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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
CNN Exclusive: Russians Planted False Story Behind Qatar Crisis; Trump and Sessions Have Had Heated Exchanges. Aired on 7-8p ET
Aired June 6, 2017 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT HOST: OutFront next, breaking news, new details on what fired FBI Director James Comey will stay about his conversations with President Trump. His version of the story totally different than the president's. And more breaking news this hour. U.S. investigators now believe Russia could have been behind a major international crisis, a crisis that Trump is now right in the middle of.
And the NSA contractor charged with leaking classified information, her attorney OutFront. Let's go OutFront. And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. OutFront tonight, the breaking news, CNN learning that fired FBI Director Jim Comey is expected to contradict president of the United States in his much-anticipated testimony this week. Comey will dispute President Trump's blanket claim that he was told three times that he was not under investigation by Jim Comey. Now this is according to sources familiar with Comey's thinking. This is a major development and it comes as President Trump today had a short and cryptic message for the former FBI Director.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, what message do you have to Jim Comey ahead of his testimony.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wish him luck.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Gloria Borger broke the story about Comey's anticipated testimony moments ago. And Gloria, obviously a very significant thing, the president of the United States came out and said that Jim Comey told him not one time, not two times, but three times that he was note under investigation and you are learning much more about what Comey will say.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And don't forget, Erin, the president of the United States wrote that in the - in the letter in which he fired James Comey, said that he was assured three times. I've learned my colleagues Eric Lichtblau and Jake Tapper, we've all learned that in fact, that Comey is going to dispute the president on this point if he's asked about it by senators. And we have to assume that he will be. He will say he never assured Donald Trump that he was not under investigation, that that would have been improper for him to do so and then one source hinted that the president in fact may have misinterpreted what James Comey was telling him particularly as it pertains to a counterintelligence investigation. So we're going to have to see how that all plays out. People don't want to specify exactly what Comey is going to say. But we also learned today, Erin, what Comey will not say and what he will not say is that the president obstructed justice.
BORGER: Because he wants to lead, we're told, the legal analysis to other people. He's just going to recount what occurred.
BURNETT: And let others judge which is different.
BURNETT: Let me just be clear, Gloria. Different than saying the president did not obstruct. He's simply going to say what happened and refused to weigh in on whether he thinks it's obstruction or not.
BORGER: Right. Exactly. And I spoke, you know, I spoke with one source who said, you know, what will people think when the hearing is over? Some people will make a political judgment about whether the president intended to obstruct judgment, other people will make a legal judgment on that, but it is not for James Comey to do.
BURNETT: All right. Gloria, thank you. And stay with me. You're going to be back in a moment. We have new details about the president's plans to fire back at Comey. And Jim Acosta is OutFront live at the White House with that. Jim, what are you learning about what the president will do during this testimony?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, we are hearing that some Trump loyalists outside the White House, they're preparing talking points to disseminate among the president's top surrogates outside the White House to make sure that they're responding in real time to what James Comey is saying in this testimony to congress on Thursday. I'm told by a couple of different sources about what these talking points will entail. One of those talking points will essentially be where is the evidence of collusion.
Another talking point will be really to raise questions about these Comey memos. Are they memos or are they just notes that he was taking extemporaneously. So, there are going to be questions that are going to be asked about that as well. As well of course we'll be watching to see what the president tweets. And earlier today, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did clear up one little debate here in Washington.
Are the president's tweets policy or not? Spicer said no. Yes. The president's tweets are official policy, they are official statements coming from the president but whether or not the White House and outside groups are going to prop up a war room, it seems that has been moved to the back burner partly because the president is still trying to form his outside legal team.
ACOSTA: But I am told even though there has been some speculation about Corey Lewandowski joining the White House, he's the former campaign manager of course. Some of that talk has died down but Erin, I am told that later on tomorrow one day before Comey testifies on Capitol Hill, Corey Lewandowski will be back here over at the White House meeting with senior officials as they plan to to respond to Comey's testimony on Thursday. Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Jim, thank you. And now Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst, Gloria Borger, of course as promised back, former republican Congressman Jack Kingston, he's the former senior adviser to the Trump campaign, and Brian Fallon who was former press secretary for Hillary Clinton's campaign. So Jeffrey, lets me start with you on this news which is very significant. Comey is expected to say he did not tell Trump three times that Trump was not under investigation.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's a - it's a very big deal politically. It's a tremendous embarrassment to the president. It's not a crime to write a statement that is disputed in a letter.
TOOBIN: I -- it's not an impeachable offense. But it is part of a story where if you believe James Comey the president is not to be trusted and the president behaved badly. How badly is one of the things people are going to have to conclude? And I think just one very important fact that we are going to learn on Thursday is will we see the underlying documents? Will we see Comey's notes, those contemporaneous notes because those are usually considered very good evidence of what actually took place rather than later reconstructions of conversations.
