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Sources: Russians Discussed 'Derogatory' Info on Trump & Associates; White House Communications Director Stepping Down. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 30, 2017 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


TAPPER: I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:08] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Alternate explanations. The FBI digs into Jared Kushner's meetings with Russia's ambassador and with the Russian banker linked to Vladimir Putin. A source says investigators want to learn why the bank and those close to Kushner offered different explanations for the meetings.

Not cooperating. As a deadline looms for Michael Flynn to answer a congressional subpoena, another Trump associate is declining to cooperate with lawmakers. The president's attorney, Michael Cohen, says the Intelligence Committees are on a fishing expedition.

"Derogatory information." In a CNN exclusive, sources say during the campaign Russian officials discussed having potentially derogatory information on then-candidate Donald Trump. The information was described as financial, and there was talk of possible leverage over Trump's inner circle.

And missile interceptor. The Pentagon tests its ability to shoot down missiles using a long-range interceptor. Can it prove it has the answer to North Korea's growing missile threat?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, CNN has learned the FBI is scrutinizing Jared Kushner's meetings with Russia's ambassador to the United States and a follow-up meeting with a Russian banker tied to President Putin. A source says investigators are interested in the different explanations for the purpose of the meeting given by the bank and the White House.

President Trump's personal lawyer is declining to cooperate with congressional investigators. Michael Cohen says requests for information from the Intelligence Committees are overly broad, and he calls the investigation a rush to judgment.

In a CNN exclusive, sources say the Russians discussed potentially derogatory information about Donald Trump and his associates during the campaign. One source describes the information as financial and says the Russians' discussion centered on possible leverage over Trump's inner circle, but the sources also cautioned that the Russian claims could have been part of a disinformation campaign.

And with the White House in crisis, a source who speaks for the president describes him as emotionally withdrawn, saying he now lives within himself, adding, "That's a dangerous place for Donald Trump to be."

I'll talk to Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks of the Foreign Affairs Committee and our correspondents, specialists and guests, they're standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with the Russia investigation. We have breaking news and a CNN exclusive, but first CNN's Diane Gallagher with the very latest -- Diane.

DIANE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf.

Sources are telling CNN that those Russian government officials talked about having that potentially derogatory information during the 2016 election. It was about then-candidate Trump and some of his top aides. One of those sources saying that the information was financial in nature.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GALLAGHER (voice-over): The conversations picked up by U.S. intelligence suggested the Russians believed they had the ability to influence the administration with the information. That's according to two former intelligence officials and a congressional source.

Now sources caution that the claims could have been fake or even exaggerated as part of Russia's greater disinformation campaign. Former director of national intelligence James Clapper acknowledged that's possible, but warned...

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I will just say that there were a series of communications and dialogs that we grew -- I say "we" -- members of the intelligence community that were aware of this -- were very concerned about.

GALLAGHER: Meanwhile, the investigation into Russia's interference in the U.S. election continues to swirl around those close to the U.S. president. Michael Cohen, one of Trump's personal attorneys, confirmed Tuesday he had, quote, "respectfully declined to cooperate" with an invitation to provide investigation-related information and testimony related to Congress.

JARED KUSHNER, TRUMP'S SON-IN-LAW AND ADVISOR: We found that a lot of the...

GALLAGHER: The president's most trusted adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner, is being scrutinized, as well. A U.S. official says the FBI is looking into Kushner's contact with Russian officials during the transition, as well as various explanations given for those meetings.

On December 1, Kushner met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at Trump Tower. Later that month, at Kislyak's urging, Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, the chairman of a U.S.-sanctioned Russian bank, a close Putin associate and a former spy.

In March the White House insisted it was part of Kushner's official transition role, but the bank said it was only about business. The meeting with Kislyak was initially left off Kushner's security clearance disclosure forms but added the next day.

This month, sources told CNN Kushner discussed setting up a secret communications channel with Russia, using their facilities as a way to bypass detection by U.S. intelligence. But as an explanation, said it was so he and then-NSA nominee Flynn could discuss military strategy in Syria, among other topics.

