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Comey Acted on Russian Intel; Clinton Commencement Speech; Kushner Under FBI Scrutiny. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 26, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:04] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Wolf, thank you so much.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for watching CNN on this Friday.

We begin with breaking news involving the FBI's role in the 2016 presidential election. We are now learning why the fired FBI director went public to announce the investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mails was ending. You remember James Comey held an infamous news conference last summer. Turns out, he was worried about the Russians impacting the integrity of the investigation.

Dana Bash, our CNN chief political correspondent, has the new breaking news here.

What exactly have you learned?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, CNN has learned, Brooke, 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 felt 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 Simone Prokupecz and 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. Now, you may remember that earlier this week "The Washington Post" reported on this intelligence and the doubts about its credibility. The fact that Comey felt he had to act based on Russian disinformation is a stark example of how Russia's interference impacted decision-making at the highest level of the U.S. government during the 2016 campaign.

Now, the Russian information at issue claimed to show that then Attorney General Lynch had been compromised in the Clinton investigation because e-mails between then DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and a Clinton campaign operative said that Lynch would make the FBI Clinton probe go away. Now, according to one government official, in classified briefings, Comey told lawmakers that he was afraid the information would drop and undermine the investigation, but he didn't tell lawmakers that he doubted the accuracy of the information even in a classified setting. According to sources close to Comey, the FBI felt that the validity of the information really didn't matter because if it became public, they had no way to discredit it without burning their sources and methods, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Right. Right. Then we saw Jim Comey recently testifying up on Capitol Hill. Let's go back to that moment.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I struggled as we got closer to the end of it with - a number of things had gone on, some of which I can't talk about yet, that made me worry that the department leadership could not credibly complete the investigation and decline prosecution without grievous damage to the American people's confidence in the justice system. And then the capper was - and I'm not picking on the - the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, who I like very much, but her meeting with President Clinton on that plane was the capper for me.


BALDWIN: So, let's talk about that moment on the tarmac, right, between President Clinton and the former A.G. How did that whole incident factor in to his decision?

BASH: Well, you heard him talk about it publically, saying it was the capper. But I'm told that in these classified sessions, Comey didn't even mention that plane incident. Instead, he did tell lawmakers that the Russian information was the primary reason he took the unusual step to announce the end of the Clinton probe. I can tell that you Gloria Borger has heard that there are other issues and other factors as well that played into it.

BALDWIN: OK. Dana, extraordinary reporting, thank you.

I've gone Eric Lichtblau, who's with us now as well, CNN Washington bureau assistant managing editor. Someone who has covered the FBI and James Comey for years and years.

So, Eric, here's my question to you. The fact that, you know, the fact that Comey was inspired to hold this news conference last July, you know, announcing this end to the probe, the Clinton probe, to beat any leak of the fake Russian documents, I mean having covered Comey as much as you have, does that decision surprise you?



LICHTBLAU: I think Dana's reporting here kind of changes the whole story line. As you say, there was the famous tarmac incident which apparently factored into his decision to go public with this - this really searing non-indictment/indictment of Hillary Clinton. Then percolating for the last few months behind closed doors was the - this idea that there was this cryptic Russian information that was really the driving force. And there have been reports about that the last few months. He's been asked about that in Congress just recently before he was fired and he did not respond.

So now the indication, the reporting from Dana that the - not only was this disinformation from Russia but that Comey and the FBI might have actually known it or did know it is, you know, is really bad news for - for the FBI and for Comey personally. Remember, after a few very good weeks since the firing - since his firing of President Trump, he has been in the news constantly as sort of a - the stand-up guy who stood up to the president and then got fired for it.

[14:05:10] BASH: And can I just add one thing there?

BALDWIN: Yes, go ahead, Dana. Yes.

BASH: You know, certainly you can look at this as bad news for Comey, but my sense - and the sense I think of others who have been reporting on this as well - is that the way Comey saw it, and I think this kind of speaks to the way he saw a lot of things based on other stories here, is that he was trying to protect the investigation and trying to protect the Justice Department because, again, the notion that this Russian intelligence, fake or not fake, could become public, would hurt - he was worried would hurt the credibility of Loretta Lynch, then attorney general, and, of course, of this investigation. So maybe, you know, sort of in retrospect it looks bad, but at the time he thought he was doing the right thing.

BALDWIN: Right, which sounds exactly like, you know, we've talked to or we've heard from that good, good friend of Comey's who's come out publicly and he kept saying, Comey really felt like he was this protector. That was his role, protector of the Department of Justice.

BASH: Exactly.

BALDWIN: Eric, from the - you know, that July news conference to that Anthony Weiner revelation, if this was any other FBI director in modern history, do you think he or she would have made the same, you know, choices and all of those myriad of decisions the way Comey did?