BURNETT: Right. And that is crucial. And Congressman, you know, this issue of, you know, as Jeffrey points out, not impeachable but whether someone who's a liar or not a liar is crucial here. We're talking about the president of the United States and it wasn't just in that letter. Trump then went, Congressman to NBC news and spoke about the three instances that he said Comey told him he wasn't under investigation. Here is the president in that exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We had a very nice dinner at the White House.
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Do you asked him --
TRUMP: Our dinner was arranged, I think he asked for the dinner. And he wanted to stay on as the FBI head. And I said, "I'll, you know, consider. We'll see what happens." But, we had a very nice dinner. And at that time he told me, "You are not under investigation," which I knew anyway. He said it once at dinner, and then he said it twice during phone calls.
HOLT: Did you call him?
TRUMP: In one case I called him. In one case he called me.
HOLT: And did you ask him, "Am I under investigation?"
TRUMP: I actually asked him, yes. I said, "If it's possible, would you let me know am I under investigation? He said, "You are not under investigation."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Congressman, is the president lying?
JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, he's not lying. But I'll point out. The only one that we know has lied or gotten his facts wrong was James Comey the last time he testified underoath when he said there were thousands of e-mails that Huma Abedin had that had been compromised. Later the FBI, in fact, very quickly the FBI to walk those back because he was way off face on it. So, you have to remember -
BURNETT: Yes. Exponentially off, you are right about that.
KINGSTON: We have to remember that when we hear James Clapper or Mr. Brennan or Mr. Comey, they are always this way a little bit this way, a little bit that way. And I think what's going to happen tomorrow is going to just be one of these things where each sides are going to get maybe their talking point out of it and they're going to say, huh, here's the quote I'm going to run with, but James Comey is a very slick guy when he's testifying. We've all seen him. He's a great performer and I think he's going to work to preserve his own reputation more than he is going to try to let's uncover the truth about things.
BORGER: Erin, Erin.
BURNETT: Go ahead, Gloria.
BORGER: It may not - it may not be so clear-cut. You know, as one source hinted to me today, didn't come flat out and say it, the president could well have misinterpreted what the FBI Director was telling him. Because - and maybe you know this, Jeffrey, much better than I do. But there are different ways of talking about investigations and whose the subject of an investigation or the target of an investigation and all kinds of things in between and that if you are not a legal mind, you could have interpreted whatever it was that Comey said to mean that you were just not under investigation, period, or that your associates weren't under investigation. So I think there may be --
BURNETT: A gray area.
BORGER: -- a little bit of miscommunication here that maybe Comey is going to try and clear up in his testimony.
BURNETT: And Brian, maybe he will do that. But fi he -- if he does that and says, look, the president may have misunderstood, does that take all the fire away from people who want to say the president did something wrong, the president lied, the president obstructed justice if the FBI Director doesn't do that?
BRIAN FALLON, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY FOR HILLARY CLINTON'S CAMPAIGN: No, Erin. I think the danger here for Donald Trump is that the more he wades into this matter, instead of citing the fact of the appointment of Special Counsel Mueller as an excuse to not to talk about or discuss aspects of the ongoing case instead to pivot to matters of policy. The more he waits into this, the more he challenges James Comey's version of events.
The more vulnerable he makes himself to Jim Comey contradicting him. So tomorrow apparent -- on Thursday rather, the president is going to take to live tweeting Jim Comey's appearance.
FALLON: That is repeating the same mistake. Those democratic senators on that panel will be very quick to read to president's quick and in real time and invite Jim Comey to again contradict the president. He needs to steer clear of getting into a back and forth and a war of words with Jim Comey.
BURNETT: Congressman, can I ask you? Just to be completely honest. I would imagine you hope he's not going to be live tweeting, right? You know that that's just -
KINGSTON: l want him to be working on infrastructure and healthcare and tax reform during that testimony.
BURNETT: OK. So that is a yes. I hear what you - OK. You say it how you say it.
KINGSTON: I think, you know, he kind of brought Comey's testimony. He did not -- he's letting it move forward and I think he should be focused in a different direction during this time and then let people like me and other partisans go out and defend him based on whatever Comey says. But just remember this, if Comey thought there was obstruction, he should have said something back in February. He could - he had another chance in May 3rd when he was directly asked by a senate panel. He said no.
Then his McCabe, his replacement said there's been no effort to intimidate or slow down the investigation. So, I think that, you know, I think what's going to happen is that this is going to be very anti-climactic. People are going to get in their licks and then they're going to try to spar around and it's to come to a draw. BURNETT: Final words, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: You know, Jack is talking about this is like, you know, one set of talking point against another. I'm a journalists. I like -- want to listen to what people actually say and what the evidence shows. I'm not trying to advocate for one side or the other. And I think there are a lot of people that way. I mean, I think we should listen to what Comey says. Compare it to the evidence, including what President Trump has said and then draw all our conclusions but throw up our hands and say it's just - well, one set of talking points against the other. I mean, that's just demeaning to the whole process.
