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THE SITUATION ROOM
Former CIA Director Confirms Russia-Trump Campaign Contacts; Interview With California Congressman Adam Schiff; British Terror Threat Raised to Highest Level Based on New Intel; Interview With Texas Congressman Michael McCaul; Trump: "Evil Losers" Behind Concert Terror Attack. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 23, 2017 - 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: Some of the president's associates may have been lured into criminal behavior without knowing it.
In contempt? As Michael Flynn defies a Senate subpoena, the Intelligence Committee pushes back, planning its next move set to get answers from the fired national security adviser. Can Flynn be forced to comply?
Terror hunt. Just hours after a deadly attack at an Ariana Grande concert, investigators are racing to learn more about the suicide bomber and his terror ties. Tonight, concerns that a new attack may be imminent, as Britain raises its terror threat level to the higher level.
And evil losers. President Trump condemns the bombing and any and all terrorists behind it. I will ask the House Homeland Security Committee chairman about the threat of similar attacks at concerts and other crowded events here in the United States.
We want to welcome our viewers of the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Two major breaking stories are unfolding this hour, with the terror attack in Britain and the Russia investigation here in the United States.
Tonight, damaging new testimony by the former CIA Director John Brennan about the Trump camp's contacts with Russia, Brennan publicly revealing for the first time that he grew very worried last year that Moscow was brazenly trying to influence members of the Trump campaign to act on its behalf.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is keeping alive the threat that it will hold Michael Flynn in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena. But, first, the panel says it's issuing new subpoenas for Flynn's businesses because businesses can't invoke Fifth Amendment rights, as Flynn is promising to do. The director of national intelligence is refusing to confirm or deny
whether President Trump asked him to publicly dispute the FBI's Russia investigation. Sources tell CNN that Mr. Trump asked Dan Coats and NSA Director Mike Rogers to deny any evidence of collusion, but they refused.
Also breaking, just hours after a deadly suicide bombing, Britain raises its threat level to critical, based on new intelligence suggesting another terror attack may be imminent; 22 people were killed overnight with bomb bombs exploded at the end of a crowded Ariana Grande concert. The suspect has been identified as 22-year-old Salman Abedi, a business student apparently of Libyan descent.
We're told there is no evidence he had ties to any established terror group, although ISIS is claiming responsibility.
This hour, I will talk to the chairman of the House Homeland Security, Mike McCaul, and the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff. And our correspondents and specialist, they are also standing by.
First, let's go to CNN's Jessica Schneider.
Jessica, we heard very significant new testimony from the former CIA Director John Brennan.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was the first time John Brennan publicly testified that he was concerned about the clear contacts between Trump aides and the Russians. He didn't go as far to say it amounted to collusion, but he did say it got to the point where the Russians were trying to court U.S. contact as spies.
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, the former CIA director revealing he was concerned by the communication he saw between Trump associates and Russian officials at the height of the 2016 campaign. John Brennan relayed the communications to the FBI, but stopped short of calling it collusion.
BRENNAN: I don't know whether or not such collusion -- and that's your term -- such collusion existed. I don't know.
But I know that there was a sufficient basis of information and intelligence that required further investigation by the bureau to determine whether or not U.S. persons were actively conspiring, colluding with Russian officials.
SCHNEIDER: Brennan led the CIA until the final day of the Obama administration. Today, he told Congress he received information that the Russians were working to recruit Americans associated with the Trump campaign. BRENNAN: By the time I left office on January 20, I had unresolved
questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not to work on their behalf, again, either in a witting or unwitting fashion.
Frequently, individuals who go along a treasonous path do not even realize they are along that path until it gets to be a bit too late.
SCHNEIDER: By early August, Brennan was so concerned, he called the head of the Russia's intelligence agency, FSB, to send a warning.
BRENNAN: I told Mr. Bortnikov that, if Russia had such a campaign under way, it would be certain to backfire. I said that all Americans, regardless of political affiliation or whom they might support in the election, cherish their ability to elect their own leaders without outside interference or destruction.
SCHNEIDER: That interference has led to an FBI investigation and questions about whether President Trump has sought to discredit, undermine or obstruct that investigation.
Multiple current and former U.S. officials tell CNN that President Trump asked two of the government's top intelligence chiefs, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Admiral Michael Rogers, to publicly deny evidence of cooperation of evidence between his campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.
Both men refused the request. Today, Coats refused to comment on the reports.
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I don't feel it's appropriate to characterize discussions and conversations with the president.
SCHNEIDER: It was just last week that sources disclosed President Trump also asked recently fired FBI Chief James Comey to shut down at least part of the investigation. A U.S. official now tells CNN the president made this request in part because White House officials were unsure about the president's power over the bureau.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michael Flynn.
