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All Eyes On Comey: Fired FBI Chief To Testify Next Week; Putin Hints "Patriotic Hackers" May Have Meddled In Election; White House On Blocking Comey Testimony: Trump Will Decide; Putin On Election Meddling Claims: It's Like Anti-Semitism; Report: Trump Administration Tried Lifting Sanctions On Russia. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired June 2, 2017 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Former FBI Director James Comey now set to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee about Russian interference into the 2016 election, a probe that Comey was leading until the president fired him.

Comey is expected to lay out his version of events from private conversations with President Trump. Did the president ask Comey to shut down the investigation into Michael Flynn? A big question, and we may soon have a definitive answer, unless, of course, the plot thickens and President Trump tries to assert executive privilege to keep Comey quiet.

While all of this is happening, another president is speaking out, Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, for the first time seeming to hint that Russian hackers may have been involved in the election.

CNN's Matthew Chance is standing by live in St. Petersburg. But first, let's get to Washington and Jessica Schneider, which is setting up to be the next greatest show on earth coming up next week, Jessica. What do we know?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Kate. You know, this morning, the big question that's emerging, will President Trump exert executive privilege to keep James Comey from testifying, either in full or in part?

We know from our sources that Comey wants to tell his story and he's expected to detail how he felt potential pressure from the president, both when President Trump asked him for personal loyalty shortly after taking office.

And also in that now-infamous February 14th meeting when the president allegedly asked Comey to shut down the FBI investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Flynn's ties to Russia.

Now, we know at this point that Comey has taken the first step toward testimony. He's consulted with Special Counsel Robert Mueller about what the parameters of his testimony might be to ensure that there are no legal entanglements in his public account. But this morning, counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, she said that they would not -- the administration would not rule out the president invoking executive privilege to stop James Comey from testifying.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: So we'll be watching with the rest of the world when Director Comey testifies. The last time he testified under oath, the FBI had to scurry to correct that testimony. He was off by hundreds of thousands in his count. His sworn testimony count of the number of information, the number of e- mails that Huma Abedin allegedly sent to her husband, Anthony Weiner. He said there were hundreds of thousands. Turns out that was off by hundreds of thousands --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- invoking executive privilege?

CONWAY: The president will make that decision.


SCHNEIDER: So it remains to be seen what the administration will do. Will the Trump administration, in fact, try to block Comey's testimony? The testimony itself scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, first in a public session and then in a closed-door session at 1:00 p.m.

Now, of course, there are limits to executive privilege, and some are arguing that since James Comey is no longer a government employee instead of private citizen, any instruction from the president not to testify really wouldn't hold any weight.

And in addition, some say the president may have effectively waived executive privilege because he has tweeted about James Comey on several occasions, directly referencing the conversations the two have had -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, there are a whole lot of opinions about that executive privilege element of all of this. Great to see you, Jessica. Thank you so much.

So now I want to turn to those extraordinary comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin, suggesting for the first time yesterday that Russians may have been involved in hacking the election, but today still definitely denying his government had any hand in it.

CNN's senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, is in St. Petersburg, Russia, where Vladimir Putin just spoke. So, Matthew, Putin spoke at length about this. It almost seemed like talking in circles, though, at times. What exactly is he saying?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Kate. If you were expecting any kind of mea culpa from President Putin here in Russia where he's addressing the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, you'd be sorely disappointed. He spent the last 36 hours ducking and diving and dodging questions about the Russian involvement, allegedly, in the hacking of the U.S. election and the data dump that followed that in order to discredit, apparently, the campaign of Hillary Clinton.

Putin has again denied that his security services had anything to do with that. That's the allegation, of course, made by the U.S. intelligence services. Russia does not hack. His appointees made time and again, he made it here today.

He also said that hackers are not kind of people that are normally employed by the Russian government. They're much more, well, free- spirited than that. Take a listen.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): Hackers are free people, just like artists. They wake up in a good mood and paint things. Same with hackers. They woke up today, read something about the state-to-state relations. If they are patriotic, they contribute in a way they think is right. They fight against those who are saying bad things about Russia.


