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Donald Trump Jr. Met With Russian Lawyer After Promise of Clinton Dirt. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired July 9, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
[20:00:22] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour, I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. I want to welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. We are following breaking news right now.
Information emerging just a short time ago with potentially serious consequences for the Trump White House. Details uncovered by reporters from the "New York Times." It seems to confirm a private meeting between people closest to then GOP nominee, Donald Trump, and figures connected to the Russian government. Those people are his then campaign manager Paul Manafort, his close policy adviser and son- in-law Jared Kushner and his own son, Donald Trump, Jr.
But there's more. At least five sources tell the "New York Times" that the reason for this private meeting was the promise of election dirt that would hurt the campaign of Hillary Clinton.
CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is with us here and our crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz is joining us as well.
Elise, to you first, what part of this is potentially damaging to the administration in the context of the federal investigation into election meddling?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, this is an early indication that Russians were seeking out members of the Trump campaign. I mean, Donald Trump, Jr. says he didn't know he was meeting with. There was an introduction from an acquaintance at the Miss Universe pageant. But what he doesn't say is that Miss Universe Pageant was held in 2013 in a suburb of Moscow.
So in essence a contact Trump Jr. made through the pageant in Russia was trying to set him up with someone who had info that could help the campaign and so the question is, why didn't Donald Trump, Jr. report that. And this plays into all of the investigation swirling, including the special counsel about contacts and allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign members of the Russian government.
Now they insist that they had no idea, Trump Jr. says he doesn't know who he was meeting, but it ended up being a Russian attorney trying to talk about policy. So the question is, why didn't he report that?
CABRERA: What can you tell us about that attorney? What have we learned about Natalia Veselnitskaya?
LABOTT: Well, Natalia is Veselnitskaya is a lawyer who had been trying to end a ban on Russian adoption. Now why is that important? Because of that why that adoption ban of Russian children was put in place. It was put in place in retaliation for the 2012 Magnitsky Act which put sanctions on Russian officials that were involved in human rights abuses. So Miss Veselnitskaya also sought the repeal of that act.
Now we haven't been able to reach here, but she did tell the "New York Times" she wasn't asking on behalf of the Russian government, never discussed these matters with any government representatives, but again, she's known as someone who had worked to try and repeal this legislation damaging to Russian officials as well as that adoption ban. So Russian national reaching out to the Trump campaign, just as he clinched the nomination -- Ana.
CABRERA: And according to the "New York Times," it is unclear whether the Russian lawyer actually produced the promised compromising information about Mrs. Clinton. Again, according to the "New York Times."
But, Shimon, where does this leave us? This new information, particularly the part about the damaging information about Hillary Clinton. How does that fit into the collusion investigation?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Well, it will likely be a part of it and it may have already been a part of it, right, so the FBI as we know has been investigating the Trump campaign since July. This is a month after this meeting took place. And we've been told that that -- the investigation, when it began, was started for other reasons.
You know, this is the first, obviously, that we're learning of this other meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Kushner and with this lawyer.
You know, this woman is -- we're told, has been on the FBI's radar. The big question here is, was she there on behalf of Vladimir Putin or on behalf of the Russian government? Was she sent there to try and get inside the campaign?
You know, as we've reported, the Russians have worked -- there has been information to the U.S. government, to the FBI that the Russians throughout the campaign have worked to try and infiltrate the campaign. And was this another instance of that? Was this woman sent there to try and infiltrate the campaign? And so this is another part of the investigation.
Whether it goes to collusion or other stuff, you know, that's still to be determined because I just think we just don't know enough about this meeting. You know, we only have one side of it at this point.
[20:05:00] And you know, the other question here is, why did it take so long for this to come to light? And it only comes to light after Jared Kushner has to sort of amendment his SF 86, this is this form that gets submitted to the FBI essentially that lists -- supposed to list any potential contact with foreign governments, you know, when you get a job for the government and you have access to classified information, you fill out this form, and you're supposed to tell the government, you know, all your contacts that you've had with potential foreign entities, foreign countries, foreign -- people who may be working for a foreign government.
So that's how all this is coming to light now. So the FBI has probably had this information for some time. And so, you know, as to why they now chose to tell us, you know, what they say is the whole story, you know, we'll see, and it's also going to be interesting to see if the FBI's going to want to talk to Donald Trump Jr. or anyone else about their contact with this lawyer.
CABRERA: And maybe they have already, we just don't know it.