SCHNEIDER: And now that Michael Flynn has announce he will invoke his Fifth Amendment rights, instead of complying with a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee, top Democrat Mark Warner is promising to push back.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: We don't believe that you can take a blanket immunity on the Fifth in terms of documents. We will take some further action today, two sets of options. And as Chairman Burr mentioned yesterday, we're not taking contempt of Congress off the table either.
SCHNEIDER: And former CIA Director Brennan also briefed the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors today.
The White House, meanwhile, responded to Brennan's testimony, saying it backed up the administration's repeated claim that there was no evidence of collusion. But it's important to note that Brennan was not privy to any intelligence after January 20, and Brennan did say it was his job prior to that to press the FBI to investigate further -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica Schneider, thank you very much.
Let's get some more now on the Senate Intelligence Committee's attempt to get answers from the fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Our congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty is standing by.
Sunlen, we heard from the chairman and the vice chairman of the panel just a little while ago. Update our viewers.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the committee making it perfectly clear that it's essentially game on in terms of Michael Flynn.
They're willing to bring this fight to get, to force him, indeed, to produce the documents that they have been looking for about his communications with the Russians. The committee behind closed doors just a short moment ago and then coming out and announcing the next steps to try to force his hand on all of this.
The new headline is that they will be issuing two new subpoenas to Michael Flynn's businesses, the chairman making it clear. He said, look Flynn, can't be protected here, noting that businesses can't plead the Fifth.
They will also be sending a letter to Flynn's lawyer, essentially asking if a person can plead the Fifth when it's about a document release, which is of course what Flynn did just this Monday.
And the committee keeping a big threat of potentially holding Michael Flynn in contempt of Congress is still on the table.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: We have taken actions that we feel are appropriate right now.
If in fact there's not a response, we will seek additional counsel advice on how to proceed forward. At the end of that option is a contempt charge. And I have said that everything is on table. That's not our preference today. We would like to hear from General Flynn. We'd like to see his documents. We'd like him to tell his story, because he publicly said: I have got a story to tell.
(END VIDEO CLIP) SERFATY: So, the Republican chairman of that committee notably saying that the option of contempt of Congress is still there very much on the table, is an option if Michael Flynn does not comply with these latest moves.
We will see, Wolf, how Michael Flynn responds through his lawyer, but essentially the committee here making another big step in pushing the ball back in Michael Flynn's court -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Another big step indeed. All right, Sunlen, thank you.
Let's get some more on all of this with the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: You bet. Good to be with, Wolf.
BLITZER: Do you believe General Flynn's Fifth Amendment rights extend to business documents related to his foreign work and payments?
SCHIFF: No, I don't.
And we have also been turned down in our request by Mr. Flynn to come and testify and provide documents. So, we are going to be entertaining the same options in terms of our subpoenas, which I hope will go out shortly, to obtain these documents.
There are court decisions that provide there may be a limited Fifth Amendment right in terms of document production, but it is only limited. I don't think it does extend to businesses. And even with respect to the person of Michael Flynn, if these are documents that are the -- that the person, the target is known to possess, then their testimonial character is a lot less.
And even those documents may not be covered by an invocation of the Fifth Amendment. So, we need to pursue these documents aggressively.
BLITZER: Are you prepared to hold General Flynn in contempt of Congress?
SCHIFF: Well, I share the views that you just heard expressed by Senator Burr.
And that is it was our preference initially to get these documents and testimony voluntarily. It's now going to be necessary to subpoena it. And if the general refuses, and does so without a good legal basis, then I think we do have to explore the use of contempt.
BLITZER: When you say explore, I assume your staff and your experts have been looking through what it would mean to actually file contempt charges against General Flynn?
SCHIFF: Well, we have started out in the hope that the witnesses that we have invited would come in and cooperate voluntarily. I'm sure that a great many will. Obviously, some won't, but we don't go into this presuming with most of these witnesses that we're going to have to fight to get their testimony or documents.
But we will be vigorous and have to be about getting the information. So, our next step, I think, is to tailor our subpoenas with the best chance of success, but we will also be doing our own legal research to find out what further steps are necessary if we have to go the route of contempt.
BLITZER: Yes, it certainly sounds like a threat.
As you know, Senator Warner, who is the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says immunity is off the table for General Flynn. Is that also the case for your committee, the House Intelligence Committee, even if it would compel Flynn to speak up?
SCHIFF: I think it's certainly premature to be giving it any kind of serious consideration. I think we ought to find out everything we can without providing any immunity.
If we determine that there is some essential testimony, then we'd want a detailed proffer from Mr. Flynn or General Flynn about what he'd have to say. But none of this would go forward without having a long discussion with Bob Mueller to find out, what are the prosecutorial equities and what would we be foreclosing if we ever did grant immunity?
So count me as very skeptical, but we're certainly a long way from making any judgment about that.
