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Kushner Discussed Secret Communications Line with Kremlin; Trump Quiet on Kushner Controversy; Comey Acted on Russian Intel He Knew Was Fake During Clinton E-mail Investigation; CBO to Score Obamacare Replacement Bill. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired May 27, 2017 - 13:90   ET


[13:00:08] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, and thank you for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

The president is on his way back to the U.S. after his first trip overseas, but a growing controversy awaits his return. Sources tell CNN the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, discussed setting up a secret communication line with the Kremlin in a December meeting with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. Today, national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn responded to the reports as reporters asked them these questions while in Italy. They were traveling with the president there in Sicily where they also were pressed about the president's relationship with the press. Trump was the only G-7 summit leader who did not give a news conference at the event. And even this briefing with his top aides was off camera.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Obviously, you guys aren't in all of the meetings he's in. How come the president did not come out and do a press conference?

GARY COHEN, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL DIRECTOR: General McMaster and I have been in the vast, vast majority of meetings. Very few we are.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Very bizarre to not take questions from the press (INAUDIBLE).

COHEN: So, look, the president when I left to get here was still in the G-7 meeting. With the heads of state. He was not going to get up and be the first to leave. The president has made a commitment and general McMaster knows, made a commitment to visit our troops on the island. He's got a robust schedule. The one thing you have to admit, is the president, since he left New York, last Friday, Thursday, Friday, has put in, you know, 14, 15, 18, 20 --



COHEN: Washington. Left Washington. Left Washington.


Left Washington. Has put in, literally, publicly, 16, 18 hour days, privately, 20 hour days preparing for those days. He has worked nonstop since he has got here.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Every other world leader would say that and all of them are holding press conferences.

COHEN: I'm not sure if that's true.




One other question --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- for General McMaster, I know you said you didn't want to address this but you are on the national security adviser we're wondering why someone who is a senior administration official would want or need a back channel to Russia and from your view what the security concerns are surrounding that, if it's appropriate to something like that up.

GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SEURITY ADVISOR: It's not something I've been involved with or have knowledge of.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: He did have a G-7 conference, it's an issue he's juggling.

COHEN: The president since he left Washington has been dealing with foreign leaders, has been dealing with jobs, has been dealing with economic growth, he's been dealing with diplomacy, he's been dealing with unfair trade, he's been dealing with Paris, he's been dealing with China, he's -- his agenda has been overflowing. He has been fully consumed with what's going on here. It's not like he's not involved with what's going on in the United States, he is, but this issue you're talking about is not one he's spending time with on this trip.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE). Are asking him about his relationship or past relations with Russia? Not at all?



COHEN: It hasn't. It hasn't. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Let's try this way. You said the beginning of

the trip started well. It was a success for the president. Jared organized the first part of the trip. Can we assume he's going to retain that position to plan future trips?

COHEN: We're not going to comment on Jared. We're just not going to comment.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Generally speaking, General, would you be concerned if somebody on the national security council or in this administration were to seek a back-channel communication system with the Russian embassy and with the Kremlin? Would that generally concern you not to address Kushner specifically but in general terms?

MCMASTER: No. I mean we have back channel communications with any number of countries. So generally speaking, about back channel communications, what that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner, so doesn't predispose you to any content or anything. I would not be concerned about it.


WHITFIELD: Let's talk about this with CNN Washington correspondent, Ryan Nobles.

Ryan, explain to us further what we know about this, you know, reported back channel and this proposal from Jared Kushner with the Kremlin?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Fred, frankly, this is just another story involving the Russian government and the Trump team that's directly tied to Jared Kushner, so of course, the son-in-law of President Donald Trump, senior adviser to the president. And CNN has confirmed after the election last fall Kushner explored the idea of setting up a secret line of communication with Russia to discuss military operations in Syria and other matters, even though it's unclear why a channel like that would be necessary.

[13:05:08] Now Kushner first discussed this idea during a meeting in December with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Now the line was never established, but it would have given Kushner and the incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn, a secret channel of communication with Russian leaders that would have been outside the purview of the Obama administration.