PROKUPECZ: That's exactly right.
CABRERA: Shimon Prokupecz, Elise Labott, thank you both.
I want to get our national security analyst and former Homeland Security Department official, Juliette Kayyem in here.
Juliette, the president's son does not deny that he, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with that Russian lawyer last year. And in face he confirms it in a statement to CNN. He says that it was set up by a 2013 Miss Universe Pageant acquaintance of his and that he didn't know exactly who he was going to be talking to going into the meeting. He didn't have the name of the person.
But how does this change things if the reason they attended that meeting was this lure of information that could potentially hurt the Clinton campaign?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think it adds to a narrative, a two-part narrative. The first is just simply that the Trump administration, the friends, the hangers on, all these people that we hear about were simply not honest about disclosures regarding contacts with the Russians. Disclosures that they either had to do because they were going to join the Trump administration so they had to do so in the forms or because there were media reports about them.
So there's first denials and then amendments. So that's a first piece, just lots of sort of lack of clarity and transparency by these people related or close to Trump and the Russians. On the substance of the issue, it is just clear, at least in this one instance that Trump Jr., the son of the nominee, was interested or at least willing to meet with someone who had information, presumably from some sort of Russian hacking or WikiLeaks or whatever else that would hurt Hillary Clinton.
We don't know what that information was, we don't know whether Donald Trump Jr. was willing to take it, but we do know this is a much more nefarious piece of the puzzle than say he was meeting with this woman because, as he said yesterday, Russia adoption policy, which really didn't hold up for very long. CABRERA: Let me talk to you about the sourcing of this information.
The "Times" says they talked to three White House advisers, two other people with knowledge of the meeting and the motivation for it. What does that tell you about the tightness of the information at the White House?
KAYYEM: I think what you are starting to see, and I want to be very careful here, but this case is starting to look like other cases, criminal investigations, conspiracy investigations, that at the beginning everyone's quiet and defensive. But then, as people start to see that the FBI has information, perhaps there's FISA information, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance wiretaps that have been -- that have picked up information.
You start to see people begin to defend themselves and not necessarily defend the conspiracy. From what I've read in the "New York Times," Donald Trump Jr. seems to be out on his own on this one. That is what we see in these kinds of investigations. And likely others will begin to turn on others.
This is normal, it just takes a long time because some of these people are being interviewed by the FBI under oath. They don't want to incriminate themselves if they know something, but didn't do anything wrong.
CABRERA: Is it plausible that somebody could get into Trump Tower for a meeting without giving their name?
KAYYEM: If they did, that would have not been very good. And the Trump people, the Trump campaign at that stage would have certainly been briefed about how to protect themselves from potential infiltrations, people wanting information, people stealing information.
Look, by the time that these meetings occurred, it was clear Trump -- he was going to have the nomination, and they would have been briefed as they always would be by the Secret Service and others. So they at least were in possession of the knowledge of how to protect themselves, but because the campaign was, you know, at best, let's say unique, at worst, careless, that's where you see this kind of thing happening.
I find it implausible that someone who's the son of the president would take a meeting with someone he did not know, or even Google this person or maybe ask the Secret Service agent who's standing nearby or an FBI agent who's clearly nearby at this stage.
[20:10:13] You know, what do we know about this person. It may be carelessness but I think it's fair to question why that meeting occurred at this stage.
CABRERA: The other thing that strikes me, Juliette, is he still has not provided full disclosure about who set up the meeting.
CABRERA: He only says it was an acquaintance who he met at the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant, which we know was in Moscow.
KAYYEM: Right. I literally cannot -- I don't have a good answer for you, I'm supposed to be your analyst, I read that we've seen people on air about that, people from the "New York Times," that is just shocking. And it means that he's either protecting someone or that person is a government person or someone close or known to Putin, and he's just trying to protect both himself and maybe that person, but at this stage, whether that information comes out or not through Donald Trump Jr., it will likely come out.
And I think why you saw this second statement today by the president's son, I think that there's growing recognition that there is a lot of information about what happened in the Trump campaign that I think for some time they probably thought did not need to be disclosed or would never get disclosed, and what you're seeing through the investigation and of course through fantastic reporting by this -- you know, "The Times" and CNN and the "Washington Post," these stories do get out. And people do have to face a reckoning of the truth about what actually happened.
CABRERA: Juliette Kayyem, thank you. We appreciate your time.
KAYYEM: Thank you.
