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DHS Secretary Pushes Back On Intel That Putin Backed Trump; DOJ Will Allow Lawmakers To See "Highly Classified" Info; Soon: House Republicans Call For Probe Of FBI, DOJ; Trump, South Korean President Meet As Doubts Hang Over Summit. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 22, 2018 - 11:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: They delayed their honeymoon for this.

BERMAN: Good daughter-in-law right there.

HARLOW: It is indeed. Thank you for being with us today. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We are following breaking news from Capitol Hill. Moments ago, House members emerged from a closed- door briefing by the nation's top security officials about election security. And a pretty stunning development in that.

The secretary of homeland security pushing back today against the intelligence community's assessment that Russia tried to tip the election in Donald Trump's favor. Again, that was determined by the intel community's report in January of 2017.

Let's figure up what's going on here. CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. Manu, what did the secretary tell you?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, Kate, she emerged from a closed-door briefing after talking to a few dozen House members about election security, talking about things that the Homeland Security Department, the federal government and states need to do to avoid Russian interference and other states may be replicating what the Russians did in 2016 to prevent that from happening in the 2018 midterms.

And one of the lessons learned was about what they should do differently from the 2016 elections and specifically I got a chance to ask her about that intelligence community assessment about the Russian infiltration in 2016.

In the January 2017, intelligence community assessment, it says very clearly that Vladimir Putin orchestrated a campaign to help Donald Trump win the presidency. When I tried to get -- pin her down on whether or not she agreed with that assessment, she sidestepped the question and seemed to push back.


RAJU: Secretary Nielsen, to that point, do you have any reason to doubt the January 2017 intelligence community assessment that said it was Vladimir Putin who tried to meddle in this election to help President Trump?

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I don't believe I've seen that conclusion. That the specific intent was to help President Trump win, I'm not aware of that. But I do generally have no reason to doubt any intelligence assessment.

I think what they're trying to do in my opinion and I defer to the intel community is disrupt our belief and our own understanding of what is happening, right? It's an integrity issue of who is saying what and why and how that may or may not affect an American's behavior and what they believe.

RAJU: Do you believe that the assessment did say that Putin tried to orchestrate the cybercampaign with the intention of helping Donald Trump. Do you have any disagreement with that?

NIELSEN: I do believe that Russia did and will continue to try to manipulate Americans' perspectives on a whole variety of issues.


RAJU: So, not answering the question about that. This is what the intelligence community said, Kate, in that January 2017 assessment, it says that Putin and the Russia government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. They said they have high confidence in those judgement.

And they also assessed that Putin and the Russian government aspired to help President Trump's election chances when possible by, quote, "Discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him."

And that is similar to what Special Counsel Robert Mueller said in a separate indictment of those Russians in February 2018, and notable too, Kate, the Senate Intelligence Committee reaffirmed what the intelligence community said in its report last week.

But Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have disputed the reports. It is unclear if she is siding with the House Intelligence Committee. But she said she was, quote, "not aware of that assessment." It is unclear exactly what she was not aware of when it is cut and dry what they said in January of 2017 -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: That's pretty amazing stuff, Manu. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. I guess we can say that is now one more new question in the Russia investigation. A lot of news this hour on just that.

But with all of it, keep one thing in mind. What we don't know today definitely outweighs what we do know. The president demands the Justice Department turn over classified information about the Russia probe and after meeting at the White House, Justice Department officials seemed to agree.

Here's what we don't know. What exactly DOJ agreed to turnover and when that will happen. Also, President Trump demands the Justice Department investigate whether the FBI planted a spy in his presidential campaign.

The Justice Department again seems to agree and turns the question over to the inspector general. What we don't know is if that will be enough for Donald Trump. But the demand itself is way too much for Democrats and even some Republicans.


SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The president's behavior is the kind of grossly autocratic behavior we expect in a Banana Republic, not a mature democracy. By now, we should all recognize that President Trump's latest demand is just another example of a relentless campaign to distract from the serious wrongdoing being uncovered by the Russia probe.

[11:05:09] SENATOR ORIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I think he has a right to. The question is whether it is advisable or not and, you know, the Justice Department has been a pretty honest department all these years as far as I'm concerned. And I think he ought to leave it up to the Justice Department.


BOLDUAN: Orrin Hatch says the president should leave it up to the Justice Department. A group of House Republicans want to do anything but leave it to DOJ. Rolling out a resolution this hour to call for a second special counsel investigation into the Department of Justice. Yes, they want to investigate the investigators which I guess seems to be a recurring theme in Washington these days.

