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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Washington Post: Kushner & Russia Discussed Secret Communication Channel. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired May 26, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:13] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Good evening from Washington. Anderson is off.
We begin tonight with breaking news. New reporting in "The Washington Post" with potentially very serious implications. According to "The Post", Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, proposed settling up a secret means of communicating with the Kremlin. Not a figurative back channel, a literal system.
Again, according to "The Washington Post", this was a nuts and bolts set-up using Russian diplomatic facilities and equipment. "The Washington Post's" Ellen Nakashima is one of three reporters bylining this story for us. She's joining us right now.
Ellen, thanks very much for joining us.
The secret communications channel your sources are telling you, it was Kushner who originally raised this idea. Is that right?
ELLEN NAKASHIMA, NATIONAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Yes. That's right. According to sources who have reviewed intelligence collected by U.S. intelligence agencies, Jared Kushner proposed this secret secure channel at a meeting at Trump Tower in December with the Russian ambassador.
BLITZER: Talk a little bit about this secret channel, this communications channel. It was going to, what, be based at the Russian embassy in Washington?
NAKASHIMA: That's what it sounds like.
Now, we caution that this is based on reporting by Kislyak to the superiors in Moscow, and that reporting was captured on intercepts and, you know, this could be Russian -- intelligence agencies are known sometimes to put disinformation into their feeds in order to sow confusion, sometimes senior officials in the reporting can exaggerate a bit. But if this report is true, then it means Kushner was seeking a secure channel during the transition period in the weeks leading up to the inauguration with the government of an adversary that the U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded was -- had meddled in the presidential election to help Trump get elected.
BLITZER: Well, what would be your understanding why Kushner exactly wanted a set-up like this at the Russian embassy?
NAKASHIMA: Well, we don't know for sure why or, you know, indeed, whether, in fact, this is true. But apparently, the idea was to have a secure means of communicating that would be beyond, you know, the reach of U.S. intelligence agencies or other intelligence agencies. It was meant to keep their channel of communications very private.
BLITZER: In other words, have a dialogue with the Kremlin that the U.S. presumably would not be able to monitor the NSA or the FBI or others in U.S. law enforcement and the intelligence community? Is that what you're suggesting?
NAKASHIMA: That's the suggestion, yes.
BLITZER: Well, I know before you published this in "The Washington Post" you went to Jared Kushner. You went to the White House. You went to others to get their reaction. What are they saying in you?
NAKASHIMA: The White House declined to comment, so we don't have any public reaction to them.
BLITZER: What about Jared Kushner? Have you spoken to his attorney, Jamie Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration? What did she say?
NAKASHIMA: She referred our query to the White House and the White House declined to comment.
BLITZER: So the White House is declining to comment. The attorney for Jared Kushner is declining to comment.
BLITZER: But you have, I assume, multiple sources telling you about this, intercepted conversation between Sergey Kislyak, who's the Russian ambassador to the United States with top Kremlin officials, alleging that in that conversation that Jared Kushner met with him at Trump Tower in early December during the transition and proposed setting up this secret communications channel through the Russian embassy in Washington.
That's the gist of your bombshell report. Right, Ellen?
NAKASHIMA: You got it.
BLITZER: Ellen Nakashima from "The Washington Post" with us, with the gist of her reporting.
I want to bring in our panel and there are some excellent people here. Phil Mudd, Dana Bash, Ryan Lizza, Laura Coates, former attorney general of the United States, Michael Mukasey, Steve Hall and Juliette Kayyem.
Phil Mudd, you worked at the CIA. You know about these issues. I read this "Washington Post" story not once or twice, maybe three times. You've read it now. You've heard Ellen Nakashima. Your reaction?
PHIL MUDD, FORMER SENIOR OFFICIAL, FBI AND CIA: You see me things and never think you'll be surprised and history proves you wrong.
[20:05:04] This is not surprising, stunning. If this is true, let's step through a timeline.
In the summer of 2016, somebody receives a presidential nomination. In this case, in the Republican Party, it's Donald Trump. He's authorized to receive top secret briefings. You've got to presume to one of those briefings or several of them include conversations about Russia, including Russian intervention in the election.
In early December, his son-in-law if this report is correct, decides to go to the Russian embassy which has a primary responsibility of spying on America and saying I want to subvert the American bureaucracy to subordinate myself to the Russian embassy getting outside the American bureaucracy --
BLITZER: That was actually a conversation at Trump Tower --
MUDD: That's right.