CABRERA: We have so much more ahead on this breaking story. The president's eldest son confirming he met with a Russian lawyer last year after being promised damaging information about his father's political opponent.
What are the potential legal implications if any for President Donald Trump and his son, Donald Trump Jr.? And include this report shake up the overall Russia investigation under way right now? We'll discuss.
You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[20:16:10] CABRERA: We're staying on top of our breaking story tonight. The "New York Times" reporting that during the campaign last year Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. not denying this meeting. He does say he was unaware of the Russian national's name before the meeting.
And joining us to discuss, CNN global affairs analyst David Rohde, CNN political analyst and senior congressional correspondent for the "Washington Examiner," David Drucker, and Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun Times," Lynn Sweet.
David Rohde, first your reaction to this new reporting.
DAVID ROHDE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Look, it adds to a pattern. There was a story about 10 days ago in the "Wall Street Journal" where a British cyber security expert said he was approached by Republican operative named Peter Smith, and someone out on the Web, according to Peter Smith, say they had Hillary Clinton's missing e- mails. And this British operative, you know, he was very puzzled that this person Peter Smith who's been a long time opponent of the Clintons, but he was looking for the British operative's help in getting those e-mails.
He -- you know, the Brit said to Peter Smith, this is probably a front for Russian intelligence. Does it concern you that whoever is offering you these e-mails is possibly, you know, Russian government? It didn't matter to Peter Smith.
So you have this pattern of people, you know -- you know, how close to the president is the question, but various people helping Trump indirectly or directly reaching out to Russians trying to get this information, then you have the Russian's helping Trump during the election. So there's no smoking gun here, but this is a pattern.
CABRERA: And Bob Baer, in fact, former CIA operative, also confirmed that he knew multiple examples prior to the election and even before this incident in which we are learning this meeting happened in June of last year in which there were Russians trying to kind of put the feelers out about information in order to damage Hillary Clinton and others in the Democratic Party.
David Drucker, you are a reporter, you meet with politicians, campaign officials. Donald Trump Jr. says he didn't know this person's name beforehand. Is it believable that somebody could schedule a meeting, get into Trump Tower and meet with the campaign manager, Paul Manafort was there, remember, without giving their name?
DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So it would be highly unusual and especially at that point, you would have Secret Service protection for the presumed nominee, and I think that it even started well before then. And so usually you have a lot more -- a lot greater security checks than you would have had if Donald Trump was just a candidate starting out. But on top of that, Paul Manafort is pretty well versed in the Russian government and in that part of the world.
So this is something that he would have understood, at least once the meeting got under way. Look, having said all of that, you know, the reason this continues to be a problem for the Trump campaign, at least politically, at least potentially with Republicans on the Hill who have put together a tougher sanctions bill on Russia that is caught up in the House right now, probably because they're trying to help the president out, but it passed the Senate like 98-2 or something like that.
CABRERA: 97-2 I think is what our reporting is.
DRUCKER: Correct, thank you for that. Is because they have, number one, a complete inability to properly disclose these meetings and had they disclosed them in an orderly fashion, in an organized fashion after the election, I think this wouldn't have looked as funny, but number two, the president seems to have decided for whatever reason that Russia is going to be and Vladimir Putin is going to be exempt from his strong arming and from his jawboning.
Different that he has treated allies like South Korea and the NATO organization. Different that he's treated adversaries like Iran and China. And so all of that adds up to things that make this appear to be a story when, for instance, if the president had emerged from the G-20 meeting and had told everybody that he talked tough with Putin, that he wasn't buying Putin's read on their one-on-one meeting, a lot of this for many months would have looked a lot different than it does now.
[20:20:10] CABRERA: But instead the president says that while he talked to Putin about the election meddling, Putin vehemently denied it, is what the president's tweet said today, but that he chose it's time to move forward.
In effect, Lynn, doesn't that suggest that the president takes Russia at its word versus the intelligence community?
LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, CHICAGO SUN TIMES: Well, we know that he's had doubts with the intelligence community for a long time. I think what this really showed in that tweet this morning where he said he wanted to work constructively with Russia is that he thinks he can tweet away all the issues surrounding potential Russia meddling in the 2016 campaign. And I think the events of this evening show with this new disclosure by the "New York Times" about his own son meeting with a lawyer with ties to the Kremlin shows that he cannot tweet this away.
