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"Imminent Attack" Warning In U.K.: Highest Level In Decade; Police: "Very Clear This Is A Network" Behind Bombing; Officials: Bomber Spent Three Weeks In Libya Before Attack; Flynn Denies House Intel Request For Russia Docs; Speaker Ryan: Fired FBI Director Not A "Nut Job"; Comey Friend: If I Were Trump, I Would Be Scared; Trump Considers Lewandowski To Manage Crises. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 24, 2017 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The president touching down just moments ago. We are going to be waiting to hear from them after their meeting, during their meeting and see when comes from that.

It comes just hours after his historic visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican. Those two have something of a complicated history after a war of words back during the campaign. We'll have to see what happened there.

But first, let's get to the breaking news, right now new information about the Manchester terror attack. Three more arrests overnight bringing that total up to four people now in custody.

Another raid related to the bombing and the whole country on high alert at the moment and officials handling the investigation now say it is clear in their view that the bomber was part of a terror network.

So for the very latest, let's go to CNN international correspondent, Muhammad Lila, who is live in Manchester. Mohammed, what's the very latest that you're picking up?

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Kate. We know that the current threat level in the U.K. is the highest that it's been in basically a decade. It is now at critical. Police have confirmed that they do believe that they are now investigating a network.

In other words, they don't believe this is just one individual, that there was a network behind this. You mentioned the number of arrests, we know police are tracking all of the leads right now looking at who else might have been involved in this terrible plot.

Now you see behind me, I'm standing in front of a hospital. The death toll has not gone up since yesterday and that's about the only good news. Twenty two people confirmed dead, but the number of injured has gone up.

We are now talking about 64 people injured. Just moments ago the doctors came out and described the scene and the immediate aftermath of the terror attack and what it was like in the hospital. They described it as harrowing.

One of the pieces of information they gave out was they had children who were in the hospital who needed desperate treatment because they were at the arena, but they didn't know who these children were. They didn't have family members and didn't know the children's names.

And when I asked what do you do in a situation like that? The answer was simple, as doctors, we treat them. The doctors also say they've gotten good messages from around the world, messages of support including, mind you, interestingly enough, from a hospital in Boston and we know Boston went through its own terror attack not too long ago.

That hospital in Boston reached out to the doctors and they ordered all of the doctors here pizza. That was their way of saying we're with you. That was basically the sense that you get walking around Manchester right now that despite this attack people are very united and they'll pull through this.

BOLDUAN: In times of such tragedy it is the small things and the small bits of kindness that go a long way right now. Muhammad, thanks so much for bringing it to us. We'll continue on this investigation. A lot of updates throughout the hour and we'll bring them to you.

Joining me now to discuss, though, is CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank joining me now. So Paul, you have this detail that they now believe that this very likely or very clearly, a network, part of a network. I'm sure that probably does not come as a surprise to you, but what does it mean they picked up?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, it means that they believe that this could have been a conspiracy. There were others potentially involved. There could be a bombmaker still out there although the police aren't drawn on that, but they've been furiously investigating this over the last day or so.

And what they've discovered has made them more and more and more certain that there was a network behind this attack and that clearly, there are some people now in custody, but the concern will be that there are others still out there who could pose a threat, who can move forward with attacks.

And a lot of the focus is now also on the overseas aspect. This individual recently came back from Libya and there were a lot of questions about what he was doing there. He might have very good reasons to be there.

I mean, he was from Libya originally in terms of his family, but he may have had the opportunity somewhere like Libya to interface, connect with a terrorist group, and even get terrorist training. We know, of course, that ISIS expanded there between 2015 and 2016.

Their operations have been degraded to some degree, but there's recent intelligence suggesting that ISIS have been ramping up their external operations capabilities inside Libya. There's an external operation wing there now and that wing is believed to have been in contact with the Berlin truck attacker all of the way back in December over encrypted apps. So a lot of questions about Libya.

BOLDUAN: Hold on one second, Paul, because on the whole point of Libya, I want to get over to Barbara Starr. She's picking up some more information from the Pentagon about this attack and what we know. Barbara, what are you picking up?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. We now know that U.S. military intelligence services and the British are looking at very specific information about this man's travels.

[11:05:04]They believe that he did travel to Libya for three weeks, spending three weeks there and only returning to the U.K., returning to Manchester just a few days before the attack on that facility there.