Reuters is reporting Kushner had several additional undisclosed contacts with Kislyak, but Kushner's attorney says that he, quote, "participated in thousands of calls in the time period. He has no recollection of the calls as described."

The White House also pushed back, calling the reports false and unverified claims.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You're asking if he approves of an action that is not a confirmed action. That being said, I think Secretary Kelly and General McMaster have both discussed that, in general terms, back channels are an appropriate part of diplomacy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GALLAGHER: Now the president's son-in-law is one of his most trusted advisers, but Jared Kushner has plenty of White House duties, as well, including Middle East peace and streamlining government. And, Wolf, a source familiar with Kushner's role says that, at this point, he isn't giving up any part of that vast portfolio.

BLITZER: He's there, they say, and he's working. Diane Gallagher, thanks very, very much.

The White House tried to change the subject today, touting the president's overseas trip and his agenda, but it can't escape the president's Russia troubles. Let's gets to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, things got sort of heated today at the briefing.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly did, Wolf. The White House finally held an on-camera briefing after steering clear of the cameras on the president's foreign trip.

But White House press secretary Sean Spicer didn't offer much information to reporters, refusing to say much about Jared Kushner being swept up in the Russia investigation and insisting the president is happy with the message coming out of the White House on the same day his communications director announced he's stepping down.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice-over): It was back to the briefing room for White House press secretary Sean Spicer, and as is often the case in a Spicer briefing, the back and forth over the Russia investigation was especially intense.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't know at the time. When did he find out?

SPICER: I think that assumes a a lot.

ACOSTA: Consider Spicer's response when asked if the president knew about his son-in-law, Jared Kushner's apparent attempt to establish a back channel with the Kremlin using Russian facilities. Spicer didn't deny it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the president discuss?

SPICER: I'm not going to get into what the president did or did not discuss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he approve of that action?

SPICER: You're -- you're asking if he approves of an action that is not a confirmed action. That being said, I think Secretary Kelly and General McMaster have both discussed that, in general terms, back channels are an appropriate part of diplomacy.

ACOSTA: The president made clear his frustrations with the Russia investigation in a tweet: "Russian officials must be laughing at the U.S. and how a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election has taken over the fake news."

MICHAEL COHEN, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Say, Mr. Trump's pit pull.

ACOSTA: Another familiar face from Trump world has surfaced in the Russia probe: the president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, who's been asked to provide testimony and information to congressional investigators.

Cohen told CNN he won't be cooperating, adding, quote, "They have yet to produce one single piece of credible evidence that would corroborate the Russia narrative."

The White House is now in the process of ramping up its rapid response efforts in the Russia investigation. And may bring on former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to help with damage control.

That's happening as White House communications director Michael Dubke is leaving the West Wing. Despite all that, Spicer insisted the president is happy with his team and then took a jab at the news media.

SPICER: I think he's very pleased with the work of his staff. I think that he is frustrated, like I am and like so many others, to see stories come out that are patently false, to see narratives that are wrong, to see, quote unquote, "fake news." When you see stories get perpetrated that are absolutely false, that are not based in fact, that is troubling, and he's rightly concerned.

ACOSTA (on camera): Can you give an example of fake news, Sean? Give us an example.

SPICER: Yes, absolutely. I'll give you an example.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Spicer's only example: an erroneous tweet that the president wasn't listening to the translation at the G-7, when he really was.

SPICER: That's the kind of thing that -- that the BBC and, ultimately, a reporter who's now joining the "New York Times," push out and perpetuate, with no apology. You're shaking your head, Peter. I mean, it's true.

ACOSTA: But Spicer refused to say whether reports on an impending White House shake-up are true.

The White House is not backing down from criticism the president leveled at European leaders during his overseas trip. In fact, the president tweeted, "We have a massive trade deficit with Germany. Plus, they pay far less than they should on NATO and military. Very bad for U.S."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sounded gloomy after the president's trip.

ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (via translator): The times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over. I've experienced this in the last few days, and that's why we Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.

ACOSTA: Spicer didn't see it that way.

SPICER: I think the relationship that the president has had with Merkel, he would describe as fairly unbelievable. They get along very well. He has a lot of respect for her. They continue to grow the bond that they had during their talks in the G-7.

ACOSTA: There were other questions to be asked, but Spicer abruptly ended the briefing.

SPICER: Thank you, guys, very much. I appreciate it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[17:10:10] ACOSTA: Not the first time that has happened.

Now, on a normal day, the White House confirmation that the president is re-examining the Obama administration's policy toward Cuba would be major news, but bogged down on the Russia investigation, the White House refusal to provide many answers on that question of Russia, just may be refueling this very story that the president would like to see go away -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, good point. All right. Jim Acosta reporting from the White House, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, also the Financial Services Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: Good being with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me get first to the new reporting from CNN. Russian officials claim to have had derogatory information about then- candidate Donald Trump and some of his aides during the campaign. Your reaction to these developments?

MEEKS: I wish I could say that I was shocked, but, you know, day after day after day, there is something new that is being revealed, and I think that -- I'm glad that we now have an independent counsel that will be able to review all of these facts so that the American people will know what happened and who did.

I think that the two Intelligence Committees should continue their work so that, again, we can be assured as the American public what took place and, when. And I also think that, as a result, we need this independent commission, as we had with the 9/11 Commission, to look at all of this, because oftentimes the prosecutor, special prosecutor and the two Intelligence Committees, they work in private and secrecy. But an independent commission works in the public, because the public has a right to know whether or not we have a president who has been compromised or not. And so we need those facts and we need the evidence so we know what we're dealing with.

Remember, we're dealing with a president who, you know, refused to show his tax returns, first time in over at least a decade; who has a number of associates, all affiliated with Russia; as well as when every one of our intelligence agencies have said that Russia has interfered with our -- our democracy. So it -- it screams out for our democracies. No longer about Democrat or Republican. It's about our democracy at this point.

BLITZER: The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devon Nunes, he was recorded at a private fundraiser back on April 7 talking about the Russian investigation. I want you to listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIR, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Several weeks ago. Why? Because the Democrats don't want an investigation on Russia. They want an independent commission. Why do they want an independent commission? Because they want to continue the narrative that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are best friends, and that's the only reason why he won, because Hillary Clinton could never have lost on her own, so it had to be someone else's fault.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Devon Nunes, as you know, he's taken himself out of the investigation right now. He's still the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, but he's not directly involved in this investigation. You just heard him say an independent commission would be a political exercise. Your reaction to what we just heard?

MEEKS: That's nonsense, because you can't say that the 9/11 Commission was a political exercise. The 9/11 Commission came because there was a threat to the United States. An independent commission at this time will look and investigate as to whether what took place with regard to the Russians being involved in our election, as all of our intelligence agencies have indicated. So it is about our democracy. Not about politics at this point.

And I would hope that more Republicans, particularly the Republican leadership, finally step up because they're silent. We're starting to hear some of the rank-and-file members of the Republicans starting to talk up. We need some of the leadership to finally talk up and say our democracy needs to know and understand what took place, when it took place, what the president knew and when did he know it, and what was told to him. We need to know that.

BLITZER: As you know, Congressman, the president's son-in-law, his senior adviser, Jared Kushner has come under scrutiny from the FBI. They want to know why they got different explanations about the purpose of a meeting that Kushner had with an influential Russian banking chief who has close ties to Putin.

At the same time the White House said Kushner was acting as an official for the transition, the bank put out a statement saying they met with Kushner in a financial capacity on account of his family's real estate business. What do you make of that clear discrepancy?