And I just to want add another point when you raised the question, how could Donald Trump Jr. have not known who this lawyer is with Kremlin ties? Here's why it's plausible to me that he may not have known, when you read the stories -- the go between was somebody he knew from the Miss Universe Pageant. This could have been that he was doing this person a favor, and so he didn't want to know, need to know, care to know, unschooled in how important it is to vet people, especially with foreign ties when he's at the top of the campaign.
He was doing a favor to somebody who had a Russian client or who had Russian connections with the Miss Universe Pageant and Donald Trump Jr. didn't even know who the client, didn't even -- well, we don't know from the stories who the client was. He did not disclose that in his statement that he gave on Sunday.
CABRERA: But why he wouldn't just say that as part of the statement then? Why wouldn't he say --
SWEET: You tell me --
CABRERA: I was doing a favor for a friend meeting with this person. I didn't know who it was and their connection to Russia at all is the point.
SWEET: That's at least --
CABRERA: He could have said that in a statement if that's the truth?
SWEET: Well --
DRUCKER: And Ana -- Ana, one point on this, the one thing in Donald Trump Jr.'s statement that was curious to me is that his explanation is that the person was trying to peddle information that had to do with the Russians subsidizing the Democratic National Committee, in a sense they were trying to -- the information was they were trying to help the DNC and help Hillary Clinton.
And for people that understand Vladimir Putin and his animus towards Hillary Clinton, whatever people think about Hillary Clinton, Vladimir Putin took it personally and she spoke out against this crackdown on democracy on Russia. Even though it was a pretty standard thing for an American secretary of state to do which she was at the time.
He took it personally, he thought she was trying to undermine her. It's just not something the Russian government under Putin would do is to try and help Hillary Clinton get elected.
CABRERA: So you're saying it doesn't add up, and that is part of the statement from Donald Trump Jr. regarding this meeting. He says that the woman stated she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Miss Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous, and made no sense.
He says in his statement, no details or supporting information was provided or even offered and it quickly became clear she had no meaningful information. But I want to read a tweet that Donald Trump Jr. sent on June 8th.
According to the "New York Times," this meeting between him and the Russian lawyer happened on June 9th. Here's the tweet from June 8th, "Thanks, James. Comey debunks 'New York Times' report about Trump campaign having repeated Russian contact."
David Rohde, Trump Jr. knew he himself was going to have many this meeting, we assume by then. What do you make of that tweet and going into this meeting?
ROHDE: Look, I get and I agree on the issue of disclosing the meetings, it's reckless, it's sloppy, and they're causing themselves these problems. I mean, I agree that if they just disclosed these things, it wouldn't have such problems and there weren't such blanket denials. I mean, Vice President Trump mocked the idea that there was contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. Trump denies it himself, says this is all fake news.
There were multiple contacts between Trump campaign officials or people very close to Donald Trump and Russians, we know that for a fact now. Broader -- you know, the broader thing politically here is the Mueller investigation has to go through. If there's any effort now by the president to weaken Mueller or fire Mueller, I just think he's in much more difficult position politically now that his son is involved in any way trying to stop that process.
And most importantly, it puts Republicans in Congress in a difficult position. They are enabling this administration. They are empowering it. You know, the Hill investigations are moving very slowly. So this is all getting more and more delicate, you know, drip, drip, drip, this story, you know, it adds fuel to the fire.
[20:25:01] No proof of collusion to be fair to Trump. There's no proof that, you know, Donald Trump may be speaking truthfully.
ROHDE: Why didn't he disclose it earlier? And Trump wasn't supposed to disclose it. Jared Kushner was. And Jared Kushner only disclosed this meeting, according to "The times," in the last few days.
CABRERA: Exactly. Jared Kushner, who has not disclosed all his meetings, Michael Flynn didn't disclose all of his meetings, Russian contacts, Jeff Sessions didn't disclose all of his meetings with Russian contacts, it was all after the fact, after certain pieces of information were revealed.
ROHDE: And they're making the problem worse. And again, you know, let -- if they should have nothing to fear, if they did nothing wrong, let Mueller continue his probe. By far, that's the most important investigation here.
CABRERA: Panel, thank you all. David Rohde, David Drucker, Lynn Sweet, we appreciate it.
Straight ahead, the Hillary Clinton campaign responds to the news we learned tonight. The "New York Times" reporting the first known meeting between some of the highest members of the Trump team and a Russian national during the campaign.
I just spoke with Hillary Clinton's former campaign manager and you will hear that interview next.