BLITZER: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former Trump adviser Carter Page, they have complied with a Senate Intelligence Committee for documents.
Has your committee, the House Intelligence Committee, seen those same documents?
SCHIFF: We have made requests. I don't want to get into particulars about the documents that we have received.
But we certainly want these witnesses to come and testify. And at this point, I don't want to go into specifics, not in public, specifics about whether we're getting a refusal from their witnesses or for compliance.
BLITZER: Director of National Intelligence Dan Coat was asked about the report that President Trump asked him to deny any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Coats said he didn't think it would be necessary to characterize his private conversations with President Trump in public, but said that he would be willing to speak before an investigative committee.
Here's the question. Will the House Intelligence Committee ask him to do so? SCHIFF: I would certainly like to have him come before our committee.
I will have to obviously get the acquiescence of my partner, Mr. Conaway, in this.
But he will be appearing before us in closed meeting or closed session. I certainly intend to ask him those questions, but I would like to do it sooner than later. I think it's important that we get to the bottom of this.
BLITZER: Will you do the same with the National Security Agency director, Admiral Mike Rogers?
And we meet quite frequently with both of these directors. At least we did certainly with Director Coats' predecessor. I imagine that we will be continuing to do that with Director Coats, as well as Director Rogers. So we will be asking these questions. We will also -- we will want to find out if either one of them or their staffs made notes of these conversations if they had a concern about it.
But Congress really needs to find out whether there is an active effort to interfere with the investigation or to draw in the intelligence agencies or their leadership in a way that would politicize the agencies.
BLITZER: We're told that the conversations, Senator, that President Trump had with former FBI Director Comey, DNI Director, the current one, Coats, the NSA director, Admiral Rogers, were in fact documented either by the men themselves in memos or by staffers working with them.
First of all, have you seen any of those memos, and if you haven't, can you obtain them?
SCHIFF: I have not seen any of the memoranda, so I can't confirm that they exist or what they have to say.
But we will be trying to get those memos. And I think ultimately it's only a matter of time before we do. And, again, if the public reports are accurate, that would be very concerning. But I think we need to make sure that we get the evidence first, and then we can make a determination about just what that shows.
BLITZER: It wouldn't be extraordinary for these kinds of memoranda to exist, contemporaneous memoranda, right?
SCHIFF: It wouldn't be extraordinary.
And, certainly, it's been publicly reported that Director Comey kept a lot of vigorous notes about meetings that he thought were significant. And I think of that very celebrated incident that he had in the hospital with the former Attorney General Ashcroft. He also had documented in detail contemporaneous notes. So it
wouldn't surprise me at all if that was true of Director Comey. If there were also agency personnel that were concerned about efforts that the president was making vis-a-vis Directors Coats and Rogers, it's very possible that their staff made a memo to file about it, to document it as well.
BLITZER: When you look at all of President Trump's actions together, Congressman, his firing of the former FBI Director James Comey, the conversations with his intelligence chiefs, the comment to top Russia officials that the Comey dismissal eased pressure on the investigation, is this, as some of your Democratic colleagues have suggested, obstruction of justice?
SCHIFF: Well, I certainly think that if these allegations are true, they are unethical, at a minimum.
Whether they rise to the level of obstruction of justice will depend on what the president's intention was and whether he had a corrupt intent to influence in a way that would impede the investigation. So we need to get to the bottom of it.
Again, we're still in the category of allegations that there are memoranda that would confirm these things. I'm looking forward to Director Comey coming before the Congress to testify in open session. I think that's going to be very important.
And, again, I want to underscore just how essential it is that we have hearings like the one we did today with Director Brennan, like the one that will be coming up I hope soon with Director Comey, to inform the public as we along.
The role that Bob Mueller has is very important. He will ultimately make decisions about whether people should be prosecuted. But he may not be able to say much and inform the public much about what he learns.
That's really our job in Congress, to share as much as we can, without compromising our investigation in any way to bring the public along in what we're doing.
BLITZER: And without compromising the special counsel's investigation at the same time.
BLITZER: Your Democratic colleague Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, he wrote a letter saying that General Flynn gave false statements to Pentagon investigators about his foreign work. What can you tell us about that?
SCHIFF: Well, again, I can only speak to the public reports about this.
But if it's accurate that General Flynn reported only money he received from the speakers bureau and didn't disclose that the money really came from R.T., this Russian entity, this propaganda arm for the Kremlin, that would be a real problem.
So, if that's what Mr. Cummings is referring to, it is a very serious issue. And then, of course, you have other issues involving whether Michael Flynn made false statements to authorities during the course of the investigation, as well as whether he could accept the moneys in the first place, or whether that violated the Emoluments Clause.