CHANCE: All right, well, patriotic artists is how he characterized them, fighting against those who are effectively bad-mouthing Russia. So you know, hidden in there, it sounds like another one of those categorical denials, but hidden in there somewhere is at least the admission for the first time by Vladimir Putin that it could have been Russia's patriotic civilians, not affiliated with the Russian security services, but Russians, nevertheless, he admitted, could have been behind this hacking scandal.

[11:05:13]KEILAR: Matthew, while I have you, I have to ask you, yesterday we played some of that extraordinary encounter that you had with the Russian banker who met with Jared Kushner back during the transition. The motive behind that meeting, and now part under scrutiny by the FBI and definitely part of this whole conversation. Can you tell me about that encounter and what's happened?

CHANCE: Yes, you're right. It was an extraordinary encounter. Sergey Gorkov, the head of one of Russia's biggest banks, didn't want to answer any of our questions, but there are these huge questions that we all want answers to.

For instance, he met Jared Kushner in December last year in Trump Tower in New York. What did they talk about? The bank says they talked about business and Kushner was there as a representative of his family property business.

The White House had a very different take, saying he was there for diplomacy as part of his role in the Trump transition team. We wanted to know what they actually discussed, and so I managed to pin down Sergey Gorkov and try and get some answers from him.


CHANCE: Mr. Gorkov, quick question. What did you really speak to Jared Kushner about in New York when you met him in December? Did you talk about sanctions?


CHANCE: What was discussed? The White House says it was a diplomatic meeting that Kushner met you as part of the transition team. Your bank says it was a business meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you so much.


CHANCE: So, Mr. Gorkov not very happy to speak to us and be confronted in that way about this issue, but still, those questions are out there and they will need to be answered at some point -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, definitely not happy to get the questions, but good you're asking the questions, regardless. Great to see you, Matthew. Thank you.

Joining me right now to continue this discussion is Jill Wine-Banks, a former assistant and Watergate special prosecutor. She's joining us now, and Scott Jennings is here, a former special assistant to President George W. Bush, and also Michael Moore, a former U.S. attorney. All, thank you so much for being here.

A lot to get to as we wait out there with Jessica and Matthew Chance. Jill, I want to get your take. This issue of executive privilege, Kellyanne Conway was asked about it this morning, said you know, it's up to the president. Do you think the president has a case, if he wanted to assert executive privilege to keep James Comey from testifying next week?

JILL WINE-BANKS, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Based on my experience in Watergate, no. A conversation about a crime is not protected by executive privilege, so that if James Comey's testimony is going to be that the president obstructed justice by asking him to drop the investigation of Flynn, that would be a criminal conversation and not protected by executive privilege.

BOLDUAN: Well, another element of this -- and Scott, we'll talk about obstruction of justice specifically in just a second -- but Michael, a lot of folks are saying that the president, regardless of the obstruction of justice question, that the president's already waived his, I don't know, right to executive privilege with the tweets and statements that he has made about his conversations with James Comey. I mean, more broadly speaking, what role could the president's Twitter feed play in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, do you think?

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA: You know, I think this is another example of when his mouth and his thumbs are coming back to haunt him. You know, we talk about the issue of waiving the privilege. And one of the things you've got to think about is, essentially, he's accused Comey of a crime.

At some point, he's alleged, I believe, that Comey gave false testimony to Congress. That can sometimes serve as a basis of a waiver for privilege, when somebody who's part of that privileged conversation has to then defend themselves against criminal allegations.

So you know, I think that plays in and may actually be one basis for a waiver, if we get there. And I agree with your first speaker, there are legitimate reasons to have executive privilege, to think about policy and having discussions without fear of having to disclose those, but it was never intended, it is not now intended to be used as a tool to engage in a criminal cover-up.

BOLDUAN: Scott, politically speaking, what's a bigger risk, though, for the president on this one, letting James Comey testify or trying to block him, stop him from testifying and then, you know, letting it linger out there, what is he trying to keep Comey from saying?

SCOTT JENNINGS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I'm not a lawyer, let alone the White House counsel, so I'll let them and the other lawyers talk about whether executive privilege applies here. I think as a political and a public manner, there are a lot of Republicans that would like to see James Comey answer a lot of questions that are lingering out there.

For instance, if you had this conversation in February and thought maybe a crime had been committed, why didn't you tell anyone? Why didn't you bring it up in your testimony on May 3rd? Why on May 3rd did you indicate that you had not been pressured to shut down an investigation?