You're watching special CNN live breaking news coverage. Don't go anywhere.
[20:30:18] CABRERA: We're back with our breaking news. The "New York Times" reporting Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton. This happened during the campaign last June, he says, shortly after President Trump clinched the Republican nomination. In a statement to CNN, Donald Trump Jr. does not deny this meeting happened.
He says it was arranged by an acquaintance he knew from the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant which was held in Russia. He says he did not know the name of the person he would be meeting. Also at the meeting, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, who was President Trump's campaign manager at the time.
Now a member of President Trump's outside legal team tells CNN tonight the president was not aware of this meeting and did not attend.
We're getting reaction from the man who ran Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. A short time ago, I spoke with Robby Mook. Watch. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR HILLARY CLINTON: First of all, I think we need to start asking ourselves and I think, in particular, Republican leaders in Congress need to start asking themselves, at what point do we stop giving the benefit of the doubt here? We -- the evidence here of these close ties with Russia continue to mount with each and every day.
But then, secondly, what's particularly concerning to me is we are seeing it play out in actual policy. And you mentioned Don Jr. was in the meeting. So was Jared Kushner, who is now a government employee. He is a senior adviser to the president, an official in the government. We saw the president propose this morning that the Russian government worked with the United States to create some sort of cybersecurity entity for our elections, which is frightening.
We've been reading that the president is doing everything he can to stop a bipartisan bill to impose further sanctions on the Russians to punish them for intervening in other election. So at some point, somebody needs to step up and say enough is enough. And the Trump administration has to clean house. It has to get rid of conflicts of interest. And somebody's got to step in and make sure that our foreign policy is not being overtaken by Russian influence.
CABRERA: Robby, you ran the Clinton campaign. If somebody told you they had somebody who had damaging info on Donald Trump at that time and they wanted you to meet this person without knowing their name, would you go to that meeting? How would you handle it?
MOOK: Well, I think everybody needs to make judgment calls in these situations. What is scary about this particular situation is that the woman in question wasn't just anybody off the street. She was closely tied -- is closely tied to the Kremlin, was leading their efforts to repeal and stop a law -- a bipartisan law, by the way -- that had been passed to punish business people in Russia who were suspected to be involved in killing of a journalist there.
It restricted their ability to travel to this country and blocked their ability to participate in our banking system. This wasn't just anybody. This was an advocate and a voice for Vladimir Putin. And so anytime somebody representing a foreign government comes to you claiming to assist you, you know, in punishing your opponent when obviously the Putin administration had a clear interest -- a clear antagonism, rather, towards Hillary Clinton, I think that should have paused them.
But what's particularly interesting and frightening about what's happened here, too, is these same individuals said they never met with the Russians. And only months later, as an investigation is going on with some pretty experienced prosecutors, all of a sudden all this new information is coming out. So, yes, there are real questions about why they took this meeting, but also, why didn't they, as the law tells them, they have to reveal that they've had this meeting?
(END VIDEOTAPE) CABRERA: You were listening to former manager of Hillary Clinton's campaign, of course the presidential campaign, Robby Mook. We'll be right back and much more of this breaking news story straight ahead. Stay where you are.
[20:39:52] CABRERA: We're back with our breaking news. The "New York Times" reporting tonight that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton. In a statement to CNN, Donald Trump Jr. does not deny this meeting happened.
[20:40:05] Mark Corallo, who's a spokesman for President Trump's outside legal team, confirms what Donald Trump Jr. says but offers no additional comment, and that is the president was not aware of and did not attend this meeting.
Let's talk it over with criminal defense attorney and CNN legal analyst, Danny Cevallos.
So bottom line here, Danny, what are the potential legal implications that this new report, the information in the "New York Times," when it comes to Donald Trump and his son?
DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the potential implications depend on whether or not there were actual crimes committed by the Russian side. Now consider this, if we take everything Trump Jr. says at face value, he was asked to come to a meeting. He went to the meeting. He doesn't know what's going to happen at the meeting, and then somebody at that meeting says something that at best or at minimum implicates this Russian attorney in a crime.
Let's say that's the case. Well, the mere knowledge that somebody's committed a crime is not itself a crime. The closest federal analogy is a crime called misprision. But that requires some active concealment by the person who becomes aware of the crime.
Now look, when we talk about what Russia did or did not do, there are a ton of different federal statutes that were likely violated if they interfered with the election. If they accessed Hillary Clinton's e- mails, there's computer fraud, there's espionage, there are a host of federal statutes that may have been violated.
But being asked to come to a meeting, stepping into that meeting, and only for the first time learning of a proposal or information that may itself be criminal is not itself criminal for the here. Unless there's more information.
CABRERA: So going to the meeting is not criminal, but should he have then taken the information from that meeting and taken that somewhere to some authority to say that he met with a Russian who apparently has some information related to the Hillary Clinton campaign? This is somebody from a foreign country.
CEVALLOS: It's a gray area. And you could make an argument either way. Certainly morally as an American you might say that he has an obligation, but as a member of the eventual or a close personal whatever at the time, to the incoming president, yet he might be because this is the executive, he's arguably a part of the executive branch, or at least people in that coterie are part of the executive branch.
Now you're getting into the area of the executive as the head of the Department of Justice, as the chief law enforcement officer, does have that obligation, but, Donald Trump wasn't at the meeting. And if they simply didn't know, there isn't any affirmative duty that I can see that they had to go report. At least as citizens.
The fact that they were working for the very soon-to-be president makes this a very murky area, I understand. But all of us as citizens simply have no obligation to report a crime unless there are additional facts present.
CABRERA: We have hardly any time, but I do want to get your take real quick and a very short answer if you will. Is this significant to Robert Mueller's investigation as a special prosecutor?
CEVALLOS: Yes. Of course it is, yes. Because this is certainly something in their investigation that could lead to something additional. As they pull on the string of this giant sweater, there may be more information that may be revealed by this. So yes, it's certainly relevant. It's not prima facie evidence of a crime at this point.
CABRERA: Got it. Danny Cevallos, as always, thank you.
And today's breaking news comes just one day after Russian president Vladimir Putin denied any Russian meddling in the U.S. election. What he said at the G-20 next.
You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[20:47:50] CABRERA: More on the breaking news story. The president's son Donald Trump Jr. tells CNN that he, Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then campaign chair Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer last year. It was the first known meeting of several of the senior most members of Trump's team and a Russian national during the campaign.
Now the "New York Times" first reported this previously undisclosed meeting. The "Times" reports tonight the meeting occurred at Trump Tower just two weeks after Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination. And the story comes just two days after that high stakes meeting between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Listen to what Putin told reporters in Hamburg, Germany yesterday about his meeting with President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) Pres. Vladimir Putin, Russia (through translator): The U.S. president raised this question, and we discussed it. It wasn't just one question. There were a lot of them. He devoted a lot of time to this issue.
Opposition is well known and I repeated it. There is no basis for thinking that Russia interfered in the election process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: I want to bring in "New York Times" columnist and author, Masha Gessen. She's joining us by phone. She literally wrote the book about Vladimir Putin titled "The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin."
So, Masha, thanks for being with us. You just heard Vladimir Putin there say there is no basis to think that Russia interfered in the election process. Now the "New York Times" says a lawyer with links to the Kremlin was shopping information damaging to the Hillary Clinton campaign and they were able to gain a meeting with the highest members of the Trump team.
Could that have happened without Putin's knowledge?
MASHA GESSEN, AUTHOR, "THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE: THE UNLIKELY RISE OF VLADIMIR PUTIN": Yes, it could have happened without Putin's knowledge, although I don't think that's terribly important, you know, because I think that we can have a long argument about what Putin might have meant about when he said that Russia didn't interfere in the campaign because really Russia has been lobbying for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act sanctions ever since those sanctions were introduced, right?
And really what the story is about is about on the one hand what is important to Russia, which is getting rid of those personalized sanctions, the targeted sanctions against the Russian rich and powerful.
[20:50:08] These are these are not the same sanctions that were introduced after the war in Ukraine began. Right. These are not sanctions that harm ordinary Russians. These are sanctions that are specifically targeted against Russians who are considered by the U.S. government to be guilty of grave human rights violations. Right. And this is something that the Putin government cares about very much and is on record as caring about very much.
CABRERA: So you see a direct connection to the Kremlin given that information alone?
GESSEN: I'm sorry, say it again?
CABRERA: Does that information alone then lead you to believe there is a direct connection to the Kremlin?
GESSEN: Look, I mean, I can't claim that there's a direct connection to the Kremlin without knowing that there's a direct connection to the Kremlin. We do know that the Kremlin was incensed when those sanctions were introduced and has been campaigning against them and has been hurting because of them ever since they were introduced. So it could have been somebody --
CABRERA: Let me ask you this, Marsha.