BLITZER: -- with the Russian ambassador talking about establishing a communications.
MUDD: Establishing a communications avenue outside the U.S. bureaucracy to talk to the Russians. Remember, less than a month later, the president of the United States, President Obama, on December 29th, sanctions the Russians for their activity in the United States and later, the U.S. intelligence community which should have been briefing, remember, President Trump during the pre-inauguration period about Russian involvement in the elections, he sanctions the Russians for this and U.S. intelligence community publicly says the Russians interfered with the American election.
This is -- all the things we have seen since this Russian investigation broke, I have never seen anything like this.
BLITZER: You have seen plenty of opportunities for Americans to have diplomatic backchannels with other governments. This is different, though. This would be actually having a backchannel but using the communications capabilities of that other government.
MUDD: Time-out. Let's be clear about language here. A backchannel means I want to have a conversation that's not available to the public that the media will never see. We have a campaign that's not in power yet going to an adversary.
This is not just using the communications of an embassy. This is using the communications of an adversary spying on America and just had the spies thrown out by the president of the United States and saying, I want to use your communications to subvert the American bureaucracy which I don't trust. I trust you more than us. You got to be kidding me.
BLITZER: Dana, this is a very stunning report. Once again, if true.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No question. The one that I will say in terms of a bit of caution, and they note this in "The Washington Post" piece, but I think and it's important to underscore that the information that they're basing this on are reports that the Russian ambassador gave to Moscow -- meaning, he talked about basically you're not going to believe what happened. Jared Kushner said he wants a back channel and he wants to use Russian communications. That information was gleaned by monitoring what Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, told Moscow.
So, the caution I would say is that the Russians are, you know, very good at smoke and mirrors, and very good at, you know, understanding that the Americans are listening. And the question is whether or not Kislyak knew that the Americans were listening and said that or inflated it for whatever reason, to make him look good, to make Jared Kushner look bad or just throw the Americans off their game. That is possible.
Having said all that, in this story, these reporters who are wonderful at "Washington Post," say that the officials that they talked to say that history shows that the communications that they listened to with Kislyak tend to be pretty accurate.
BLITZER: But, you know, the silence from the White House from Jared Kushner's lawyers, they have opportunity today, of course, today to say this is a phony story, this is not true. They're not commenting on this at all.
BLITZER: And that silence as you know and I know, Dana, that's a very thunderous silence.
BASH: Absolutely. It could be deafening. Look, at the end of the day if this were a story that happened in a vacuum, it would be an oh my god moment but it's not a vacuum. It completely feeds into a narrative -- not just a narrative, a very real, criminal and congressional simultaneous probes that are going on into what went on between Trump world and the Russians during the campaign.
But this is obviously after the campaign. And it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Never mind jaws being on the floor.
BLITZER: I want to bring former attorney general, Michael Mukasey.
Judge, there's a lot we certainly do not know. We're relying on this "Washington Post" reporting. But here's a question. Would there be anything illegal about Jared Kushner wanting to protect his communications with the Russians from U.S. surveillance?
MICHAEL MUKASEY, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: No, I don't think there's anything illegal but let's take a step back. Here is a report that has gotten from a communications source, i.e., the Russians talking to the Russians, that say that Jared Kushner wants to communicate with us over what? A different one from the one that Kislyak was using? I seriously doubt it.
In other words, he is saying on a channel of communication that he has every reason to believe is going to be intercepted, that Jared Kushner wants to communicate with the Russians over a communication channel that may very well also be intercepted.
[20:10:11] Now, I don't know whether this is true but it sounds a little bit surprising.
BLITZER: It sounds very surprising. There's a lot that's very, very surprising. As you and I know, there are U.S. officials who want to have back channel conversations with other governments, including some governments not necessarily all that friendly to the United States. But if you do it through their embassy, that's pretty surprising.
Here's the question, though. Why wouldn't Jared Kushner's attorney, the White House, flatly deny this story if there's nothing there?
MUKASEY: I have no idea. I have no idea. May very well be they prefer to talk in context about the entire issue of what they want to -- what the FBI wants the talk to them about and what they don't rather than swatting down individual stories.
When I say swatting down, I don't mean any disrespect to Ellen Nakashima who I know and like and dealt with in D.C. and is a good reporter.