So, there are a lot of legal issues. I think there are going to be a lot of decisions for Bob Mueller ultimately to make. But Congress in its oversight role needs to fully get to the bottom of this as well.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to this comment, Congressman, made by the former CIA Director John Brennan during his testimony today. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRENNAN: Frequently, individuals who go along a treasonous path do not even realize they are along that path until it gets to be a bit too late.
And that's why, again, my radar goes up early when I see certain things that I know what the Russians are trying to do, and I don't know whether or not the target of their efforts are as mindful of the Russian intentions as they need to be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The use of the phrase treasonous path very significant. How do you interpret that, Congressman? Could that have been the case with General Flynn? Is he referring to other members of the Trump campaign?
SCHIFF: Well, he was very careful, as you might imagine, not to talk to specific people or identify specific people in his testimony today.
But there were a few things that were very notable to me about it. The first was that he pointed out this was not just contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians in isolation. This was taking place -- because of course there are contacts between Russians and Americans all the time.
This was taking place between a presidential campaign and Russian officials at a time when the director was aware that the Russians were embarked on a brazen effort to interfere in our election and our democracy.
So, it's the context that I think off the alarm bells for the director. And he also responded to questions about the Russians' use of cutouts and their oligarchs to exert influence to entangle people.
And it's in that context I was thinking about I think he was talking about how people may be initially unwitting that these people they're dealing with are actually agents of a foreign power, they're agents of the Russian government, of the Russian intelligence services.
So you might get in that relationship, a business relationship or other relationship, unwittingly, and then all of a sudden find yourself entrapped within the Russian web.
But those are two, I think, distinct worries the director articulated, one that these contacts were going on in the context of the interference with the election, and another that you could have other contacts where the person may be even unwitting of who they're dealing with.
BLITZER: Do you think that happened in this particular case between Trump associates and Russian agents?
SCHIFF: Well, that's really what we need to investigate.
And I think the director was absolutely right. We have had access to a lot of the information that the director provided to the FBI. I think he was right to do so. I think the FBI was right to embark on its investigation.
So, I think those are exactly the steps we would want our intelligence and law enforcement professionals to take. They took those steps. And now, in Congress, we need to make sure that we follow the evidence we're also obtaining to its logical conclusion.
BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, thanks for joining us.
SCHIFF: Thank, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we're getting new information on that deadly attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Britain, Britain raising now its threat level to its highest level.
The U.S. is now ramping up security at various points as well. I will talk to the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Congressman Mike McCaul. He's standing by right after a quick break.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the Russia investigation and the crisis at the White House.
Right now, we're also tracking urgent concerns in Britain that another terror attack might be imminent, that country now raising its threat level to critical. That's the highest threat level in the U.K., based on new intelligence, this just hours after that suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, a concert, that bombing that killed 22 people.
Our senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is in Manchester for us tonight. Clarissa, what's the latest?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're starting to get more information about the suicide bomber himself, 22-year-old Salman Abedi.
He was born and raised here in the U.K., although he was originally of Libyan descent. And we're hearing now from a family friend that he was described as a lonely kid, didn't have a lot of friends, apparently in recent years had started to dress Islamically, wearing long robes, growing a long beard.
We know also now that he was studying business and management at the University of Salford. That's in a suburb of Manchester. But apparently he was not very social, not a lot known about him on campus, and perhaps more tellingly, he had not been attending his lectures lately.
The primary thing, Wolf, that authorities are now looking to find out is whether he acted alone or whether there's larger network at play. Take a look.
WARD (voice-over): The investigation into Monday night's deadly bombing that targeted children and teens intensified today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you move back down, please?
WARD: Police conducted two raids in Manchester and named the suspected suicide bomber for the first time.
IAN HOPKINS, GREATER MANCHESTER CHIEF CONSTABLE: The man suspected of carrying out last night's atrocity is 22-year-old Salman Abedi.
WARD: This home was stormed by armed law enforcement in connection with the investigation. Police say a 23-year-old man has also been arrested in South Manchester in relation to the terror attack that occurred around 10:30 last night.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh.
WARD: The blast was heard inside the Manchester Arena just after an Ariana Grande performance, as many parents waited to pick up their children and crowds were streaming out of the exits.
The explosion, outside the venue near the box office, was so powerful, it can be seen and heard on this dash-cam video from a parked car far from the detonation point.
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The single terrorist detonated his improvised explosive device near one of the exits of the venue, deliberately choosing the time and place to cause maximum carnage.
WARD: ISIS has claimed responsibility, but a British counterterror official tells CNN they have seen no links to known terror groups. President Trump was quick to condemn the attack in his own unique way.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will call them from now on losers, because that's what they are. They are losers.
WARD: Immediately following the blast, thousands fled the scene, leaping over chairs to escape.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We managed to get through the doors and, how we wasn't crushed to death is a miracle.