MEEKS: Well, look, I'm a former prosecutor myself. The first thing that would jump at me is a cover-up, you know. If I'm -- as a prosecutor, that would have brought up my antennas that somebody is not telling the truth, because both stories can't be correct. And so that means I need to dig even deeper to find out who's telling the truth and who's telling a lie and whether or not there's any collusion going on. I've got to search for the facts, because my curiosity as a prosecutor would really be engaged when you've got two significant parties with two opposite responses, and I think that's where we are right now.

[17:15:12] BLITZER: Should Kushner lose his security clearance, as some of your Democratic colleagues have suggested?

MEEKS: I think that as we look at it, if in fact, he has lied, did not reveal certain information at the time that he received his security clearance, then, yes, absolutely.

So, you know, we cannot -- and here's a campaign that talked about, after Hillary was cleared of her e-mails and that there were no violations, that -- about classifications. Well, here, clearly, if this individual lied about his encounters with various -- not just one but various Russian people of authority -- whether it was the ambassador, whether it was a bank -- then surely, you know, his classification of being access to classified information should be reviewed and revoked, if that's the case.

BLITZER: Congressman, there's more to discuss. I need to take a quick break. We'll resume our coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:27] BLITZER: Our breaking news: CNN learns the FBI is scrutinizing Jared Kushner's meeting with Russia's ambassador to the United States and later a meeting with a Russian banker sanctioned with the U.S. but tied to President Putin, the White House refusing to confirm or deny any secret channels to Russia.

We're back with Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, following meetings with President Trump, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that Europe can really no longer completely rely on the United States, but the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, today defended the president, saying his relationship with Chancellor Merkel is, quote, "fairly unbelievable" and said it's great, it's a great thing that Europe recognizes the need for additional burden-sharing. What's your reaction?

MEEKS: My reaction is the White House's reaction is absolutely ridiculous, you know. As you said, Wolf, I'm on the Foreign Affairs Committee. I am the ranking Democrat on the European subcommittee; and as I've talked to my colleagues in the E.U. and from NATO, they are all very concerned about the words and action and deeds of this president.

And it is clear that Chancellor Merkel is not just making this up. If you listen to his words, where he refused to agree, in a forthright way, on Article V of a NATO constitution where one defends the other, an attack against one is an attack against other; where you continually not hear him talk about the E.U. at all or the significance and the importance of the E.U.; when you hear him not agreeing with the climate change agreement, talking about pulling out, in fact; not having any real faith and trust in any of the world organizations and causing doubt to be had whether or not the United States will stay in or stay out, even though these are things that the United States have led for all this particular period of time; when you see something hesitant like that, as this president has been, then yes, if I was Chancellor Merkel or the head of any country in the E.U., I would have significant control -- concern, rather. There's no question about that.

And it seems as though, when he's left Europe, the only one that was happy on the European geographical footprint was Mr. Putin, who wants to see us divided and see Europe divided. He was the only successor.

BLITZER: Congressman, Germany and other -- most of the other NATO nations for that part, they've been missing that defense-spending target of 2 percent of their GDP over these many years. The president has repeatedly pointed out 23 of the 28 NATO allies don't meet that 2 percent target. Doesn't he have a point?

MEEKS: Well, no, Wolf, because already, even in the Obama administration, it had been agreed by all of our NATO partners that they would be moving, and that they would be at that number by the year 2024; and there would be reports or moving forward. So there was no need to go, in the manner, that he did to try to browbeat our allies who have been working collectively with us, who share the same values that we have; and yet go to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, individuals who do not share the same values that we have, who do not believe in human rights and women's rights, et cetera, say nothing to them about their human rights violations and just be glad because Saudi Arabia gave him a medal. That is just absolutely ridiculous, and it is worrisome for those of us in had the United States, so I know it has to be worrisome for those individuals in the E.U. and our NATO allies.

BLITZER: You mentioned the whole issue of the Paris climate agreement. As you know, that's a real point of contention. It was at the G-7 summit, because President Trump, he refused to commit to the Paris climate agreement. Sean Spicer, the press secretary, today, he refused to say whether or not the president believes that humans are a cause of climate change.

