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New Reports Indicate Jared Kushner Person of Interest in Russia Investigation; New Reports Indicate Jared Kushner Attempted to Set Up Backchannel Communication with Kremlin; FBI Director Comey May have Altered Course of Hillary Clinton Email Investigation Based on Russian Generated Fake News; President Trump's Foreign Trip Reviewed; President Trump Does Not Yet Endorse American Commitment to Paris Climate Accord; President Trump to Speak to American Troops in Sicily. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired May 27, 2017 - 10:00   ET



[10:00:13] CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Glad to have you with us this morning as always. I am Christie Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I am Victor Blackwell. CNN Newsroom begins right now.

And this morning, President Trump's first overseas trip is drawing to a close. Just a short time from now the president will speak to U.S. troops at an air base of Sicily. That's before he'll head back to Washington and back to the cloud of the ongoing Russia investigations that really may be getting closer to the Oval Office.

PAUL: Yes. A source confirms now to CNN that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, did propose setting up a secret means of communicating with the Kremlin. "The Washington Post" originally reports the request came from intercepts of conversations between Russia's ambassador to the United States and to Moscow. But three people with knowledge of the discussion tell the "New York Times" that the line was meant to be used to discuss strategies in Syria and policy issues.

BLACKWELL: All right, our Elise Labott has more on these latest reports.


ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Intercepted Russian communications discussed a proposal by President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner to Russia's ambassador to the U.S. to create a secret communications channel between the Trump transition and the Kremlin, "The Washington Post" reported, citing U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports. "The Post" reported Kushner made the proposal to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during an early December meeting at Trump Tower to use Russian diplomatic facilities to shield their pre-inauguration discussions according to U.S. officials.

CNN previously reported the two men met as part of an effort to create a backchannel to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The White House did not comment on the report. These revelations come as the FBI probe of Russian interference of the 2016 presidential election includes looking at Kushner. The FBI is drilling down on Kushner's multiple roles of the Trump campaign and postelection transition. Key among them, the Trump campaign's data analytics operation run by Kushner and used to target voters in key states that helped Trump win the presidency.

SEN. MARK WARNER, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE VICE CHAIRMAN: I've heard, and it has been reported, that part of the misinformation, disinformation campaign that was launched was launched in three key states, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. And it was launched interestingly enough not to reinforce Trump voters to go out, but actually targeted at potential Clinton voters of misinformation in the last week.

LABOTT: Federal investigators are examining whether Russian operatives used Trump campaign associates wittingly or unwittingly to aid their own efforts to push information about Hillary Clinton online.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jared is going to do a great job.

LABOTT: As Trump's top foreign policy aide, Kushner's contacts with Russia are under scrutiny. Kushner was one of at least four Trump's aides in contact with Sergey Kislyak and in December met with the head of a Russian bank under sanctions by the U.S. with close ties to Vladimir Putin. At first he failed to list those contacts when he applied for a security clearance, but later corrected the forms.

REP. SETH MOULTON, (D) ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: It seems like another day, another name. It's hard to find who in this administration is not being connected with suspicious ties to Russia. And it just points out how important this investigation is.


LABOTT: Officials tell CNN Kushner is not currently the target of the investigation, but they believe he may be able to provide information that could be helpful to the FBI probe. His lawyer says he has volunteered to share information with Congress about his meetings with the Russians and is willing to talk to the FBI if asked, Christi and Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, thank you very much, we appreciate it, Elise. CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny in Sicily now. Some senior administration officials, Jeff, just held an off-camera news conference. Help us understand what they were saying.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christi, they did indeed just a few minutes ago here, and it's important to point out that it was an off-camera news conference. The president one of the only world leaders here not speaking about his experience and his views here. But again the reason that is, is the White House is increasingly concerned of this whole Russia investigation is dominating the news here, of course. But a short time ago the president chief economic adviser said this about the Jared Kushner story.


GARY COHN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISER: We're not going to comment on Jared. We're just not going to comment on it.


ZELENY: Again, that's a very brief and short, to the point comment -- that's a very brief and short comment there, not talking about this. But again, the whole Russia investigation has been hanging over this summit here at the G-7. The president, we are told, is following every incremental development of this.