So what they are looking at now is where he went, who he might have met with. This is coming to us from our sources at the U.S.-Africa command. That's a part of the U.S. military that oversees military operations in Africa, but they have some very specific contacts inside Libya with government sources there, with militia movements there as the British do.

So what you're seeing now is behind the scenes, very intense, intelligence cooperation between U.S. and U.K. military and intelligence services looking at this three-week period when he was in Libya returning to the U.K. only a few days before the attack. It is beginning to raise some very obvious questions.


STARR: How did he travel there, right? How did he get there? Did the U.K. know anything about his travels? Did he go directly to Libya? There is commercial air travel to that country? Did he go perhaps to next door Tunisia where it might not have raised red flags and crossed over into Libya?

So they're looking at all of that and contacting the people they know inside Libya and trying to see if anybody can tell them where he might have gone. Did he see his family? Did he meet with others in Libya?

I will tell you that they're also telling me they're looking at a couple of possibilities. Maybe it was ISIS, but they're also looking at a group known as AQIM, al Qaeda in the Islamic Magrabe. This is the al Qaeda organization in North Africa, a rival of ISIS in this region.

A group that also has engaged in very violent activities and done external plotting so they're looking at all of this now trying to determine, but it certainly does raise a lot of flags about him going there for three weeks and not coming back until a couple of days until a couple of days before the attack in Manchester.

BOLDUAN: Just before, this is really important information. Barbara, thank you so much. Barbara is working her sources at the Pentagon and picking this up. Barbara, thank you very much.

Paul, I just want to get your quick reaction to what Barbara was reporting. That this attacker was in Libya three weeks and returning just a few days before this attack.

CRUICKSHANK: Well, very significant information that there was a three-week trip and almost immediately after he returns to the United Kingdom he moves forward to launch an attack, and it would be hard to believe that somebody would suddenly have the decision and make a bomb in just a few days before coming back.

And that of course raises the possibility and the likelihood that he went to Libya for a reason and that reason was linked to this terrorist attack that eventually materialized, but I will have to look into this a lot more, but very significant new information Barbara is reporting there.

BOLDUAN: More information, but again, just bringing up more questions, obviously on where this all leads. Paul, thank you very much for that. We'll continue to follow breaking news and Barbara bringing in significant information she's picking up from U.S. officials. We'll stay close to that.

We are also standing by to see fresh video from President Trump's trip abroad. He is meeting with the Belgian prime minister. While the president is busy doing some overseas diplomacy and this is I believe we are now into day five of his overseas trip, his problems, though, here at home centered around largely Russia and its meddling in the 2016 election.

They have not gone away at all, and with that in mind, sources are now saying not only is the president expected to bring in outside counsel to help him with this, but he and his aides have also discussed starting a new crisis communications effort to combat the Russia allegations.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman from Connecticut, Jim Himes, sits on the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for coming in.


BOLDUAN: I have a million questions for you and we never have enough time. I do want to ask you with regard to the Russian investigation you were in the hearing and asked questions of the former CIA Director John Brennan yesterday.

The White House, it appears, was clearly listening very closely to the hearing, as well, because this is what they said in response to the hearings. They said this, "That the hearings backed up what we've been saying all along that despite a year of investigation there is still no evidence of any Russia-Trump campaign collusion. Is that what you heard in that hearing, Congressman?

HIMES: Well, you know, I was sort of astonished by that statement by the White House because anyone who listened to the hearing heard former Director Brennan say when he was asked whether there was any evidence, he said first of all, well, you know, intelligence community, we don't deal in evidence, we deal in intelligence.

[11:10:00]And he said, and yes, I saw contacts and meetings and you know, other contacts between the campaign and the Russians that concerned me. Now that's not evidence and that doesn't indicate that those contacts were wrong.

It just indicates that a guy, a professional who spent his life looking at this stuff said gosh, there is something going on here, we ought to investigate it and turn it over to the FBI. The other part of it that's a little strange is, you know, the White House made this blanket statement about no evidence.

You know, we have an FBI investigation under way right now. I will tell you that the FBI Director Comey and others have been totally tight-lipped about what they have.

So the White House is making a statement about the existence of no evidence that they can't possibly know to be true, which puzzles me because that kind of statement very obviously damages your credibility and I'm not sure why the White House would seek to do that.

BOLDUAN: I want to ask you just one more question about the hearing or coming out of the hearing. After the hearing, Congressman Trey Gowdy, he told my colleague, Manu Raju, that it's not unusual for Russians to contact campaigns. He also said something similar this morning on Fox News. Listen to this.