So, let's go to the White House to start on this one. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is there. Kaitlan, there are a lot of unknowns about what -- there are a lot of unknowns about what the Justice Department is going to offer up to lawmakers. What do we know?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Here's what we do know. We know the White House brokered this agreement between the top law enforcement officials and these congressional leaders yesterday, that comes after a meeting here at the White House that included President Trump, the Chief of Staff John Kelly, the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the FBI Director Christopher Wray, and the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

Now that meeting happened, the White House said it had been on the books before the president's tweet on Sunday demanding that the Department of Justice look into whether someone had infiltrated or surveilled his claim, an allegation the president made with no corroboration or proof, I should note here, Kate. They walked away from the meeting with the Department of Justice agreeing to expand an ongoing inquiry into the surveillance of a Trump campaign aid to include what the president demanded on Sunday. Quite an unusual move.

Also, walked away from that meeting with the Chief of Staff John Kelly saying he was going to immediately set up a meeting between the top law enforcement officials and these congressional leaders who want to know more about this Russia investigation.

Now what we don't know is where that meeting is going to take place, who is going to be invited to that meeting or what kind of information they're going to get. The statement that came out of the White House was very vague and said they're going to be able to see highly classified information.

We don't know, Kate, if they're actually going to be able to get their hands on any documents here. So, all of that is still to be determined. Those are still the questions that are being posed to the White House.

But what is at the root of all of this, a political fight over the Russia investigation and as you just noted, the president here now taking his approach that he wants the investigators themselves to be investigated.

BOLDUAN: Yes, Kaitlan, what else are we learning about the FBI source that was sharing information on the Trump campaign, the source that the president, of course, has called a spy.

COLLINS: Yes, this is the source the president has said is a spy who was embedded in his campaign. Now we have a former Trump campaign aide, Sam Clovis, who is breaking his silence, speaking about this person that the president has repeatedly referenced. He sat down with this person in September of 2016 and here's what he just said about that meeting.


SAM CLOVIS, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE (via telephone): The meeting was very high level, like two faculty members sitting down and the faculty lounge talking about research. There was no indication, no inclination that this was anything other than just wanting to offer up his help to the campaign if I needed it. It was not anything other than him talking about the research that he had done on China. And that was essentially what the discussion was about. And we already had a lot of China people involved.


COLLINS: So, those comments come as the president, of course, is on his side saying that someone was embedded in his campaign. Officials have told CNN that the confidential intelligence source was not planted in the Trump campaign. So, we have all of that going on, a lot to unpack there, Kate. Of course, as the president is getting ready, you can see behind me, they're preparing to welcome the South Korean president here to the White House, so they can discuss North Korea, another subject that doesn't have a lot of clarity here for the White House and they're concerned that that meeting may not take place and there is a lot of doubt about that historic summit in Singapore -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: There is a lot of doubt about seems almost everything right now. Kaitlan, great to see you. Thank you so much for kicking it off.

Joining me right now, Jennifer Rogers, a former federal prosecutor, now a lecturer at Columbia Law School, Bill Burton, former deputy White House press secretary under President Obama, and Scott Jennings, CNN political commentator and former special assistant to President George W. Bush.

Thank you all so much for being here. Jennifer, let's start with Secretary Nielsen and what she said, leaving a meeting, a briefing on election security. Looking at 2016, what can we learn about what lessons we learned from 2018.

And she says to Manu Raju that -- I feel like I need to quote it, I want to get your take, when he asks if you have any reason to doubt the 2017 intelligence community's assessment, that Russia meddled in the election and tried to do it in favor of Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton, she said I do not believe I have seen that conclusion, I'm not aware of that. Do you believe she didn't read the assessment?

JENNIFER RODGERS, LECTURER, COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL: That seems highly unlikely. She's been asked about this before, this has been out there for a long time.

[11:10:11] It is part of her job to make sure that these infiltrations don't happen again. I just don't get it. I mean, it has been all over the place and we know the Mueller team is looking at it, and I'm hoping personally for some indictments on this soon. So, the fact that she would know about this seems unlikely to me.

BOLDUAN: Scott, from your perspective, do you think she didn't read the report or do you think she doesn't believe it? I don't know. What do you think?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think she was trying to choose her words carefully because what they were looking for there was a political answer. They wanted her to wade into the politics of what may or may not have happened in the 2016 election. I think we all know that the Russians meddled in the election.

We all know they tried to sow discord among the American people and I think they're succeeding at doing that or have succeeded doing that. What is not clear and what is very much in doubt is whether there was ever any active collusion between anybody involved with --

BOLDUAN: That wasn't the exact question that Manu asked. It was our Manu Raju that asked it and he's a straight shooter. He asked about the assessment that said it was Putin who tried to meddle in the election to get Donald Trump to win. That's not CNN coming up with it. That's the intelligence community.