This story was initially reported by "The Washington Post" which revealed that Kislyak told his superiors about the proposal, Kislyak telling his bosses that it was Kushner's idea, and would have been established inside Russian diplomatic facilities here in the United States. Now according to "The Post," Kislyak was actually taken aback by the proposal because of the security risks that it could potentially create for both the Russian government and the Trump transition.

Now Ellen Nakashima is the reporter who broke the story, and did say this could be another attempt by the Russian government to confuse the public about the Trump administration's connection to Russia.


ELLEN NAKASHIA, NATIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: We caution that this is based on reporting by Kislyak up to his superiors in Moscow, and that reporting was captured on intercepts and, you know, this could be Russian or 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.


NOBLES: At this point, Kushner has not denied the reporting and has not responded to questions. And senior White House officials have refused to comment. But this development, once again, raising questions about the depths of Kushner's involvement with Russia and the role it could have played during the campaign -- Fred?

WHITFIELD: Ryan Nobles, thanks so much, in Washington.

President Trump stayed quiet on the brewing controversy surrounding Kushner while speaking at a U.S. military base in Sicily, the last stop of his nine-day international swing.

Jim Acosta, senior White House correspondent, is still there in Sicily and joining me now.

So, Jim, a huge omission that the president would make any reference to the controversies. Instead he took this opportunity while talking to military members and their families to talk about what he believed to be the real success as the high points of his international tour.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You heard from the senior White House officials like Gary Cohn, and H.R. McMaster, they're not going to comment on these questions about Jared Kushner. However, we should point out those questions are not going to go away. They will be awaiting the president when he gets back home to Washington. He's on his way there now after leaving the G-7 summit in Sicily. Before he left, he talked to military personnel at the naval base here, and he, once again, sort of poked at some of the NATO countries not contributing that necessary 2 percent of their GDP in the common defense of the alliance.

Here's more of what the president had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Then I traveled to two summits with our key allies. First, at a NATO summit in Brussels, where we agreed to improve the burden sharing among members of our alliance, and to further confront the shared threat of terrorism. Other member nations must pay more.



ACOSTA: Now the other bit of news out of this trip, Fredricka, is really sort of a lack of decision on the president's part. The other G-7 member nations signed a pact to uphold the Paris climate agreement. President Trump did not do that. He says he will make a decision on that later this week.

We can tell you, Fredricka, we talked to a French official, who said during the conversation that the president had with the French President Emmanuel Macron in Brussels earlier this week that the president indicated that he's under heavy pressure, domestic political pressure, to pull out of that agreement, commented to Macron he believes a lot of people back in the United States are opposed to that Paris climate agreement.

But at the same time, Fredricka, just to get to the top of your program here, and what you were talking about, we did not have a chance to ask the president to press the president on any of these issues during this trip because he simply dodged the questions, did not hold a news conference as presidents often do on these overseas trips. He left town, left Sicily without honoring really that tradition.

And you saw that briefing -- well, you didn't see it, actually today, the one that McMaster and Gary Cohn held with reporters, that was off camera. It is just stunning that during this foreign trip we did not have on camera briefings with officials, did not have an on-camera news conference with the president. And it is rather shocking at this level -- we're talking about the White House for the United States of America -- they just did not show the courage to answer those questions on this trip and left a lot of reporters covering this president with their jaws dropped.

[13:10:16] WHITFIELD: You read my mind. That was going to be my follow-up question, how unusual for the president not to have a press conference and one has to wonder if Cohn and McMaster thought perhaps by not having it on camera, it wouldn't have been recorded. And maybe their hope was they would only --


ACOSTA: Yeah. And there is an aspect --

WHITFIELD: -- conversations and recorded conversations.

Yeah, go ahead.

ACOSTA: That's right. There's an aspect of that in that it removes a level of accountability when you don't have these briefings on camera. The camera reveals so much. And so, to pull them off camera, but make them off or on the record, but off camera, it just sort of removes a level of accountability there for those officials. And when you're the White House, it's one of those -- you know, it sort of feels to this reporter like, you know, come on, you're the White House, you can do this on camera. But I think it just goes to show you, Fredricka, they are very uncomfortable, they are very nervous, about these Russia investigation questions that are awaiting them back home.

Keep in mind, the president was going to go to Iowa later on next week and hold a political rally. That has been postponed.

WHITFIELD: Postponed.