REPRESENTATIVE TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, we already knew -- this won't surprise anybody. Foreign actors seek to contact members of campaigns, sharing the dependency of campaigns that should not surprise anyone.


BOLDUAN: Should that not surprise anyone? Do you agree with him?

HIMES: Well, I've never run a presidential campaign, but I've ran five congressional campaigns and I'm pretty sure nobody associated with any of my congressional campaigns ever had outreach from any other country, much less from Russia.

Now a presidential campaign is different and so you know, I'm not sure Congressman Gowdy is doing any favors there because the issue is not so much was there contact? The issue is were those contacts disclosed and handled correctly?

We now know Michael Flynn's contacts that were so concerning to the Justice Department that the deputy attorney general went to the White House and said the Russians can blackmail this guy, contacts with then Senator Sessions that weren't reported in the testimony.

The issue is not so much contacts although that does raise some questions. That is pretty unusual. As it is, why is there a persistent pattern of not being up front and disclosing these contacts? That, I think, is one of the many questions associated with this investigation?

BOLDUAN: And I guess, you know, keeping with your point that you made at the very top. Again, the investigation is still under way and everyone needs to be careful to not make connections if no evidence is seen yet, no evidence is seen yet, but the investigation still continues.

But let's talk about where that investigation stands with your committee on the House side. Michael Flynn, he is not cooperating with the Senate investigation. Adam Schiff, he told Wolf yesterday that he is also not cooperating with your committee either.

He's not going to cooperate with the requests that your committee has made. Honestly, Congressman, what do you think you can do differently to get a response from Michael Flynn?

HIMES: Well, the important thing for the overall investigation is we try to resist the temptation and particularly those of us who are on the investigatory committees to start saying where we think things are coming out. There's no evidence of this and there is evidence.

We shouldn't really be talking about this and what we should be doing is saying, hey, look, we'll see where the facts lead us and then, there will be some lessons here and there are all sorts of possible outcomes.

The lessons may be as simple as when you're in a transition, you ought to be careful and very open about whatever context you have with the Russian ambassador. Who knows what the outcome will be?

But the point is -- back to your question about Michael Flynn, he should be helping us. He has the right not to, but there will be other mechanisms to get him before Congress. He could be held in contempt for ignoring subpoenas.

As you know, on the Senate side, they are actually sending subpoenas to his company which apparently, I didn't know this, but companies apparently have fewer Fifth Amendment rights than individuals do.

So I do think that there's information and there are other ways to get the information that we need to get about Michael Flynn's contacts with the Russians.

BOLDUAN: Do you know yet what subpoenas because Schiff says subpoenas are coming. Do we know what subpoenas most specifically will be?

HIMES: Well, I don't know, specifically, but you can imagine that others besides Michael Flynn, others whose question and conduct has been called into question will probably be advised by their attorneys to be very careful about how they participate.

You know, characters and people like Paul Manafort, like Roger Stone and Carter Page have said that they are willing to come before Congress. My guess is that they may have said that before they actually engaged attorneys and not careful about what jeopardy they may be in.

So I do think that we are going to have a harder time getting testimony and getting information from some of the people concerned than maybe we've been led to believe in weeks past.

BOLDUAN: Do you think you're going to hear from Michael Flynn at all, honestly?

HIMES: Well, you know, Michael Flynn, obviously has the right to refuse to testify.


HIMES: And he did make -- he did say that he would testify in exchange for a grant of immunity.

[11:15:02]BOLDUAN: Is that still possibility on part of the House Intel Committee?

HIMES: Well, of course, it's a possibility, but there's a lot of questions that would need to be answered.

BOLDUAN: A realistic one?

HIMES: Well, look, the question around grants of immunity is why would you do that? In other words, you would typically do that. You would say you may have committed some crimes and we'll insulate you from any accountability for those crimes in exchange for x, y, z.

You know, in the criminal world, you do that because you catch some street-level drug dealer and you're really more interested in catching the kingpin than that drug dealer. That's a typical model for why you would grant immunity.

So I mean, there's conversations that need to be -- that need to happen, but of course, there will be other ways to get the information that we needed to get from Michael Flynn about his contacts and his conduct over the course of the period in question.

BOLDUAN: From you, Congressman, I take that as a threat to Michael Flynn and maybe that's exactly what you guys are meaning. Bring us the information or you have other ways of getting it. Congressman --


BOLDUAN: -- thank you very much for coming on. I really appreciate it.