JENNINGS: Yes, I agree with you. I've seen the reports about the assessment. I saw what the Senate Intelligence Committee said, and I believe the Russians were meddling in the election and I believe what the intelligence community said.

I'm saying in a press conference like that, given the position she has, given her recent relationship with the president, I can see why she was choosing her words carefully. She's trying to be very, very careful in a public setting about what she says about a topic that is on the president's mind every day.

BOLDUAN: It would be one thing, the question had been do you think -- did you like it that Vladimir Putin is trying to help Donald Trump win. What she's asked about a fact of what the intelligence community has drawn in conclusion on, where is there wiggle room?

BILL BURTON, MANAGING DIRECTOR, SKDKNICKERBOCKER: Well, what is so deeply disturbing about this administration just generally is that they try to conflate information and confuse facts. And we end up arguing over whether or not there was an intent to lie behind misinformation that is delivered or no intend to lie, just an intent to try to, you know, smooth her relationship with the president.

I mean, the things -- the meeting that happened yesterday at the White House, between the president and the head of the FBI and the deputy attorney general would have been a scandal in any other administration. And that's a part of this effort to conflate facts of what is going on.

There is an investigation going on that the president is trying to have an impact on, which in and of itself is an attempt to obfuscate from the things that we know, for example, that Vladimir Putin was actively engaged in the 2016 election and it was to help President Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: I just -- I hope the secretary has an opportunity to try to clarify her remarks one more time. I'm straight up confused. When it is -- what the intel community has assessed, she said she stands by it, why she can't say it.

Jennifer, let's talk about the other big questions out there. The meeting to share -- this meeting to share classified information about the Russia probe with lawmakers that DOJ has agreed to, what do you think they could be handing over? The investigation is still under way.

RODGERS: Well, in a previous meeting what they did is a verbal briefing instead of handing over documents. They just gave a sense verbally of where the investigation was. So, you know, I hope that's it. Because we know that the Hill leaks, so we know if classified documents go over, their security is in question. So, my hope is that they give a verbal briefing just enough to satisfy the lawmakers, but not enough to jeopardize their investigation because, of course, that's the big concern here that this will undermine the advocacy of the investigation.

BOLDUAN: Bill, do you think the Justice Department, I don't know, folded and gave in here?

BURTON: Well, you know, you can't know the motivation, what is happening behind what Rod Rosenstein is thinking or what Christopher Wray is thinking. You have to hope they're trying to keep their jobs and keep the investigation going and not get fired and see the special counsel fired and this investigation stopped.

President Trump is so worried about leaks, one of the leaks that he doesn't seem to be talking about is the leak of this informant's name, by the way, and why do we have an investigation into that? If that is classified information leaking out, that's an answer we should be in search of, who would leak that name.

BOLDUAN: Look, so you also then Scott, have the justice officials handing over this question of was there political motivation in using an FBI confidential source with information on the Trump campaign. Was there political motivation in that? That's now handed over to the inspector general of the department. If the inspector general says no spy here, Scott, is Donald Trump going to accept it, do you think?

[11:15:10] JENNINGS: Well, I hope he does because this is the way the government is supposed to work. The inspector general can look into things and the Congress with have oversight over agencies. Nobody in the government is beyond oversight. That's number one. Number two, I think this investigation of the investigators is appropriate because we already know that politics was at least considered in some of the material we have seen. The text messages that have come out between --

BOLDUAN: Right. I hear you, but it becomes this never-ending kind of quest of who is there to trust? When Bob Mueller was brought on, everybody said he's great. His reputation is amazing. He's without -- he's without reproach, everyone loves him, he's a straight shooter. Now that is -- depending what side you're on, that's up for debate. What is going to be the unbiased arbiter of justice here?

JENNINGS: If you want half the country that presently views this investigation with a jaundiced eye to accept the results of it, you have to close every possible door that is open to them now that politics may be at play.

If you want to have this country accept one way or the other, collusion, no collusion, whatever happens if you want most Americans to accept it, you cannot leave on the table the possibility that political motivations were at play.

Everybody ought to accept sunshine and transparency here, no question at the end of the day, this was all done above board. BOLDUAN: You have the FBI director, Chris Wray, who said to the Hill in a hearing, the moment we start outing human sources is the day that the American people are less safe. There is this element of all of that as well. Great to see you, guys. Thanks so much. Lots more questions than answers.