On the other hand, this is as was pointed out over a line of communication that Ambassador Kislyak has ever reason to believe was being intercepted and somebody who could have very well communicated misinformation and we just don't know.
BLITZER: Let me bring in Laura Coates. Laura, you just heard the former attorney general make that point. I want to get your reaction. You're a former federal prosecutor.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think that Jared Kushner's activity as we all know seems to be inviting scrutiny and more than just scrutiny, it invites criminal exposure.
Remember, the term collusion, what we're talking about is still a very nebulous concept. We haven't defined it or attached it to a criminal statute as of it yet. But this is not a fishing expedition where they don't have any basis to investigate. The more scrutiny they give is actually deserved and warranted based on something like this.
To set up an opportunity to have communication where you are trying to not be notified or not be -- not alert the American public or the American government to me suggests you get more than an eyebrow raised from investigators. You get an invitation to investigate further and potentially expose yourself to criminal activity.
The reason Jared Kushner's no longer speaking in stark contrast to a few days ago when he said, I'd be happy to talk to anyone who wants the talk to me and, well, now more exposure there, you would expect and I did expect him to clam up a little bit and guarded in any communication he gives from now, which, of course, is odd given he was communicating with the Russians in the back channel.
BLITZER: The only thing I imagine, Ryan, with a Russian communications channel with the Kremlin out of fear that it could be -- if they did a U.S. channel intercepted. The U.S. would know about that, is that during the transition they were -- they didn't want Obama administration officials to know about this diplomatic, this back channel that he was establishing through Kislyak, the Russian ambassador in Washington, to the Kremlin.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And why would that be? I think there are -- two words come to mind here is that one that Laura said that we had talked about now for months, and that has been a talking point from the White House. There is no evidence of collusion between Trump people and the Russians.
I don't know how people define collusion but going to the Russian ambassador and telling him you don't trust the Americans and you want to use their communication facilities to communicate, to me that sounds an awful lot like colluding with an adversay.
BLITZER: If the story is true.
LIZZA: If the story is accurate.
BLITZER: If in fact what Kislyak was intercepted by the U.S. intelligence communication as saying to his bosses in the Kremlin, if that is true.
LIZZA: If that's accurate.
BLITZER: Unless, if he is just trying to sow some sort of discord and cause some troubles, which the Russians obviously do from time to time.
LIZZA: They have done a really good job of last two years.
LIZZA: One other thing I would say is the other word is concealment. What is the pattern of all of the public facts we know about the Russian investigation? Whether it's Jeff Sessions and not disclosing his contracts with the Russian ambassador. Whether it is Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to Trump who lied to White House officials about his conversations with Kislyak, and now with Jared Kushner who both failed to disclose his conversations with the ambassador and the gentleman Gorka, who's the Russian bank chief, and apparently tried to --
BLITZER: Sanctioned by the U.S.
LIZZA: Sanctioned by the U.S. and now, if "The Washington Post" report is correct, was looking for a back channel to conceal further conversations. So, we have a pattern of senior Trump officials concealing
conversations with essentially Russian spies. And then, of course, you throw into that the president of the United States when he gets in office taking several steps culminating in the firing of the FBI direct or the to shut down the investigation of this. There's a lot of smoke right now.
BLITZER: As lot of us remember, and it's reported once again, Juliette Kayyem, in "The Washington Post" story. In that early December meeting that Jared Kushner had with Ambassador Kislyak at Trump Tower in New York, Michael Flynn who would eventually become the president's national security adviser, he was in that meeting, as well.
[20:15:03] Does that make any difference to you?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Absolutely, because Michael Flynn is also tied in to this series of sort of meetings that are undisclosed, these contacts that are not notified during the security forums. As Ryan was saying, this story today is big but it's big because of all the other stories.
Within the last 24 hours, let's just remind everyone. NBC News and CNN both had stories regarding continuing focus of Jared Kushner related to his data mining capacity and his data mining program during the campaign. So, now you have that -- those stories.
You have then during the transition his outreach, his -- I think we are using the term back channel incorrect. That is like start talking to the Cubans, so we go to the pope to do that. That is a real backchannel.
This is Jared Kushner going rogue, right? And so, I think then the only question that remain to me is we are so close, we are to sound dramatic but I will be, I mean, we're close to the Oval Office and I think the question is, why are all the guys doing this? Are they doing it to protect themselves, or, to protect Trump?