In the past, the president has repeatedly called climate change, as you know, a hoax.

Here's the question. If the U.S. were to withdraw from this Paris agreement -- and the president last week said he would have an announcement this week -- what message would that send to the rest of the world?

MEEKS: It would send to the rest of the world a message that the United States does not care about this planet that we all share and does not care about multi-lateral agreements that we make with other nations.

The president has indicated that he wanted to do everything bilaterally, in a world that is more interconnected than ever before. This is the world that we live in, and he's pulling out of all the multi-lateral agreements so that we have so that we can pull and work together.

[17:25:10] And so it would show real concern about also the -- the worthiness of the United States in keeping their word and working together with others when it's most important in this day and age in which we live in right now. When you talk about crises around the world, no one can deal with it by themselves. We need to work collectively together in multi-lateral relationships.

BLITZER: Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York, thanks for joining us.

MEEKS: Good to be with you, Wolf. Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: We're going to have more on the breaking news coming up, including this high-stakes missile test over the Pacific. Can the U.S. military shoot down incoming missiles if North Korea's Kim Jong- un were to launch an attack?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories in the investigation of Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election, including CNN's exclusive reporting that conversations intercepted by U.S. intelligence revealed Russian intelligence officials discussing potentially derogatory information about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and some of his top aides.

[17:30:38] Let's get some insight from our specialists. And Dana, together with Jim Sciutto and Pamela Brown, you broke this story. How significant are these developments?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's significant in the sense that it's one more indication that the bigger puzzle and the bigger question of Russia trying to intervene in the U.S. election and one more kind of illustration of that.

And it's because what we learned -- and Pamela Brown was kind of the lead on this -- was that there were Russian officials, Russian government officials talking to one another about the fact that they claimed to have derogatory information about Trump and his aides and, specifically, a source said that it was financial in nature.

So it gives an indication to us of where these investigations are going, and also, the fact that Russia really did not just have an intent on messing with the 2016 election but doing so in the way that they traditionally do, which is kompromat, using specific information that they get on a specific individual against them. You know, this is not necessarily that really existed. It could be that these Russians were bragging, knowing that they were being listened to and, you know, was part of a disinformation campaign. But the end of the day this is something that investigators are looking hat.

BLITZER: Because you know, Phil Mudd, whenever the U.S. does pick up a conversation like this, they have to make sure that it's the real thing, that it wasn't just phony, trying to it, you know, screw around, knowing that the U.S. was listening in.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You nailed that, Wolf. Look, handle with care. Any FBI investigators got to look at this, but there's a phrase you use in the intelligence business: chain of acquisition. You're listening to the Russians. Do you believe them, especially if you think they might believe that that chain of -- or that avenue of communications is already compromised?

Remember, chain of acquisition. They're talking to somebody who's talking to somebody. When we did this in fourth grade we talked -- we referred to this as a game of Telephone. Once you get about three or four steps removed -- and it's the same in the intelligence business, seriously -- you're saying, "I don't know who they acquired it from and who the sub-source is."

So when you're three or four steps out, you don't even know if the Russians are accurate or honest in their portrayal of this conversation, and then you take two or three steps out. You've got to investigate it, Wolf, but I'm suspicious of this on the surface.

BLITZER: Well, let's say it's true. How would they leverage it if it were, in fact, if they did have some derogatory financial information about then-candidate Donald Trump? What do they do with that?

MUDD: This is what I find curious about this conversation. When we go into the election, we have the president-elect of the United States having a perception of the Russians in a public -- in a public portrayal of the Russians that's incredibly positive. How would the Russians use this? How would they use this with the president? How would they use this with Michael Flynn?

Are you going say, "If you don't do what we want, we're going to blackmail you"? Already the White House is in the Russians' camp. I don't exactly understand what the end game is.