Why did your deputy on May the 11th say that he didn't believe anyone had pressured them to stop any investigations? There's a lot of questions like that that Republicans want to see answered.

[11:10:01]So I think for that reason alone, a lot of people on the Republican side want to see Comey come to the table and answer what I think are going to be tough questions.

BOLDUAN: Well, and actually, let me ask you this, Scott, because Lindsey Graham was just on Fox News, and he was saying that he hopes that -- he doesn't think that the testimony's going to be helpful. Lindsey Graham had a bit of a different take.

And the reason that he said is that he thinks that this is kind of -- the way he laid it out is he kind of thinks this is a disgruntled employee, that any time, you know, anytime, that it would be a hit job against President Trump because he had just been fired by President Trump and now he's coming to testify before Congress about it. Do you see this as a hit job?

JENNINGS: Well, I certainly think there are questions about why it took so long for the existence of these memos that he supposedly wrote to come out. Again, there are a lot of people who have jumped to conclusions here and have brought up things like obstruction of justice.

If Jim Comey at that moment, the director of the FBI, thought the president was trying to obstruct justice in February, why in the world did he wait until after he was relieved of his duties several weeks later to bring up the concept that obstruction may have occurred, that memos had been written about it?

It strikes me that a lot of reasonable people could look at those actions and conclude, yes, he just has sour grapes about losing his job. That's why I think ultimately the fact that he is apparently going to answer questions is a good thing. There are other questions he has to answer -- are your associates leaking information about this behind the scenes?

BOLDUAN: Hang on one second. Michael, on that point, if James Comey had this memo back in whenever and he didn't come forward, does he have an obligation to come forward?

MOORE: No, he's in the middle -- Comey and the FBI were in the middle of an ongoing criminal investigation. They've told us that. We know that was going on, into Russia, into the campaign's contacts with Russia, and so, it's -- there's nothing unusual at all about an agent, much less the head of the FBI who's leading the investigation, continuing on but documenting the file.

That's why that contemporaneous memo is so important. The very fact that he, after that conversation with Trump, apparently made some record of it and included that in the file, you know, I think that adds a great deal of credibility and reliability to what he has to say.

It would not surprise me at all to find out that he indicated somewhere in his memo something that was easily provable. For instance, he might say there were four people in the room and these were who they were, and they left at a certain time, and you know, something that can be back-tracked that will add more credibility, reliability to what he has to say, so I don't find it odd --

JENNINGS: Let me ask a question, though, Kate. Let me ask a question of the lawyer --

BOLDUAN: Hold on one second, Scott. Jill, do you think James Comey's credibility is in question here?

WINE-BANKS: I think it's a very interesting issue, and I agree with Michael that the contemporaneous memo is really a credible source of information. It's what agents are trained to do. It's even what lawyers are trained to do. We write down exactly what happened and when it happened, and it will speak for itself.

I agree, though that there are a lot of questions about Comey, and I think that that's why we need the public hearing, so that the American people can evaluate exactly what happened. What did the president say? What did James Comey do? I think those are important questions, and hopefully, next week we'll get the answers to them.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Scott, go ahead. What was your question?

JENNINGS: Yes, I was just going to ask, I mean, if what's in this memo is said -- is true -- if what is in there is true, then why didn't he tell somebody? How is it that the deputy director of the FBI didn't know about it when he testified on May 11th? How is it that Comey didn't bring it up himself when he testified on May the 3rd?

The timeline of this is what has a lot of Republicans questioning credibility. I'm not disputing that the memo is credible. I'm not disputing that what's in it is true, if, in fact, it is true.

But the timeline here has a lot of Republicans out there wondering, did he just bring this up to try to make a stink about it because he lost his job? I think it's a legitimate question, and I hope the members of Congress that are on the committee get a chance to dig deep on that.

BOLDUAN: Michael, what do you think?

MOORE: Well, no --

WINE-BANKS: Kate, could I answer that?

BOLDUAN: You both can. Michael, go first.


MOORE: I think it's clear that he wouldn't have disclosed it at the time. I mean, he was in an ongoing investigation. And I was critical of Comey when he came out and talked about the Clinton e-mail scandal in the middle of an ongoing investigation, especially right before an election. That's just against Department of Justice policy to do that.