LICHTBLAU: That's a tough one to answer because nothing about this situation with the Hillary investigation was normal. Nothing went by the book and certainly Comey himself, you know, just blew up the book when he - when he went public with that July press conference. And then even more damaging, in the view of Hillary Clinton, when he sent out the letters to Congress on October 28th, 11 days before the election, about the Anthony Weiner thing.

So what would someone else have done in Comey's shoes? Boy, I - I don't know that many people would have wanted to be in those shoes. But I think that the suggestion that this Loretta Lynch, this cryptic memo was - was bogus and perhaps knowingly bogus and was used as a pretext to do this, I think they are going to have a lot of questions to answer, not only Comey, who's, obviously, out now, but Andrew McCabe, who's the acting director, who was also apparently involved in analyzing - in analyzing this and is now on the list for FBI director at the White House.

BALDWIN: That's right. You said it perfectly, you know, no one had written the book for this. The book was basically blown up through this.

Eric Lichtblau and Dana Bash, thank you both so very much.

So from that to this. Right now, springtime, class of 2017, right on the receiving end of inspirational, optimistic commencement speeches. But today we saw a fiery, passionate warning call forty-eight years and two election defeats in the making. Hillary Clinton, back home of sorts for her, delivering the commencement at her alma mater, Wellesley College, nearly five decades after doing so as valedictorian. There she was back in 1969. That year see she actually adlibbed the speech and was quite critical of the Vietnam War, of President Nixon, and calling out a senator at the time who was standing there making a note to students. This year she said the state of politics isn't so different, drawing parallels to President Trump without actually naming him, and she cautioned graduates and perhaps others watching about the future of this current administration.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If any of you are nervous about what you'll be walking into when you leave the campus, I know that feeling.

We were asking urgent questions about whether women, people of color, religious minorities, immigrants would ever be treated with dignity and respect. And, by the way, we were furious about the past presidential election, of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice, after - after firing the person running the investigation into him at the Department of Justice.

The advance of technology, the impact of the Internet, our fragmented media landscape make it easier than ever to splinter ourselves into echo chambers. We can shut out contrary voices, avoid ever questioning our basic assumptions. Extreme views are given powerful microphones. Leaders willing to exploit fear and skepticism have tools at their disposal that were unimaginable when I graduated.

[14:10:15] And here's what that means to you, the class of 2017. You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason.

When people in power invent their own facts and attack those who question them, it can mark the beginning of the end of a free society.

That is not hyperbole, it is what authoritarian regimes throughout history have done. They attempt to control reality. Not just our laws and our rights and our budgets, but our thoughts and beliefs.


BALDWIN: John Avlon is with me, CNN political analyst and editor and chief of "The Daily Beast." Adrienne Elrod is back with us. She's a former director of strategic communications for the Clinton campaign. And CNN political commentator John Phillips is here as well.

Great to see all of you on this Friday afternoon. I'm going to kick it off to you, John Avlon, first.

I mean listening to this whole thing, she did not hold back.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. This was Hillary Clinton unplugged, speaking to a home town crowd and was eating up her message. And, you know, that - that prevaricating, constantly questioning, highly calculated political persona completely thrown aside and she was very revealing, she was oftentimes funny, sometimes in short supply in Hillary Clinton's political career, but very full- throated, critical about the rise of the Trump administration without ever mentioning him by name and the dangers it can represent. It was a very powerful and effective speech and a clear contrast to the current president.

BALDWIN: She clearly, Adrienne, you know, thinking back to when she was there 48 years ago, you know, an era when, you know, President Kennedy and MLK had recently been assassinated, the Vietnam War, civil rights, you know, and the parallels that she was bringing there with Nixon. You know, and she went on to work on the Watergate Committee.


BALDWIN: But what about the way forward, you know, for the Democratic Party? Is that a problem for Dems listening to her today?

ELROD: No, I don't think so at all. In fact, I think this is exactly what Democrats and, frankly, what our entire country needed to hear right now. I mean her getting back out there talking about what she's fighting for, making it clear that she's not going anywhere, that she's going to stay in this fight, but also going back to her roots. Wellesley is really what made her into the woman that she is today. So much of her training came from there.

And I was struck, as you just mentioned, when listening to her speech of the irony, by the fact that 48 years go Nixon was under many of the same investigations that Trump is now dealing with and that obviously Secretary Clinton served on the Watergate Commission. So it was - it was quite the contrast, especially going into the Memorial Day weekend and everything else that we're facing.

BALDWIN: So Adrienne's inspired. John Phillips, were you?