[10:05:00] We have confirmed here at CNN the outlines of that reporting that Jared Kushner back in December was trying to set up some type of back channel communication here. But interesting here, again, in this briefing a few moments ago, the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, tried to downplay all this, saying it is not uncommon to have backchannel communications for a White House official. The key point to remember in all of this is that Jared Kushner was not a White House official at the time. He was in the transition. He was simply a private citizen there.

Against the backdrop of all of this, the president is sending out some messages on social media including his plans for the Paris Climate Accord. He tweeted this just a short time ago. He said this, "I will make my final decision on the Paris accord next week." So it has been one of the decisions weighing on him, is the U.S. going to stay in or withdraw from this global climate agreement? He's been getting earful here from European leaders and others about urging him to stay in. We will see what they decide. He'll be heading back to Washington this evening, just so much is waiting for him back at the White House.

PAUL: No doubt about it. Jeff Zeleny, we appreciate the update so much. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Let's bring in Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst and senior editor of "The Atlantic," Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief of "The Chicago Sun-Times," and Jack Barsky, former KGB spy, and author of "Deep Undercover, My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America." Good morning to all of you. And Ron, I want to start with you and the response to, or your reaction to the White House saying they're not going to comment on Jared, bucking the trend of comments that they have given on Michael Flynn, on Jeff Sessions in similar situations in the past.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It is extraordinary. This entire story is extraordinary. Earlier this week, John Brennan, the former CIA director, turned a lot of heads with his testimony on Capitol Hill that was more substantive and direct that I think almost anyone expected. And he said there was evidence before he left the job that made him concerned enough about contacts between U.S. persons, as he put it, and Russian officials that he turned it over to the FBI because he believed there was enough there to investigate. And this certainly seems like the kind of thing that would prompt that kind of conclusion from the former CIA director. The idea establishing a communication link that would be run through Russian diplomatic facilities to keep it out of the eyes of the American intelligence community is something that is just kind of head-spinning in every direction, not the least of which is of course the Russians would be in possession of the communications.

BLACKWELL: They would have to expose their means and methods to a U.S. official.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. And thus all the concerns that were raised about Michael Flynn about whether he would be subject to pressure or blackmail because the Russians would know things that his government colleagues would not about what he said, all of that would seem to immediately apply here. So this is a tremendous accelerant on this overall story.

BLACKWELL: Jack, let me come to you, because we heard from the president's national security adviser, and I'm reading over because I want to make sure I get this precise here, H.R. McMaster telling CNN that he would not be concerned about a White House official attempting to set up backchannel communications with Russia. Jeff pointed out an important detail here, that he was not a White House official when this allegedly was starting to come to fruition, or at least the plan. But also, does this qualify as backchannel communication, what was proposed by Jared Kushner?

JACK BARSKY, FORMER KGB SPY: To me, this is a technicality. I think that the more important part of this scenario here is the juxtaposition of the two. We are talking about Mr. Kushner and Mr. Kislyak. Mr. Kushner is 36-years-old and made his fortune in real estate and this is his expertise. He came to this job fundamentally unprepared.

Mr. Kislyak, came to the United States as an employee of the Soviet Foreign Service in 1982. In those days, he was an ambassador, or he was part of the contingent to the United Nations. In those days if you came from Soviet Union and work at the United Nation, you were, a, either reporting to the KGB or, b, of the KGB. There was no c.

So in other words, this is Mr. Kislyak's background. And once a member of the KGB, this is how he learned how to be -- whether he is still a secret service or not it doesn't matter. The bottom line is that the two were matched completely unequally, and the whole idea that the two were talking about matters of international importance is really very, very troubling.

[10:10:11] BLACKWELL: Lynn, let me continue, the line from the White House that "We are not going to comment on Jared," that coming from Gary Cohn today, how long do you expect that to last?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": It could last a while, it could last as long as until the next briefing, because they'll be asked about it. Who knows if they'll have more briefings? But I think this story is of such gravity that it doesn't matter if

there is just a comment from the White House because the story is going to speak for itself. We'll know if Jared is kept in the positions, the multiple positions he has. We'll know if he keeps the multiple portfolios he has. I would say just kind of a vanilla comment, one way or the other isn't meaningful given we have two congressional probes and the FBI special prosecutor on it.

So I am not putting a lot of attention on whether or not there is comment from the White House, especially if it is the throwaway kind, Victor. I think there is many more grave things here. And the big thing to watch is does this change any of the assignments of Jared Kushner. Does this impact his security clearance? Does it impact his ability to be a top adviser to his father-in-law, President Trump?