Coming up, President Trump coming up soon, he will be welcoming the South Korean president to the White House. U.S. officials are now worrying that North Korea could scrap the planned summit with the U.S. Can Moon Jae-in convince the president it is all going to be OK?

Plus, this, happening this hour, the royal newlyweds are stepping out for the first public event since their blockbuster wedding. We're going to be live at Buckingham Palace with all the details.



BOLDUAN: High stakes in the oval office today when President Trump sits down with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The questions lingering over the friendly chat are deadly serious. Can they bring peace to the Korean Peninsula and most immediately can they save the nuclear summit with North Korea?

Just a few weeks ago, the outlook seemed pretty bright, but now the outlook is anything but. Why the change? According to both North Korea -- and North and South Korea now, it is John Bolton, a South Korean lawmaker posting on Facebook this.

"Bolton's preposterous Libya solution is a red light in North Korea's summit talks with the U.S. and South Korea." As a reminder, here is what Bolton proposed.


JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We have very much in mind the Libya model from 2003-2004. There are obviously differences, Libyan program was much smaller. But that was basely the agreement that we made.


BOLDUAN: So, that set off the North Koreans who then cited the president's national security adviser as one of the reasons they are now threatening to pull out of the planned June 12th summit. President Trump and the vice president have been trying to play clean up ever since it seems.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The Libyan model isn't a model that we have at all. We're thinking of North Korea. In Libya, we decimated that country. That country was decimated. There was no deal to keep Gadhafi. The Libyan model mentioned was a much different deal. This would be with Kim Jong-un something where he would be there, he would be in his country, he would be running his country, his country would be very rich.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: As the president made clear, you know, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong-un doesn't make a deal.


BOLDUAN: But does Mike Pence's cleanup sound much more like a threat? Joining me right now, former deputy national security adviser under President Obama, and now CNN global affairs analyst, Tony Blinken. Tony, it's great to see you. Thanks for coming in. What do you make of what Mike Pence said right there?

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Look, I think you're exactly right, they're doing cleanup because when Kim Jong-un hears Libyan model, he hears regime change. That's clearly not what he hopes to get out of the summit.

But the bottom line is this, Kim Jong-un has maneuvered so well, he's getting into the negotiations from a position of strength. President Trump needs this more now than Kim Jong-un needs it. He's talked it up so much. The idea of this Nobel Prize is dancing out there in front of his eyes.

So, he's in a position where he needs to have this happen and make it a success. And that gives Kim a tremendous opportunity to go in from a position of strength and possibly get the contours of a deal that is much more beneficial to North Korea than it would be to us. That's what we have to be concerned about that President Trump wants this so much, that he'll take a bad deal.

BOLDUAN: He says he's OK to walk away. At this point, do you consider the summit on or off?

BLINKEN: I think it will be on. This is kind of classic North Korean negotiating tactics. They have long ago perfected the art of the steal. They will get into a negotiation. They will string it out, they'll use the time to wring out concessions, economic concessions and at the end of the day, walkway from some of most significant commitments they claim to make in the agreement.

And then pressure is exerted again, and you repeat. That's exactly the cycle that President Obama tried to break away from and I think President Trump has to be careful he doesn't get caught in that again. I think both sides actually do need to have this conversation.

So, if I had to bet, I think this is just maneuvering by Kim. He thinks he has president Trump on the line. He's reeling him in by setting a clear marker that he's not about to denuclearize and setting that as the premise for the negotiation, I suspect he'll go ahead and talk.

BOLDUAN: The role of President Moon here seems key. U.S. officials have told CNN they believe Moon oversold North Korea's willingness to negotiate a way its nuclear program. If that's the case, what then? [11:25:01] BLINKEN: I think part of the reason that President Moon is bending over backwards to make this happen goes back to the fire and fury comments that President Trump made some months ago. That had more of an effect on South Korea than North Korea.

The South Koreans were so concerned that we would engage in some kind of preventive military action that they have been bending over backwards to find a way to get into a negotiation putting together a big economic package for North Korea.

And, by the way, if talks start, there is a real danger that the pressure that President Trump has effectively exerted against North Korea, that's been a good thing, that that starts to go away quickly because China and South Korea are looking for ways to re-engage economically with North Korea.

Right now, you know, the challenge is keeping South Korea and the United States in solidarity on the same line. That's why the conversation today between President Moon and President Trump is so important.

BOLDUAN: Tony, great to see you. Thanks for coming in.

BLINKEN: Thanks, Kate. Great to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, fountains of molten lava, clouds of toxic gas. We are looking at live pictures from Hawaii here. Massive eruptions are now threatening a power plant in Hawaii. We'll go live to the big island.