KINGSTON: (INAUDIBLE) but this whole thing is political, that's a - that's what happens -- while the things going on, it happens immediately afterwards, the democrats -
TOOBIN: That's what you do.
KINGSTON: That's what everybody does.
TOOBIN: Not me.
KINGSTON: This is Washington, D.C. I know you are completely objective journalist but let's just say there are others in this town who aren't, who walk out of this rooms and their mind was made up. You know one thing that used to just drive me crazy? Before the state of the union I was asked to give my opinion of whatever the president, either party was going to say. And I said, well, I haven't given the speech yet and they said, yes, but you know what you're going to come out with and - I mean, that unfortunately, this is a political event.
BURNETT: All right.
KINGSTON: And we all know that. You can't take the politics out of it.
BURNETT: There will be a lot of politics around it but hopefully there will be some facts because there could be no more important testimony than the testimony that we're going to hear on Thursday. At least thus far this investigation, thanks to all. And next, we do have some new details about tomorrow's potentially explosive testimony. Top intelligence officials and the deputy attorney general facing serious questions about Trump. That starts tomorrow.
And more breaking news this hour, sources telling CNN that Russian hackers planted a fake story that has created an international crisis and it's all about Qatar and funding terror. The Qatari Ambassador to the United States, my guest. And former President Obama speaking out just moments ago. What he's saying tonight about the president.
BURNETT: Breaking news. Three top intelligence officials expected to be pressured by senators on the intelligence committee to reveal new details about their interactions with the president. The director of national intelligence Dan Coats, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and National Security Agency Mike Rogers will go before the committee tomorrow. Manu Raju is OutFront. And Manu, what can you tell us?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, Erin, I can tell you that tomorrow these four national security officials will testify in a hearing that's supposed to be about reauthorizing a key surveillance law but actually members of the Senate Intelligence Committee want to hear whether or not President Trump in any way tried to interfere with the ongoing investigation into Russia meddling.
You recall reports from about a month ago by Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence and Mike Rogers, the National Security Agency director both saying that they came under pressure from President Trump to publicly rebut that there's any collusion that occurred between Russian officials and Trump officials when Dan Coats was asked about this at a separate hearing last month. He did not want to go into detail but Mark Warner, the top democrat on the Intelligence Committee expects Coats to talk a little bit more about this than he did last month.
In addition, Erin, Rod Rosenstein who's the deputy attorney general has not spoken publicly since the firing of James Comey, expected to get questions about the circumstances around the firing and (INAUDIBLE) one of the democrats on the committee told me earlier, Erin, that he wants to hear whether or not that firing occurred to tamp down the Russia investigation, so expect Russia to be the top of the minds of these members tomorrow, Erin.
BURNETT: The top and obviously with the - with these intelligence officials, this is going to be major development and of course it's going to influence what we get from the FBI Director Jim Comey the next day in front of that very same committee. Jim Sciutto is OutFront.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: With his fired FBI Director preparing to deliver his first public account of conversations with the president, Mr. Trump had this simple wish for James Comey.
TRUMP: I wish him luck.
SCIUTTO: As well as a somewhat pointed observation about all the media attention his son-in-law Jared Kushner has been attracted.
TRUMP: Jared has actually become much more famous than me. I'm a little bit upset about that.
SCIUTTO: Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly came to the defense of Kushner. Amid continued questions about his attempt to set up secret meetings with Russia's ambassador.
JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We have to make the assumption. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
KELLY: And I will.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
KELLY: That Jared Kushner is a great American.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
KELLY: He's a descent America, he has - he has a - he has a security clearance at the highest level.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
KELLY: Back channels of the normal - or in the course of normal interactions where the country is very, very common.
SCIUTTO: Though Kelly did acknowledge this particular back channel could be unusual.
SEN. JOHN TESTER, (D) MONTANA: Can you tell me if it's also normal to go to a an embassy of a country that has been our foe for -- since World War II, I don't know if that was the case but if that is the case I must assure it's normal but certainly it would be one way to communicate through the back channel.
SCIUTTO: For now, Trump's sons are his most vocal surrogates dismissing the entire Russia investigation as a hoax.
ERIC TRUMP, SON OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's the greatest hoax of all time. I was there throughout the campaign. We have no dealings in Russia, we have no projects in Russia. We have nothing to do with Russia.
DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I mean, to me, it's without a question, you know, reads and smells like a witch hunt.
SCIUTTO: Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee however are not backing down preparing hard questions for Director Comey on his dismissal by the president.
SEN. AUGUST KING, (I) MAINE: I want to get the bottom of what were the circumstances surrounding the firing, what were the circumstances surround this various meetings going back to right after the inauguration and supposedly was he asked to be loyal and was he asked to somehow put a damper on part of the investigation.