ACOSTA: And so, you know, you can say that the president is departing this foreign trip and heading back to the bunker, not necessarily the White House -- Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: Right. All right. Jim Acosta, great points. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

So how will these mounting questions on Russia contacts impact Jared Kushner and the administration overall as -- as we move forward. Our panel weighs in next.


[13:15:52] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Let's bring you back to our breaking news this hour. CNN has confirmed during a December meeting at Trump Tower with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Jared Kushner suggested setting up a secret communications system with Moscow.

I want to bring my panel back to talk about all of this now. Basil Smikle is the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party. CNN political commentator, Alice Stewart, is former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz. And CNN national security analyst, Steve Hall, a retired CIA chief of Russian operations.

Good to see all of you.

All right. So, Basil, you first.

We saw the president did not hold press conferences while abroad and able to avoid any direct questions about this Jared Kushner report, or anything else as it pertains to Russia. Is it your feeling that Jared Kushner would have embarked on this and he just simply didn't know about the potential ramifications or that he was naive about it all or something else, something more, you know, nefarious going on here?

BASIL SMIKLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEW YORK STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: That's exactly the word I wanted to use, nefarious. I think the context is important. You think about the campaign last year, Donald Trump consistently repudiated the Obama administration's tactics, and his intelligence community, so this contact by Jared Kushner could be just some direct result of that sentiment and an attempt to circumvent the entire intelligence community, which is problematic in and of itself. But it also signals there is this increasing possibility, likelihood, that there was long-term lingering contact between the Trump campaign at the time, the administration, and the Russians, which, at worst or at best, undermined the Clinton candidacy but, at worst, also undermines the intelligence community. And Democrats rightfully are calling him to be fired. But with his large portfolio that Donald Trump is giving him, I find it difficult for him to extricate Jared from the day-to-day dealings with the White House, and that's problematic.

WHITFIELD: Right. His son-in-law and closest adviser.

Alice, what does the White House -- how does the White House respond to this? Because while they may not be, you know, may not have been able to, you know, answer these questions or didn't want to answer these questions that might have come their way while they were abroad, when the president gets back to the White House, the questions are going to come and so how does the White House handle this?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Fred, let me first say I think it was wise on their part to avoid addressing any questions on this while they were overseas because he had a good agenda while he was there talking about NATO and the Paris Climate Accord and building alliances. And if he had a press conference, it would all be about Russia. I know there's a great deal of concern with the ties with Russia but they're being investigated. It's important we not get too far ahead of this.

With regard to this story and Jared Kushner, it's important to note his attorney says he doesn't recall having any phone calls with Kislyak between April and November, which is before the election. After which the election, when the president -- President Trump --


WHITFIELD: But this isn't about the phone call. This is about a reported meeting December 1 and 2. And there has been some acknowledgement that it did -- a meeting did happen at Trump Tower because, you know, Jared Kushner didn't apparently reveal it in a written form, but later said, yes, there had been meetings. So as it pertains to this, though, and if the discussion indeed was about this back-channel communication, how much does the White House need to come clean about why it wanted to do this if it was the case.

STEWART: Based on what we heard from H.R. McMaster, there's no need for concern in setting up back channels for communication is not something out of the ordinary. We will take his word as gospel in this case because he understands the need for these back-channel communications. And you also had a foreign reporter with "The Washington Post" who outlined something really important it's not unusual for Russia to insert inaccurate and false information in a channel of communication that they know is being monitored by analysts in order to cause confusion in a situation like this. So we also have to take that into consideration. But first and foremost, let all of these investigations play out before we jump to any conclusions.

[13:20:22] WHITFIELD: Steve, back channels were already in place. That whole line of communication already in place for the Obama administration, and perhaps even other predecessors as well. But what strikes you as unusual here or maybe not, as this -- is this a reasonable, you know, tactic as far as you know?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: This is just such a weird situation, Fred.

You know, first, Basil, the context is important, and you got that exactly right. This is yet another question mark, another, you know, small pillar of smoke, that surrounds not only the Trump campaign but the Trump administration with regard to its contacts with Russia. And I'm glad there are investigations going on to get to the bottom of that.

