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Interview With New York Congressman Lee Zeldin; Jared Kushner Under FBI Scrutiny in Russia Probe; Hillary Clinton Speaks Out. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 26, 2017 - 16:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Now the family is involved.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Under scrutiny, the FBI-Russia investigation looking into the president's son-in-law and secretary of seemingly everything. What does Jared Kushner know?

Hillary Clinton getting political, taking straight shots at the president in a fiery speech -- what she says helped get her through the loss.

Plus, the head of homeland security warning we could see a lot more attacks like the one in Manchester -- what that means for your holiday travel plans.

Welcome to THE LEAD on this Friday. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper.

And we want to begin with the politics lead, the investigation now including the president's family, President Trump's son-in-law, the man perhaps closest to him, Jared Kushner, now in the spotlight in the FBI's Russia investigation.

U.S. officials telling CNN that the bureau is now looking at Kushner's role during the election and during the transition, and that includes his ties to Russians.

CNN's Elise Labott joins me now.

So, Elise, it's an important distinction whether someone is a target, subject or witness in an investigation. Where does Jared Kushner fall in all of this?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, just because the FBI is interested in him doesn't really mean he did anything wrong. And there are no allegations thus far that Jared Kushner did anything wrong.

The FBI has not talked to him yet. It's not even clear they will, but because Kushner was so intimately involved in the campaign and transition, investigators feel he may be able to provide information to assist the FBI probe.


LABOTT (voice-over): Tonight, the FBI criminal probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election now focusing on President Trump's most trusted adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner.

JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: The White House has been trying to get behind a lot of these programs.

LABOTT: Officials tell CNN Kushner is not the target of the probe, and there are no allegations he did anything wrong.

PETE HOEKSTRA (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: He's not under investigation. If Mueller is going to do a thorough investigation of Russian influence or attempted influence in this election, they are going to touch a lot of people in the Trump campaign.

LABOTT: But the FBI is drilling down on Kushner's multiple roles in the Trump campaign and post-election transition, key among them the Trump campaign's data analytics operation run by Kushner and used to target voters in key states that helped Trump win the presidency.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: I have heard, and it's been reported, that part of the misinformation/disinformation campaign that was launched was launched in three key states, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and it was launched, interestingly, not to reinforce Trump voters to go out, but actually targeted potential Clinton voters with misinformation in the last week.

LABOTT: Federal investigators are examining whether Russian operatives used campaign associates, wittingly or unwittingly, to help Russia push that negative information about Hillary Clinton online.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jared is going to do a great job.

LABOTT: As Trump's top foreign policy aide, Kushner's contacts with Russia are also under scrutiny. Kushner was one of at least four Trump campaign aides in contact with Russia's ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, and in December met with the head of a Russian bank under sanctions by the U.S. with close ties to Vladimir Putin.

At first, he failed to list those contacts when he applied for his security clearance, but he later corrected the forms, and, tonight, new questions about Kushner's relationship with ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. According to one source, Kushner and his wife, Trump's daughter Ivanka, wanted Flynn in the White House and pushed President Trump to hire him, a point disputed by those close to Kushner.

Flynn is still at the center of the FBI probe, and investigations on Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers want a 9/11-style independent commission to investigate. REP. SETH MOULTON (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It seems like, another day,

another name. It's hard to find who in this administration is not being connected with suspicious ties to Russia. And it just points out how important this investigation is.


LABOTT: And in a statement to CNN, Kushner's lawyer Jamie Gorelick said that his client has previously volunteered to share with Congress information about his meetings with the Russians and will do the same if contacted in connection with any other inquiry.

So, he is willing to talk to the FBI if asked. It's still unclear whether they are going to talk to him, Pam. And just to be clear once again, no allegations that he's done anything wrong.

BROWN: They are allegations.

LABOTT: They just think he may have helpful information.

BROWN: But one would think, if he does, the FBI would eventually want to talk with him.

LABOTT: Right.

BROWN: Elise Labott, thanks so much for that.

And CNN also learning this afternoon that former FBI Director James Comey was aware that a critical piece of information in the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation was likely fake, created by Russian intelligence, before he took action last summer, as you will recall, and declared the investigation over.


CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash joins me now.

So, you broke this story, Dana. What have you learned?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, CNN has learned that the then FBI Director James Comey knew that a critical piece of Russian information related to the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation was fake, but he felt that he needed to take action anyway because he was so concerned that if the information became public it would undermine the investigation and the Justice Department itself.

So this comes to us according to multiple sources talking to my colleagues Shimon Prokupecz, Gloria Borger and myself. And these concerns were a major factor in Comey deciding to publicly declare that the Clinton probe was over last summer without consulting then Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Now, you may remember that, earlier this week, "The Washington Post" reported on this intelligence and doubts about its credibility. The fact that Comey felt he had to act based on Russian disinformation is a stark example of how Russian interference impacted the decision- making at the highest levels of the U.S. government during the 2016 campaign.