And I think that now we now have to ask that question because there are too many people close to Trump who he is protecting, he's clearly sort of trying to undermine or change the figures in this investigation, Comey, for example, and I just don't know what their motivation. Is it to protect themselves because of personal dealings, or is it because there's something bigger? We have to start asking that question. We are at the Oval Office door now. We are at the senior adviser to the Trump -- to President Trump.
BLITZER: Steve Hall, you're a former CIA Russia expert. Would this sort of alleged communications system with the Russians, through the Russian embassy in Washington involving a top adviser to the president-elect of the United States, would that be unprecedented?
STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA SENIOR OFFICER, RUSSIA EXPERT: Well, Wolf, there's so much about this particular turn that this story has taken that does not make a lot of sense to me. The short answer to your question is, yes, it will be unprecedented,
but it also would seem to me just to be stupid. I don't understand why it is that Jared Kushner, if he wants some sort of -- and I think Juliette is right. We're tossing around the idea of a backchannel, but that's what we're calling it, so I'll stay with that.
Why if Jared Kushner wants a back channel back to Moscow, why would he go to the ambassador and say, I want to use Russian communications systems to do that? All he has to do if he wants a secure and back channel type of conversation with Moscow is to talk to Ambassador Kislyak who will then turn around and use secure Russian communications, not open lines, back to Moscow to communicate whatever it is that Kushner wanted to keep between himself and the ambassador.
So, it doesn't make a lot of sense for me to have him walk in and say, I want some sort of technical, you know, set-up so that I can use it. All you got to do is talk to anybody in the Russian embassy and then they'll get back to Moscow very securely.
The other thing that I'm troubled by is that the whole idea of Kushner talking to Kislyak. I mean, there's a probably bad things about it to include the optics but the bottom line is in a couple of weeks after the inauguration, if you go back to the timeline, he is going to be talking to the Russians anyway or the Trump administration is. So, unless, there was something incredibly timely that had to be dealt with right at that moment, that Kushner and others of the Trump team didn't want the Obama administration to know about and hence the desire for some secret back channel, it doesn't make a lot of sense. Why not just wait until you're in power?
I don't understand there's something timely there going on? I don't know. So, this is all kind of weird and not sure that I can explain it without getting more details as to how this all went down. It's very, very unusual.
BLITZER: The fact is Michael Flynn was at that early December meeting with Kislyak and Jared Kushner and then emerged as the president's national security adviser, he was the top national security adviser, certainly, during the transition, as well -- I assume in a meeting like that, he would be playing a significant role, right?
HALL: Sure. Absolutely. He would. And again, I think a lot has been made, perhaps too much, but a lot has been made about the early contacts with Kislyak. I think there's protocol, there's issues there, and optics-wise, it probably didn't look pretty good and especially what we knew and know about the Russian intention to mess with the U.S. elections.
But again, at the end of the day, you know, these people were going to be in power, the Trump team to include guys like Kushner and like Michael Flynn, were going to be in office and it might have been, you know, inopportune and inappropriate before the inauguration but this has happened before. There had been other contacts with foreign governments, even the Russians, and that's sometimes the way it's played. [20:20:01] BLITZER: I'm going to have everyone stand by. There's a
lot more happening. We are following the breaking news. We're going to continue all of our reporting right after a quick break.
Also, coming up, why the FBI director, the former FBI director, James Comey, let a piece of Russian intelligence which he knew to be fake drive his decision to publicly denounce Hillary Clinton's e-mail habits and many believe seriously affect the presidential election.
BLITZER: Our breaking news, late reporting in "The Washington Post" that during an early December meeting at Trump Tower in New York City, with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, Jared Kushner suggested setting up a means of secretly communicating with Moscow.
We are back with our panel of experts.
And, Phil Mudd, you've said you've never seen or heard anything like this. You've had a chance to digest this bombshell a little bit more. What do you think?
MUDD: A couple more thoughts. Listen, we're talking about to Judge Mukasey earlier, I served under him. He's one of the best in the business. He raises a very significant point. We are seeing a bit of this. We're not seeing the other side, Jared Kushner, and we are listening to an ambassador who has been involved with a government that's inserting fake news and who presumably knows he's being listened to. Let's be careful.
That said, we have the environment here where the president of the United States before and after the election raised serious questions about the U.S. intelligence community, both the FBI and the CIA, and alleged repeatedly that U.S. intelligence community under the leadership, guidance, direction, of former president of United States intercepted Trump Tower.