BLACKWELL: And you know, Ron, there have been Democrats in the last couple of days who have renewed the calls for at least Jared Kushner's security clearance to be suspended while the investigations continue. Do you expect that this will strengthen that case, and how likely or realistic is that request?

BROWNSTEIN: I think it's something the administration will resist till the last possible moment if they ever concede to it at all because of the implications of doing so in terms of confirming valid reason for concern.

Look, I think what we have had in the last couple weeks is a series of revelations, which are extraordinary to begin with, that cumulatively have essentially demolished the idea that this is all fake news and a witch hunt. That is the core issue here. The president has basically argued there is no evidence, there is nothing, move along, there is nothing to see here. You heard the CIA director. As I said, the former CIA director said, look, there was plenty to be concerned about. No, I do not know where the endpoint is of this road, but there was enough there that I felt that we had to continue exploring it, and the evidence seems to support that conclusion. Whether Mr. Kushner did something illegal himself or not, no one is yet accusing him of that. But all of the evidence, that this is supporting evidence just underscores that there is enough here to justify serious both criminal or kind of investigative examination by the Congress which is a very different thing.

BLACKWELL: So we haven't heard, Jack, any confirmation of this story from Russian officials. In fact, although we received this from the foreign minister earlier this morning saying -- comparing this to McCarthyism. But now there is a confirmation of a source who is aware of the "Washington Post" story to CNN that indeed this was a real plan, not clear who initiated it, but that Jared Kushner wanted to set up this backchannel. Do you expect we'll hear any more characterization or classification from Russian officials?

BARSKY: Well, leave it up to the Russians to accuse somebody in the United States of McCarthyism. That is ironic.

But you know, the way this has been working out, I personally wish it would all go away. But every time you think it's over, there is something else coming up. And I think we have just pretty much discovered the tip of the iceberg. All these investigations that are going on, there will be more that is found. Whether I want to go to the point where I use the word "criminal," I want to be careful, but at least negligent. And that's not good enough for the White House.

BLACKWELL: Jack Barsky, Ron Brownstein, Lynn Sweet, Jack, thank you. Ron Lynn, we'll see you later this hour.

SWEET: Thank you.

PAUL: Former FBI director James Comey acted on intelligence he knew was false and being put out by Russia. This was during the Clinton e- mail investigation. Why he says he did it.

BLACKWELL: Plus, the son of a former vice presidential Tim Kaine is now facing charges. What police say he did at a pro-Trump rally in Minnesota.

PAUL: And police say two men stabbed to death after trying to stop an anti-Muslim rant. A witness says he thought he was just breaking up a fistfight.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, it happened so fast but it looked like every punch that I saw was actually a stab.


[10:19:07] BLACKWELL: We have new information that former FBI director James Comey acted on Russian intel that he knew to be fake while investigating Hillary Clinton's emails.

PAUL: CNN's chief political correspondent Dana Bash walks us through the details here.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Victor and Christi, CNN has learned 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 investigation becomes public, it would undermine the investigation and the Justice Department itself. This is according to multiple sources talking to my colleague Shimon Prokupecz, Gloria Borger, and myself.

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 earlier this week, "The Washington Post" reported on this intelligence and doubts about its credibility.

[10:20:03] The fact that Comey felt that he had to ask based Russian disinformation 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 Attorney General Lynch had been compromised in the Clinton investigation because of e-mails between then DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and a political operative, saying that Lynch would make the FBI probe into Clinton go away.

According to one government official, in classified briefings, Comey told lawmakers he was afraid that the information would, quote, "drop" and undermine the investigation. But Comey didn't tell lawmakers that he doubted the accuracy of that information even in a classified setting a few months ago. According to sources close to Comey, the FBI felt that the validity of the information didn't matter because if it became public, there had no way of discredit it without burning sources and methods.

Think about the chains of events all of this help set off. When Comey held his press conference in July, 2016, announcing no charges against Clinton, he also took an extraordinary and what 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. That probably wouldn't have happened 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 investigations. Victor and Christi?

BLACKWELL: Dana, thanks so much. We spoke with CNN's Tom Fuentes, senior law enforcement analyst for CNN, former FBI assistant director. Listen to his reaction.


TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: If there was any truth at all to this story that the FBI decided to close an investigation based on information that the FBI knew to be false, then Director Comey deserved to be fired. If that was in fact true, he should have been fired.


BLACKWELL: The House panel has set June 8th as the new deadline for the FBI to hand over all of Comey's documents to Congress.

Linwood Michael Kaine, a son of Virginia senator and former vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine now facing several misdemeanor charges. He's charged of fleeing on foot, concealing identity in a public place, and obstructing the legal process by interfering with a peace officer. The obstruction charge carries a possible sentence of up to a year in prison and a fine of as much as $3,000.

He was arrested in March after an incident at a pro-Trump rally. Kaine was a protester and some in his group reportedly used smoke bombs and mace at that rally. Police officers say they tried to run, the group did, but they were caught about a block away. The county initially declined to press charges against Kaine and five others. But the Saint Paul City attorney decided to charge Kaine yesterday following a more in-depth investigation.

BLACKWELL: Former U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has died. He served under President Jimmy Carter during the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 70s. Now, Carter described Brzezinski as, quote, "a superb public servant, brilliant, dedicated, and loyal." President Obama said, and this is also a quote, "His influence spanned several decades and I was one of several presidents who benefited from his wisdom and counsel."

Brzezinski's death was announced on Instagram by his daughter, MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski. She called him "the most inspiring, loving, and devoted father any girl could ever have." Zbigniew Brzezinski was 89- year-old. And of course our thoughts go out to Mika and her family.

PAUL: Her family, absolutely.

We are just about half an hour, 40 minutes away from President Trump addressing American military members in Italy. Will he address the latest report involving his son-in-law and the Russian ambassador? We're going to bring that to you live when it happens.

BLACKWELL: A man is now facing a list of charges in Portland, Oregon, after police say he stabbed two men to death when they tried to stop his anti-Muslim rant.


[10:28:36] PAUL: Welcome back, glad to have you with us. I am Christie Paul.

PAUL: I'm Victor Blackwell.

PAUL: New this morning, no comment from the White House on new reporting that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, considered setting up a secret means of communicating with the Kremlin.

BLACKWELL: Now, the Washington Post originally reported requests came from intercepted conversations between Russia's ambassador to the United States and Moscow.

PAUL: A source with the knowledge of the Kushner story tells us the idea was first discussed last December when Kushner met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Now, it's unclear who initiated it, and this line of communication would have allowed Kushner and incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn to talk securely with Russian military officials. But it was never actually set up.

BLACKWELL: Next hour, President Trump wraps up his first international trip with a speech to American troops stationed in Italy. He then boards Air Force One and returns to a White House under even more scrutiny over these possible Russian ties. CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is live there in Sicily where the G-7 summit is wrapping up. Nic, any indication at all that this new report has really overshadowed the president's meetings with foreign leaders? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You know, the

best indication we have, because we are not able to ask president directly, is not holding a press conference here unlike the other leaders. We're told by his advisers, economic adviser Gary Cohn, General H.R. McMaster. Mr. Cohn saying that he had a very robust schedule, working 16, 18, 20 hours a day. That appears to be the reason he's not holding a press conference.

[10:30:12] But Gary Cohn did answer that was, did this issue of Jared Kushner's connections, involvement with the Russian ambassador in Washington hadn't come up in the meetings here with leaders, and we are told it didn't come up in those meetings. So did it overshadow and influence the president's time here? We don't know the answer to that. What Mr. Cohn and Mr. McMaster have said is they wouldn't answer questions about Jared Kushner. So it may not have come up in his main meetings, but it did it occupy his time outside of his meetings, that's not clear.

The central thing that has come up here today is the dissatisfaction that's being expressed by the German chancellor and the French president by the fact that the United States, Donald Trump, President Donald Trump, has not agreed to sign up to the Paris Climate Accord of 2015, that the climate part of the summit communique which by recent G-7 standards is very short. President Trump is still taking time to decide, it said, whether or not to agree to the Paris accord. All the other members here have said they sign up to it wholeheartedly. Disappointing is how the German chancellor called it. Victor?

BLACKWELL: All right, Nic Robertson for here as the trip wraps up in Sicily. Nic, thank you.