But I can only think of two reasons why Kushner would have done this. The first would be, you know, he approaches Kislyak and says we're in a sort of transitional period but we would like to start talking to you all. That has certainly been done in the past. The weird part, I want this special line of communication back to Moscow. Is it possible, you know, that the 36-year-old Kislyak just doesn't understand how things work? I suppose it's possible.

The darker interpretation, you have to remember, context actually, this time, after the president-elect said -- was making disparaging remarks about the intelligence community comparing them to Nazis and things like that so it's possible Kushner could have said we want to get this relationship going early, but we don't trust the Obama folks still in charge, so we need some sort of secret back channel to get things going. That's the darker interpretation. Neither are very smart, neither are very -- you know, something you would recommend.

But it's just sort of boggles the mind that these types of proposals and communications were going on. The back-channel idea is not so weird. That happens. You don't really need a back channel with Russia because you've got all sorts of communications. John Brennan testified he called up the FSB director. There's all sorts of methodologies a government has, our government has, to communicate with Russia.



WHITFIELD: Yeah. Steve the back-channel notion not so odd, you know, and obscure, but even when reportedly Kislyak himself was taken aback at the proposal that this back channel would be established at a Russian property on U.S. soil, maybe like the Russian embassy, that seems strange apparently or Kislyak himself was taken aback. So what is your instinct telling you about the motivation for doing this? What would be behind this kind of request?

HALL: Again, it's really hard to say. It's so out there, so bizarre. You know, if you held a gun to my head I would say look, sort of go back to a lot of times when talking about the Trump campaign and Trump administration, any one of these things it was a one-off type of thing, whether, you know, Manafort has the relationships he has in Ukraine, Kushner, he reaches out to Ambassador Kislyak, all of these guys, any one of those things you might say that's a one-off, these guys are inexperienced, Trump ran on a "things are going differently in Washington," "I'm going to work things the way I want to," any one of those things. And this included, you might say, OK -- but when you start to pull them together, you wonder what's really going on here. My gut says whatever it is, it's not good.


Basil, the pattern has been, if there is a problem or someone, is problematic in the White House, you can think of, you know, Manafort, under investigation, Stone, Carter Page, Michael Flynn, who either didn't follow protocol, and for whatever reason, and Donald Trump said you're fired, will that happen when it's the son-in-law who is now, you know, is the centerpiece of this investigation which has taken this interesting new turn?

SMIKLE: Well, he should be, but that was the point I was making earlier.

WHITFIELD: How would this be handled?

SMIKLE: I don't know if he will be because the president trusts him so much with such a great -- such a large portfolio.

And to bring in the John Brennan hearing, there was this recurring theme which I found fascinating, the difference between intelligence and evidence. And I think for a lot of folks, the evidence -- the intelligence is there, but the evidence is mounting, and that's certainly true for the American people. Because what they're going to start to demand is more accountability and more transparency. And that's the thing that the Trump -- one of the things in my mind that the Trump administration is lacking that there's no accountability and transparency. And I think as those calls -- as calls for those very important items of governance start to build, you will see President Trump take action. I don't know if that amounts to firing his son-in- law, but I think -- I hope he would.

[13:25:15] WHITFIELD: And so, Alice, you know, avoidance is now an issue. And apparently, you know, Donald Trump has postponed a rally scheduled for June 1st. He loves rallies. That was a rally, so to speak, in Sicily. What does this indicate to you?

STEWART: It indicates, clearly, he wants to really control the message and stay on message. More than likely, I would imagine they're going to continue to tout the success of this foreign trip and that's a critical message moving forward. They did make some great gains with regard to strengthening relationships and getting the message to NATO that some of them need to pony up. And we'll keep an eye on what he's going to do with the climate accord. That's important.

But I think it's really wise with all of this smoke that's surrounding Russia -- and Steve is right, there -- if it had been one thing it would be a totally different story, but there are many little areas where smoke continues to pop up with Russia, and it's wise to keep your head down, focus, and keep the message. And the best way to control your message is control your exposure to the media, and that's what they're doing. And I think they can continue to get a lot of mileage off this foreign trip and whatever he decides to do with Paris.

WHITFIELD: And next week, in addition to the postponement of the rally, we heard from the president, said he will make a decision, he will have a decision on that Paris Climate Accord next week.