HIMES: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right, coming up for us, a new threat from a close friend of James Comey himself. Why this friend says President Trump should be scared just a week before James Comey is expected to speak publicly? Plus, despite their complicated history, President Trump meeting face- to-face with Pope Francis. See what happened and what was said.

And more on our breaking news, the terrorist who bombed the concert in Manchester. He was in Libya, we are now learning from U.S. officials, for three weeks before the attack, returning just days before committing the attack. Does this change the game? What does this mean in terms of a wider plot, the network that he could have been involved in and now the investigation? We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: New details on the Russian investigation, House Speaker Paul Ryan says this morning he does not agree with President Trump and how President Trump has described former FBI Director James Comey, he does not, Paul Ryan, does not think the former FBI director is a nut job. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The former FBI Director Jim Comey, does it concern you that the president referred to the former FBI director as a nut job?

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Yes, I don't agree with that, and he's not. I like Jim Comey. You know, I know that there are people who are on both sides of the aisle concerned about decisions he made. I think he was put into an impossible position.


BOLDUAN: With me now, Caroline Polisi, a federal and white collar criminal defense attorney, and Michael Balboni, a former New York State Homeland Security director and senior fellow at the Homeland Security Policy Institute. That's a long title, Michael, Peter Beinart, CNN political commentator and contributing editor for "The Atlantic," and Joe Borelli is a Republican New York City councilman. Thank you for having the shortest title, Joe. I really appreciate it.

I have no title, thank God. OK, Michael, let's talk about Jim Comey. Paul Ryan does not agree with the description that Jim Comey is a nut job. I don't think this man would agree with it either, he's a friend of Jim Comey.

He spoke to Anderson Cooper and here is what this friend of Jim Comey said to Anderson and what he is thinking about as Jim Comey prepares to testify publicly. Listen to this.


BENJAMIN WITTES, FRIEND OF JAMES COMEY: I thought it was interesting and very telling that he declined an opportunity to tell his story in private. He clearly wants to do it in a public setting, and I --

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: He was asked to testify in private and he said no so now it will be public.

WITTES: Right. And I think that's a reflection of the fact that this is a guy with a story to tell. I think if I were Donald Trump that would scare me a lot.


BOLDUAN: Do you agree with this guy? Do you think the president should be scared of the fact that Jim Comey will testify?

MICHAEL BALBONI, FORMER NEW YORK STATE HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: I think you have to go back with what the reputation for Comey is. If you talk to police officers, if you talk to --

BOLDUAN: Honestly, it's different, depending on who you talk to. I want to know your opinion.

BALBONI: Well, I think that he's a guy that's shown his independence. I agree with the Speaker, he was in a possible position both in the last election and now. He has something to say he wants to say it publicly, I don't think that that's going to be a great thing for the sitting president right now.

BOLDUAN: And -- do you have something to say about that?

JOSEPH BORRELLI, NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL: At some point this Comey thing is starting to turn into the plot of the usual suspects where we all speak about the villain in terms of who is speaking about him, friends and his father comes out --

BOLDUAN: Who is Kaiser Sose?

BORELLI: Right. Who is Kaiser Sose? But no one has actually heard anything from James Comey except the complete contradictory statements from what the media is supposing.

BOLDUAN: What are you saying? I can't imagine and look, I can be proven wrong every day, but I can't imagine this friend of Jim Comey's is out speaking if -- if Jim Comey didn't want him out speaking.

BORELLI: Keep in mind with the comments of whether he was obstructing justice where you have on record now the third with Brennan, now the third high-level official under oath saying this didn't happen yet we're relying on these friends and the father of James Comey is literally a source now for how James Comey thinks.

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Brennan is not at the FBI and hasn't been in the administration. If James Comey comes out and says Donald Trump never pressured me to stop the Russia investigation, then Donald Trump will be OK.

If James Comey says actually Donald Trump several times tried to get me to stop the Russian investigation and by the way, I took notes on those at the time that I can show you, then Donald Trump will be in trouble because Donald Trump is known across the aisle as a pathological liar and not that many people are going to accept his word over James Comey's especially if Comey has notes.

BOLDUAN: Here's my question about the notes and about the testimony in general, and you can give me your opinion on this. There has been a lot of talk of how much Jim Comey will be able to say, and especially with -- now there's special counsel and a whole other element of an investigation going on. What do you think? Do you think he can say just how --

CAROLINE POLISI, FEDERAL AND WHITE COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Absolutely. This man is fighting for his life at this point. He made a statement and he doesn't want to testify behind closed doors and he wants to go publicly and wants to get this all out there. This will be the largest piece of the puzzle in the obstruction of justice charge potentially in this mosaic we've all been talking about. It's the biggest piece of that puzzle and he has to defend himself and he has every right to do so.