SCIUTTO: Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has now turned over to the committee more than 600 pages of documents. This in answer to a subpoena for business and personal records, a source tell CNN. And yet one more focus for senate investigators, Washington robing attacks of voting systems. You remember that NSA report, we discussed last night, reported last night, leaked out. Well, the ranking democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee today Mark Warner saying that that NSA report shows that those probing attacks of voting systems broader, Erin, than we've done before.
BURNETT: Obviously a development there. Thank you very much, Jim Sciutto. And now let's go to democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Denny Heck. Congressman, I appreciate your time. So, obviously, Jim Comey's testimony, really the most important moment in this investigation thus far. Do you think that he will be willing to say anything that would prove collusion between the Trump team and Russia?
DENNY HECK, UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE FOR WASHINGTON: I don't think, Erin, that he'll do anything to reveal classified information. In fact, we don't know what he's going to say but I think we have pretty high confidence about how this is going to transpire and play out. Number one, it's going to be probably the most watched congressional television since either the Watergate hearings or McCarthy hearings.
HECK: Number two, whatever he says is going to be on your tongue and on front page of newspapers probably for several days. Number three, the president is going to be tweeting either in real time or shortly thereafter, mostly engaging in ad hominem attacks, not doing the job frankly that he's paid to do. Number four, the truth of the matter is this is just going to be one page in this book. This isn't even a chapter. There's lots to come out in the months ahead and how do I know this? Because there's lots that has come out in the last four months and it will continue.
BURNETT: So you think this is not even a page in terms of there are other things that you think could be more significant and bigger developments in the Russia investigation than this?
HECK: Well, yes. As a matter of fact. Because I don't believe that former Director Comey is going to reveal classified information. I think he can talk about his conversation with the president and they may or may not be shocking. The other prediction I would make is that despite his tweet storm, the president's going to come out on the short end of the stick.
BURNETT: So when it comes to what he's going to say, I mean, what happened in those meetings with the president is crucial, right? If the president of the United States obstructed justice, if that is the determination, if it goes in that direction, right? That completely changes this story and it completely changes this presidency. Trump has said first of all that Comey told him three times he wasn't under investigation. In his letter, Trump wrote, I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation. He then reiterated that in an interview with Lester Holt on NBC news.
So when Jim Comey comes out and says that didn't happen, do you think it's possible the president just misunderstood or do you think the president is a liar?
HECK: Well, the president can assert whatever he wants to but what we know about former Director Comey is that he keeps meticulous notes in the immediate aftermath of these meetings. Well, I'm not a lawyer and I'm not a judge, so I don't want to get into the whole discussion of obstruction of justice. But if he did in fact ask Director Comey to stand down or imply it, whether it was illegal or not, again, I'll leave to judgments later made but it was flat wrong.
BURNETT: What does flat wrong mean? Because if it's not illegal, if it's not obstruction of justice because there's no underlying claim and of course he's perfectly - he fired his own FBI Director which he then subsequently did. If it's not obstruction of justice, then what? What - I mean, would you -- not impeachable, right?
HECK: So, if we need any more evidence about the incredibly cost effective and cheap ways in which Russia interference with other nations, your very network revealed it today with the story of (INAUDIBLE) the fact of the matter is they've done this in the past, they're going to continue to do it. And we need to get at the truth behind what happened in the 2016 election. Now look, Erin, this is what I call the grocery aisle test.
When I'm in the grocery store market or shopping and I run into somebody, they look up and if they recognize me, first thing they ask me is the Russian investigation and when are we going to get to the bottom of it and I ask them all the same question. Is it important that we get it done now or is it important that we get right? And 100 percent they say we get it right. So this going to take time to fair it out and we're going to do it right.
BURNETT: The bottom line though, if the president - Jim Comey is going to come out and say what's been reported was in his memos, that the president asked him to stop the investigation to General Michael Flynn and then said he was a good guy. Jim Comey comes out and says that formally, publicly, in your mind is that an impeachable act?
HECK: So, I'm not going to - I'm not going to speculate on something that we don't know what he's going to say yet. Frankly, I think this is why this is going to be the most watched television in modern history with respect to congressional deliberations. Better question to ask me Thursday night, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Well, we will do that. And Congressman Heck, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
HECK: You're welcome.
BURNETT: And OutFront next, breaking news. U.S. investigators now believe Russian hackers planted a false story that led to this major international (INAUDIBLE) congressman just referenced. The president of the United States is now in the middle of it. The Qatari Ambassador to the United States breaking his silence is OutFront next. And new details about the NSA contractor charged with leaking classified information. Her attorney, OutFront this hour.