[20:25:11] Some of this context when I look at this, because as an intel professional, you look and say, this can't be true. This is Hollywood. This simply can't be true.
You step back and say, when's the environment within which somebody might have made this decision and one of the environmental issues I look at is the president saying, don't trust the American side, especially the intel guys. Maybe that leads somebody to say, let me set up a separate channel because I don't believe we're not being intercepted at the White House or Trump Towers or during our briefings with the CIA.
BLITZER: They're trying to protect whatever channels they're talking with the Russians if in fact the story is true from getting out to Obama administration officials.
MUDD: That's right.
BLITZER: That the Trump transition team clearly did not trust.
Let me bring back the former attorney general, Judge Mukasey.
Can you come up with any good reason why the top adviser to the president-elect, his son-in-law, would want or need a secure system of communicating with the Kremlin during the transition?
MUKASEY: It is unfortunate you modify your question with any good reason. It's tough to come up with a good reason. I think that Phil Mudd is on to something and he was -- he used to brief me every morning, so I have an enormous amount of regard for him.
He -- when he points out the atmosphere at the time, and if as candidate Trump was saying at the time, they wanted to have closer ties with the Russians, whether that was wise or unwise, a lot of people thought it was unwise and I was one of them. But Phil was another one.
But whether -- that was what they wanted and they believed that they couldn't trust the intel community then it may very well be that somebody without a great deal of experience in government, remember that Jared Kushner is, what? In his 30s?
BLITZER: He's 36.
MUKASEY: OK, might have thought this was a good idea.
BLITZER: Well, don't forget, Michael Flynn was a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He had an enormous amount of experience, three-star general, an enormous amount of experience in the intelligence community and national security. He was at that meeting in early December at Trump Tower, as well.
MUKASEY: You're assuming that this was said in the presence of Michael Flynn. I don't know whether I would make that assumption, number one. And number two, I wouldn't put Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner in the same category. Michael Flynn is subject of a criminal investigation. Jared Kushner, they want to question in connection with a counter intelligence investigation that is focused not on him, but on what the Russians were doing at the time during the election. So, these are two separate matters.
BLITZER: Quickly, Judge Mukasey, because Jared Kushner's come under criticism as you know because in the security clearance forms, he didn't initially report his contacts with Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, his contacts with Russian. He later corrected that but initially he didn't. Is that a problem?
MUKASEY: It's potentially a problem, but again, I don't know how many meetings he had and with whom. If that was one of a series of 50 or 60 meetings, then -- and they were relatively quick, it's entirely understandable why he might not have referred to it. I would hark back, by the way, to -- when Attorney General Sessions testified at his hearing. I was present there and he was asked about being a surrogate and making contact with the Russians. It turned out that one of the meetings he had, one of 20 or 30, with foreign ambassadors was with the Russian ambassador.
And people honed in on the fact that he didn't mention that one when he didn't mention any of them and they were all set up at the State Department.
So, we need to know the context of which this occurred. We need to know how many meetings there were, and whether it was possibly inadvertent. I don't know the answer to that at all.
BLITZER: Fair enough.
Everybody, stay with us. We're going to continue to cover the breaking news, the contact between Jared Kushner and another Russian figure, the CEO of a sanctioned Russian bank, a graduate of a Russian school for spies. We are getting new information on that.
Stay with us.
[20:32:30] BLITZER: Our breaking news, "The Washington Post" is reporting that back in early December, Jared Kushner and the Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak discussed opening a secret communication channel between the Trump transition and the Kremlin. Contact Kushner had with another Russian, though, is also drawing attention right now and he's surrounded by quite a bit of intrigue because of what the man does, who he knows and a very specialized education he got, namely how to be a Russian spy. More from "360's" Randi Kaye.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the man Jared Kushner met with in December 2016, just a month after Kushner's father-in-law, Donald Trump, was elected president. His name is Sergey Gorkov. He's a Russian banker, the chairman of VEB Bank. He also has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who appointed him to head the bank. Gorkov graduated from a Russian academy that trains people to work in Russian intelligence and security forces. Here's how the White House explained the nature of Kushner's meeting with the banker.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Jared did a job during the transition in the campaign, where he was a conduit and to leaders he wants to make sure he's very clear about the role that he played who he talked to and that's it.
