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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With Maryland Senator Ben Cardin; Republicans Continue Work on Health Care Reform; Trump's Son Changes Story on Russia Meeting; Back from Break, Some in GOP Say Health Bill is Dead. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired July 10, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Someone named Donald Trump just admitted meeting with a Russian during the campaign.
THE LEAD starts right now.
And then there were five. President Trump's son now admitting he met with a Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties in the heat of the 2016 race, reportedly to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.
A tough hill to climb on Capitol Hill. Republicans return from recess eight votes in the hole on health care. Can they twist enough arms before they go away again?
Plus, army of hate, a neo-Nazi facing a lawsuit for allegedly unleashing bigoted, racist trolls on a Jewish woman and her young son. A starting to look at the level of hate possible in the United States of America right now.
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with breaking news in the politics lead today.
An admission of the oldest son of the president of the United States who runs the Trump Organization, Donald Trump Jr., in no uncertain words, acknowledging that last year he took a meeting with a Russian lawyer with connections to the Kremlin after being told she might have information helpful to the campaign about his father's opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Today, Donald Trump Jr. tweeting sarcastically: "Obviously, I'm the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent. Went nowhere, but had to listen."
This comes in response to "The New York Times"' reporting that Trump Jr. took this meeting because he was promised damaging information about Clinton. He wasn't the only one in the room. Also there, President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is now in the White House inner circle, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Trump Jr.'s admission seems something of a reversal from a statement he had given just hours earlier when he said that meeting was to "primarily discuss the issue of American families adopting Russian orphans."
And while there remains no evidence yet that anyone on the Trump team knew at the time about the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee, it is worth noting that a few weeks after that meeting, after the hack and leak of DNC e-mails was made public, Trump Jr. was quite dismissive of Clinton's campaign manager blaming Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: Well, it just goes to show you their exact moral compass. They will say anything to be able to win this. This is time and time again lie after lie.
Notice he won't say, well, I say this. We hear experts. His house cat at home once said that this is what's happening with the Russians. It's disgusting. It's so phony.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: That is a bit of moral outrage from someone who just weeks beforehand had met with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
For months, the Trump team insisted falsely that there were no contacts. Here's Vice President Pence in January.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Of course not. Why would there be any contacts between the campaign? Chris, this is all a distraction, and it's all a part of a narrative to delegitimize the election and to question the legitimacy of this presidency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Here's President Trump one month later.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now, to the best of our knowledge, at least five former or current members of President Trump's team have not only had some contact with the Russians. They have lied, changed their stories or not been forthcoming with information about those contacts with Russians.
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned after lying to the vice president about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. Then there's Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, whose stories have changed. Also Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who under oath did not disclose meetings with the Russian ambassador. Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner omitted at least
three meetings with Russians on his security clearance forms, since amended. And now, of course, Donald Trump Jr.
If these contacts and conversations with Russians were so innocent, as is being claimed, the obvious question, why so many lies about them?
So how is the White House responding to this news?
CNN's Jeff Zeleny has the details.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The White House faced a new round of questions today over potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians during last year's election.
Fresh off President Trump's meeting with Vladimir Putin, it is another meeting in June of 2016 between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer that's drawing fresh scrutiny. The Russian lawyer, known for her opposition to U.S. sanctions against Russia over human rights, said she had damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
The White House on the defensive again today, insisting President Trump didn't know about the session in Trump Tower that came only two weeks after he clinched the Republican nomination.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president only learned about it in the last few days.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would certainly say Don Jr. did not collude with anybody to influence the election.
Our position is that no one within the Trump campaign colluded in order to influence the election.
ZELENY: But the meeting, first reported by "The New York Times," is the first acknowledgement people in Trump's inner circle were willing to accept help from Russians.
The question of whether they did is the subject of a special counsel's session and inquiries on Capitol Hill. The president's older son said he, Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort agreed to meet up with the Russian lawyer to hear about what she was offering up about the Clinton campaign.
It turned out to be nothing, Trump said, telling CNN: "Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense."
The meeting was arranged by Rob Goldstone, a publicist for a Russian pop singer, who worked with President Trump on the Miss Universe Pageant hosted in Moscow in 2013. Trump is also seen in this music video.
On CNN's "NEW DAY," a senior adviser to the president, Kellyanne Conway, downplayed the meeting.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: I don't think anybody had to look very far to find damaging information on Hillary Clinton or negative information.
ZELENY: Robby Mook, the Clinton campaign manager, said the revelation puts potential collusion closer to Trump.