PAUL: I want to bring back Ron Brownstein and Lynn Sweet. Also Stewart Patrick joining us now, senior fellow and director of the program on interview institutions and global governance at the Council on Foreign Relations. Thank you all so much for being with us. We're going to get to the G-7 in a minute. But I want to get some information that we are just learning here that the Trump campaign, they have been forced, they say, we are just getting this information, to cancel the rally that they had scheduled in Iowa on Thursday. It's unusual that the president would cancel a rally, Ron. Do you think this is in direct proportion to what he's dealing with, not just right now overseas and this whole week or nine-days trip that he's had, coupled with what's happening now.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I don't think we know exactly why, obviously why they have canceled it. They are certainly going to come back to a lot of questions. You have been watching on social media this morning, I've been struck by the number of former intelligence officials and analyst who have said simply this does not qualify as a backchannel in the way that H.R. McMaster portrayed it. This is something very different from a backchannel. And we've had several former intelligence officials on social media, which is kind of an incredible thing to begin with, saying that they may have face questions of espionage if they had done something like this.

So these are big questions. And then the other big thing hanging over the week which Nic Robertson alluded to, any other day, the fact that the U.S. president essentially not confirming that we will join essentially the rest of the world in upholding the Paris Climate Treaty, which was an extraordinary broadly agree event, that itself would be, you know, an earthquake. And he has said he is going to decide on that this week. So that is a big moment as well. So both in international and this ongoing struggle over Russia, there is a big week ahead for the president.

PAUL: Let's talk about that, Stewart. Angela Merkel just said this about the G-7 talks. She said "The entire discussion about climate was very difficult if not to say very dissatisfying. We have a situation where six, or if you also include the EU seven, are against one. That is to say so far there are no indications whether the United States will stay in the Paris agreement or not." Do you get the sense, Stewart, that any of these leaders have any more confidence regarding where the president stands on climate change, on NATO, on Russia? In other words, do they have any more clarity on what this president stands for after this trip with them?

STEWART PATRICK, SENIOR FELLOW AND DIRECTOR, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I think they're an getting an indication that this president stands for America's first and last, frankly. I think it is a remarkable situation where you had the president basically undermine, or at least go against the pillars of what has been the western world, the western alliance for the last 70 years. He gave no indication of a collected defense commitment to NATO when he was in Brussels. He, as you said, has talked about pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, didn't give them any reassurance, and has given no reassurance with respect to Russia. So you have this sense that we are in an era where we are seeing the world with a lack of American leadership, particularly in the west, actually begins to look like.

PAUL: So, Lynn, let's talk about that. Again, the president just tweeted a little while ago, "I will make my final decision on the Paris accord next week." Is he talking to his base here, or did he talk to foreign leaders? Who was his focus?

[10:35:11] PATRICK: Well, he was definitely in receive mode, from what foreign leaders were saying. He was totally noncommittal. But I think he was talking to his base. This is basically making it clear that we are going to have a very narrowly focused attitude, very transactional, and we are going to do what's best for the American economy.

PAUL: So Lynn, when it comes to climate change, any indication of the international voices will override the domestic voices at home?

SWEET: No. And for Angela Merkel to make that public statement just shows how wide the divide is, that this trust that the vetting that the United States will not join the other nations. And here is the phase that we are in the young Trump presidency. Up until now President Trump has taken as accomplishments signing executive orders, pulling out of NAFTA, or taking the first steps to. There is nothing that he has done that has shown that he's been able to do the hard work of legislating something, advancing something new. So this has been the coin that he has been spending, telling people, just flirting with him almost whether or not you are going to do something or not, dropping policies that Obama had had. This can only go so far. When he comes home in the next day or two, he is going to face Congress and a budget. He actually has to do something, whether or not he gets all his budget items or not. This is the first time he's coming home in the midst of this controversy, maybe even scandal, with his son-in-law top adviser, his central figure, and he has to decide how he can get a budget through Congress which in other days wouldn't seem the big Olympian, herculean task it is. But for the moment it is because of all these side matters. And if he decides to pull out of the Paris agreement, he might take this as an accomplishment, but doing things in the negative really or not will weaken the United States' standing in the world.

PAUL: Ron, how quickly can policy be advanced with all of these distractions?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, as Lynn said, they're having enormous trouble legislating. But they are moving through their executive authority. And it is very important to note that whether or not the president chooses to stay in the Paris agreement, he has already begun the process of unwinding the two principle mechanisms that President Obama put in place to meet our obligations under the Paris agreement, and that is the beginning of the process of undoing the regulation reducing carbon emission from power plants, and also rolling back the improvements in fuel economy after 2022 for autos in the U.S.