All right. Thanks to all of you, Steve, Alice, Basil, appreciate it.


WHITFIELD: Coming up, a startling new revelation that former FBI Director James Comey acted on intel he knew was fake during the Clinton e-mail investigation. Why did he? That's next.


[13:31:07] WHITFIELD: No secret Russia's misinformation was at play in last year's U.S. election, but we now know that a piece of intelligence that former FBI chief, James Comey, knew was bogus, nevertheless, forced his hand in the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.

CNN's Dana Bash explains.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: CNN has learned 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 he needed to take action anyway because he was concerned if the information became public, it would undermine the investigation and the Justice Department itself. This, according to multiple sources talking it my colleagues, Shimon Prokupecz, Gloria Borger, and myself.

These were a major factor in Comey deciding to publicly declare that 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 he had to act based on 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 then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had been compromised in the Clinton investigation because of e-mails purported e-mails between then DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and a political operative, saying Lynch would maybe the FBI Clinton probe go away. According to one government 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 he doubted the accuracy of the information, even in a classified setting. 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 burning sources and methods.

Think about the chain of events this helped set off. When Comey held his press conference in July of 2016 announcing no charges against Clinton, he 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. 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.

Dana Bash, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: Up next, how the new CBO score for the GOP's health care bill could have a lasting effect on the party's grip on Washington come 2018.


[13:38:17] WHITFIELD: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has given its latest score on the impact of President Trump's health care bill as the White House replacement plan for Obamacare.

As CNN's Cristina Alesci explains, Republicans say this plan will give access to health care to more Americans than now have it.


CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, the Republicans are saying their plan will lower premiums on average and that makes it sound like a great plan for everyone, but the average number doesn't tell the whole story here. There are some clear winners and some losers out of this new CBO report.

On the losing side, lower income Americans, the sick and older people. On the first, 14 million fewer people will qualify for Medicaid under the GOP plan. And subsidies for lower income Americans won't be as generous leaving them less money for premiums, deductibles and out-of- pocket expenses. And the sick and older Americans, could see their premiums rise because the GOP bill allows insurers to charge them more. That's why the AARP opposes the House plan saying that it's essentially an age tax on older Americans.

So what about the winners? It's younger people and some segments of the middle class. They may see a benefit. Now under Obamacare, you don't qualify for subsidies if you make more than $48,000 a year. The House plan uses tax credits mainly based on age. So more Americans get them. Also, the wealthy and big businesses, may end up being the biggest winners here. Two surcharges the rich are paying right now to help fund Obamacare and those will disappear.

It's important to note that the entire bill will be re-written in the Senate but the tax cuts will probably survive in the Senate bill.

Back to you.


[13:40:05] WHITFIELD: All right. Cristina, thank you so much.

Let's talk more about this with Illinois Republican Congressman Rodney Davis, who is also the vice chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Good to see you.


WHITFIELD: So President Trump said earlier this year the Republican plan would provide, quote, "insurance for everybody." And according to the CBO 23 million fewer people would have insurance by 2026. That includes 700,000 in your state alone, according to the Center for American Progress, so do you feel good about this plan? Is this a broken promise?

DAVIS: Well I don't think so at all. Frankly, I believe the Affordable Health Care Act we passed is a campaign promise we kept. We've campaigned on fixing this broken health care system we have, Fredricka. And right now, people forget under the current system, we have 29 million people who don't have health care coverage even though the law requires them to, and we have another 31 million people in this country who can't afford to use the health care coverage they have. That's 60 million people. That is 20 percent of our nation's population. We have to do something and we did. We believe our plan is going to provide accessible, affordable coverage for every American.

WHITFIELD: But when this CBO report says 23 million people, you know, will not have coverage. The CBO is also underscoring that a number of elderly people and sick people would see premiums going up, which means many may not be able to afford it, thereby, losing coverage. What do you say to people who are currently covered but are now very worried that with the new plan, they won't get the care, those who are sick particularly and those who are elderly? Because they can't afford it.

