who leaves the White House is summarily attacked by this president, often in public?

CICILLINE: Well, it seems that the measure for this president is not the quality of the people who work for him, not their experience or their intellectual ability. It's really their loyalty to him and whether they say nice things about him. That seems to be the sole measure. But I think the real question is, how did Omarosa get a job in the White House to begin with?

I mean, you look at the people that have been in that White House from Steve Bannon, to Michael Flynn, to Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, and this is the president who claims I pick the best people. Well, we see lots and lots of evidence that he doesn't pick the best people, and he seems to pick people based on their kind of respect or admiration for him.

That's not a good measure necessarily for selecting the best people to serve in important positions in this administration and we're seeing members of his administration that are constantly self-dealing, pervasive corruption, and I think the American people are sick and tired of it.

They want a government that works for them, not the powerful special interest, not for the self-dealing members of this administration but for the American people.

SCIUTTO: Congressman David Cicilline, thanks very much for taking the time.

CICILLINE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, breaking news. Prosecutors rest their case in the fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Will he take the stand in his own defense before the case goes to a jury?

And a baggage handler steals an airliner and flies it wildly for more than an hour before crashing. Is there a security loophole that authorities urgently need to close?


[17:22:48] SCIUTTO: Breaking news. Prosecutors have just rested their case in the fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

CNN's Kara Scannell is outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.

Kara, about a day later than we expected but the prosecution has rested.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. Ten days, 27 witnesses. The prosecution rested their case just before 5:00 today. This was after they had called Rick Gates, Manafort's right-hand man who testified over two and a half days. It all goes to their allegation that Manafort had filed false tax returns, did not disclose foreign bank accounts which they say he did not pay taxes on $16 million.

The jury also heard a story of how Manafort had defrauded banks out of $20 million by not giving truthful information to them about the conditions and the parameters of his income that related to these loans. The government ended their case today hearing -- with the jury hearing a lot from one of those bankers who testified that he would not have recommended that the bank give the loan, but he said that it went ahead anyway because the chairman of the bank, Stephen Calk, had authorized it and Calk, of course, the jury had heard testimony earlier in the week that he was trying to get a position in the administration and that is why he expedited these loans.

So, Jim, the court session is still ongoing but we're not in there because it's a sealed session, dealing with some motions that were filed under seal by the defense. Of course, Friday there was no testimony, no activity in the court for nearly five hours, all of that was sealed. The judge told us that we will eventually learn what that's about but not today -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: You know, being in that courtroom last week, defense counsel, some pretty aggressive questioning of the star witness Rick Gates, Manafort's former deputy there. Defense is up next, of course. Do we have an idea of what kind of rebuttal they're going to attempt to present?

SCANNELL: The judge told the defense to be ready tomorrow to state what kind of case they're going to bring on. And he also said if Paul Manafort decides not to testify he will ask him in court to say that on the record so it's clear that Manafort is making this decision on his own. But the defense has not said what they plan to do yet, they'll have to do that tomorrow, but they have been trying to make their case through various witnesses by trying to get some of the bankers to elicit that they did know that some of Manafort's documents were not perfect, but also the bank had made its own errors on some of these applications.

[17:25:09] So the defense strategy has really been to try to, you know, get some punches in where they can against some of these witnesses and we'll find out tomorrow if Manafort is going to take the stand or if the defense will call any witnesses or just rest their case, as well -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Be quite a moment if he does. CNN's Kara Scannell outside the courthouse there. Thanks very much.

And coming up, former "Apprentice" star Omarosa Manigault Newman reveals that she secretly recorded her White House firing and a subsequent phone call with the president himself. Does she have even more recordings?

And President Trump gloating over the firing of FBI agent Peter Strzok who sent anti-Trump texts during the election campaign. The president once again attacking the entire Russia investigation as a witch hunt.


JIM SCIUTTO, ANCHOR, CNN:: Welcome back. New tonight, President Trump escalating his war of words with former White House aide Omarosa Manigault -Newman. The President tweeting today that Omarosa, and I'm quoting these following here was, "vicious, not smart," he also said, "she constantly missed meetings," but that he tried to keep her in the White House anyway because she used to say great things about him.