WARD: This witness described shrapnel injuries reminiscent of previous terrorist bombings.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously, when you have seen children like that as well with blood and who were having to pull nails out of their arms and stuff, and a (INAUDIBLE) little girl's face.
WARD: Police are frantically examining the bomb remnants for clues, while experts say this was more sophisticated than the work of a lone wolf.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: How did this bomber learn how to make this? In general, it's, I think, highly unlikely that he just learned about it on the Internet.
WARD: As the United Kingdom reels from its worst attack since 2005, security across the country is stepping up, the prime minister vowing terrorists will not prevail.
[18:30:07] WARD: And Britain's prime minister also said the terror threat has been elevated, as you mentioned, Wolf, to critical. This means that another attack may be imminent.
She also said that military personnel will now be deployed on the streets alongside the police. And the last time we saw the terror threat level lifted to critical was way back in 2007, nearly ten years ago, Wolf, when a man tried to ram his flaming vehicle into the airport doors of Scotland's Glasgow Airport -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very disturbing developments indeed. All right, Clarissa, thank you very much.
Here in the United States the Department of Homeland Security is taking additional precautions in the wake of the concert terror attack in the U.K. We're joined by the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Congressman Mike McCaul.
Mr. Chairman, thanks for joining us.
REP. MIKE MCCAUL (R-TX), CHAIR, HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Thanks Wolf.
BLITZER: I assume you've been briefed to a certain degree, at least, on this attack, right? MCCAUL: Yes.
BLITZER: Has the U.N. confirmed the ISIS claim of responsibility?
MCCAUL: Not yet. But I think it's pretty self-evident when ISIS claims responsibility for the attack that, you know -- and the connections this individual has with his Libyan parents. But in addition, the way this was carried out was very premeditated, using explosive devices that you can read on the -- the inspiration magazine but also, ISIS's magazine had how to build a bomb in the kitchen of your mom. I feel relatively confident.
Now remember, Bin Laden's son came out with a directive to attack the West just a week ago. And so there is some internal debate over whether this can be al Qaeda or ISIS. Either way it's radical Islamist jihad.
BLITZER: So it's either al Qaeda or ISIS-inspired, but is it specifically directed? In other words, was this individual acting alone based on inspiration, or was there a plot? Someone helped, for example, build those bombs?
MCCAUL: This one seems a little more sophisticated than what we've seen in the past, where remember, Sheik Adnani in Raqqah, Syria, was telling people would pick up knives, vehicles, kill however you can, wherever you are. This one seems to be a little more pre-meditated, planned out, sophisticated. And so that's why we're -- we are -- it's still under investigation. You know, we don't have all the answers at this point in time.
BLITZER: So is it -- so your suspicion is it could be ISIS or it could be al Qaeda, al Qaeda trying to make a comeback? Is that right?
MCCAUL: Al Qaeda is -- has a more growing presence in Syria with the down fall of ISIS. We're seeing ISIS squeezed in the caliphate in Mosul and now Raqqah. And with that comes the danger of them spreading and metastasizing in other places like into Europe, where they -- we know 10,000 foreign fighters have come from Europe into the caliphate. We know that many of those have returned.
And the question is whether this individual may have been a militant trained ISIS or al Qaeda figure or just inspired by the Internet.
But Wolf, at the end of the day the results are still just as damaging. As you know, in this case, you had, you know, 30 people killed and 50 injured. And according to ISIS's statement, almost 100 killed and injured crusaders, talking about how more will come in the future to those who worship the cross, in their words. That's why Theresa May raised the threat level, who I have a tremendous amount of respect for.
BLITZER: Yes, the highest threat level in the U.K. right now. But just if you can, tell us why this was a more sophisticated terror attack.
MCCAUL: Well, we've seen a lot of these -- these stabbings, a lot of these use of vehicles, which is coming out of the -- Sheikh Adnani's playbook. But the bombings are always a little more sophisticated, complicated.
Obviously, the terrorist, he chose a soft target right outside the concert hall before you get to the train station. So this was, like, the softest, most vulnerable spot; and that's where he waited for the majority of people to walk outside before he hit them.
This is where we're concerned. I met with the New York police commissioner today, and this is what we're concerned about in the United States, is say, you know, when the Yankees are playing a baseball game or there's a concert performance. They seem to be targeting, you know, sporting events like the Boston bombing to concert events like we saw in Paris and now just recently in Manchester. Those are very difficult targets to harden, but we are working with Homeland Security to do that.
BLITZER: Yes, that terror attack in Paris in 2015, an American rock band was performing that. And a well-known American was performing yesterday in Manchester, as well. So do you see -- do you see a connection there?
MCCAUL: I think there is a connection. They're targeting, you know, concert performances of western music. Remember, when you listen to ISIS's music, it's -- it's all done by voice, not by instruments. They don't like our western music or way of life, and now they're targeting concerts with American performers.