And what's striking about all of this is that it's a 180 not only in public policy but from where the private sector has been going. The utility industry has been on board with the idea of decarbonizing the way we produce electricity. Last year the total amount of wind and solar that was installed as new capacity by American utilities equaled the amount of coal in the last 15 years. So we are talking about a kind of whiplash here. Whether or not we stay in the Paris agreement the president is moving very aggressively through his executive action to pull out the foundations of the way we are going to meet our obligations. And that's going to be a challenge no matter what happens on the agreement itself.

PAUL: Ron Brownstein, Lynn Sweet, and Stewart Patrick, appreciate having your voices in this. Thank you so much.

SWEET: Thank you.

PAUL: And to the right of your screen, just so you know, live pictures coming to use there from that airbase where we expect the president to speak soon. And when he does we will bring that to you live.

BLACKWELL: All right, still to come, flights delayed, planes, grounded, lots of stranded passengers, British Airways system outage causing some major problems this weekend.

PAUL: And a looming headache if you are flying after the Department of Homeland Security considers expanding that electronic ban. What the new regulations could mean for your travel plans.


[10:43:21] PAUL: All right, take a look on the right hand side of your screen. We believe that's the Marine One with the president aboard. And to the left of your screen, all the people at the air base here in Italy who are waiting to hear from him. We've seen -- they're all looking at something.


PAUL: We believe this is what it is. They have been holding their hands, taking pictures on their phones. We have seen a couple of children there. One military gentleman holding one up on his shoulders, a little girl.

BLACKWELL: Always exciting to see the president in the person. The president is traveling overseas, it's customary that those top officials stop and speak with the troops there.

So of course the big question is will we hear the president commenting on any of the big breaking story involving his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner during this speech? Now, customarily we would not expect the president to speak about that with the troops, but President Trump has in the past broken away from script at these types of events to speak what's on his mind and on his heart about the top story in the news. So we'll see if that happens.

It looks as if those were just maybe White House officials on that first chopper and this may be Marine One. What we do know is that we see the president's plane there. This is the very end of his nine- day, five country first international trip. The president will be heading back to the U.S. after these comments.

[10:40:00] But it looks like this chopper, which would be Marine One if the president is on it. Any chopper that he's one becomes Marine One, any plane becomes Air Force One. We'll see if President Trump steps off in just a few moments to speak to these troops and what appears to be families here in Sicily.

PAUL: There are three main headlines today, and the biggest one involving Jared Kushner and his conversations that he had back in September with the Russian ambassador. We know that the president has been updated of all of the happening. We had reports earlier this morning, one of our reporters is saying he's being briefed by moment by moment as to what is happening, incremental changes, from Jeff Zeleny. And we have heard from the White House who said "We are not going to comment on Jared. We're just not going to comment," that coming from National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn. But it is the news of the day. And we are just going to wait to see if President Trump will speak about it. We know he's supposed to spend 25 minutes speaking to these military families.

We can certainly expect that he will sing their praises, that he will give them support, that he will thank them for their service. But whether he will go off-script, so to speak, is yet to be seen. We of course, as we said, we're sticking with this. We're going to see when he steps out the podium, with bring it to you live. But we do believe this to be the president and he arrives to this naval air station here in Italy. And most likely, it is been a long trip for him, a long trip for Melania.

BLACKWELL: The explanation from the White House, there have been several questions from the media and from others about why the president has not held a news conference on this nine-day trip. And our Jeff Zeleny reporting that these days have gone 16 to 18 hours. But we also heard from Nic Robertson there, he's the senior diplomatic editor, that these days have been very long and the president has declined to do those because so much packed into the official schedule. But we are awaiting to hear from the president. We'll see if he comments on the big news today.

We'll take a big break. They're still there at the tarmac. We'll bring it to you live when the president comes and speaks to the troops there. Quick break, more newsroom after this.


[10:51:44] BLACKWELL: Live pictures here from naval air station Sigonella. This is in Italy. We are expecting President Trump to step off Marine One in just a couple of minutes, scheduled to speak to the service members there. We saw a couple of kids and their families there as well. We of course will bring those to you live. But as we await the president's remarks, let's go to CNN's Jeff Zeleny who's been traveling with the president. He is in Sicily as well. What are we expecting from the president?