BASH: Except the question is, as an investigator, I would think that you would look at which came first, the chicken or the egg? Is the White House -- was Donald Trump in the Russian camp already, or were they in the Russian camp because of whatever it is that these people are talking about, right?

MUDD: I think that's right, and that's why the Jared Flynn [SIC] conversations with the Russian banker and why Donald Trump's lawyer's conversations with Russian financial figures are significant. This is about who shot John when, and did that happen before the election started?

BLITZER: When you said Jared Flynn, you meant Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn.

MUDD: Right, right. Jared Kushner.

BLITZER: Just want to be precise. You brought both of them together.

MUDD: That's right.

BLITZER: Both of them were in on that meetings, with Flynn.

BASH: Not like Brangelina.

BLITZER: The president, though, as you know, Mark, he's digging in his heels. This morning he was tweeting once again and tweeted this: "Russian officials must be laughing at the U.S. and how a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election has taken over the fake news."

He -- if -- if some of his advisers, some of his lawyers were telling him, "You know, hold off on all the tweets," he's not holding off on the tweets.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, he's not. Can we just stop for a second? This is the president of the United States, the leader of the free world, tweeting, attacking the American news media and talking about Russian officials. How insane is that? We really do live in this very bizarro world, but I will say this. From a strategic standpoint, to your point, when you're a lawyer,

everything that he says is going to be used and put together like a puzzle in an investigation; and where it leads, who knows?

[17:35:12] When you're trying to follow communications strategy, how can you, as Sean Spicer, go out there every day and have to answer for the comments that President Trump makes? I don't know how you do it.

BLITZER: The other story that's developing, Michael Cohen, the president's longtime personal attorney -- not a government attorney, personal attorney -- he's been asked by congressional investigators to provide, quote, "information and testimony that pertains to the Russia investigation." He declined to cooperate, but can lawmakers, Nia, really force his hand?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I mean, they have additional steps. I mean, ultimately, they probably can't force his hand, right? There's no sort of Wonder Woman lasso of truth where they can force him to testify, but there is subpoena power that Congress has, so that might be the next step.

He has complained, for instance, that this request is overly broad. He said that it's a fishing expedition. If they come back, they might narrow what they're asking for, so the documents or the time period that they're interested in or what the line of questioning might be. And if he doesn't agree with the subpoena, then they have -- they can charge him with contempt of Congress. But, again, I mean, they don't -- there's no absolute power that Congress has that can compel him absolutely to testify.

BLITZER: Nia-Malika Henderson, a big Wonder Woman fan. Very impressive, I must say.

All right. Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more coming up. We'll take a quick break; we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:41:05] BLITZER: We're back with our political and counterterrorism specialists.

You know, Phil Mudd, very interesting that Jared Kushner, the senior adviser, the son-in-law, he had this meeting with this Russian banker Sergey Gorkov. His bank has been sanctioned by the U.S. government. The FBI wants to know the answer to this.

The White House originally said that meeting had, quote, "little substance"; now says the purpose of the meeting was to discuss Russian involvement in Syria. The banks -- maintains that Gorkov met with Kushner, because they were interested in the family's huge real-estate business. It was a business meeting.

Now investigators want to know, well, what's the truth? That's why they're investigating. What do you think?

MUDD: This is money in the bank for an investigator. There's two things you have to know if the FBI ever walks in your office.

No. 1, the investigation is going to take a long time. Let's say they're going to talk to 20, 30, 50 people in this circumstance. The reason this takes so long is somebody who says something in September is going to have to go through a re-interview in January, February. All their friends are going to be interviewed.

The discrepancies will kill you, because the FBI will keep track of them. That's why I've been surprised about how some of these folks are speaking on TV. The FBI is watching that.

The second thing they will do to you is they're collecting all this data -- phone, e-mail, financial data -- to determine whether, if you say you said something on date "A," and they determine from your phone records that's incorrect, they're going to catch you on that. It's not just what you know. It's how that story changes over time, and that will kill a witness. That's what you're seeing here.