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm surprised the vegan students didn't walk out because all she did was serve red meat.


PHILLIPS: This whole -


PHILLIPS: Post-election -

AVLON: Oh, you've been waiting to use that line, Phillips. Oh.

BALDWIN: Go ahead.

PHILLIPS: This whole post-election Hillary Clinton presentation that we've seen is like an Oscar speech that just goes on way too long and the DNC orchestra is planning her off the stage because the longer the Clinton's stay on the stage, the longer - or the more they suck up the air in the room and there's no room for any other Democrats to come forward and establish themselves as the leader of the party. We saw a claw your eyes out race for the DNC chair. We saw a bonkers convention in California in a race for California Democratic Party chair and it was all Clinton/Sanders debates, Clinton/Sanders fights going on. And that's going to continue until the Clintons leave the stage.

BALDWIN: Well, I mean, listen. Let me just jump in, John, because, you know, you do have the president handing out like red electoral maps to reporters who are still, you know, interviewing him in the Oval Office. But I think I take your point.

And, Adrienne, just - I want you to respond to that, because with Hillary Clinton still at center stage, how is that clearing the way for the new, younger Democratic voices?

ELROD: Well, I don't think Hillary Clinton going back to her alma mater and giving a commencement speech is necessarily getting in the way. But, look, let's remember, 63 million people -

BALDWIN: But she got very political.

ELROD: She did get very political. And this is what she - this is what she does. She's very, very good at doing this and she's very good at getting under Donald Trump's skin. But, at the end of the day, she gave an incredibly inspiring speech at her alma mater reminding girls that if you get - if you get knocked down, you jump right back up and you keep moving forward. And that's exactly what I think our country needed to hear right now.


AVLON: Yes. Yes, I'd just say that, you know, the serious core of the speech was about the danger of when people in power start trying to choose their own facts and people get intimidated into silence or do they straighten their civic backbones and push back. And that's a message that transcends time. It should transcend political party. And it's very timely. So that degree of moral clarity from Hillary Clinton today, whatever the politics inside the Democratic Party, and however people want to spin this, that cuts through a lot of the spin in an important way today and I thought it was an effective speech and one folks need to hear right now.

[14:15:27] BALDWIN: You know, I couldn't help but wonder, as I was listening to her today at Wellesley, John, do you think President Trump responds at all to Hillary Clinton on Twitter?

PHILLIPS: Oh, boy, if I'm going to predict what he does on Twitter, I should be in Las Vegas and not Los Angeles because I would have a degree of clairvoyance -

AVLON: Or an insane asylum, John.

PHILLIPS: That no one else on planet earth has.

I thought it was very interesting that in her interview with Christiane Amanpour she blamed her election loss on Jim Comey. Today she compared Donald Trump to Richard Nixon. I can't wait for Brooke Baldwin to ask her what she thinks about Anthony Weiner.

BALDWIN: Oh, the Weiner question. This is like, I'm two in a row with panelists bringing him up.

I'm going to leave it there and not go there, but you came with some zingers, John Phillips. You came to play and I appreciate that on a Friday afternoon.

John Avlon, thank you. Adrienne, thank you so, so much as well there on Hillary Clinton's Wellesley speech. Talk about a full-circle moment for her.

ELROD: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Today, new concerns about Jared Kushner's role in the White House after it's revealed he's under FBI scrutiny in the Russia investigation. We'll look into that.

Also, President Trump praising the victory of a Republican who beat up a reporter, didn't admit it and then won the election. Find out what's next.

And we're now being told that that concert bomber in England made a phone call about 15 minutes before his attack. We'll tell you who he called and how police are trying to contain his network.

We'll be right back.


[14:21:02] BALDWIN: We have just learned that Ariana Grande, who had just left the stage a couple of nights ago when that terrorist walked just on the periphery of that concert venue in Manchester blew himself up, killed 22 people and injured some 60 others. Ariana Grande has just written and announced on Twitter that she wants to hold a benefit concert. She wants to return to Manchester.

Let me just tell you exactly what she wrote. She says, "the compassion, kindness, love, strength and oneness that you've shown one another this past week is the exact opposite of the heinous intentions it must take to pull off something as evil as what happened Monday." So she will be returning to perform this concert for the victims and the survivors. Date, TBD.

Also today, Jared Kushner. He is the man closest to the president of the United States, known as the secretary of everything. But he's now under FBI scrutiny, caught up in the ongoing Russia investigation. President Trump's son-in-law in the spotlight for his interactions with Russian officials during the election and during the transition. Investigators tell CNN the focus is on the Trump campaign's data analytics operation, of which Kushner was very much involved, Kushner's relationship with the fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, as well as Kushner's own contacts with Russian officials.