Let's turn now to our experts for more analysis. Chris Cillizza, so to be clear, Omarosa getting paid at the top of the White House pay scale there, about $180,000.00 a year, senior position. But the president now saying, she was terrible at her job and admitting or granting or explaining that he kept her on because she said nice things about him. How do you explain that?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Okay, well, at one level, it's true. We know Donald Trump likes to keep people around who say nice things about him. So some level of transparency there. I think that's accurate.

SCIUTTO: Said that about Putin, as well, I think.

CILLIZZA: Right because nothing else explains, Jim, the thing that's hard is that Donald Trump is trying to turn this into, well, she's been fired multiple times. Oh, yes, but the reason that she's been fired is because she was hired by you repeatedly, right? It's the only way you get fired is you get hired in the first place, so I actually think it is true. He does like people who call him Mr. Trump, who defer to him, and we know she knew how to play that game.

Remember, there were objections to her entering the White House right from the start. He ignored them because he had a relationship with her whether it was because she praised him, he thought she was tough, he's tweeted about that before, but it's just a hard line to sell that, well, she is a loser and she's dumb. Then why was she -- why is this the fourth time according to Donald Trump's own calculations he's fired her. Because that means he's hired her four times.

SCIUTTO: Right. You did the math there for us.

CILLIZZA: Thank you. Did you see that? I was thinking on my feet.

SCIUTTO: Shawn Turner, long-time in the US intelligence community, how serious of a breach is it for Omarosa to have taken a recording device, possibly a phone like this into the real situation room, the real situation room in the White House? One of the most secure installations in the world?

SHAWN TURNER, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, CNN: Yes, Jim, there's no doubt that there are national security implications to taking a recording device into the situation room. Look, I served in the White House and on the NSC side, and there is a very good reason -- there are two very good reasons actually that when you get ready to go into one of those secured spaces, you take your electronic devices out and you put them in a box outside that room and you close that box up.

The first reason is for things like we're talking about here today. It's because there is a possibility that individuals might record conversations or sensitive information might be collected on those devices, but the second reason, and I think the more important reason is the fact that these devices, these are the super computers that we carry around in our pockets and other recording devices are subject to some of the most aggressive spying and espionage efforts on the part of our adversaries that we have seen across the board.

And so when you take these devices in, they seek to access these devices and to listen in on information that's in the room. They also, you know, if you're inside and you're e-mailing or you just have these devices in that space, you know, you're a target. And so people have said, "Oh, well, this may not be a big deal," well, actually this is a very big (inaudible), they listen to you, understanding the full capability of adversaries and it's really very good.

SCIUTTO: Susan, you served in the NSA, the President has a phone to our knowledge, we don't know the level of security on it. He gives the phone number to leaders around the world. There's been a lot of attention focused on the national security breach here including by the White House. What risk is the President putting both himself and the country in by using an unsecured electronic device?

SUSAN HENNESSEY. FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY ATTORNEY: I think that he does expose us to sort of potentially enormous vulnerabilities. We've seen it again and again, the President sort of casting aside these concerns. I do think there's a way in which the points that Chris and Shawn made are actually related to one another, and that's what, whenever you think about how to secure these spaces from insider threats, it's really hard. You're not going to pat down everybody before they walk into the situation room. You have to trust people.

SCIUTTO: And you won't pat down the President presumably.

HENNESSEY: Exactly, and these are individuals that are invested with the absolute highest level of trust that we can possibly put and they need to be worthy of that trust. Clearly, Omarosa was not worthy of that trust in bringing this phone and making this recording and you have to ask yourself whether or not the President himself is acting in a way that's worthy of it.

CILLIZZA: Just quickly to that point, it is a culture thing in this White House, right? Donald Trump threatens Jim Comey once of being anti-Trump, but threatens that he's been taping conversations in the White House.


CILLIZZA: We know Michael Cohen has recorded a number of conversations including one that we know of with Donald Trump. Now this recording of conversation. There's a reason that since Nixon, we haven't had a lot of recorded conversation in the White House. It's culture set from the top.

SCIUTTO: Bianna, we know that today, Russia is seeking multiple ways to undermine the US, infiltrate election, systems, politics, et cetera. That's without even the general surveillance and espionage that they do. Why isn't the President being held to account for not only the managing the White House, I mean, these are people working for him, but his own habits in terms of electronic devices et cetera.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: It is mind boggling. I mean, I don't have an answer to that other than it may not just be people in his inner circle that have recordings. One has to think of more nefarious groups seeking to undermine the US government or at least gather some intelligence to serve as compromise, whether it be the Russians whether it be the Chinese, whether it be allies for that matter.