So, in this instance, I applaud him for the fact that he kept things close to the vest and he was directing the investigation. So, there's just nothing unusual to me about the person who's in charge and leading the investigation of being able to steer it, watch it, see what evidence comes in and take that in context with his experience that he had with the president at the White House.

BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Jill.

WINE-BANKS: I actually, I was going to say much the same thing, because I agree exactly with that, is that it was -- it is a good question as to why he didn't report it, but the answer is clear -- it was an ongoing investigation, and so you keep it quiet.

He did violate the rules of the department in a very terrible way by talking about the Clinton e-mails, and he did have a choice then. He said I either had to conceal or reveal. But actually, he had the choice of doing a two-day investigation like he eventually did, in which case, he would have said nothing because there was nothing there. [11:15:10]And that's what he should have done. Every baby lawyer at the Department of Justice knows that you say, I can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation, and he didn't do that then, but he did do it now. And so, it remains to be seen. We'll only know when we actually hear him next week.

BOLDUAN: And I will say, this discussion we just had makes me even more interested to watch this hearing play out and listen to his testimony on Thursday. Scott, Jill, Michael, thank you guys so much. I appreciate it.

MOORE: Glad to be with you. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

WINE-BANKS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, an explosive, new report suggests that the Trump administration secretly explored trying to lift sanctions against Russia in the first weeks of his presidency. Hear why, hear what was discussed, and hear why it did not happen.

Plus, does President Trump believe in climate change, or does the president believe that it's a hoax? Don't ask anybody that works at the White House, it appears. More on that, coming up.

And are Ivanka Trump and the president's son-in-law losing out and losing influence? New CNN reporting suggests they might not have the president's ear like everyone thought.




PUTIN (through translator): I want to say that they were not wise enough. It's easy to say it's not our fault, it's all -- it's the Russians, they intervened, they interfered. It's like anti-Semitism. The Jews are to blame. You're an idiot because the Jews are to blame, right?


BOLDUAN: Russian President Vladimir Putin just moments ago with an eyebrow-raising defense against charges that Russia was behind the hack into the 2016 election there. What is Putin trying to do? Does it mean anything now for the Russia investigation?

Here with me to discuss, Alex Burns is here, a national political reporter at "The New York Times." Democratic strategist, Hilary Rosen is here with us, and former Congressman and former senior adviser to the Trump campaign, Congressman Jack Kingston is here as well. Great to see you all. Thank you very much for being here. Alex, fascinating, and startling, the words coming from Vladimir Putin today. But we've got two things from him in the last couple days. Yesterday hinting that hackers were like artists, and they could be patriotic artists, and hinting that the hacks could have come from Russia.

But today making very clear that he says Russian government did not have a hand in it, was not behind it. This is new in this long, drawn-out saga. I'm not sure what it means, though.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's really sort of expert trolling on the global stage here, right?

BOLDUAN: At the very least, yes.

BURNS: You have this kind of wink to the audience that, well, I personally didn't hack, but you know, I don't know about folks out there who are very patriotic. That was very revealing yesterday. Today, you've heard Putin a number of times over the last year get into sort of intra-Democratic Party politics.


BURNS: Talking about Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Bernie Sanders in ways that he has to know are going to be aggravating to people in the United States. None of it I think is terribly helpful to the president, right that any time Vladimir Putin is out there looking like he's a sympathetic ally of this White House, you know, for folks who believe that the White House is too close to Russia already, which polls indicate is most people, I don't know that that's a great look. I don't know that it has any real concrete consequences, but just optically it's pretty awkward.

BOLDUAN: To your point, he, President Putin went kind of deep, saying that basically, almost mirroring what we've seen from Donald Trump on Twitter very recently, that this is the Democrats' excuse for why they lost the election. Putin even went into his own political analysis of how Trump did better. He reached out to voters better.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is why people suspect that Trump and Putin are actually a lot closer than they may be, because they're very much alike. All of the press reports yesterday actually said that Vladimir Putin admitted that the Russians were involved in this hacking --

BOLDUAN: In a very Putin-esque way --

ROSEN: And so today, he comes back out and sort of tries to deflect and come up with a different explanation for it. That's very Trumpian.

BOLDUAN: Putin-esque and Trumpian. Go ahead, Congressman.