ZELENY: Victor, I think this is a moment for the president to basically rally American forces who are based here in Italy and to give them a pre-Memorial Day message here as he heads in the holiday weekend and as they perhaps celebrate a weekend as well here.

He's going to thank them for their service of course, but I think beyond that it also really affords him the only time really in this whole week long journey he's had, this is his first trip outside the U.S. as president, to speak in a public setting. It has been very extraordinary, very unusual that he has been closed in and boxed in and ensconced in meetings with leaders but not taking questions from reporters and not really giving the full flavor of Donald Trump on the world stage here.

But at this rally happening shortly here, the White House hopes it's an opportunity for him to be in a familiar setting for the president. He loves rallies we know. We saw throughout all of 2016, that's the kind of moment --

BLACKWELL: The president, let me just jump in here. The president is getting off Marine One with the first lady. Let's listen in for just a second as the president approaches this platform.


PAUL: Jeff, you said something that is so true and I think many people will agree, that President Trump shines when he goes to rallies, and we are seeing this here in a sense of the welcome that he's receiving, the cameras that are going off, the children on top of people's shoulders to get a glimpse of him, the cameras being held overhead of people's phones. We don't know what he will say in the next 25 minutes as he speaks to them. As you said we certainly expect him to thank them for their service.

[10:55:01] But, we can't ignore the fact that he has another rally scheduled here in U.S., and that, we understand, has now been cancelled, which is very unusual for this president to cancel something like that. What do you make of the cancellation of that rally in Iowa this week?

ZELENY: He was scheduled to have a rally in Iowa next Thursday in one of these common rallies he's been having. And Iowa, incidentally, is one of the last states that he has not visited as president. It is one of the states that he turned from blue to red. But it's a sign that this president is going back to the bunker mentality where he's been living under the weight of potential staff shakeups, this definite Russia investigation clearly is getting back to work, and he's not going to be traveling that much.

This is the president who has traveled less than recent presidents in modern history in terms of domestically, and it's a sign that he is in a bubble and he's trying to reset some things, no question. The rally we are to see is absolutely going to be a moment. All armed forces and their families love to see a president on their soil. It is a moment particularly on this Memorial Day weekend.

But also we should point out that the White House has carefully orchestrated this week entirely, that he has not explained his positions on a really much of anything, with the exception of a public speech he gave in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Sunday. He's not been seen much at all, and he's not talking about his pressure from European leaders to stay in the Paris climate agreement. He has not talked about his plan to fight ISIS. He's not talked about his Afghanistan plan.

So this is going to be a rallying speech, no question, but I think this is another example of how carefully orchestrated this trip is by this White House to keep him protected from any types of awkward moments, protests, any questions. There have been some protestors here, not as many as some thought, of course. But again, he is returning to Washington after having --

BLACKWELL: Jeff, let me jump in here. The first lady is speaking and we're going to take her comments and take this event live.

MELANIA TRUMP, U.S. FIRST LADY: We had a great time here. And we did a lot of great stuff. And I want to thank you very much. This has been an incredible trip and great strides have been made. My husband worked very hard on behalf of our country. And I am very proud of him.

This trip has also been incredible for me as first lady. In Saudi Arabia, I visited children at a local school and a call center with all female employees. Is Israel, I spent time with some children at Hadassah Medical Center along with Mrs. Netanyahu. In Rome, I was honored and blessed to be granted an audience with this holiness Pope Francis, followed to a special visit to the Bambino Gesu Children's Hospital.

Just hours after leaving, a young boy I spent time with found out he has received a new heart donor. Receiving that news is a moment I will never forget. And I wish him a speedy recovery.

In Brussels, I met with Queen Mathilde, and we spoke in a forum on preventing the online exploitation of children, then paid a visit to the patients at Queen Fabiola Children's Hospital. This trip for me has been very special, and I will never forget the women and children I met.

As one of the kids at the hospital that I visited, a picture he drew for me. We are all the same. I also want to take a moment to thank you all for the sacrifices you make on behalf of our country. It is because of your selfless commitment that we enjoy the freedom that we have today. And to the families who endured time apart or constant moves to the base, your sacrifices do not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Thank you, and God bless you.


MELANIA TRUMP: And now it is my great honor to introduce my husband, the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump.