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DNC Calling for Removal of Kushner Security Clearance; Sources: Fear of False Memo Leaking Prompted Comey to Announce Decision on Clinton Probe; Trump Silent on Russia During Oversea Trip. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired May 26, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Russian misinformation. CNN has learned that a controversial move by former FBI director James Comey during the presidential campaign was based on Russian intelligence Comey knew was fake. And now sources say the FBI Russia probe is increasingly touching on the role Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, played in the presidential campaign and his contacts with Russian officials.
[17:00:40] Backtracking. As President Trump clashes with allies at the G-7 summit over trade and climate, his top aides scramble to clarify his dig at Germany. And his economic adviser reverses course after saying the White House doesn't have a position on sanctions against Russia.
Nixon comparison. Hillary Clinton compares President Trump to President Nixon in a fiery commencement speech at her alma mater and takes thinly-veiled swipes as the man whose upset victory ended her White House hopes. Is Clinton re-emerging to take on a new role as the president's leading critic?
And Un's stooges. New information about three technocrats always by the side of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, key players in his quest to develop a missile that could strike the United States with a nuclear weapon. Held in high esteem and constantly rubbing elbows with the dictator, could they be targets for assassination?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. Sources are now telling CNN that the former FBI director, James Comey, acted on Russian intelligence that he knew was fake when he announced last summer that the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mail server was over. The sources say that Comey feared that, if the fake intelligence became public, it would undermine the probe and the Justice Department itself.
Also breaking, growing calls from some Democrats for President Trump's son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, to have his security clearance suspended or even revoked. That's in response to revelations that Kushner's contacts with Russian officials during the presidential campaign are now under scrutiny by the FBI as part of its Russia investigation.
The widening Russia probe has Hillary Clinton comparing President Trump to President Richard Nixon, who resigned under threat of impeachment. In a commencement speech at Wellesley College, her alma mater, Clinton blasted what had she called a full-fledged assaault on truth and reason.
And new tonight, details of key players in Kim Jong-un's inner circle. Three men constantly at the dictator's side, working to help him realize his dream of a nuclear weapon that can strike the United States. The men include a former air force general and a rocket scientist.
We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Ben Cardin. And our correspondents and specialists, they are also standing by. More on calls from some Democrat for Jared Kushner to lose his security clearance over contacts with Russian officials.
CNN's Jessica Schneider is working the story for us.
Jessica, those contacts are drawing FBI scrutiny.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the FBI is delving a bit deeper into Jared Kushner's contacts during the campaign and the transition as investigators move forward in its criminal probe of Russian election meddling. Now, the focus is on Kushner's meetings with Russians at the end of last year and even his social media messaging.
SCHNEIDER: Jared Kushner plays a key role inside the White House.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's very good at politics.
SCHNEIDER: He serves as senior adviser to his father-in-law, President Trump, tasked with bringing peace to the Middle East and managing relations with corporate America.
JARED KUSHNER, TRUMP'S SON-IN-LAW: They need the jobs of the future.
SCHNEIDER: But now his actions behind the scenes are drawing scrutiny from the FBI criminal investigation. Officials tell CNN the bureau is probing Kushner's activities during the campaign and transition. Investigators are looking into a December meeting between Kushner and Russian bank chairman Sergey Gorkov, a man who has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and who serves as the head of VEB, a bank that was under Obama-era sanctions at the time of Kushner's meeting.
Kushner also met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition. Plus, the FBI is probing Kushner's relationship with fired national security adviser Michael Flynn, who is currently under FBI investigation. A source says Kushner and his wife Ivanka pushed the president to hire Flynn after the election, though a source close to Kushner disputes that account.
Kushner's lawyer saying, "Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry."
There is no indication Kushner is currently a target of the probe, and there is no allegation of wrongdoing, but the FBI is casting a wide net, even delving into the Trump campaign's data analytics operation Kushner led that micro-targeted voters versus social media in states crucial to Trump's victory.
[17:05:14] Federal investigators are examining whether Russian operatives used Trump campaign associates, wittingly or unwittingly, to aid their own efforts to push negative information about Hillary Clinton online. Russia's misinformation efforts have also been a key part of congressional investigations.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I've heard and it's been reported that part of the misinformation/disinformation campaign that was launched was launched in three key states: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
SCHNEIDER: Democrat Seth Moulton pointed to the FBI's focus on Kushner as another reason to go further than a special counsel and establish a 9/11-style independent commission.
REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: 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, that we've got to get to the bottom of this for the American people.
SCHNEIDER: But former House intelligence chairman Pete Hoekstra said don't jump to conclusions.
PETE HOEKSTRA, PRESIDENT, HOEKSTRA GLOBAL STRATEGIES: He's the focus and they're going to take a look at the meetings. He's not under investigation. He's not a target. If Mueller is going to do a thorough investigation of Russian influence or attempted influence in this election, they're going to touch a lot of people in the Trump campaign.
SCHNEIDER: Now it's not yet clear if the FBI plans to talk to Kushner. In fact, a source close to Kushner says he was unaware of the FBI's interest and has not yet been contacted -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica Schneider, reporting for us, thank you.
We're learning that a controversial move by the former FBI director, James Comey, during the presidential campaign was prompted by Russian intelligence that Comey knew at the time was fake.
Our chief political correspondent Dana Bash is working the story for us.
Dana, you're getting new information from your sources.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, CNN has learned that the 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 that, if the information became public, it would undermine the investigation and the Justice Department itself. This according to multiple sources talking to my colleagues Shimon Prokupecz, Gloria Borger and myself.
Now, these concerns were a major factor in Comey deciding to publicly declare that the Clinton probe was over last summer without consulting then- Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
You may remember 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.
Now the Russian information at issue claimed that the attorney general 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 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 didn't tell lawmakers that he doubted the accuracy of the information, even in a classified setting.
Now according to sources close to Comey, the FBI director felt that the validity of the information did not matter, because if it became public, Wolf, they had no way to discredit it; because they were worried about sources and methods and compromising those sources.
BLITZER: But you remember at the time, the reason he gave for breaking protocol and having that news conference without even informing the attorney general or others, necessarily, in the Justice Department was because Bill Clinton had boarded Loretta Lynch, the attorney general at the time, her plane; and he thought that that was inappropriate.
BASH: That's right, and that is interesting, because that is the information that he gave publicly even as late as this May. But in classified sessions a couple months ago, Comey didn't even mention that plane incident. Instead, he told lawmakers that the Russian information was primary reason he took this unusual step to announce the end of the Clinton probe.
BLITZER: Can you say that this was another example of Russian intelligence successfully impacting the presidential election? BASH: It sure seems that way, Wolf, and this is so fascinating and,
frankly, a little bit scary, because if you think about the chain of events that all of this helped set off.
When Comey held this press conference announcing no charges against Clinton, he also took the extraordinary and many say inappropriate step of calling her "extremely careless." Those were his words. And Clinton aides are concerned that her reputation was damaged with voters, and she never recovered. And that probably wouldn't have happened; that press conference at all, 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, Wolf, by talking to -- getting information to elected officials, officials elsewhere in the government and, of course, trying to talk to the media, as well, to try to confuse and stir up ongoing investigations.
[17:10:14] BLITZER: Yes, operations are still under way.
All right, Dana. Good reporting.
BASH: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland is joining us. He's the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Wolf, it's good to be with you.
BLITZER: Let me get your immediate reaction to this stunning report you just heard from Dana Bash. What do you think?
CARDIN: Well, every day we're getting more and more contacts made between Russia and Americans, now with Jared Kushner's contacts. Some of these look like they could have violated the sanctions that we had against Russia, so this is pretty serious. Everything we've heard is pretty serious.
So there's two aspects to this. One is the criminal investigation, which certainly, former director Mueller is conducting, but we really need to know what Russia is doing. We see how active they've been. They may still be active in our country. And that's why we need that independent commission to take exactly what Russia's intentions are so we can protect their national security.
BLITZER: But why are we just finding now about the fake memorandum that apparently had an impact on Comey and his decision to go public last July in making all announcements about Hillary Clinton and the e- mail server even though he knew the fake memorandum was not the real thing. CARDIN: That is very disturbing. Mr. Comey made certain judgements.
He claims that he was trying to be neutral and not be political. He was anything but that. It turns out to be pretty consequential in regards to the elections the way that he handled this.
So it is, very disturbing and it doesn't really add up. Doesn't really -- if he's trying to be helpful why did he have that news conference? Why did he claim that Secretary Clinton was extremely careless? All that really impacted the credibility of the information we're getting now.
BLITZER: In your view did Comey's decision cost Hillary Clinton the election?
CARDIN: Well, we'll never know that. We do know that Russia was trying to influence our elections. We know that they were trying to influence the e-mail investigation now, so they were trying to use every tool at their disposal to discredit the U.S. election and to help Donald Trump. Whether it was the difference between victory or defeat, we'll be speculating about that for the next hundred years.
BLITZER: We've known for months that the Russians meddled in the U.S. presidential election, but now it appears they were targeting the American legal system, as well, with that fake memo. What does that tell you about the capabilities, the ambitions of the Russian intelligence services?
CARDIN: Well, it tells us not only are they collecting a lot of information, not only do they use fake news, but they'll do anything in order to carry out their objectives, including trying to interfere with our investigations, our criminal investigations in order to influence it.
It's not beyond Russia to plant fake news. We know that. We saw that now, it looks like, in the Clinton e-mail issues, so they'll -- they'll literally try to plant information in order to affect criminal investigations in the United States. They'll use fake news in order to try to influence election results in the United States. They will do this here; they'll do it in Europe, and we need to take measures to counter that.
BLITZER: Senator Cardin, how should Congress respond to these late- breaking and newly-discovered, very disturbing developments?
CARDIN: Well, a couple things. First of all, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed on Thursday a bill to set up, with our European partners, defense against Russia's cyber-attacks and propaganda.
When we come back, we're going to be taking up additional sanctions against Russia for the activities that they've had against the United States and our allies.
We need an independent investigation, somewhat similar to the 9/11 Commission, so that we can take the necessary precautions to protect our national security from Russia and know exactly what they were doing with Americans. And we really need to support Mr. Mueller's investigation. There's just too many questions, too many contacts made with Americans. Too many questions that need to be answered, and Mr. Mueller needs to have a thorough investigation.
BLITZER: Yes, Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who's the new special counsel taking charge of this investigation, the criminal investigation.
The other top story -- and you referred to it -- that we're following tonight, Senator, the president's son-in-law, his senior adviser, Jared Kushner, is now under FBI scrutiny for his role during the campaign and the transition. Democratic Congressman Ted Lewis called for Kushner's security clearance to be revoked for failing to disclose contacts he had with high-profile Russian officials during the transition.
Do you agree?
CARDIN: Well, I'm concerned about a couple of points here.
First, as we know, Mr. Trump did not divest himself of his financial holdings, so he was doing business in Russia. Now, his son-in-law was meeting with a banker that may have been on our list for you couldn't do business, on sanctions list. He didn't disclose his contact with Russian government officials when he applied for his clearance. All that adds up to a lot of concerns that we have about Jared Kushner that needs to be investigated by Mr. Mueller.
[17:15:25] BLITZER: He did amend that security clearance form relatively quickly as a result of the complaints.
But when you say that Trump has business in Russia, he denies it. What are you referring to?
CARDIN: Well, we know he has some business. He says it's not consequential, but we won't release his tax returns, so we don't know exactly the extent of his business interests. We do know that he has worldwide business interests. We know that through Trump enterprises. And he hasn't divested himself; and he hasn't disclosed his tax returns.
So yes, he'll say certain things; doesn't have conflicts. But he won't give us the information to see whether, in fact, he has it or not. He's the only president that didn't divest or set up blind trusts of his business enterprises. So it is a legitimate concern that we have as to whether there was any business interests with Mr. Trump and Russia.
BLITZER: Jared Kushner's lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, a former Justice Department official, deputy attorney general during the Bill Clinton administration, says he's already shared information with Congress about the meetings he had with Russian officials and will continue to do so if asked. So far he hasn't been asked.
What other questions do you have for Jared Kushner? CARDIN: Well, I would like to know what were the purposes of his
meetings with the Russian officials? He was talking about doing some backchanneling. Why is he doing backchanneling with Russia, a country that was doing us in on our elections? Why would he be wanting to do that? Doesn't that compromise the ability of -- first of all, President Obama was president at the time during transition.
These are matters that should have been held after President Trump took office and should have been done through the proper channels.
All this raises questions as to whether these were initiated by Jared Kushner or whether this was an effort by Russia to get contacts to Mr. Trump.
BLITZER: The Obama administration, as we know, handed over some secret documents related to the Russia investigation. Have you reviewed them? Any of them relevant to the current investigation?
CARDIN: There is certain information that I got in my role as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that was made available to chairman Corker and myself and our staffs. We reviewed that information. It was sent to us in a classified manner, so, therefore, I can't go over specifics, but I must tell you, there's nothing different than what has been previously reported.
BLITZER: So you didn't learn anything from those classified documents? Is that right?
CARDIN: No. That's correct.
BLITZER: All right. Senator, stand by. We're getting more information. I want to continue our interview right after this quick break.
[17:22:30] BLITZER: We're back with the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, as we follow the breaking news.
Senator, stand by. President Trump is beginning the final day of his long overseas trip. There are growing calls, at least from some Democrats, for the president's son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, to have his security clearance suspended or even revoke.
Let's get the very latest on the president's trip. Our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is on the scene for us in Sicily. Jeff, Russia has been looming rather large over the president's first foreign trip.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president has been out of Washington for exactly a week now, but I can tell you he's been keeping a close watch on all of those daily developments. But it's his unusual silence here over Russia that has some European leaders worried, not because of the investigation, but they're wondering if he'll stand up to Putin. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump and members of his new club of world leaders stood watch today as the Italian air force put on an impressive show at the Group of Seven summit in Sicily.
As the about president's debut on the world stage draws to a close, one thing has been clear along the way. He's not eager to talk about Russia.
TRUMP: Thank you very much.
ZELENY: His silence has fueled more questions, not only about the Russia investigation back in Washington but also among European leaders, quietly wondering whether he's willing to confront the aggression of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
DONALD TUSK, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COUNCIL: I'm not 100 percent sure that we can say today -- "we" meaning Mr. President and myself -- that we have a common position, common opinion about Russia.
ZELENY: Russia is not allowed to attend the summit, thrown out in 2014 after its incursion into Crimea.
On Russian sanctions, the White House raised eyebrows yesterday when Gary Cohn, the president's top economic adviser, declared, "We don't have a position." Amid criticism, the administration backtracked, with Cohn outlining a new position in a briefing call with reporters.
GARY COHN, TRUMP'S TOP ECONOMIC ADVISOR (via phone): We're not lowering our sanctions on Russia. If anything, we would probably look to get tougher on Russia, so the president wants to continue to, you know, keep the sanctions in place.
ZELENY: At a cliffside resort on the Sicilian coast, the president and other new members of the G-7 took one another's measure. They also signed a statement calling for unity in the global fight against terrorism.
In a statement marking the beginning of Ramadan, the president wrote at length about terrorism, saying, "This year the holiday begins as the world mourns the innocent victims of barbaric terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom and Egypt, acts of depravity that are directly contrary to the spirit of Ramadan."
[07:25:04] Tonight, the president holding a private session with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, after seeing one another throughout the day at public sessions.
One item likely on the agenda is trade after the president raised eyebrows over comments he made about the trade imbalance with Germany while visiting NATO headquarters yesterday. Advisors rushed to clarify the president's remarks that were quoted in European newspapers, that he believed Germany is very bad on trade.
Cohn saying, "He said, 'I don't have a problem with Germany. I have a problem with German trade.'"
Unlike his new counterparts, Mr. Trump refused to answer questions from the press. British Prime Minister Theresa May and a parade of leaders stood before reporters here and at the NATO headquarters yesterday in Brussels. It's one of the best ways for a leader to drive home their message to a global audience like May did on the intelligence sharing controversy.
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Yes, I did raise the issue of leaks of information that are being shared by the police with the FBI, with President Trump. He has made clear that that was unacceptable.
ZELENY: But President Trump has not held a single formal question- and-answer session with reporters, a break in protocol of most U.S. presidents. A press conference once expected for Saturday is no longer.
His lower profile, aides concede, is because of that Russia storm cloud still brewing back at home.
ZELENY: Now even though we are not hearing directly from the president, Wolf, there is a sense, a sign that some of these leaders are having an effect on the president. That Paris Climate Accord that he promised to withdraw from the minute he was sworn into office, his advisers now say he's learning and evolving. His top economic adviser said he doesn't want anyone to think he doesn't like the environment.
But, Wolf, unable to answer him -- ask him any questions at all, we are left with many of them as this weeklong trip comes to an end.
BLITZER: Yes. Sort of surprised he's not having a formal news conference at the end of this, this -- what is this -- about nine days he will have been on the road. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much for that.
I want to bring back Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, why can't the Trump administration get on the same page when it comes to the question of Russian sanctions? It seems to have been a pattern of sorts since the election.
CARDIN: Well, Wolf, this is very disappointing. Yes, they're saying there's no immediate design to weaken the sanctions. We should be strengthening the sanctions.
Yesterday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we had a long discussion about additional sanctions against Russia. We have agreed that, when we've returned after the Memorial Day recess work period, we will be meeting with Secretary Tillerson and, shortly thereafter, marking up additional sanctions against Russia.
So we are now preparing as Congress to say, "Look, we've given you a couple of months. Russia's activities have only gotten more intense, not less intense. We have to show leadership. Europe is looking to us to show leadership. And we should be strengthening sanctions against Russia because of their behavior.
BLITZER: What do you think about the president's comments on trade with Germany, widely reported, as you just heard, in German publications. He called the Germans "very bad," about to stop them from selling a -- he says there are way too many German cars in the United States.
But a lot of those German cars in the United States, as you know, they are manufactured, whether in South Carolina or other places, in the United States. American workers are putting those cars together.
CARDIN: When I heard that, I thought he was back on campaign trail. It sounded like one of his lines from the campaign. He's now president of the United States. It's critically important that we deal with other countries; we recognize that trade done right is extremely important to our economy. And it's important to U.S. leadership.
So those types of comments only can make it more difficult for us to have the type of relationship we need with Germany and Europe.
BLITZER: Senator Cardin, thanks for joining us.
CARDIN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Still ahead, intriguing new details about the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un's inner circle. Three top aides helping him develop a nuclear-tipped missile that could help threaten the United States.
[17:33:38] BLITZER: We're following breaking news, The Wall Street Journal just reporting now that President Trump is considering major changes at the White House, including a serious shake-up of his senior team. As part of the shake-up, according to The Wall Street Journal, a team of lawyers would review the President's tweets, other social media posts before they are actually sent out. Let's bring in our specialists and Dana, let me read, you know, CNN has reported that a shake-up could be in the works, some new people coming in.
BLITZER: A war room being created to deal with all this crisis, but what jumped out at me at this new article just posted on The Wall Street Journal Web site. One -- let me read to you, a couple sentences. One major change under consideration, would vet the president's social media posts through a team of lawyers who would decide if any needed to be adjusted or curtail. The idea, said one of Mr. Trump's advisers, is to create a system so that tweets, "don't go from the president's mind out to the universe." That would be a pretty significant change if all of his tweets have to be vetted by a bunch of internal White House lawyers and external private attorneys who are being brought in to help him.
BASH: So my question is, is one of those lawyers going to take up residence in the White House residence because that is the biggest issue for the White House staff when they are tearing their hair out, looking at these tweets that don't come from the Potus account but come from Trump's personal account, at odd hours or at hours when he's watching CNN, which he does do, and other news stations when he's getting worked up about whatever he sees or hears and also at night.
[17:35:12] And so that's the biggest problem that they have, is sort of in the off hours when he kind of, you know, gets himself worked up into a frenzy. And so, the question is whether or not that can really be stopped, and so this isn't so much about the White House in setting a White House structure. This is about setting a structure for one man and that's the President.
BLITZER: Well, Bianna, why are they just thinking of this now?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS AND FINANCE ANCHOR: Well, it goes down to whether or not the President had signed off on this. I mean, his advisers can say, "here's what we have to do," and give him a list, a laundry list, one of the other things they said, was they were going to limit the number of press conferences around him, maybe shuffle up the communications team. Again, all of this goes back to whether or not the President will sign off on this, and I don't see the President really handing over his phone and what's going to happen, are these lawyers coming in at 2:00 a.m. in the morning for phone duty? It just doesn't make a lot of sense. So, I think we've heard this song before. The question is, will this really follow through?
BLITZER: You know, but Jackie, his aides have tried to rein in his tweets from time to time, not with much success and one of the problems, some of those tweets did cause him some serious problems, as The Wall Street Journal reminded us, he tweeted about taped conversations with Mr. Comey, suggesting without any evidence, Former President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. There have been some pretty damaging tweets.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN COMMENTATOR AND THE DAILY BEAST WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF,: Well, right, and therein lies the problem, and you -- there was a day last week where you had an aide, I believe in "The Washington Post" saying he knows how serious it is for -- how his tweets are taken and how serious they are, and then that day, Trump tweeted something that completely undermined all of his aides. So this is a big -- you all are absolutely right. They need the President to agree to this, and maybe he will agree to it and then he'll go back on -- go back on it. What, are they going to password protect it, that only the lawyers know the password? I just don't know how this is enforceable.
BASH: It's actually not a bad idea.
KUCINICH: Hear that.
BLITZER: Already, Phil, you know, we've seen at least on this nine- day trip overseas very limited press access to the President of the United States. Usually, the President goes on a big trip, he'll have at least one or two major news conferences, do some exclusive interviews with members of the traveling press core. We've seen none of that. This time so there does seem to be some reining in of the President because normally, he would love to talk to the press.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You must be an eternal optimist. Well, look, from day one, we have expected maturation here. We've got within weeks, resting over the firing of the National Security Adviser, the up and down member and we've already forgotten 120 days of Steve Bannon showing up on the principal's committee at the National Security Council and being removed. We have the debacle of the initial immigration order, we had questions about the President's commitment on the initial health care, 120 days in. Now, we're suggesting with things like, controlling his tweets, I hope not actually, because I need comedy central to this issue of whether we shake up the White House staff, that there's going to be more control on a President who is 70 years old and has proven not for a moment that he's maturing from day one. So I don't buy it.
BLITZER: Shaking up the staff, bringing in some new staffers, bringing in some new lawyers, you don't think that's going to be make much of a difference?
MUDD: I don't. We're suggesting that the -- that the character of a 70-year-old is going to change over 120 days. Give me one ounce of evidence. Beyond, he's been quiet for a bit on the European tour and he might be quiet on Twitter, which I don't believe. I don't buy it.
BASH: Although, one thing that I will say, just in watching the way that the President behaved during the campaign and at various times, allowing himself to be reigned in. The more that he lashes out, the more it's because he's frustrated and he feels like his people aren't getting it done, for better or worse, and many times, I think probably most times, it's not fair to the people who are working around him or working very hard to do the best job that they can, but if he has people around him that he thinks that he is more comfortable with, that does change his mood and actually changes his actions.
GOLODRYGA: And some of those people though, do not, with all due respect to people like Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, don't necessarily bring out the best in this president. It leaves and passes any sort of indication, and that article also states that they may be making a comeback as well. And so maybe we're just seeing the President turn to people that he relied on more in the past. We also shouldn't be conflating a President who may just be very tired with a President who may finally be saying, "I need to get serious here."
BLITZER: The story said he only got two hours of sleep the night before he delivered that major speech in Riyadh to 50 Muslim nation leaders. Go ahead.
KUCINICH: To be on this point, the Corey Lewandoski-David Bossie let Trump be Trump. If those does not gel with the, we're going to run his tweets through a lawyer, through a team of lawyers and he's going to control those tweets. It's actually the opposite. It's going to be, you know, let him have his Twitter whenever he wants. So I don't know how those two things can work in harmony.
[17:39:58] BLITZER: Let's get back to Dana's exclusive report, you heard it, Phil, at the top of the hour when she's reporting that the then FBI director last summer, knew the Russians had posted and gotten this fake memo. It was a wild memo. It was fake, knew it was fake, but that clearly had an impact of his decision to go out and speak publicly on the Hillary Clinton e-mail server and resolve his investigation.
MUDD: What a farce. We have the drama of foreign intervention in American election in parallel with the farce of what the FBI director, whom I respect, has done since last summer. At least four stages and many more that I won't mention of this farce, going back to last summer, closing an investigation and speaking about his personal views on Hillary Clinton after an investigation is closed, be quiet, that's not appropriate.
BLITZER: That's not appropriate for the FBI. The attorney general or the acting attorney general should do that.
MUDD: Well, in either case, after the case is closed, you shouldn't be commenting on your views of whether her actions are appropriate or not. You close the case. Fast forward, he closes the case again before the election, and six months later, he talks about Huma Abedin's personal e-mails to her husband. The case it is closed. She's a private citizen. You can't do that.
BASH: And he was not right about it, by the way.
MUDD: That's correct. Fast forward again, going -- just to a few weeks ago, the former director of the agency that's responsible for everything, from drugs to gangs to counterterrorism says, I can't handle a bro hug in a public meeting, are you kidding me? That's unacceptable pressure like he got a Christmas card and he can't take it because it's from the White House? And now, we've got a piece of paper that should not be at the bottom of a bird cage catching parakeet poop. And this is the reason that he interferes with an American presidential process. I don't understand. He has going to have to answer this in an open hearing because it makes no sense.
BLITZER: The Russians, Bianna, you're an expert on this area, they must be sitting back and saying to themselves, "boy, are we good."
GOLODRYGA: Well, what a small price to pay for what a huge reward. As we now know, the Russians didn't even expect for Donald Trump to win. They thought that we would have a badly wounded Hillary Clinton as president, more a payback for what they gained her intervention in the 2012 election in Russia. But I think one thing is becoming crystal clear here, is that the American intelligence, for whatever reason, did not take Russian intervention and Russian cyber experts as seriously as they should have. They thought they were nuisances. Both the president, both the former CIA director said to their counterparts, cut it out. Why not come forward and tell the American public about this? Why be so confident that Hillary Clinton is going to win as to not appear to be partisan, but now, you know, we're reflecting, everyone's reflecting back on this and saying, you know, would have, could have, should have. They should've been intervening much sooner and now we have a president who hasn't even acknowledged that the Russian did what everybody else acknowledged they did.
BLITZER: And one of the key questions that I have, you know, you and I have discussed this, is why didn't he tell members of Congress, even in closed-door classified briefings, that he knew about this memo, he knew it was fake? He talked about a memo. He wouldn't even give them the details that it was a fake memo.
BASH: I don't know the answer to that, and the sources who I've spoken to, also didn't know the answer to that, maybe if we ever do see James Comey in public testimony, he will be asked about it and we will get to the bottom of it. Whether or not he actually will go before the Senate intelligence committee which the intelligence chair -- the Republican chair said he's going to do after this next week, which is another recess for Congress --
BLITZER: We'll see.
BASH: We'll see if that really happens. I have my doubts.
BLITZER: Why wouldn't he tell members of Congress, even The Gang of Eight, the top secret information? You know, there's a memo -- we know it's fake, but he wouldn't even talk about that. The theory is that there may have been an opportunity to -- if he did and if leaked out sources and methods could have been compromised.
MUDD: I don't buy that, Wolf. I've done The Gang of Eight briefings, that's restricted to members of Congress when you have a piece of intelligence or an investigation that's so sensitive that you don't believe you should tell the full membership, that is viewed in my world at the CIA and FBI is a rare moment. This doesn't qualify for a moment like this. We've got false intelligence. All you've got to do, whether it's in front of the American people or in front of a full committee, is to say, if you look at characteristics of this including the fact that the people and the Intel don't seem to know each other and we can't even find whether the original e-mail exists. All he has to say is, "This looks like fake information and we're not going to do anything about it." I can't -- there's something missing here.
BASH: One thing I want to clarify is, I'm not sure that he didn't tell, specifically, that very small group of The Gang of Eight which is, you know, obviously eight people who are at the highest levels of leadership in the house and senate and the top leaders on the intelligence committee when he did a, still a pretty small briefing, but it was beyond that eight, he did not tell them.
BLITZER: But, you know, Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee asked him about it the other day, in an opening hearing. Comey said basically, we can talk about that in closed-door session.
BLITZER: I'm not going to talk about that fake -- you didn't mention it was a fake memorandum. I'm not going to talk about that in open session. John Boehner, the former speaker of the house, Jackie, some pretty startling words, told a global energy conference today, that aside from President Trump's foreign policy, he said, "Everything else he's done in office has been a complete disaster." Pretty harsh words coming from John Boehner, apparently, a man that had been at one point, pretty good friends with Donald Trump.
[17:45:14] KUCINICH: Yes, John Boehner is kind of unleashed, though. Since he's left, he has been this -- he hasn't really had a lot of the constraints that he had when he was in office, even when he was in office, actually. Frankly, John Boehner would have -- with the candid bug. So perhaps he's getting some choice words from Trump at this point, but new John Boehner, happy to be out of office and speaking his truth.
BLITZER: You're smiling. Go ahead.
MUDD: No, I love it. We have an American political process that's so staged and John Boehner, whether you like him or not, I think he's a remarkable politician, stands out and says, I want to smoke cigarettes and drink wine. I'm never running for president. That's almost a vote to say he should be running for president because maybe, we can get somebody who'll speak in truth. I love it.
BLITZER: You didn't invite him here and (INAUDIBLE)
BASH: Offer him some merlot. It's all about merlot, now.
BLITZER: If he wants to smoke a cigarette (INAUDIBLE) he can smoke a cigarette.
GOLODRYGA: We can let him.
BLITZER: All right, guys, everybody standby. Coming up, we always see them with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. So, who are these three men in his inner circle and how are they helping their leader become a more dangerous threat to the United States?