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Kate, I think in the words of Ed Ball, confusion to the enemy and I think what Putin is doing is he is just adding more confusion. I think the left is adding to it in their own maybe innocent, maybe deliberative political way.

But the reality is we could ignore Russia, we could handle all these Russian issues a little quieter, a little bit more orderly, except for the left keeps throwing the political flames on it, the political kerosene, if you will. I think Putin is just enjoying it. I think he could go out there.

The left has made him incredibly relevant. It started with the reset from Hillary Clinton. It started with her giving away 20 percent --

BOLDUAN: The left made him relevant?

KINGSTON: Absolutely. This goes back to the administration when Russia was on its knees, they went in there, rushed in there, sold them 20 percent of our uranium and did the great reset. Remember the loving and the hugging and --


ROSEN: Russia is an important country. Russia relevant, regardless. I mean, I do think --

KINGSTON: it is relevant. It is relevant, but you guys are making --

ROSEN: Stepping back for a minute.

KINGSTON: -- making them completely relevant. It started with the reset, then Russia decided, look, we're not going to go along with the Obama administration. I don't, frankly, think they were very close to the Trump people at all, except for that's how the narrative developed. And so they thought, OK, we're going to ride this wave. Confusion to America, it's good for us, and --

BOLDUAN: OK, but --

ROSEN: He just admitted something very important --

KINGSTON: It split us up.

ROSEN: Jack just admitted something very important, which was that, actually, Putin did not like the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. And what he did then was get involved in the U.S. election. Now, we have, you know, 13 national security agencies and reports and evidence proving that, in fact, that is exactly what they did. They got involved in the election on behalf --


KINGSTON: Hilary, let me agree with you there, but --

ROSEN: Jack, I'm not finish. I'll let you finish.

BOLDUAN: Hold on.

ROSEN: Just on the bigger picture here, it is important to know that the reason this is all relevant is because the Russians had an interest in the U.S. election and exercised their --

BOLDUAN: I'm going to jump in there, because that interest is something I do want everyone's take on and we have no time. Congressman Kingston, listen to me.

[11:25:12]There's a new reporting by Michael Isikoff with Yahoo! that early on in the Trump administration, Trump officials were exploring at the State Department options for rolling back sanctions against Russia, so much so that the former Obama State Department folks were concerned and reached out to members of Congress to try to stop it from happening because they thought it was such a real possibility.

In your view, why do you think they were working on this so early on? Why was this a priority, do you think, early on in the administration?

KINGSTON: I think in terms of looking at their options in dealing with ISIS in Syria and continuing the work that John Kerry failed to do, which was to try to get Russia to help us in Syria, I think that that is a carrot that's out there. Both sides know that. There's nothing unusual about that whatsoever.

What we were trying to do with Kerry and the Obama administration is to say what can we swap out? How can we get you on the same team with us in the fight against terrorism?

So, you know, there's two sets of sanctions. One's statutory passed by Congress and the other was executive orders by the Obama administration. So a new incoming administration I think would be negligent in not looking at possible options, and that is if the above is true.

BOLDUAN: Well, of course, if the above is true. That's according to Michael Isikoff of Yahoo! Alex, final thought here, my friend. How big of a deal is this?

BURNS: Look, I think the whole notion of the administration's relationship with Russia is and has always been a really big deal. And frankly, I don't think the congressman is right that it's a matter of standard practice that any administration would think about unilateral sanctions relief on Russia.

But it's also not terribly surprising based on the open rhetoric we heard from the president throughout the campaign. He never made a secret of his admiration for Russia, his desire for much, much closer cooperation.

BOLDUAN: Fascinating.

ROSEN: Every single country has come under criticism by Donald Trump. Never Russia. Why?

BOLDUAN: Stand by.

KINGSTON: Anytime you put --

BOLDUAN: Stand by. We're going to fight this out in the break, Congressman. You know I love you. Stand by, guys. Thank you very much.

Did President Trump jump the gun by calling the attack in the Philippines terror during his speech in the Rose Garden? The new explanation now coming from the White House. That is ahead.

Plus, does President Trump believe that climate change is a hoax? He has said it in tweets before. The White House won't say now. I'll speak live with one of the people who negotiated the Paris climate deal for the United States, get his reaction to the announcement and all of this. Secretary Ernest Moniz joining me next.