KAYE: That may be true, but it doesn't square with what the bank itself has said about the meeting. In a statement, the bank said its executives met with Kushner not as a representative of the White House, but as head of Kushner Companies. The bank said its leaders met with numerous global financial executives as it developed a new strategy for the bank.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It's interesting that the Russians seemed to contradict what Jared Kushner said when he said that he was acting as a liaison between the campaign and foreign governments. So I'm sure that that will be an issue that we'll try to clarify.
KAYE: What exactly was discussed between Kushner and the banker remains a mystery. Though Jared Kushner has offered to answer the Senate Intelligence Committee's questions about not only this meeting, but another meeting that he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that same month. It was Kislyak who had suggested Kushner meet with the Russian banker.
(on camera): The fact that Kushner didn't mention either of these meetings on his White House security clearance forms may also be a topic of inquiry, though he did rectify that a day after the omissions.
[20:35:00] There's also the concern that the Russian bank has been under U.S. sanction since July 2014. And when Kushner met with Gorkov, he was still CEO of Kushner Companies and critics questioned whether he was looking for financing for a pricey Manhattan real estate project.
(voice-over): The meeting itself didn't violate the U.S. sanctions but investigators will want to know what was said.
LEON PANETTA, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: I have a feeling that it related to financial issues, since it involved a Russian bank. But to his credit, he's willing to testify on that issue, and I hope that the committee really thoroughly looks at what the regions were why he engaged in that conversation.
KAYE (voice-over): Seems that Jared Kushner, who rarely speaks beyond a whisper in the president's ear, may soon be called on to do a whole lot of talking.
Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: And our breaking news, late reporting in "The Washington Post" that during an early December meeting at Trump Tower with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Jared Kushner suggested setting up a secret communication system with Moscow.
Let's get back to our panel. Steve Hall, you were a former CIA Russia expert, can you just give us a sense of the confidence level that U.S. intelligence officials have about the surveillance in general that they have on Russian officials. It's not like they're just getting bits and pieces, it seems pretty constant. How reliable is it?
STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA SENIOR OFFICER, RUSSIA EXPERT: I don't want to give away too many -- too much information that the Russians themselves would be useful. But in general, I would agree with your assessment, Wolf. As more is coming out, it is clear that the FBI has pretty good coverage of the Russians in Washington, something that I'm sure that the Russians themselves are aware of. The meeting between Kushner and the head of VEB Bank is certainly interesting. And I would argue probably more interesting than perhaps the stuff that is couched as, you know, he is a member of an incoming administration reaching out to foreigners in this regard.
I have more concern about whether or not he's talking to a sanction bank as a businessman than I actually view as him as a member and a counselor to the president of an incoming administration. But it's clear that the FBI is keeping close tabs of this -- on this as they should.
BLITZER: Yes. And Dana, one thing about Jared Kushner, he's not just some low level official, not just a relative, he is a senior adviser to the president of the United States, who happens to be his father- in-law.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Look, he is the person who a lot of people who are in the White House and were in the campaign call him the unfirable, because of the connections that he has on a personal level and then the connections and the relationship that he's established on a more professional and obviously political level.
One thing I will say and I actually just got a text from a Republican who is trying to defend Donald Trump, I should say that. But actually it does raise an interesting point and one that maybe we should think about which is, Ryan, you mentioned that this is kind of the ultimate collusion which is one way to look at it. But another is if they were colluding during the campaign, and this where -- this Republican says look at it, then why would he need a back channel? Why didn't he already have one if Jared Kushner and others were colluding, you know.
So, you know, that's a big if. There are lots of ifs. There are lots of questions here being raised. Again, the other big one, the big sort of red flag to me is, again, why on earth would Kislyak be telling Moscow this in a communication that he clearly knew that the U.S. was going to be able to monitor?
BLITZER: Yes. Those are good questions, and apparently in this conversation that the U.S. intercepted, Kislyak, the ambassador himself thought this is pretty strange that he would want to use a Russian embassy communications channel.
RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: Yes. Look, we can't keep -- we can't -- we should keep in the forefront of this conversation that there is this question hanging over this whole conversation of, are the Russians just playing all of us? Is this some kind of massive misdirection in this communication?
Although I don't quite understand what incentive the Russian ambassador would have to go after, to sort of blow up Jared Kushner, right? This is someone who frankly was reaching out to the Russians. So why, you know, so why would they even want to spread misinformation about him?