ROBBY MOOK, FORMER HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: What's disturbing is at each and every juncture, the Trump campaign gets closer and closer to Russia and the connections become more direct.
ZELENY: All this as the White House deals with the fallout from the Trump-Putin meeting on Friday at the G20 summit. On Sunday morning, the president wrote, "Putin and I discussed forming an impenetrable cyber-security unit, so that election hacking and many other negative things will be guarded."
That statement sparked an unusually swift rebuke, and that's just from Republicans, who blasted the president for being naive.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: When it comes to Russia, he's got a blind spot. And to forgive and forget when it comes to Putin regarding cyber-attacks is to empower Putin, and that's exactly what he's doing.
ZELENY: By Sunday night, Trump had reversed himself completely, saying: "The fact that President Putin and I discussed cyber-security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't."
ZELENY: Now, Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, she said she wants Donald Trump Jr. to come before the Intelligence Committee to explain what happened in that meeting.
And, Jake, just a short time ago, the president's oldest son seemed to acknowledge that he would. He sent out this message on social media. Let's take a look. He said: "I'm happy to work with the committee to pass on what I know."
And, Jake, we're just learning moments ago that he's hired a Washington lawyer to help him through this process here. The lawyer says he has not received any direct comment from Capitol Hill.
But, Jake, this is all coming at a time when the White House had thought it had changed the subject, turned the page beyond this Russia investigation. The reality here is there is still a sense at this White House, are there more meetings? Is there still more information to come out? At the White House press briefing today, answers were in short supply -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us today, thank you so much.
Does any of this change some Democrats' assessment that they had yet to see any evidence of actual collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia? Stick around.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
Sticking with politics, and let's talk about what we know for a fact about Russian intelligence operatives and President Trump and more, just what we know for a fact, nothing about the campaign, nothing about collusion, what's going on today.
We know that, according to the U.S. intelligence community, the Russians, on order from Vladimir Putin, attempted to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, according to the intelligence community in the United States.
This is not just the opinion, by the way, of the previous administration.
Here are President Trump's intelligence chiefs being asked if "Russian intelligence agencies were responsible for the hacking and leaking of information and using misinformation to influence our elections."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do. Yes, sir. Yes, senator.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: We also know that President Trump, at his most aggressive, downplays this conclusion from the intelligence community and quite often publicly questions it, which brings us to his crucial meeting on the sidelines of the G20 with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Both Russia and the U.S. agree that President Trump raised the issue of Russian interference, but how did he bring it up? How did he raise the issue? "The New York Times" reports that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was at the meeting, told an associate that he was -- quote -- "stunned" when Mr. Trump began the meeting by saying to Putin -- quote -- "I'm going to get this out of the way. Did you do this?"
Now, President Trump tweeted a much different version of events saying -- quote -- "He strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I have already gave him my opinion. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia."
Mr. Trump then raised the idea of the joint U.S.-Russian impenetrable cyber-security unit, which was met with neck-straining double-takes from authorities in all corners.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASHTON CARTER, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: This is like the guy who robbed your house proposing a working group on burglary.
ROBERT BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The country that attacked us in the 2016 elections, you can't go into business with them. It's truly like working with the Japanese after Pearl Harbor to defend Hawaii.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I am sure that Vladimir Putin could be of enormous assistance in that effort, since he's doing the hacking.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: After members of Mr. Trump's Cabinet took to TV yesterday to defend this idea of a joint U.S.-Russian cyber-security unit, President Trump, perhaps hearing some of the backlash, backed off, tweeting: "The fact that President Putin and I discussed the cyber- security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen."
The debate over whether the U.S. should form a cyber-security unit with the country that just interfered with its elections shows just how far President Trump has moved the goalposts away from any serious form of retaliation against Russia.
The debate is no longer, how severe of a punishment should there be? It's now, how much of a reward is the Trump administration willing to give the Russians?
Joining me now to talk about this and much more is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland.
Senator, I want to start with the meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner and that Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties.
[16:15:00] Trump Jr. tweeted in response: "No inconsistency in statements. Meeting ended up being primarily about adoptions. In response to further questions, I simply provided more details."
Now, the adoption issue is particularly interesting to talk about with you because it's about Putin's suspending adoptions of Russian orphans by American parents. That was retaliation against the law that you authored, the Magnitsky Act, which imposes sanctions on Russians who violate human rights.