BLITZER: We finally, Nia, had an on-camera briefing at the White House. Sean Spicer, he opened up with a very lengthy statement applauding the president's overseas trip. Then he took questions from reporters for less than 20 minutes. What do you think?

HENDERSON: He did, and that first question was from Phil Walker from "The Washington Post," which has been doing reporting like we have on these -- these conversations with Kushner and the Russian ambassador. Yes, there it is.

And so I think what was the most fascinating thing was that he never denied it, right? He never denied the "Washington Post" story. He never denied any of these stories that have come out about Jared Kushner's request for a back channel with Russians.

At the end of that press conference, he did talk about fake news, right, and the problem of fake news, as they have been doing for months now. Jim Acosta asked him, "Well, give us an example of a fake news story," and he rattled off sort of a random fake news story about a reporter getting something wrong, which was a mistake.

BASH: Which was a mistake, not a fake news story.

HENDERSON: Right. And in that instance, you would think, if he wanted to knock down this story, he could have said, "Well, this whole story is fake, and it's fake because of these things." But they haven't done that.

I do think he was much more disciplined. They're clearly trying to get the communication shop in order there. Mike Dubke is no longer there. He had a lot of prepared statements that you mentioned he was reading off the bat. They're trying to give a kind of confident face to what this administration is doing.

BASH: And set their own narrative.

HENDERSON: And set their own narrative, but they're sort of at sea. And they can set a narrative, but there's these -- there are these investigations going on.

BASH: Yes. And that's really the burning desire of the president and, frankly, any president, which is to not be talking from the podium or even from the Oval Office from a defensive posture, which is all they've been doing on this Russia issue. So that was clearly the goal of having this, you know -- I think it was like -- if you Google "synonyms" or "adjectives," it was like every single one in the book for how fantastic his trip was.

But I think on the Kushner thing, and you're right, it struck me also that he didn't deny it, but he went beyond that. He went to the idea that two very well-respected national security members in their -- in their administration, H.R. McMaster and General Kelly, have both said that back channels are part of national security, which was very artful in the dodge in that, of course, back channel is very important, but that's not the issue here.

The issue is whether Jared Kushner broke protocol by doing this as a private citizen during the transition. And when he did this, was doing something that I don't think anybody in -- in the administration would do.

BLITZER: You mean have a communication at the Russian --

BASH: A direct communication with Moscow.

BLITZER: -- embassy using their equipment.

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: The communications director of the White House is gone. Is this the beginning of more?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it could be. You know, actually, we've seen a lot of traffic in and out of the White House over the past few days, over the past few weeks, including Corey Lewandowski who's been there and David Bossie and others.

This is what I do think that we should say when we're looking at the whole communication strategy of the White House -- and I think we're all in agreement here -- is that it's really being driven by President Trump. It's not being driven by his aides nor is he really taking their advice.

In oftentimes, he will say something that will totally contradict what they were sent out to say 24, 48, 72 hours beforehand. So, you know, Mike Dubke leaves, but I don't think that's going to change anything in the White House. And I don't care who is standing behind that podium. It is still going to be probably the hardest job in the United States.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Everybody stand by. There's much more coming up, including a crucial test as the U.S. military ramps up its defense against a potential missile attack by Kim Jong-un's North Korea. Will the U.S. be able to shoot down an incoming ICBM?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:46] BLITZER: We are following breaking news on a vitally important missile defense test. This afternoon, the military launched an interceptor that's supposed to shoot down incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles just like the ones North Korea's Kim Jong-un keeps testing.

Let's bring in Brian Todd. He's working the story for us. Brian, tell us what you've learned.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just a short time ago, we got word from the U.S. missile defense agency that this test was successful. The agency says the kill vehicle intercepted and destroyed the target in a direct collision. The agency's director tonight says the test shows they now have a capable deterrent against a very real threat. But given the North Koreans recent successful missiles launches and the problems of past U.S. interceptor tests, the military was under considerable pressure to hit its mark today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): U.S. officials say it's like trying to hit a bullet with another bullet. Today, the U.S. military attempted an exceptionally difficult missile interception, its first ever to shoot down a model of a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile.