There, I think, a very close connection, at least, you know, what we see on the Internet between what happened in Paris and now in Manchester. We don't want to see that event happen here in the United States.
BLITZER: What does U.S. intelligence know about this terrorist, Salman Abedi?
MCCAUL: That his parents immigrated from Libya, that they have returned to Libya. He has a brother who is, I believe, taken into custody for questions. That he was, I think, beginning to self- radicalize.
I think the broader question, as a former federal prosecutor, is was there a cell in place that could have been driven by ISIS out of Raqqah, or is this just simply, again, a lone-wolf self-radicalized individual? But as I say, the damage and destruction was just as evil.
BLITZER: What do you know about his travel? Did he travel anywhere for training, for example, or was he simply self-radicalized online back in Manchester?
MCCAUL: That's something that we are looking at right now, is his social media, his travel. I can't say definitively right now whether he did, in fact, travel to Raqqah and back. But obviously, travel to Turkey, to Iraq or Syria is No. 1 on the list of the investigation, in addition to opening up his social media to see what ties he had with that.
BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, I quickly want to turn to the Russia investigation in Washington. I want you to listen to the testimony of the former CIA director John Brennan today. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRENNAN: I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons. And so therefore, by the time I left office on January 20, I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not, to work on their behalf, again, either in a witting or unwitting fashion. And so therefore, I felt as though the FBI investigation was certainly well-founded and needed to look into those issues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How concerned are you, Chairman, about that statement?
BRENNAN: Well, it's a serious allegation. I've said all along, before adversary powers are trying to enter our elections in the United States and our democracy, it's not a Republican-Democrat issue. It's an American issue.
And I got the Gang of Eight briefing at the time. It was classified, but it's come out since publicly that, in fact, the Russians were trying to influence our elections.
So I think it needs to be investigated. I think the truth needs to come out. And I think, you know -- I think the Justice Department did the right thing by appointing an outside special counsel, Bob Mueller, whom I've worked with in the Justice Department. No one has greater respect for his integrity and character than former DOJ officials in this town and, quite frankly, Washington.
So I have the utmost confident that he will conduct an investigation that will restore, hopefully, integrity and confidence and justice but also with the American people. So you have the House, Senate intelligence investigations; and now Bob Mueller. And I -- I know we'll get to the bottom of this. And it's -- these are very, very serious accusations.
BLITZER: Yes, so you totally disagree with President Trump, who says this is a witch hunt, fake news, a hoax. You see this as a very serious threat to the United States?
MCCAUL: I think the allegations are serious. I don't know what the truth is in this case. And I do think the Congress and the American people deserve to know the answers to this. And if there is no wrong doing that needs to be borne out, as well, to vindicate the president.
BLITZER: But here's the question, as you know, last summer you were briefed about all of these allegations. I guess the question is, why wasn't more done about this when you first learned about it? MCCAUL: Well, it was in October, and I raised to then Jeh Johnson,
secretary of homeland, and we have the DNI, Mr. Clapper, brief us. At the time, it was very shocking, these revelations that the Russians were trying to influence our elections. At that time, I said that they should call out Russia for what they're doing by name and that there should be consequences to those actions. I don't think we've seen that happen, but certainly, the American people deserve to know the truth about this.
[18:40:27] BLITZER: Yes, I know. Jeh Johnson, they did put out a joint statement with the director of national intelligence in early October. I think it have October 8 they put out a formal statement, accusing the Russians of this kind of meddling in the U.S. presidential election.
But you didn't hear about it earlier in the summer. You're saying the earliest you heard about it was October?
MCCAUL: We heard about it in the summer. We got the official -- what they call, you know -- well, the Gang of Eight briefing in October. And, you know, I believe that the American people deserve to know if a foreign adversary power was trying to influence our democratic process.
Again, I don't care whether it's Republican or Democrat. Next time it could be the Republicans hit by a foreign adversary, and we need to protect our institution.
And so, I still believe that, and I still believe that we need to get to the bottom of this. I don't know what the truth is with respect to the Trump campaign and the Russians, but I know these allegations have been made. They're very serious allegations. And we need to get to the bottom of it, either to find out if there -- if there was collusion, but also if there wasn't. And if there was not, then the president would be vindicated and then we could hopefully go on with the business of the American people.
BLITZER: But I just want to be precise. Last summer, were you told of these allegations of improper context between Trump campaign associates and Russian agents?
MCCAUL: No. No. No. The only thing we were told at the time and in October was that the Russians were, in fact, attempting to influence our elections. Whether they had an impact or not was still unclear at that time. And that's what the joint statement between Jeh Johnson and the DNI said at that time.
But, it was very clear to me that Russian intelligence and military were attempting to influence our elections.
BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.