DAVIS: We believe those who are sick -- we believe that those who are sick, Fredricka, are going to have multiple layers of preexisting condition coverage. My wife is an 18-year colon cancer survivor. We have to have layers upon layers of protections for preexisting conditions, and we do that in our bill. And when we talk about affordability, I ran into a mother of a friend of mine I graduated high school with, who was sweeping floors at a local department store the other day, and I asked her what she was doing, she said she couldn't afford the health insurance and she's 64. He's almost eligible for Medicare and had to go back to work under the current system.


WHITFIELD: Will she be subject to higher -- wouldn't she fall into the category of being subject to higher premiums? DAVIS: We believe when our plan is put into action - remember, we've

had to put together a plan that will pass this antiquated budget reconciliation process in the Senate, we also have other phases that would allow groups like AARP, once the law is implemented, to ban together on a nationwide basis to offer their members coverage at better prices because we would have higher risk pools that would be set on a nationwide basis. These are the plans we tend to put in place that will lower premiums for every single American, and that is our goal. And we need the Democrats to come on board and help us do that. They have not done that.

WHITFIELD: So while I have you, I also want to get your thoughts on the news of the day, as it pertains to reports that CNN is confirming Jared Kushner considering setting up the secret line of communication with Russians, and he did so during this meeting -- made this proposal during this meeting during the transition phase in Trump Tower. So what are your greatest concerns about whether this proposal of a back channel is something that Jared Kushner engaged in?

DAVIS: Well, if evidence proves this allegation is true, obviously, that's a big mistake. We have the FBI, the DOJ, multiple committees in the House and the Senate, made up of Republicans like me and that are friends of mine and very qualified, and also Democrats that are friends of mine that I serve with that are fairly qualified to investigate these allegations, and I would hope that Mr. Kushner is willing to testify in front of those committees.

WHITFIELD: Is it your concern where there's smoke there's fire?

DAVIS: Well, there's always going to be matters such as this that need to be investigated. Let's get to the truth. Instead of debating this issue in the news media, let's have those who are involved in law enforcement and those who are involved in the committees of jurisdiction in a bipartisan basis take a look at the evidence and make sure that we go through that evidence at all levels. We have to make sure that no country, Russia or any other country, tries to interfere in any election. But let's also be clear, I don't think anyone believes that Russia hacked into our local election systems and cost Hillary Clinton the election. Hillary Clinton cost Hillary Clinton the presidential election.

[13:45:19] WHITFIELD: What is the truth you believe the investigations will lead to?

DAVIS: Well, that's why we have to have investigations to find out what's true and what's not. We have multiple investigations going on right now in regards to a possible Russian action or their attempted influence -- attempt at influencing American electoral processes. We have to be concerned, too, Fredricka, about espionage at all levels. And those are concerns that I know many of my colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, deal with every single day in their House and Senate intelligence committees, and they do a great job at that.

WHITFIELD: Representative Rodney Davis, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.

We'll be right back from the NEWSROOM after this.


[13:50:17] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. The White House says it won't comment on reports that the president's son-in-law and advisor, Jared Kushner, was considering a secret back channel of communication with the Kremlin. Kushner had a role on Donald Trump's campaign and his transition team. And his contacts with Russia are now under scrutiny. A course close to the investigation tells CNN Kushner was looking for a discrete means of communicating with Moscow to discuss Syria and other policy issues. "The Washington Post" first reported the proposed channel, which our source says was never actually set up.

A lot to discuss here. Let's talk with Avery Friedman, a civil rights attorney; and Richard Herman, a criminal defense

Good to see both of you gentlemen.


Richard, you first, let's start with Kushner and whether any law would be broken, you know, when examining the intent behind a back channel, especially when the prior White House had back channels already set up, with a variation of President Putin and Russia. But is there anything wrong with the way this one was being proposed.

RICHARD HERMAN, CRIINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Here's the problem with this, Fred, and some people might just call that espionage. That's a whole other game to be played here. But if you're looking at the national security clearance document that Kushner had to fill out and sign, and in this document, Kushner, we know, is a Harvard Law grad, Harvard graduate. He's a real estate mogul. As part and parcel of being a real estate mogul, you learn to read agreements carefully and understand them before you sign anything.

WHITFIELD: The SF86 form.


HERMAN: Right. So this document, on its face, clearly says, any material misrepresentation on this document is punishable as a felony up to five years in prison.