BURNETT: Breaking news. At this hour, U.S. investigators believe Russia may be to blame for a major diplomatic crisis between some of America's biggest allies. Right now, Qatar, home to the largest U.S. militaries base in the Middle East has been cut off diplomatically and economically from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates along with several other countries in the region. They say it is because of Qatar's funding of terrorist groups. We are now learning exclusively though that investigators believe a fake news report planted by Russian hackers may be one of the reasons these major Gulf nations have cut ties with Qatar.
Evan Perez is OUTFRONT.
And, Evan, what are you learning?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, U.S. investigators believe that Russian hackers were behind a cyber breach against the Qatari state news agency. The hackers planted a fake news report friendly to Iran and critical to President Trump, but is now being used by Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies in the region as a reason to carry out an economic and political blockade of Qatar.
Now, U.S. and Qatari officials tell us that the FBI sent a team of investigators to Doha to help the Qatari government investigate the alleged hacking incident, the alleged involvement of Russian hackers would add to concerns by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies that Russia is continuing to try to use some of the same cyber hacking measures on U.S. allies that it used to meddle in the U.S. election in 2016.
As you mentioned, Qatar hosts one of the largest U.S. military bases in the region. And U.S. officials say that the Russian goal here, Erin, appears to be to cause riffs between the U.S. and allies.
BURNETT: Right. Now, of course, you know, the history between Qatar and these countries is -- it goes back. I mean, you know that the hackers are Russian, Evan, in your reporting. But do you know if these hackers were actually directed by or part of the Russian government?
PEREZ: Well, it's not yet clear whether the U.S. has tracked the hackers in the Qatar incident to Russian criminal organizations or to the Russian security services that are blamed for the U.S. election hacks. One official told me that based on past intelligence, quote, not much happens in that country without the blessing of the Russian government.
Today, President Trump was tweeting criticism of Qatar that mirrors some of the same that you've heard from the Saudis and the others in the region. In his tweet, President Trump didn't mention the hack. But he voiced support for the regional blockade of Qatar and cited Qatar's funding of terrorist groups. The Qataris, of course, have rejected those accusations, Erin. The FBI and the CIA declined to comment for this story.
But we did get a statement from the Qatari government that reads in part: The hacking of the Qatar News Agency is an aggressive coordinate crime that represents a continuous escalation in the campaign against Qatar. This malicious efforts to undermine Qatar's reputation do not support the unity of the region to fight terrorism, instability and conflict -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Evan, thank you very much.
And moments ago, I spoke to Qatar's embassy to the United States, Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani. It is his first television interview since the international rift.
BURNETT: Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for being with me tonight.
As you just heard, CNN is reporting U.S. investigators believe Russian hackers were behind a false report that is being used by Saudi Arabia and others as part of the reason to severe diplomatic ties with your country. It's a false news report that says in part, question whether President Donald Trump would last in office. What's your response?
SHEIKH MESHAL BIN HAMAD AL THANI, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO QATAR: Thank you, Erin, for hosting me.
We are still looking into the investigation with the report, the conclusion of the report is not yet out, so we can't comment now on ongoing investigation.
BURNETT: Now, another report is out, of course, that says your government paid up to a billion in ransom to both al Qaeda and Iranian security officials. Are you able, Mr. Ambassador, to categorically say that that report is not true?
AL THANI: It is not true, yes.
BURNETT: So, I just want to make sure I understand. We've got close to 10 countries now that have severed diplomatic ties with Qatar. Are you saying that their allegations, which include allegations of terror funding from Qatar, are all completely baseless?
AL THANI: Well, this act of aggression against Qatar really has no basis to it. So, we don't know exactly what they -- their motives from this act, all these stories about Qatar financing terrorism are fabricated. They are not true. And we continue to ask for clarification on these matters, yet we didn't receive anything yet.
BURNETT: When you say they're fabricated, of course, the Trump's candidate for terror finance at Treasury is not confirmed. The most recent person to hold that title is Danny Glaser and he spoke about terror finance in February. And at that time, Mr. Ambassador, he said and I quote: There continue to be designated terrorist financiers operation openly and notoriously in both countries.
He was referring to Qatar and to Kuwait. And specifically about Qatar, he says Qatar continues to, quote, tolerate terror financing within its borders and that any steps that you have taken to combat this are, quote, painfully slow.
[19:35:09] Is terror funding a gray area for Qatar?
AL THANI: It is not a gray area for Qatar. We are -- we enacted laws to counter terror financing. We -- this issue is not subject only to Qatar. Terror financing is across the whole globe. We as a government of Qatar are doing our utmost in combating terrorism along with our allies. There are laws that prevent terror financing in our country.
BURNETT: So, when he says designated terrorist financiers are able to operate openly and notoriously in Qatar, you say that's not true?
AL THANI: Well, if there are any proof that there are terror financing going on in Qatar and we have been approached with evidence, we will act on them.