[11:25:04]BOLDUAN: So let me also ask you this, the new element of it that we are kind of learning. The president, we can call it staffing up a little bit and there is clear expectation he'll be bringing in outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz is what everyone's talking about. What do you know about Kasowitz? What do you know what his job will be?

POLISI: Well, Kasowitz is an extremely well known civil litigator in New York. He's known for being aggressive and hard hitting and a real bulldog in the courtroom. Interestingly enough he's not so much of a criminal defense attorney and so it's quite telling that Trump is bringing in Kasowitz. It's a clear pattern that he has of bringing in associates that are close to him.

Clearly, he values loyalty over perhaps experience in this arena. I will say that I've heard from several associates within the Kasowitz firm that a majority of the firm is now dedicated primarily to Trump- associated matters.

I've also heard that the Kasowitz firm is having meetings with Michael Cohen, a former personal attorney with Trump. So clearly --

BOLDUAN: Who is still connected with President Trump?

POLISI: Absolutely. So clearly, they're getting a strategy here and they're forming a war room and he's taking this quite seriously and they'll mount a robust defense.

BOLDUAN: As should be -- as should be expected. Joe, when you talk about a war room as Natalie's report said the White House is looking, when you talk about a war room like crisis communication strategy and what they're going to do to defend the president against these Russia allegations. One person that has been coming up is the possibility of leading that front is Corey Lewandowski, the president's former campaign manager. Do you think that's a smart move to bring Corey in?

BORELLI: Look, whether it's a smart move will play out, but certainly someone like Corey Lewandowski is a person who the president has gone to even after he was fired. I mean, look at Corey Lewandowski, he's someone the president fired and still come out here day and night to support him on national television.

I think the president views him as someone who took scant resources and had a revolution in the Republican Party and set the stage for the biggest political upset. Whether there are rumors that Ivanka and Jared may not like him and that may be true, this is not about palace intrigue for the president. I think this is about getting people whom he trusts to build a team to defend against potential charges.

BEINART: The problem that he has is that a crisis communications team has to tell a story, right? What we've seen again and again and again is Trump's aides go out and tell a story and then Trump contradicts that story himself. None of this is going to work no matter who he hired --

BOLDUAN: No matter how great the strategy is.

BEINART: -- unless he shows the discipline to get on the same page as his own advisers.

BOLDUAN: I want to get your take on, Michael. There is now word that the president wants to start from scratch on his search for a new FBI director. Just last week it was the president said that he was getting very close to making an announcement very soon and there was a clear frontrunner from all of the reporting that it was former Senator Joe Lieberman. What do you think happened behind the scenes that they are now starting from scratch?

BALBONI: I think what the president has done is he's taking a look at what the profiles are out there and see if it meshes with the idea of what the FBI should be. What's really important, though, it shouldn't be a popularity contest, the next FBI director should be somebody who will lead with vision.

BOLDUAN: That's kind of how he runs this, though, right? He ran kind of -- that's the way he kind of ran with the pick for secretary of state and you know --

BEINART: Like a reality TV show, basically.

BALBONI: True --

BOLDUAN: You're saying don't do that.

BALBONI: Don't do that here, but also you have to give him credit, I mean, some of the guys in the administration have been very high quality people.

BOLDUAN: A lot of the people.

BALBONI: So what you have to do is you have to think about what the mission is. Remember, it's a ten-year term after Hoover served for too long and you have to have some independence and it will have to be a person who will take on tough topics and not be bullied. So you need someone with a really strong personality. A president with a strong personality may not see that trait as that easy to reconcile. That's a part of the problem here. BOLDUAN: Yes, that ten-year term -- there you go. Asterisk. Sometimes. Great to see you guys. Thank you so much. Thank you.

Coming up for us, President Trump is visiting -- he is in Brussels, Belgium right now. A place that the president has had a colored history with. He in 2016 called Brussels a hell hole. He is now meeting with the Belgian prime minister. Don't laugh! That's exactly what he said. We'll bring you that video as soon as it comes in.

Plus the president coming face to face also with the man that he also criticized during the campaign, the pope. See what happened inside the Vatican, inside that meeting. What was discussed? What did they say? We'll be right back.