[17:50:48] BLITZER: We have more ahead on the breaking news, including the fallout for Democratic national committee's calling for Jared Kushner's security clearance to be suspended due to questions about its contacts with the Russian officials during the presidential campaign. The next hour, I'll speak with the prominent congressman who wants to see Kushner's security clearances revoked, standby for that. We're also learning fascinating new details about the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's inner circle. In particular, three men, helping their leader perfect a nuclear-tipped missile that could threaten the United States. Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have information tonight that intelligence agencies around the world are watching this three men very closely. They have got a familiarity with Kim Jong-un that really no one else in the inner circle has, because they are indispensable to his weapon's program. After a successful missile launch, they are always in the picture, sharing hugs, smiles, and cigarettes with their vicious boss. Three officials whose body language and behavior toward Kim Jong-un, are different from the other North Korean elites nearby, who genuflect in fear.
MICHAEL MADDEN, NORTH KOREA NEWS PRO LEADERSHIP SPECIALIST: Kim Jing- un has guaranteed their job security and that is what their body languages indicate above. They can feel comfortable enough with Kim Jong-un to deliver bad news.
TODD: CNN has told rival intelligence agencies are watching these three men, carefully. Kim Jong-sik, Ri Pyong-chol, and Jang Chang-ha, are supernovas in Kim's inner circle, the men behind the missile tests.
MADDEN: At some point, they are going to put together North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile.
TODD: A missile that will eventually have the range to carry a nuclear warhead to the U.S. mainland.
DR. AHN CHAN-IL, PRESIDENT OF THE WORLD INSTITUTE FOR NORTH KOREA STUDIES, TRANSLATOR: Kim Jong-un is keeping these technocrats right by his side. So that he can be in direct contact with them and urge them to move fast. He reflects his urgency about missile development.
TODD: Of the three men, experts say, Ri Pyong-chol, a former air force general, has the most important role.
MADDEN: He is the one that provides Kim Jong-un with the situational awareness. He is the eyes and ears of for Kim Jong-un in the development in research of nuclear weapons and conventional weapons.
TODD: Analyst Michael Madden is consulted by intelligence agencies on North Korean leaders. He says, Kim Jong-sik is an accomplished rocket scientist. It's believed these three men are held in such high esteem. They get to rub elbows with the supreme leader, like no one else.
MADDEN: They do get to travel in Jong-un's jet. They do get to travel in his cars, which is something, a privilege, that's not been extended to other core leaders. In terms of their lives in Pyongyang, they live in exclusive apartment housing.
TODD: Analysts say it's possible, rival intelligence agencies could target the three men for assassination. Similar to how four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated a few years ago.
LT. COL. TONY SHAFFER (RET.), FORMER U.S. MILITARY INTELLIGENCE OPERATIVE: They could be targeted through drone strike. The other option is essentially finding someone within the North Korean government who does not like un. Who is disenfranchised and has -- still has access to the activities not to say that they have access to leadership activities, who could be an assassin.
TODD: Now, could Kim Jong-un purge any of these men himself, if they fail to advance North Korea's weapons program? Analysts say it is possible, but not likely. Their scientific and logistical knowledge is simply too valuable to Kim and too tough for him to replace.
BLITZER: Interesting, Brian. U.S. is so worried. I'm told about the missile program that these three men are super advising, that you're getting word tonight of a crucial missile interception test. What are you learning?
TODD: That's right, Wolf. This test is coming up this Tuesday, May 30th. We're told the U.S. defense -- missile defense agency is going to conduct the first ever test of an interceptor, designed to shoot down an intercontinental ballistic missile. An ICBM model's going to be launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. The interceptor's going to be launched from Vandenberg airforce base in California. This is a direct response to the North Korean threat, Wolf. And this is a capability that analysts say the U.S. has fallen way behind in, while North Korea's missile technology advances.
[17:55:00] BLITZER: Could be a critically important test indeed. Brian Todd, thanks for the good reporting. There is breaking news coming up. Some Democrats are now calling for President Trump's son- in-law to lose his security clearances as his contacts with Russian officials come under FBI scrutiny.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, fake documents. Sources tell CNN that former FBI director James Comey knew the Russians had fabricated a key piece of intelligence. But it still influenced the pivotal move in the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe. We have new reporting this hour. FBI scrutiny as the feds look at Jared Kushner in the Russian investigation. Some Democrats say the President's son- in-law should be stripped of his security clearance. All talk to a congressman has been warning about Kushner's role for weeks.