BURNETT: So, one of those cases was a designated terror financier is a man named Saad bin Saad al-Kabi. And I was in Doha, Mr. Ambassador, reporting on terror finance. I spoke to him. At the time, he was a fundraiser for the Madid al-Sham campaign, which al Qaeda supporters were encouraged to donate to. He was living openly in Doha. He used images of the planes hitting the World Trade Center in a tweet.
Here's a brief clip from our report, Mr. Ambassador.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT (voice-over): When we asked why he used a picture of the planes hitting the World Trade Center on 9/11 in a tweet, he replied, the picture is everywhere on the Internet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He says that photo is all over the Internet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: What I wanted to ask you is after the report, he was -- al- Kabi was at the U.S. terror list, including the State Department's specially designated global terrorist list. That was 2015. As of tonight, I can confirm he is still on that list.
What I want to ask you is, has he been convicted of a crime in Qatar? Is he in jail or is he free in Qatar tonight?
AL THANI: Well, our courts are taking action against all suspected terrorists who are on this list. There are some prosecutions that happened and we are determined to fight finance of terrorism.
BURNETT: So, in the case of Al-Kabi, are you -- do you know his situation tonight, whether he's in jail or convicted, or you're not sure specifically about him?
AT THANI: Well, as I mentioned, Erin, that we are determined to fight terrorism and combating the finance of terrorism. Our courts are taking actions on multiple cases. Some are ongoing and some are being prosecuted. So, we are determined to stop this if it happens in our territory. BURNETT: And I want to ask you. The president of the United States,
of course, as you know, came out today, obviously saying he doesn't think the claims of terror financing are baseless. He did something no president has done before in going on Twitter with an official public position.
In his tweet, he said: So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the king and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the end to the horror of terrorism.
He also said: During my recent trip to the Middle East, I stated there can no longer be funding of radical ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar. Look.
What's your response to the president of the United States?
AL THANI: Well, our cooperation with the United States speaks for itself. It is long-standing. We've been committed to it. We also remain committed to our efforts in the region and globally and fighting terrorism.
BURNETT: When you saw those tweets, were you shocked?
AL THANI: I saw the tweets and I went through them carefully. I -- as I told you, we are confident with our cooperation with the United States. We are confident of our efforts to combat terrorism. So, they came to me as a surprise.
BURNETT: Certainly as a surprise. I mean, are you -- you're -- are you willing to come out and say the president of the United States is wrong?
AL THANI: As I told you, Erin, we are committed to this cooperation, our cooperation with the U.S. speaks for itself. So, we have reports from the Treasury, we have reports from the State Department that focuses on our efforts.
BURNETT: All right. Well, I appreciate your time, Mr. Ambassador. Thank you so much.
[19:40:00] AL THANI: Thank you, Erin. Thank you very much.
BURNETT: And OUTFRONT now, former State Department spokesman, former Pentagon spoke -- press sectary John Kirby, former CIA counterterror official, Phil Mudd.
Thanks to both.
I want to talk about this Russian hacking. I want to talk about the core.
The core here, John, is that, look, this is a country that the United States has when you look at Treasury, as you look at those words from Danny Glaser has known -- has had issues with terror funding as we've reported, has had issues with terror funding. Is there going to be a change in policy under this president?
JOHN KIRBY, CNN DIPLOMATIC AND MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I don't know. I mean, it's clear. We've had longstanding concerns about Qatar's involvement in at least assisting indirectly the financing of terrorist groups. And they're not the only one in the region.
They're an important ally. They're an important partner. We have 11,000 troops there at Al Udeid. I don't know.
I don't think it would serve anybody's purpose to change the fundamental strategic partnership we have with Qatar. Yes, they need to do more. They've done some, they need to do more, as do other countries.
But I don't know that it would serve anybody's interest, theirs or ours, and you can tell, by the way, the ambassador answered your questions, he clearly didn't want to step over that line. It doesn't serve anybody's strategic interest to change the partnership.
BURNETT: No, it didn't.
But, Phil Mudd, I mean, there is the issue here, of course, which is that you have people the United States has designated terrorists that are on U.S. lists banned from coming into the United States as major terrorist networks who are able to, you know, walk around in Qatar. They are not convicted. They are not in jail. That's an issue.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It is, but let's talk about a couple of issues here. Number one, how do you deal with that? You're dealing with a culture where shaming people publicly is highly embarrassing, more embarrassing than it would be in a U.S. context.
So, do you think that is productive or counterproductive? Does that corner somebody? Will they avoid what you're trying to press them to do or do they respond to you after you shame them publicly?
I think they're going to say, we've got to avoid the president of the United States.
There's a second that's bigger, Erin.
MUDD: And that is, when you're dealing with this stuff, you've got to prioritize. We've got to deal with the Qataris on Iran right next door. We've got a major air base and we got to think about Syria.