I mean, you have these stories percolating out there not just the US media is talking about, this is something that's obviously being reported around the world. Having said that, I mean, out of all of the shocks that we have seen throughout this presidency, having Omarosa reveal that she taped recorded conversations is probably one of the least shocking pieces of information.

I mean, anybody that had followed "The Apprentice" and has followed her relationship with the President and the media would know that this day was probably going to come sooner rather than later.

SCIUTTO: Bianna, thanks. It's alarming to think particularly with the focus that Russia has on the US right now. Bianna, Chris, Shawn, Susan, thanks very much. Coming up, more on what was really a stunning heist. Why did the 29-year-old baggage attendant steal -- that's right, steal a commercial airliner and how did he manage to pull it off?

Plus, did Russia have anything to do with a deadly white supremacist rally? There are new details and that's just ahead.


SCIUTTO: New tonight, Federal investigators are trying to figure out how a 29-year-old baggage attendant stole a commercial airliner from Seattle's main airport and flew it for more than an hour before crashing. Newly released audio from air traffic controllers responding to the heist is now shedding some new light on the mystery.

Let's go to our senior national correspondent, Kyung Lah for the latest details. Kyung, I know there's still a lot of unanswered questions here, what are we learning today?

KYUNG LAH, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, the focus today at least, into this evening is on aviation security. Here in Seattle, there is increased security in the public areas and in those secured employee areas and then nationally, there is an elevated concern. How do you stop employees with security clearances from stealing a plane?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The dash eight on Runway one-six center, say your call sign? Who is that dash-eight holding on runway one-six center.


LAH: New audio from the moments that ground controllers realized they had a big problem rolling down the taxiway. A ground controller repeatedly tries and fails to make contact with the rogue Horizon Air Q400.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not even talking to him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He came flying out of the cargo area from Delta.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: you need to call and scramble now.


LAH: That's the moment officials call for military fighter jets to intercept 29-year-old, Richard Russell, a Horizon air ground crew worker who stole the plane without a pilot's license.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, pilot guy, can this thing do a back flip, do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, I don't think that much, but I played some video games before.


LAH: But after about an hour in the air, Russell makes clear he's not landing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, let's try to land that airplane safely and not hurt anybody on the ground.

RUSSELL RICHARD, HIJACKER: All right. Now, damn it. I don't know, man. I don't know. I don't want to. I was kind of hoping that was going to be it, you know?

Just a broken guy. Got a few screws loose, I guess. I never really knew it until now.


LAH: The plane crashed on a small island exploding in dense woods killing Russell. The rogue takeoff raises the stakes for concerns about so-called insider attacks that criminals working as airline employees might be planning to do much more harm next time.

The airline CEO says Russell managed planes from the maintenance area by himself. He was in uniform, had the proper credentials and access. Seattle Airport officials say all security protocols were followed on the ground. Security they say is tighter even than what is required by law.


COURTNEY GREGOIRE, PORT OF SEATTLE COMMISSIONER: I think this is really truly one in a million experience. That doesn't mean we can't learn from it and ensure this type of tragedy doesn't happen again.


LAH: The wider concern is for hundreds of thousands of employees who don't undergo constant close checks like those required for pilots. A 2017 House Homeland Security Committee report warned potential terrorists could take advantage of ground vulnerabilities. A bipartisan bill tightening employee checks passed the House and is stalled in the Senate.


LAH: How do you stop any of this from happening?

GAEL TARLETON, FORMER PORT OF SEATTLE COMMISSIONER: The only way to stop it is ignition lock devices. On the engine itself.

A pilot has to have the authority to use the ignition. And if they do not have the authority to use the ignition, then the plane should not turn on.


LAH: Now, the Washington representative there, Representative Tarleton, says if you can't secure the areas, it's natural to just secure the planes. But many aviation experts say that's simply not feasible, Jim, because you need multiple employees to have access to these planes. You have to focus on keeping the area secure -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Kyung Lah, thanks very much.

Coming up just ahead, a Republican lawmaker claims that Russia helped foment a deadly White supremacist rally in Virginia.

And later, more on the President's escalating feud with a fired White House aide. Why did President Trump hire her in the first place?