GESSEN: Somebody else's initiative but it's the Kremlin's agenda.
CABRERA: OK. So Donald Trump's campaign was centered on the idea that he was an outsider, not an experienced politician. Is that inexperience something Vladimir Putin would have wanted to target?
GESSEN: Absolutely. That makes him a mark. And the (INAUDIBLE) that the "New York Times" have sounds very much like an inexperienced campaign being targeted by people who have a singular agenda, which is to give the Magnitsky Act repealed, and they are naive enough to take a meeting, the promise of some damaging information about Hillary Clinton, and there's no damaging information about Hillary Clinton as far as we know at this point. Right.
This is the account that the "New York Times" have is that they didn't bring anything to the table except their desire to get the sanctions repealed.
GESSEN: And Donald Trump Jr. was inexperienced enough to take the meeting.
CABRERA: Masha Gessen, thank you very much for providing that insight. We do appreciate it. Thanks for being with us.
Just moments ago, President Trump weighed in, teaming up with Vladimir Putin, tweeting this. "The fact that President Putin and I discussed a cyber security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't, but a ceasefire can and did."
Again, the latest words from the president tonight regarding Russia and the idea of teaming up with Russians on cyber security.
Once again a big night of breaking news. Stay with CNN for the very latest. For now, I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thanks for being with me. Don't go anywhere. Brooke Baldwin take you to the '90s for a CNN premier live to the pre-party, next.
[20:57:16] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back. I'm Brooke Baldwin here on the Santa Monica Pier in beautiful Los Angeles on a Sunday. We have been partying, we have been talking all about the '90s ahead of the big premier in just a couple of minutes from now. And I had the pleasure of talking to Mark Hertzog who's one of the executive producers on the doc that's about to air. And we are talking tonight's episode is a special two-hour debut
episode in just a few minutes, specifically on TV in the '90s -- TV in the '90s like "Beverly Hills 90210", like "Seinfeld", like "Friends", like "Family Matters".
But also we talked about TV moments like O.J. Simpson. Here is a piece of our conversation.
MARK HERTZOG, CNN PRODUCER, "THE NINETIES": We have an episode called "Can We All Get Along?" We deal with -- we look at race relations in the '90s in America. We look at the Rodney King trial, we look at Latasha Harlins. We look obviously at O.J.
In that particular episode, we look at the trial of O.J., what he was being tried and why he was acquitted essentially. I think we explained that well.
In the television episode tonight, we look at it from a television perspective. It was a television event. Not only the car chase, but the trial itself. I mean, it was --
BALDWIN: How many eyeballs on the screen?
HERTZOG: It was 93 million.
BALDWIN: My goodness.
HERTZOG: Saw the acquittal. I don't know how many people actually saw the car chase, but we all remember it.
BALDWIN: So 93 million people just watching that moment. The acquittal alone. I remember exactly where I was in high school in the '90s when that happened. So TV moments and TV hits coming up in just a minute.
So this whole premier just now, we've been at Santa Monica Pier all afternoon. And this crowd got a little sneak preview including my friends here, Amanda and Tim, who, shameless plug, we just did this amazing series on CNN called "Champions for Change." And Tim helped me climb Joshua Tree, all in anticipation of the big climb of (INAUDIBLE), who's a Marine missing her leg.
And you guys are about to go to Indonesia so you have a big climb ahead of you. So thank you for all that you do with the HEROES project. But '90s, guys, favorite TV show?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Fresh Prince of Bel Air." Definitely.
BALDWIN: Can you do the Carlton dance? Nice. Nice.
Tim, what about you? Favorite TV show. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, come on, I'm from the greatest state in
America, New Jersey. Let's not forget the greatest show in America, "The Sopranos" and Britney Spears. Come on.
BALDWIN: Britney Spears.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)
BALDWIN: My goodness, this is what's happening as we talk about the '90s. We're about to debut this episode. I just want to thank the entire CNN crew. I want to thank all of these wonderful people for coming out today as we're celebrating the '90s.
Favorite, quickly, fashion fad, '90s that you wish never went away?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: High-waisted jeans and shorts all day.
BALDWIN: High-waisted jeans -- do you see this? "90210." I kind of feel like they are back. I kind of feel like they're back.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Love it.
BALDWIN: Tim and Amanda, and everyone here, thank you so much. I'm Brooke Baldwin. "THE NINETIES" starts now.