What do you make of all this? SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: Well, Jake, you're absolutely right. The meeting with this lawyer, at the time that they met in June, just about when the nomination by Mr. Trump was being locked up, is extremely concerning. It's clear that this meeting was an attempt to deal with the sanctions that were imposed by the United States against Russia under the Magnitsky Law.
The lawyer that Mr. Trump met with was the lawyer who tried to discredit Mr. Magnitsky, putting resources into misinformation, lies about Mr. Magnitsky and how he was arrested, tortured and killed by the Russians.
TAPPER: Well, let's talk about that lawyer for a second, Natalia Veselnitskaya. She told "The New York Times" that she did not represent the Kremlin in any official capacity. She does spend a lot of time lobbying against the Magnitsky Act and smearing Magnitsky himself as you note. Do you consider her to be somebody who has ties to the Kremlin?
CARDIN: Oh, absolutely. There's no question that she was working on behalf of the Kremlin, on behalf of Mr. Putin. This was clearly their strategy to say, again, that Mr. Magnitsky really never existed. This is their fake news lies that they spread. They've used it not just in not in Magnitsky, they've used it elsewhere. And this is one of those architects of the strategy, clearly a part of the Russian government strategy.
TAPPER: Assuming we take Donald Trump Jr.'s explanation of the meeting at face value, is there anything necessarily wrong about this woman, this lawyer, going to the Trump campaign and saying, let me explain why we think these sanctions are a bad idea.
CARDIN: Well, absolutely, because this is wrong, because it wasn't about the sanctions are wrong, it's about teasing as to how they could help in regards to the upcoming elections. It was an attempt to establish a contact. Clearly, Russia had its vision in interfering with our election when they met. So, he was -- Mr. Trump was making himself vulnerable to a Russian strategy to interfere in our elections.
TAPPER: At this point, several Democrats including Senator Dianne Feinstein, they said they have not seen any evidence of any collusion. Does this news of this meeting, do you think, change that in any way?
CARDIN: Well, I think it's something that we need to have the investigation. Obviously, the intelligence committee is doing their investigation. We have, of course, the Director Mueller doing his investigation. I've called for an independent commission to take a look at this. I think we should have an independent commission.
Let's let the facts lead where they may. We know there were multiple contacts by Russia with representatives of the Trump campaign during this period of time. We would like to know exactly what happened, whether this was Russia's attempt to influence through contacts in the United States, what direction the parties that they met with, what help they gave or didn't give. These are facts that must be pursued. TAPPER: OK, but you don't think on its face what we know now about
that meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and the others, that's not evidence of collusion as of what we know now.
CARDIN: I don't know enough to draw those conclusions and I wouldn't want to draw those conclusions. I think those conclusions should come after an investigation because they're very serious charges.
TAPPER: Hypothetically, do you think if somebody told the Clinton campaign they had information on then-candidate Donald Trump that the Clinton campaign wouldn't have taken the meeting if it was somebody from another country?
CARDIN: I hope they would not. If it's someone from another country, it's clear that they're trying to do something against our laws and against our free election system. So, yes, I would hope that a candidate running for the president of the United States would recognize that they shouldn't be meeting with foreign governments in regards to our domestic elections.
TAPPER: The Senate recently passed a new Russia sanctions bill, 98-2. "Axios" is reporting that the White House is hoping to water it down in the House of Representatives. Marc Short, part of the White House legislative affairs team, said to "Axios" quote: this bill is so poorly written that neither Republican nor Democratic administration would be comfortable with the current draft because it greatly hampers the executive branch's diplomatic efforts, unquote.
What's your reaction?
CARDIN: Well, first of all, I take exemption that's poorly drafted since I was one of the individuals that helped draft this bill. It passed 98-2 in the United States Senate. So, I think it has broad support. It's a clear message that the United States Congress wants Russia to know that what they have done, not just meddling in our elections, but what they've done in Europe, what they've done in Ukraine, what they continue to do in Syria.
[16:20:01] All these issues will have repercussions and additional sanctions imposed unless Russia changes its behavior.
It's the right message. It's the right hand we should give the president in dealing with Russia. The Congress is the legislative branch of government. The sanction regime is created by Congress.
This is our responsibility. The Senate has exercised that responsibility. Now it's time for the House of Representatives to take up and pass this legislation.
TAPPER: The author of the Magnitsky Act, Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, thank you so much for being here, sir. Appreciate it.
CARDIN: Thank you.
TAPPER: Recess is over. Senators are back to work on the Hill, but can Republicans pick up the pieces of that health care legislation? That's next.