[17:50:40] SCIUTTO: New tonight, one year after the deadly White supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a Republican lawmaker says that the Russian government had a hand in stoking that violence.

Our Brian Todd has been digging into the story.

Brian, exactly how is he saying the Russians helped move things along here?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, Congressman Tom Garrett says he got this information from the FBI. The Bureau is not commenting, but Garrett says he was told that Russian trolls were stirring up racial tensions on the Internet on social media.

And he says that he is frustrated that America's political leaders don't understand the scope of what the Russians are doing to sow discord and chaos inside America.


TODD (voice-over): Street brawls and murder in Charlottesville. A year later, protesters face-off again in D.C. The kind of chaos and in America that U.S. intelligence officials say the Kremlin wants to see more of.

Tonight, a U.S. congressman says Russian interference played a direct role in stirring up tensions in Charlottesville last year. Virginia Republican Tom Garrett of the Homeland Security Committee says he was told that by the FBI.

REP. THOMAS GARRETT (R), VIRGINIA: I sat in a closed-session briefing probably two months ago about Charlottesville with the director of the FBI amongst others and asked if Russian intermeddling had to do with fomenting the flames of what happened in Charlottesville. I was told, yes, it did.

TODD (voice-over): CNN pressed Congressman Garrett and the FBI for specifics. Did the Russians stir up tensions before White supremacists gathered in Charlottesville last year, and how did they do it?

The FBI didn't respond. Garrett told CNN, quote, it was before Charlottesville by a bus, the Internet, and social media. FBI Director Christopher Wray recently referenced Charlottesville in saying foreign entities have stirred up internal tensions in the United States.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF IMMIGRATION: To the extent we have domestic terrorism in this country that is spun up by various ideologies, foreign influence is being used in many ways to capitalize on that and spin up domestic extremist movements to create terrorist attacks here inside.

TODD (voice-over): Congressmen briefed by the FBI say there's no evidence there was Russian influence on the ground in Charlottesville, and analysts say White supremacists and their opponents would have gathered in Charlottesville whether the Russians got involved or not.

So how could have the Russians have stirred the pot before those events in?

MOLLY MCKEW, CEO, FIANNA STRATEGIES: Using these Facebook groups that we now know Russia was creating to appear that they are American activists of left or right persuasion, using the enormous networks of fake profiles they had set up to look like Americans who are just like you and me on one side or the other, these would have been promoting these events. Promoting stories connected to the events.

TODD (voice-over): CNN has previously reported that Russian entities used accounts set up under fake groups like Blacktivist and South United to post messages which exploited racial divides in America.

They've used fake groups to organize rallies and Russian trolls even helped pay for this scene where an American posed as Hillary Clinton behind bars at a rally in Florida. Part of what experts call Russia's information warfare campaign against the U.S.

MCKEW: We're not talking about creating an opposition group that is yours but creating opposition on both sides so that the enemy is so busy fighting itself they don't have time to realize what you're doing.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: Russian officials in Washington are calling Congressman Garrett's claim absurd and irresponsible, and they say there's no evidence that Russian entities stirred up tensions in Charlottesville.

Russian officials say it's easier to shift blame on them regarding those tensions, and they say it confirms that the U.S. can't get past its racial tensions, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So combatting attacks, say, on voting systems is one thing. You could put up defenses.

TODD: Right.

SCIUTTO: But the social media stuff where you're kind of, you know, infecting the division, how do you fight that? How do counterintelligence people say they're going to fight that?

TODD: Well, as far as U.S. intelligence officials, Jim, they're pretty -- being pretty cagey. They're saying we're running operations to counter disinformation warfare from the Russians. They're not giving too many specifics.

But cybersecurity experts drill down a little more on that. They tell us they believe U.S. intelligence and law enforcement are trying their hardest to expose the most active Russian trolls who are working against the U.S. and trying to shut them down.

[17:55:01] A lot of that work going unnoticed, but they believe that the U.S. intelligence is very active in this regard.

SCIUTTO: Well, those bots are out there. I see them every day myself. Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Coming up, "Apprentice" star Omarosa reveals that she secretly recorded her White House firing as well as a phone call from the President himself. Does she have more secret recordings?

And the President gloats over the firing of FBI Agent Peter Strzok who sent anti-Trump texts during the election campaign. The President is using the firing to, once again, attack the entire Russia investigation as a hoax.