So, if you want to shame them publicly, I hope there's been a calculation that says if there's a cost in dealing with Iran or Syria, we're willing to take that cost by shaming them in tweets.
BURNETT: OK. So, look, you have all these countries trying to shame them, but in terms of the United States, let's just lay this out here, OK? Trump advisors are coming out and saying, John, that this whole issue
in the Middle East is not an issue. Exactly what you all are saying. There's problems here maybe, but we're going to continue along with this relationship.
Here's Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't expect this will have significant impact if any impact at all on the unified -- the unified fight against terrorism in the region or globally.
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I'm confident there will be no implications coming out of this diplomatic situation at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: There was, though, a complication, and it's a big one, it's an official tweet from the president of the United States.
BURNETT: Two of them, which I just read there to the ambassador. And, you know, when I pushed him, he finally admitted he was extremely surprised it happened. But -- I mean, the president of the United States is coming out and saying Qatar is funding terror in two direct tweets. That is unprecedented, John.
KIRBY: Yes, it is. It's remarkable, extraordinary. And I didn't see -- I didn't indicate that there's no problem here. I completely agree that financing of terrorist groups by that nation and others is a big problem.
KIRBY: But I fundamentally agree with Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis that we can -- that we need to work this through and this is important enough -- the relationship is important enough to work it through, and not let it deteriorate or have an impact on military operations in Iraq or Syria, or quite frankly in Afghanistan, which the hub their Al Udeid supports.
I think it's extraordinary, as I said, that the president would put his thumb on the scale so quickly --
BURNETT: So quickly.
KIRBY: -- this morning, in two tweets, especially when he came out of Riyadh with a unifying, positive message about how the Sunni Arab allies needed to cooperate.
BURNETT: Which, of course, includes Qatar.
And, Phil, you know, one of the tweets -- so good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the king and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism.
There is no nuance there.
MUDD: There's no nuance.
Let's remember, the president of the United States is thinking about what happens tomorrow morning. He's going to take credit for when the sun comes up next time I check. He's got to be thinking five or ten years ahead.
Two circumstances, Erin. We've got to worry about where we're going to end up with Iran if the nuclear deal doesn't work. And he's going out and shame one of the potential partners, with a couple of tweets at 6:30 in the morning.
Look at the parallel here. We've got to think about what to do with Russia not only in conventional military terms in Europe, but what to do on cyber warfare with our next elections. The president has attacked or mocked the Germans, the French and the Brits. What's the plan for the long term alliance if the president gets out of the White House at 6:25 in the morning and mocks the people we've got to work with in five or ten years. I don't see a strategy here.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you both. I appreciate it.
[19:45:01] And OUTFRONT next: Leaker accused of leaking classified information facing charges tonight. Reality Winner, that is her name, is she a traitor? Her attorney is OUTFRONT next.
And breaking news: Barack Obama moments ago sounding off on climate change, taking a few shots at President Trump. You'll hear it, coming up.
BURNETT: Tonight, new details about the woman being charged in the first criminal leak case under President Trump. The 25-year-old named Reality Winner who prosecutors say admitted to leaking classified information about a 2016 Russian military intelligence cyberattack followed Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks, as well as other pro-leaking groups on Twitter and she also shared stories about leaks. And in another, she called President Trump a, quote, orange fascist.
She used the pseudonym Sara Winners but didn't completely conceal her identity. She used a photo of herself, a real picture as her profile picture.
OUTFRONT tonight, Reality Winner's attorney, Titus Nichols.
And, Titus, I appreciate your taking the time tonight.
You're casting doubt on the government's side of the story here. You say your client is not a traitor. You haven't seen any evidence to make you believe she is guilty. But I do want to note that according to the Justice Department, in the
statement that they put out, they said your client admitting to doing this.
[19:50:08] She printed the information. She knew it was classified and that she mailed it to a news outlet. She completely admitted everything.
Do you not believe the government?
TITUS NICHOLS, ATTORNEY FOR ACCUSED LEAKER, REALITY WINNER: Well, Erin, thank you for having me on the show tonight. I think the important thing at this stage is the fact that we're still very new in this case. My client was arrested June 3rd. She had her initial appearance June 5th, and she's scheduled to have the detention hearing on this Thursday.
I can't go into the facts of the case just because we're still at the beginning stage.
BURNETT: But when they say that she admitted to all of it -- I just want to be clear, you are casting doubt on that?
NICHOLS: My personal opinion as to the press release that the DOJ issued, I really don't think that's relevant to the facts of the case since it's still beginning. We're preparing for our detention hearing and the arguments that we're going to make, on my client's behalf and regardless of the detention hearing, so that she can be released pretrial.
BURNETT: So, one of the questions people have here is motive. And I just referenced a bit of that in the introduction.
On her Twitter page, here's some of the things that your client said, on election night, when it became apparent that Trump would win, she tweeted: Well. People suck. #electionnight.