That aside, I mean, I just didn't -- this is just another piece of a story about a White House that is continuing to hide, conceal conversations and contacts with the Russians and we don't have a good understanding of why.
Why did Jeff Sessions not disclose his meeting with the Russian ambassador? Why did Michael Flynn lie to Mike Pence and others in the White House about his conversation with Kislyak? Why did Jared Kushner, if this report is right, try and conceal a communications channel with the Russians and is extremely, according to all of our national security analysts, an odd way?
[20:40:00] Why did the president of the United States try repeatedly to thwart the congressional investigations and thwart the FBI investigation into all of this? So we have an enormous amount of, frankly, I don't see any other word for it, of cover-ups and concealments. We don't really understand what the underlying -- if there is one crime or what they were trying to conceal is.
BLITZER: Those are all excellent questions and we're going to try to get some of the answers.
I need to take another quick break. We're going to get reaction from the Trump team to the breaking news. The president, by the way, he made it through day one of the G7 summit in Sicily, without dropping any verbal bombshells. He also dodged reporters' questions as he has, in fact, all week. The latest on his overseas trip and a lot more on the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: The breaking news we're following, "The Washington Post" reporting that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, proposed setting up a secret communication system with Moscow. According to the report, Kushner made the suggestion during a meeting in early December at Trump Tower in New York City with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. This comes as President Trump is winding down his nine-day overseas trip, his first foreign trip as a commander in chief.
Jim Acosta is traveling with the president. He is joining us now from Sicily.
First of all, Jim, what response have you gotten from the president's aides when it comes to these latest reports on Jared Kushner?
[20:45:00] JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we can tell you, the White House is just not commenting on this latest report on Jared Kushner. And we can tell you earlier today, Gary Cohn, one of the president's top advisers, was briefing reporters and was asked the question about Jared Kushner and some of these other reports that have surfaced earlier this week. And he cut off the reporters' question and said that he simply was not going to address that subject and he's been that way all week long, Wolf.
The White House has simply dodged our questions on a lot of important issues throughout this week, even after they've had to clean up after the president when he made some comments to other foreign leaders. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ACOSTA (voice-over): At the G7 summit in Sicily, the Italians put on quite an air show, almost flying as fast as President Trump raise and pass the cameras as he congratulated Greg Gianforte, the victorious Montana congressional candidate charged with misdemeanor assault after a reporter accused him of body slamming him.
With the Russia investigation hanging over him, the president spent another day of his foreign trip dodging reporters' questions, instead the White House trotted out top Economic Adviser Gary Cohn who was forced to do some damage control and state the administration wasn't changing it's position on sanctions against Russia.
GARY COHN, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: We're not lowering our sanction on Russians. If anything we would probably look to get tougher on Russia.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Cohn was clarifying his own comments after telling reporters something different. I think the president is looking at it, right now we don't have a position. While aids snapped this picture of Cohn talking to reporters, the briefing was actually off camera and closed to the full White House press corps. The White House also did some cleanup after what the president was quote as telling European leaders in a German publication.
"The Germans are bad, very bad." The president was heard saying, "See the millions of cars they are selling to the U.S? Terrible. We will stop this."
The president declined to comment, so it was Gary Cohn with the explanation telling reporters off camera, "He said they're very bad on trade, but he doesn't have a problem with Germany."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, should the British trust America with intelligence?
ACOSTA (voice-over): The president has largely avoided taking questions all week long, a break from what his predecessors have done on nearly all of their overseas trips.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought I'd give you guys a chance to fire off some questions now.
ACOSTA (voice-over): So far in Sicily where the volcano Mt. Etna is blowing smoke, there have been no diplomatic eruptions, like the president pushing past NATO allies in Brussels. Here the leader signed an agreement to ramp up counter terrorism efforts. The White House says the president is still getting a handle on one major issue, whether the U.S. will stay in the Paris climate change agreement, just ask Gary Cohn.
COHN: His views are evolving and he came here to learn and he came here to get smarter.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And so, Jim, any chance that we'll hear from the president tomorrow? Is there any chance he might hold a news conference wrapping up his first overseas trip?
ACOSTA: No such luck, Wolf. We just received the schedule for tomorrow from the White House. He does not have press conference scheduled. He is going to be delivering some remarks to the troops, the U.S. troops who were stationed here before he goes back to Washington, but that is in.