So, with me now, Mark Geragos, CNN legal analyst and former defense attorney, and Laura Coates, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.

Mark Geragos, here's my question because you - you have all these Democrats coming in and saying he should have his - you know, now his security clearance revoked. According to reports I've read, you know, yes, he is a target, but he's not - he's not actually accused of any wrongdoing. So is that even fair?

MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, it probably isn't fair, except that it has been reported that he did not reveal the contacts when he got the security clearance. That is a separate basis from the investigation for them to revoke the security clearance. And you have to go through certain - or jump through certain hoops under SEPA (ph) and under the appropriate governmental forms that you fill out. So they could - they could, not as a result necessarily of a preliminary investigation revoke it, but they could do it if he did not reveal something in the forms that he attests to. And a lot of times that's where these people in Washington investigations get caught up is in the forms or failure to disclose. It's not necessarily the actions you took in the first place.

BALDWIN: So if you were watching our air last night, Alan Dershowitz was on. And he was basically, Laura, suggesting that they're actually working backwards on this. That unlike other investigations where you have a crime and that's where you begin, instead here they're starting this investigation without a crime. Is that fair?



COATES: What he's misunderstanding or miscomprehending here is that they're not trying to say - what he said was - was (INAUDIBLE), show me the man, I'll tell you the crime. The issue here really is about an investigation that's ongoing.

The term collusion is a nebulous, undefinable concept in terms of an actual statute that it attaches to. They're trying to figure out whether or not there is a criminal hook or a statue to find that would actually be able to say that the collusion was more than just that. It was actually a criminal action taking place.

To suggest that this is somehow a premature conclusion, that would be right if they had made a conclusion yet. What they've done right now is said, look, we've got an investigation, we've got a special counsel now, we're going to investigate whether or not there is some link or connection or reason why there have been so many misstatements, unverifiable facts with regard to Russia.

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Mark, do you want to jump in?

GERAGOS: I was - I was just going to jump in. You know the - early in my career, in the '90s, I was involved in defending the Whitewater defendant Susan McDougall, who was Hillary Clinton's then business partner in Whitewater -

[14:25:04] BALDWIN: Yes.

GERAGOS: And I used to rail against the independent counsel, who was then Ken Starr. And for these very same things that, as you mentioned, that Alan Dershowitz was talking about. This is under a different statute. This is now under a special counsel statute because the independent counsel expired in 1999. This statute is triggered when there is some issue of a probable cause or some kind of a strong suspicion or just a - a - the idea of a recusal. So it isn't quite like the independent counsel. The independent counsel statute, and what I used to complain about - in fact, Alan did as well back then, was that idea, as Laura said, where you show me the person and I'm just going to investigate them up one side, down the other. Here you have to have something. You have to kind of jump over a couple of hoops first in order to get a special counsel appointed and you have to show that there actually is some "there" there. So there is a qualitative difference that I think shouldn't be lost.

BALDWIN: What about just the fact that apparently it was Jared Kushner's voice that was one of the loudest in the room calling for Jim Comey to be fired, Laura? Is that a conflict of interest? How does that factor in?

COATES: Well, you've got someone in a glass house throwing stones perhaps here and that's what's happened with the Comey investigation, any calls for people to kind of be ridiculed and undermined for what they have said in the interest of justice and trying to find the solutions to problems.

But here's the issue with Jared Kushner. Unlike many of the other people who are kind of under this dragnet of people who may have been involved in some type of collusion or collaboration with Russia to a nefarious end, he has offered to testify and give testimony about what he actually means and what he actually knows.

BALDWIN: That's right.

COATES: Now, that offer of testimony is always one you can give until you actually get the subpoena and you're faced with an attorney telling you, maybe you shouldn't talk at all. Maybe that's what happened with Michael Flynn. But you have the offer here for the actual truth to perhaps come out. I'd be interested to see what he actually says about that and whether he feels as though his contacts, in terms of the - under the suspicion of collusion, would be eliminated if he, in fact, testified or just simply muddied the water further. Every time somebody speaks about their connect, they seem to still engage in the same behavior we're afraid of, which is the obstruction issue, the inability to find the actual solutions or the answers.

BALDWIN: Laura Coates and Mark Geragos, thank you both so very much.

COATES: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Mark, thank you for reminding us of your career in the early '90s. I'm sure we'll loop back to that at some point. Wink.

In 24 hours here, a Republican candidate body slammed a reporter, didn't own up to it and got a ticket to serve in Congress anyway. How are Democrats plotting to win upcoming races in this environment?

Also, Melania Trump's big moment. Her big revelation about her religion and this jacket. A $51,000 jacket that has everyone talking today.