[16:25:07] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
As Congress returns from a week-long recess, during that week, Senate Republicans' health care bill somehow became even less likely to pass. In fact, several Senate Republicans are now declaring the bill dead. So what now?
CNN's Ryan Nobles is live for us on Capitol Hill.
Ryan, is there any momentum between Republicans in the Senate to throw this bill out and start fresh?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, not enough for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to change course, at least not at this point. And even as he continues to plow ahead, there is indeed some growing concern about the prospects for this bill.
SEN. JONI ERNST (R), IOWA: Then, we disagree.
NOBLES (voice-over): Tonight, after a week of hearing from their constituents --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They absolutely do not care if people are covered or not.
NOBLES: -- Senate Republicans are back in Washington, greeted by protests as they tried to revive their health care reform push.
But it appears the week outside the beltway is not making the process any easier.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: The one and only issue that came up no matter where I was time and again was health care.
NOBLES: At least 10 Republican senators remain opposed to the health care bill in its current form, and they are senators from both the conservative and moderate wings of the party. The difference in viewpoints has many left wondering if a grand deal can be brokered.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: In my view, it's probably going to be dead. But I am -- I've been wrong.
NOBLES: Despite the differences in opinions, Senate leadership is not giving up yet. Mitch McConnell is hoping his members will find a way to come together.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We're in a big discussion among ourselves, that is, the Senate Republican conference, about the way forward.
NOBLES: McConnell continues to offer tweaks to the bill as he brings the conference together. Those changes have not revealed, even to most members. But tweaks alone may not be enough to convince those who are the most firmly opposed.
(on camera): At this point, do you think a complete overhaul is necessary to get to a yes?
COLLINS: I do need a complete overhaul in order to get to yes.
NOBLES (voice-over): Meanwhile, the White House is sending Vice President Mike Pence to attempt to rein in wayward senators. He spent time with Missouri's Ray Blunt over the weekend and this morning went on conservative radio to promise a deal will get done.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This will be a historic step toward reversing the disastrous and collapsing policy of Obamacare. And I promise you, the president and I have not stopped working.
NOBLES: And while President Trump did tweet about health care, telling senators not to leave Washington without passing a, quote, beautiful new health care bill, a White House official tells CNN the president currently does not have any plan to play a large role in selling health care prior to his trip to Paris on Wednesday.
Democrats who don't have the votes to stop the bill are keeping up the pressure. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and his leadership team sent a letter to McConnell asking them to consider fixing Obamacare in its current form.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY: When using bipartisanship as a threat is your only argument, it's time to move on.
NOBLES: But it is ultimately Republicans that will need to strike a deal. And even though they have time, optimism is not running high.
SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: Clearly, the draft plan is dead. Is the serious rewrite plan dead? I don't know, I've not seen the serious rewrite plan.
NOBLES: And the White House director of legislative affairs, Marc Short, telling reporters today that the administration still supports the bill in its current form and that the president remains active in this debate. Jake, he did concede, though, that Democrats are better organized on the issue of health care and that Republicans need to do a better job of getting out their message -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill for us -- thanks so much.
I'm joined now by my political panel. So, let's go back to that Trump tweet. Some -- you might call it subtle encouragement. I cannot imagine that Congress would dare to leave Washington without a beautiful new health care bill fully approved and ready to go. What do you think it would mean, Bill, if Republicans left for the
August recess without having passed the Senate Republican bill or some health care bill?
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: They might be better off politically in passing a bill that's not so popular that actually then become law and go into effect, then they can say they did their best, very complicated. They'll probably have to do a bipartisan fix for the Democrats of some of the particular problems of the Obamacare exchanges and say, we're going to come back and take a look at it. At this point, I honestly think just politically, it's probably the best thing that could happen for the Republicans.
TAPPER: To let it die.
KRISTOL: Yes. Start over.
TAPPER: What do you think, Adrienne?
ADRIENNE ELROD, FORMER DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: Look, I think we knew that when Mitch McConnell did not bring this bill to the floor before they went home for July Fourth recess, that this is going to lessen the chances dramatically that this bill would get passed.
I mean, I agree with Bill, Democrats are willing to come to table and work with the Republicans to get something done. There are plenty of things that need to be done to improve on Obamacare, but we're not going to repeal the bill. And you saw members like Susan Collins who are even detracting more and more away from this bill. You're seeing the conservative wing of the Republican Party who are less and less inclined to also support it because they don't think it goes far enough. So, again, I'm never going to count Mitch McConnell out.
TAPPER: Yes, you shouldn't.