And we should tell you, Wolf, it is just sort of unprecedented to see just a total denial of access to top White House officials on camera, on the record, all week long. We barely heard from the president obviously as you saw in that piece, that's been the case all week along.
We have not seen White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in any kind of on the record setting with reporters. That goes the same for many of us top officials here, we were just simply shut out of any kind of press access. It's really been sort of observing the president taking a foreign trip overseas without any chance of asking any hard questions.
Obviously, Wolf, he's not going to be able to continue that back in Washington, when he gets back home. He is going to have to answer these questions about the Russia investigation that will be hanging over him just as soon as he arrives back at the White House, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, safe travels coming back home. Jim Acosta in Sicily of course at the G7. Thank you very much.
So, here's a question, why did the FBI Director -- former FBI Director Comey act on fake intelligence when he took action on Clinton's e- mails, many believe, it impacted her presidential campaign.
[20:53:10] BLIZTER: Until "The Washington Post" secret channel to Moscow story broke just a little while ago, this was our lead and it was striking and it involves perhaps the deciding piece of information behind the defining moment in the presidential campaign. The FBI Director at the time, James Comey, announcing there would be no criminal charges against Hillary Clinton, and then proceeding to scold her publicly over her e-mail server. Many believe that politically weaponized the issue and sealed Secretary Clinton's fate.
Now we're learning that the key piece of information Director Comey considered before going public was not only bogus but that he knew it was bogus. It's a remarkable story.
CNN's Dana Bash is back with us. She's got late breaking details. Update our viewers Dana.
BASH: Well, CNN has learned and we've been reporting today that then FBI Director James Comey knew that a critical piece of Russian information related to the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation was fake, but he felt that he needed to take action anyway, because he was concerned that if the information became public, it would undermine the investigation and the Justice Department itself.
Now, this is according to multiple sources talking to my colleagues, (inaudible), Gloria Borger and myself. Now, these concerns were a major factor in Comey deciding to publicly declare that the Clinton probe was over last summer without consulting then Attorney General Loretta Lynch. You may remember that earlier this week "The Washington Post" reported on this intelligence and doubts about its credibility.
The fact that Comey felt that he had to acts based on Russian information is a stark example of how Russian interference impacted decision making at the highest levels of the U.S. government during the 2016 campaign. The Russian information at issue claimed to show that then Attorney General Lynch had been compromised in the Clinton investigation, because e-mails -- reported e-mails between then DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and political operative saying that Lynch would make the FBI Clinton probe go away.
[20:55:08] Now, according to one official in classified briefings, Comey told lawmakers that he was afraid the information would drop and undermine the investigation. But Comey did not tell lawmakers that he doubted the accuracy of that information even in a classified setting. Now, according to sources close to Comey, the FBI Director felt that the validity of the information didn't matter because if it became public, they had no way to discredit it without learning sources and methods well.
BLITZER: But if you remember in public Comey said the reason he was breaking protocol and having that news conference in July is because the former President Bill Clinton wound up going up to then Attorney General Loretta Lynch just playing a week before and having that conversation which he considered to be inappropriate.
BASH: That's right. And that is the public explanation. He did that as soon as and as late as May 3rd, the last time he testified in public as FBI Director. But in this classified sessions, Comey didn't even mention that plane incident. Instead he told lawmakers that this Russian information was the primary reason he took the unusual step to announce the end of the Clinton probe.
BLITZER: To be clear, it sounds like the Russians were pretty successful in this operation.
BASH: It certainly does. And if this way, and if you think about the chain of events, it helps that off. When Comey held this press conference in July 2016 announcing no charges against Clinton, he also took the extraordinary and many people say inappropriate step of calling her "extremely careless." Clinton aides are convinced that her reputation was damaged with voters and she never recovered from that.
And that probably wouldn't have happen without Russian interference also talking to many officials on Capitol Hill and elsewhere dissemination of fake information is still a major issue. Multiple sources tell us that Russia is still trying to spread false information in order to cloud and confuse ongoing investigation.
BLITZER: Sure, they are. Thank you very much for reporting, Dana. Appreciate it.
Coming up, we'll have the latest and tonight's breaking news a report that after the election, Jared Kushner proposed setting up a secret communication channel between Trump's transition team and the Kremlin. That from "The Washington Post" tonight. We'll take a closer look and what it all means. That's coming up.