MCCAUL: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Mike McCaul is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. We're going to have much more on the breaking news ahead. The Russia
investigation, the Manchester terror attack overshadowing President Trump's first foreign trip as commander in chief. And is the president changing his tone on terrorists?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I will call them from now on losers, because that's what they are. They're losers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:47:33] BLITZER: We're following two breaking stories, Britain raising its threat level to critical. That's the highest level, based on new intelligence of possible sign that a new attack could be imminent after a deadly suicide bombing at a concert over night.
Also breaking, the former CIA Director John Brennan revealing for the first time publicly that he was aware of very suspicious contacts between Russia and the Trump camp last year, very concerned about those contacts.
The Russia probe and the threat are both hanging over the president's overseas trip. He's in Rome tonight.
Our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is traveling with the president. He's in Rome as well.
What's the latest, Jeff?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, after four days in the Middle East, the president did arrive here, still not talking about that Russia investigation. But the Manchester attack heightened the urgency of his call to fight extremism. It also showed how difficult it will be.
ZELENY (voice-over): In Israel today, President Trump delivering tough words on terrorism.
TRUMP: Obliterate this evil ideology and protect and defend our citizens and people of the world.
ZELENY: Fighting extremism already the key focus of the president's first trip abroad, even more urgent in the aftermath of the attack in England.
TRUMP: So many young and beautiful innocent people living and enjoying their lives murdered by evil losers in life. I won't call them monsters, because they would like that term. They would think that's a great name. I will call them from now on, losers. Because that's what they are, they're losers. ZELENY: Traveling in the Middle East, the president's words coming
far faster than his policies to combat terror. He has yet to unveil his plans to fight the Islamic State which claimed responsible for the Manchester attack. At each stop along the way, the president urging leaders to join the fight against extremism.
In Saudi Arabia, he spoke of the false glory if jihadism, if you chose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief and your soul will be fully condemned.
ZELENY: In Bethlehem today, standing alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he said political leaders must speak out against terror.
[18:50:07] What harbors and inspires it.
TRUMP: The terrorists and extremists and those who gave them aid and comfort must be driven out from our society forever.
ZELENY: The attack aimed at young concert goers shattered a day once set to highlight Trump's effort to revive the Middle East peace process.
TRUMP: The Palestinians are ready to reach for peace. I know you've heard it before. I am telling you that's what I do. They are ready to reach for peace.
ZELENY: In the moments after a terror attack the condemnations and condolences flow quickly.
TRUMP: Our society can have no tolerance for this continuation of bloodshed.
ZELENY: It's the entrenched politics and disputes here in the Middle East that makes solutions far more elusive, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: If it the attacker had been Palestinian and the victims have been Israeli children, the suicide bombers family would have received a stipend from the Palestinian Authority. That's Palestinian law. That law must be changed.
Stop rewarding terrorists. Stop glorifying murderers.
ZELENY: The president left Israel after planning what he hopes will be seeds that one day lead to Middle East peace.
Tonight, he arrived in Rome, the start of his European tour. He's set to meet later this week with world leaders at NATO, an organization he once called obsolete.
ZELENY: Now, the president will be meeting Wednesday morning with Pope Francis. This is their first face-to-face meeting after, of course, they both traded some harsh words last year on the campaign trail. The president calling the pope disgraceful. The pope saying Christians don't build walls. Of course, climate change, immigration still differences between them.
But the pope said earlier this week he's not coming to judge at this meeting, he's coming to look for areas of agreement -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jeff. Thank you, Jeff Zeleny in Rome for us.
Let's bring in our team of analysts and specialists.
Phil Mudd, surprisingly, we didn't hear the president called the Manchester attacker a radical Islamic terrorist. He came up with this new term evil loser. What do you make of that shift?
PHIL MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Pretty straightforward, Wolf, when you transition from a campaign in the Oval Office, you learn one lesson, and that is reality is a pain in the ass. You want to tear up the Iran nuclear deal? What's your alternative? You're going to bomb them? You want to move the American embassy to Jerusalem? You're going to alienate every Palestinian.
As Jeff Zeleny was just talking about in Europe, with the president's visit, you want to confront Russia and Europe and you call NATO obsolete? If Russia is aggressive in Europe, who are you going to call on?
Same issue with his statement about this attack today. If you want to call this Islamic terrorism, you tell every person who practices Islam that these individuals who conduct attacks like this, tragedy like this represents Islam. The president is realizing that when he transitions to the Oval Office in some circumstances, what he said on the campaign trail can't be used in real life. He's facing reality and that's what we saw today.
BLITZER: Do members of ISIS, Phil, really care what the president calls them?
MUDD: Heck yes, they do. I saw repeatedly, terrorists want to be called terrorists. The reason is simple. They know they don't have nuclear weapons, they don't have aircraft. Terrorism is viewed as an acceptable tactic. What you need to do is use terms they don't like.