On February 11th, she tweeted, quote: The most dangerous entry to this country was the orange fascist we let into the White House.
It certainly looks like her politics here are very clear.
NICHOLS: Well, Erin, that's assuming that that particular Twitter or social media page is my client. I have not independently verified any of the social media pages that have been referenced in the -- that that's been going on and been circulating. I mean, as you all know, it's very well possible anyone can put anything up on the Internet.
But specifically, the rules of evidence in federal court have very strict guidelines as for what is and is not admissible. So, it's still questionable whether those social media pages would be admissible in this trial. At the end of the day, the most important things ensuring that Miss Winner receives a fair trial.
BURNETT: If she is convicted, if she did this, do you think she deserves to go to jail for years? Because of course she could go to jail for up to a decade statutorily.
NICHOLS: That's correct. According to 18 USC 793-E, she is facing a maximum exposure of ten years. Now, as her attorney, I can believe something totally different. That's why we're looking forward to having her day at trial where a jury can decide the case.
BURNETT: If she did this, why do you think she did it, especially given that they are saying she actually e-mailed the news outlet from her work computer?
NICHOLS: If you look at the statute that is referenced, 793-E, specifically says the government's burden is going to be proving that classified documents were disseminated with a reasonable belief that they would injure the United States or favor a foreign government.
According to the statute, that is what the government is going to have to prove. Going into motive at this stage, A, it would be premature since we're still at the beginning stages. B, that's not going to be an important part of the statute.
BURNETT: So, you're saying she could have done it, but they'd have to prove that it actually damaged the government?
NICHOLS: Well, as a former prosecutor, I always focus on what does the evidence show? We can all think whatever we want, we can have our own opinions. But at the end of the day, the government has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that she violated the statute.
BURNETT: And before we go, what's her state of mind? Is she OK with all of this? Is she upset?
NICHOLS: Well, Erin --
BURNETT: What is she thinking right now?
NICHOLS: Well, Erin, I don't think anybody would be OK with being locked up in federal custody. I mean, this time last week, my client was employed with a company in Augusta. Now, she's in custody.
So, I don't think it's accurate to say is she OK or is she not OK with this. Really, the main thing she is focusing is making sure that her constitutional rights are protected and she has a fair trial.
BURNETT: Right. But I guess part of the reason I say that is, if she did it, is she OK with it? Does she feel that this was a patriotic thing to do, that it was worth the price that she might pay?
NICHOLS: I think that's something the jury is going to have to decide once she has her day in court.
BURNETT: All right. Well, Titus, I appreciate your time. Thank you.
NICHOLS: Thank you, Erin.
BURNETT: And next, breaking news, new details about the rocky relationship between Trump and his attorney general. Some heated exchanges we're just learning about. We're going to share them with you, next.
[19:57:50] BURNETT: Breaking news, new details tonight about the increasingly tense relationship between President Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. There have been several heated exchanges over the past several weeks.
Evan Perez is breaking this news for us.
And, Evan, what are you learning right now?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, these are heated exchanges between the Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the president. This is in light of the recusal by the attorney general from anything related to the Russia investigation.
As you know, the president is concerned that because of that, this investigation has sort of blossomed and expanded and caused more problems for the White House, distracted them from their agenda.
But we're also told that the frustration goes both ways here between the Justice Department where officials feel that the president's tweets and some of his comments and interviews have actually made things worse and prompted the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to have to appoint a special prosecutor, a special counsel to oversee the investigation.
Now, Bob Mueller is that special counsel who is now doing this investigation and, again, they feel that some of the president's own comments have exacerbated the problems for him.
BURNETT: And, Evan, in these heated exchanges, how direct has the attorney general been? Has he said this to the president of the United States, your tweets are making things worse? You are making things worse?
PEREZ: Well, I think --
BURNETT: This is why Bob Mueller is even in this job?
PEREZ: I think part of the conversation has been mostly about getting -- allowing the Justice Department to do its job so that in interruptions and -- you know, from the White House are not causing problems for what the Justice Department is supposed to be doing.
BURNETT: Is Jeff Sessions' job safe? I know that's been asked repeatedly at this press conferences, and they always say, you know, refer to the president.
PEREZ: It's not clear. Right.
BURNETT: And so, you are actually saying it's actually not clear at this time? PEREZ: It's actually not clear. This is something that the White
House refused to repeatedly do today and I think even at the Justice Department, they were very, very surprised by the fact that the White House couldn't say that the president has confidence in the attorney general.
BURNETT: Obviously, a very significant statement there, a refusal to do that.
Thank you so much, Evan Perez, with that breaking news.
And thanks to all of you for joining us. Don't forget, you can watch OUTFRONT any time. All you have to do is go to CNN Go.
"AC360" with Anderson Cooper begins right now.