In a test taking place over the Pacific Ocean, a mock enemy ICBM, fired from the Marshall Islands was targeted by an interceptor fired from an underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base north of Santa Barbara. U.S. officials say the interceptor hit its target. The stakes couldn't be higher.

TODD (on camera): How much pressure are they under to make this work?

KINGSTON REIF, DIRECTOR OF DISARMAMENT & THREAT REDUCTION POLICY, ARMS CONTROL ASSOCIATION: So this is a very crucial test for the Pentagon and for the Missile Defense Agency. North Korea is working on development of an intercontinental ballistic missile that would be designed to target and hit the United States.

TODD (voice-over): Adding to the pressure, the U.S. military's spotty track record in these tests. In a little over a decade, only about half the interceptors have hit their targets and three of the previous four tests failed. Critics say the interceptors based in California and Alaska were rushed into deployment and have had several mechanical problems.

REIF: Sometimes the kill vehicle did not separate from the rest of the interceptor, and at times there have also been problems with the kill vehicle itself.

TODD (voice-over): The interceptor test comes as Kim Jong-un crows about a missile his regime test fired this week, which it claims has new in-flight guidance systems to make it more accurate.

VICTOR CHA, SENIOR ADVISER AND KOREA CHAIR, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: North Korea is on the missiles testing warpath right now.

TODD (voice-over): A barrage of about a dozen missiles test fired by Kim just this year. And tonight, his regime, in an announcement, brags that Kim is preparing to send a, quote, "bigger gift package to the Yankees."

Senator John McCain tells an Australian broadcaster, he's not confident in America's missile defense systems to counter the North Korean threat.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), CHAIRMAN, SENATE COMMITTEE ON ARMED SERVICES: I don't think that it's acceptable for the United States of America to have an intercontinental ballistic or a missile aimed at Australia with a nuclear weapon on it, and depend on our ability to counter it with an anti-missile capability.

TODD (voice-over): A key question tonight, what are the alternatives to these flawed missile interceptors?

CHA: In addition to missile defense, you have so-called left of launch cyber capabilities that are designed to hack North Korea's rocket systems. You also have preemption, the possibility of a preemptive attack on North Korean missile launch pads or on their missiles themselves.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Analysts say that is the most risky option, that it could provoke Kim Jong-un to turn his guns on Seoul or on the roughly 28,000 American troops in South Korea. Experts say the U.S. might consider launching a preemptive military strike on North Korea only if it became convinced that Kim Jong-un was about to fire a missile as an act of war and not just test one like he's been doing. Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Brian, while it's good news, of course, that this interceptor test was successful, you've gotten some perspective on it from missile experts. What are you hearing?

TODD: We have, Wolf. These experts have told us over the past few days these mock ICBMs don't move nearly as fast as real enemy warheads which travel about four miles a second. They also point out this is a scripted test. The interceptor team today knew where that mock ICBM was being fired from. When the North Koreans fire missiles, they're fired from mobile missile launches with no warning.

Still a Pentagon official telling us today, they still can improve their technology with each interceptor test and move forward toward better capability to hit these missiles out of sky.

[17:55:04] BLITZER: Yes, they're learning a lot. It's a work in progress. Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you.

Coming up, more breaking news. New scrutiny for Jared Kushner's meetings with Russia's Ambassador to the United States and with a Russian banker tied to President Putin as the White House refuses to confirm or deny secret channels to Moscow by the President's son-in- law.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Different stories. CNN confirms the FBI is looking at Jared Kushner's meeting with a Russian banker and the conflicting accounts of why the President's son-in-law was talking to an ally of Vladimir Putin. Tonight, the White House is clamming up about the Kushner connection.

[18:00:07] Refusing to testify. The Russia probe widens to include the President's personal lawyer.