The term I would use is murderer. Terrorists cannot explain why killing a woman and an innocent child is appropriate. If you call them terrorists, you play to their playbook. If you call them a murderer, you ask them to explain why is it appropriate to murder a child? In my experience with them is they don't have an answer.
BLITZER: Gloria, the international trip of the president hasn't been much of a distraction from the continued developments in the Russia investigation in Washington. How significant is the Senate Intelligence Committee decision to subpoena General Flynn's business documents? GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they're trying to
get at General Flynn any way they can and they believe that these documents, he would have to supply, that he can't take the fifth on these financial documents.
So, they're trying to figure out a way to get some -- something from him. And, of course, we all know in his financial dealings, there have been some real problems here. This question about being paid half a million dollars to lobby for Turkey while he was advising the Trump campaign. You know, this question of $40,000 or $45,000 from Russian television when you look on his security forms, he said that he had no real meetings of any consequence with Russian officials and, of course, we know that at that very event, he sat next to Vladimir Putin.
So, I think what they're trying to do is figure out another door to open.
[18:55:04] Door one was closed. They're going to look at door two. And they're going to try to see if they can get through to some of the answering these questions through another door.
BLITZER: Jackie Kucinich, what's next for General Flynn?
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, the Senate Intelligence Committee has not ruled out holding him in contempt because they haul him in front of the committee and make him take the Fifth over and over again? That's not -- that's a possibility. He also, they haven't ruled out hauling into civil court, having their counsel file back against him.
Surely, this is not going away. So, he's got some -- he definitely has some decisions to make. His lawyer has said that he is worried about self-incrimination, hence, the Fifth Amendment claim. But this isn't over and what they do next is really kind of up to Flynn and his lawyer.
BLITZER: Phil, you used to work in the CIA. The former CIA director John Brennan today suggested during his testimony that some individuals may actually have unknowingly cooperated with the Russians. Listen to this part of his testimony.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRENNAN: I've studied Russian intelligence activity over the years and have seen it, again, manifest in many different of our counterintelligence cases and how they've been able to get people including inside of CIA to become treasonous and frequently, individuals who go along that treasonous path do not even realize they're along that path until it gets to be a bit too late.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: In your experience, Phil, how exactly would a foreign intelligence service carry out that kind of recruitment without the target's knowledge? Is he referring, for example, do you believe to General Flynn?
MUDD: I believe he is. But he used inappropriate terminology. I do not believe that General Flynn is treasonous. That suggests that he chose another country over the United States. I don't believe that for a moment.
This story is more subtle. Let me play the role of a Russian intelligence officers looking at the tragedy of Syria. Hundreds of thousands of women and children dying, the United States does not have a solid relationship with Russia.
You begin a conversation with the president of the United States in the background saying, Vladimir Putin is a guy we can work with. That conversation starts like this, we're not on solid ground. We don't have a conversation with Syria, hundreds and thousands of women and children are dying there. Can we talk about this? Who in the campaign is talking about this? Can we have a conversation about who's setting policy in the campaign?
This is not about treason. This is about a subtle process where somebody recruits or even develops an individual who may be sympathetic like General Flynn on the basis of a common interest. In this case, the common interest is simple. There's dead people in Syria, what do we do about it? That's the path.
BLITZER: You know, Gloria, I want you to listen to this other statement that the former CIA Director John Brennan made during his testimony today. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRENNAN: I was worried by a number of the contacts that the Russians had with U.S. persons and so, therefore, by the time I left office on January 20th, I had unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians have been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not to work on their behalf, again, in either a witting or unwitting fashion. And so, therefore, I felt as though the FBI investigation was certainly well founded and needed to look into those issues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How concerning, Gloria, is that statement?
BORGER: Very concerning, Wolf. You know, I've been told by another source who was in the Obama administration that they regarded this as a five-alarm fire. And when you listen to Brennan today, you understand why. I mean, this was the most detailed public accounting that we have heard so far of what he knew and who he went to.
I mean, he had high-level discussions warning the Russians they better not be doing this or if they're doing it, they ought to stop. He had classified meetings with top leaders in the Congress. He clearly went to the president of the United States to talk about it. This was somebody who didn't just sit back and say, wait a minute, I'm not quite sure this is going on. This was somebody who saw something that he thought ought not to be
happening and took it up the chain of command, Wolf, and tried to set sufficient as many alarms as he possibly could.
BLITZER: Yes, we're going to stay all over this investigation as it unfolds.
An important note to our viewers, please be sure to stay with CNN for new developments in the Russia investigation. Later tonight, you can see all our reporting in one place, a special report, "White House in Crisis" with Pamela Brown and Jim Sciutto. That airs 11:00 p.m. Eastern, 8:00 Pacific, only on CNN.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" picks up our coverage.