HERMAN: So the question is, was it reasonable for him to leave out a meeting with Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Kislyak, where Jared himself allegedly proposed this secret back channel in the Russian embassy, encrypted by Russians so the U.S. couldn't look into this. This is very bad, Fred. And I think he's got a violation of that particular document, a felony. I think Mueller will be looking into this.

WHITFIELD: So, Avery, do you agree this is a violation because not only was there that omission but, if you're going to have that omission of this meeting and then come to find out during the meeting you would have a discussion about this back channel that might involve Russian property on U.S. soil?

FRIEDMAN: I cannot say there's a violation, but it warrants an investigation. You have been testing your guests all morning, Fredricka, on what are the possible subjects and no one has really responded.



FRIEDMAN: Maybe the subject included private business deals or --


WHITFIELD: OK, we are losing the audio of Avery there.

Richard, what were you going say?

HERMAN: Fred, it is a violation because it is a material misrepresentation to that national security clearance form. It is a material misrepresentation to leave out when they ask you, the last seven years, you must itemize all of your meetings with foreign individuals, you leave these meetings out.


WHITFIELD: Is that ground for him losing -- is that grounds for him losing that privilege, is that clear?

HERMAN: People are calling for him to resign the privilege right now or to have it taken away. Politics is so partisans right now in the country that people have lost their mind. It is party over country right now, and nobody will be doing anything right here about this. It is outrageous, Fred.

WHITFIELD: In that room in December 1 or 2, meeting, Michael Flynn was also there. Before he was in NSA, he was fired because he was not truthful to the team.

Avery, if you are still with us. We don't see him.

Avery is gone, so you and me now, Richard.

Here now Michael Flynn was part of that discussion in the room but we know the wheels have been in motion that members of Congress want to subpoena him and have him testify. He tried to cut a deal, they said no, and now he's saying he's pleading the Fifth, he will not testify. Now, members of Congress is going after his documents hoping that can complete the information. Pleading the Fifth, does that protect the documents as well, Richard?

[13:54:46]HERMAN: Well, Fred, here is the thing with the documents. The Flynn counsel have submitted to Congress, a United States Supreme Court case, 1999 case, which seems to indicate a broad request of documents could lead to in crimination. Therefore, the particular individual has a certain right and privilege under the Fifth Amendment. What the government will do is tailor down the request to specifically documents -- it will then go in the Senate and the House, they'll have to vote. It is so partisan, and who knows what they'll say. If they do vote, it will go to the Department of Justice and he'll be facing one month or twelve months of prison if convicted for criminal contempt of Congress.

WHITFIELD: Avery, we are not going to see you. We understand that you are on the phone with us right now, so you can perhaps hear my question.

In the past, Donald Trump has said you plead the fifth, That's an admission of guilt. Michael Flynn, pleading the Fifth, maybe his documents will still be handed over. Does he have something -- is this an admission of guilt or might he be protecting his testimony in a separate investigation to the Justice Department to the FBI, Avery?

And we don't have Avery.

HERMAN: OK, Fred, here's the thing, Fred.

WHITFIELD: To you, Richard.

HERMAN: If there is the slightest chance for risk that you could be brought up in a criminal prosecution, you have every right to avail yourself of the Fifth Amendment privilege. Mr. Flynn, from everything I read, General Flynn, he's doing the right thing. And you cannot infer, because he pled the Fifth, guilt. You can't do that. That's a specific jury charge. You cannot do that, Fred. He should be doing that right now.

He's the question -- the question is, to what extent will it apply to documents. That's the next issue here.

WHITFIELD: All right.

HERMAN: One more thing, Fred.


HERMAN: Because Flynn was in that room with Kushner and in that meeting, maybe now we are seeing more information why the president is so enamored of Flynn, because Flynn may have some information pretty devastating to not only the president but Kushner. We'll see what happens. Don't count out immunity for Flynn just yet.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, we've learn in a lot of different ways there is some sort of protection that the president tried to extend, from asking Comey to letting it go and there are many layers involving Michael Flynn as well.

Richard Herman, thank you so much.

Avery Friedman, wherever you are, we know your spirit is with us. Sorry your connection did not maintain.

We appreciate it. Thanks so much. Good to see you. Much more straight ahead in the next hour of the NEWSROOM, right after