The Russian information at issue claimed to show that then Attorney General Loretta Lynch had been compromised in the Clinton investigation because of e-mails between then DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and a political operative, saying that Lynch would make the FBI probe of Clinton go away.

According to one government official, in classified briefings, Comey told lawmakers that he was afraid the information would -- quote -- "drop" and undermine the investigation, but Comey did not tell lawmakers that he doubted the accuracy of the information, even in that classified setting.

Now, according to sources close to Comey, the FBI director felt that the validity of the information really didn't matter, because, if it became public, they had no way to discredit it without compromising their sources and methods -- Pam.

BROWN: But, as you will recall, Dana, James Comey in a recent testimony on Capitol Hill cited the plane incident where Loretta Lynch met with Bill Clinton on the tarmac as sort of the capper.

BASH: Yes.

BROWN: How much did that play into this?

BASH: Well, unclear.

I can tell you the way to answer that is that, in these classified sessions on Capitol Hill, Comey didn't even mention that plane incident. Instead, he told lawmakers that this Russian information was the primary reason he took the unusual step to announce the end of the Clinton probe.

BROWN: So, to be clear, this sounds like Russians were successful in interfering in the election.

BASH: It really does. And this is one of the main takeaways of this story and this reporting, if you think about the chain of events it helped set off.

When Comey held his press conference in July of 2016 announcing no charges against Clinton, he also took an extraordinary and many people say really inappropriate step of calling her extremely careless. Those were his words. And Clinton aides are convinced that her reputation was damaged with voters, and she never recovered, and that probably wouldn't have happened without this Russian interference.

Also, one thing I know you're hearing as well, a lot of concern as we speak that the Russians are still trying to get into the hearts and minds of U.S. elected officials, people elsewhere in the government, to try to sort of put some dust and cloud up the investigations that are going on right now.

BROWN: That's their whole intent, sow chaos.

Dana Bash, thank you so much.

BASH: Thanks, Pam.

BROWN: So, why would James Comey act on Russian intelligence he likely knew was fake?

Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin weighs in up next.



BROWN: Welcome back.

The president is on the world stage meeting with foreign leaders overseas and questions about Russia are following him abroad.

Joining me now for more, Congressman Lee Zeldin, Republican of New York.

Congressman, thanks so much for being here with us.

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), NEW YORK: Happy to be with you, Pam.

BROWN: I just want to start off with our latest reporting.

As part of the FBI's Russia probe, we have learned, my colleague Evan Perez and I have learned that they are increasingly looking at the role of the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner. Now, he is, of course, perhaps the president's closest adviser. He's been through his -- by his side throughout this process.

In your view, should the White House be worried?


I mean, obviously, it's important to cooperate with the investigation, provide information that is being asked, because whether it's members of Congress, the media, the American public wants facts in order to reach judgment.

I speak to constituents, some of whom would identify this as their top issue. Others might identify health care or tax reform or something else, but for many Americans who are watching your show right now, they want the facts to be able to form their own judgment.

BROWN: But the fact that he is now under investigation, you know, that he's being looked at by the FBI, not as a target, but someone being looked at, how concerning is that?

ZELDIN: Well, I think it's important to note that he's not a target of the investigation, as you just pointed out.

And, you know, as you get asked for answers to particular questions or produce particular documents because of an investigation that's taking place, a huge difference between being the target and just someone that the FBI is looking to for -- to help answer a question.

So, you know, at this point, until I get additional facts, until we get additional facts to be able to form a judgment, it's really would be wrong on me or others to speculate that Mr. Kushner himself did anything wrong.

BROWN: All right.

The president also, as we know, is meeting with world leaders at the G7 meeting in Sicily today. There's been some confusion over the administration's policy on Russia. Yesterday, the top economic adviser said the administration did not have a position on Russia sanctions, but, today, he said it will not give Russia sanctions relief.

So, what do you make of the signals, the mixed signals coming out of the Trump administration on Russia?

ZELDIN: Well, it's important that we as a nation for the administration, for Congress, to all of us be on the same page that Russia is an adversary of our country. They do meddle not just here within the United States but abroad where we have soldiers, service members in harm's way this Memorial Day weekend serving in Afghanistan.

The Russians have a relationship with the Taliban and that puts our own service members in harm's way or their activities in Syria. So, having a strong and effective and consistent policy as it relates to identifying this nation as our adversary, understanding that they don't respect weakness, they only respect strength, that doesn't mean we can't be silent because we want war. We've got to prevent it, and you need to use all the options.

And we operate in the United States under a principle called DIME. That's diplomacy, information, military and economics. And the diplomacy, the information, the economics, that component of the way we approach foreign policy in our leverage with the Russians are important to ensure that we're protecting ourselves and our allies against this threat.

BROWN: OK. Let me ask you this, because you mentioned earlier that your constituents have various concerns. Some of them are concerned with about the Russia probe and others had different concerns. I imagine health care is one of them.

And a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday found that a wide majority of voters, 57 to 20 percent disapprove of the Republican health care bill that you supported and the Congressional Budget Office found it would leave 23 million people uninsured in the next decade.

Congressman, do you regret your vote?

ZELDIN: No, not at all, and what I have realized from many of my conversations with people who are concerned about the bill, you know, one person might say that 310,000 people in your district are with pre-existing conditions and will no longer have health insurance. That's just not within a million degrees of accurate and having that dialogue -- this bill is just over 100 pages. It's an easy read, and understanding what the bill actually means so that you don't believe -- because insurers cannot deny someone coverage because they have pre-existing conditions. In our state, you're not -- an insurer can't charge someone more because they have pre-existing conditions.

So, I give this as an example of people having the wrong idea of what the bill is and what it does, and the importance to be able to clear that up.

BROWN: But, of course, the Congressional Budget Office is a bipartisan office, and it is saying in the next decade 23 million people will be uninsured.

But, Congressman Lee Zeldin, thanks for sharing your perspective on that and the other issues we discussed.

ZELDIN: Thank you and have had a great weekend.

BROWN: You, too.

And Russia sneaking into the last leg of President Trump's trip overseas after a top adviser's comment left a lot of people scratching their heads.

And then watching a number of very sophisticated and advanced threats. That is the frightening warning from the head of homeland security about air travel in the United States. What you need to know before you fly.


[16:22:21] BROWN: Welcome back.

The world lead now. At the G7 meeting in Sicily, President Trump had some harsh words for another world power today. That would be Germany which the president said was, quote, very bad on trade.

CNN's senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta is live in Sicily.

So, Jim, the question some are asking is, will the president have anything critical to say at this gathering about Russia?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's always a question with President Trump, Pam, you're right. We should point out that the president is very close to wrapping up his first overseas trip. He spent much of the day once again largely avoiding reporters' questions, leaving it up to his aides to explain some of his comments about other world leaders.


ACOSTA (voice-over): At the G7 summit in Sicily, the Italians put on quite an air show, almost flying as fast as President Trump racing past the cameras as he congratulated a Montana congressional Republican on his election victory.

With the Russian investigation hanging over him, the president spent another day of his foreign trip dodging reporters' questions. Instead the White House trotted out top economic adviser Gary Cohn who was forced to do some damage control and state the administration wasn't changing its position on sanctions against Russia.

GARY COHN, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: We're not lowering our sanctions on Russia. If anything, we would probably look to get tougher on Russia.

ACOSTA: Cohn was clarifying his own comments after telling reporters something different. I think the president is looking at it. Right now, we don't have a position.

While aides snapped this picture of Cohn talking to reporters, the briefing was actually off camera and closed to the full White House press corps.

The White House also did some cleanup after what the president was quoted as telling European leaders in a German publication.

The Germans are bad, very bad, the president was heard saying. See the millions of cars they are selling to the U.S. Terrible. We will stop this.


ACOSTA: The president declined to comment. So it was Gary Cohn with the explanation, telling reporters off camera, he said they are very bad on trade but doesn't have a problem with Germany.

The president has largely avoided taking questions all week long, a break from what his predecessors have been on nearly all of their overseas trips.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: So, I thought I'd give you guys a chance to fire off questions now.

ACOSTA: So far in Sicily, where the volcano Mt. Etna is blowing smoke, there had been no diplomatic eruptions, like the president pushing past NATO allies in Brussels. Here, the leaders signed an agreement to ramp up counterterrorism efforts and the president released a statement to mark the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, condemning terror as acts of depravity that are directly contrary to the spirit of Ramadan.

[16:25:05] The White House says the president is still getting a handle on one major issue, whether the U.S. will stay in the Paris climate change agreement, just ask Gary Cohn.

COHN: His views are evolving and he came here to learn and game here to get smarter.


ACOSTA: Now, one subject the White House is trying to avoid is the subject of Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser. Earlier today, Gary Cohn was asked whether or not they had any comment about Jared Kushner who's now of interest to federal investigators. He cut off the reporter's question and moved on to another subject.

And, Pam, we should point out, just in case any reporter out here is holding their breath. The White House is indicating to us there will not be a press conference tomorrow involving President Trump. We're being told that the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster will be talking to reporters.

So, that just goes to show you over the course of this eight or nine- day foreign trip, Pam, we've heard more from Gary Cohn than from the president of the United States. And in that case, we were just hearing it over audio. We didn't even get to see Gary Cohn in person briefing reporters very much on this trip at all.

So, the president largely avoiding our questions throughout this foreign trip, Pam.

BROWN: Pretty remarkable he will not talk to reporters on his first foreign trip overseas.

Jim Acosta, thank you very much for that.

Well, not holding back. Hillary Clinton delivering some shots at the president during a commencement speech. Plus, she revealed what helped her get through the 2016 election loss.


BROWN: Welcome back to THE LEAD.