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White House Defends Trump Jr's Meeting With Russian Lawyer; Trump Backtracks On Cyber Security Unit With Russia; Lawmakers Slam Trump's Response To Russian Hacks. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 10, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- and without any ambiguity, that last year he took a meeting with a Russian lawyer after being told she might have information helpful to the campaign.

Now, this is not an unnamed source. This is the son of the President of the United States. "The New York Times" reports that Donald Trump Jr. took this meeting because he was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And it wasn't just Trump Jr. that showed up. He brought others. Significant others, son-in-law Jared Kushner -- son-in-law of the President -- and also then campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

The admission is a full 180-degree turn from a statement just hours earlier when Donald Jr. said the meeting was to discuss the issue of Russian adoptions. So there's a lot to unpack here. What does this mean about the Trump team's willingness to accept help from Russia?

We're covering all angles of the story here in the United States and in Moscow. Let's begin at the White House with Suzanne Malveaux.

Good morning, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John and Poppy. The White House is in full battle mode here, pushing back very hard on this story. It was an extraordinary development that we saw over the weekend, first reported by "The New York Times," that Donald Trump Jr., in fact, did have a meeting with a Russian national during the campaign, that this happened on June 9th.

It occurred at the Trump Tower, he says, without his father's knowledge of this particular meeting. That the reason why this happened was because that this Russian could provide some sort of helpful information to the Trump campaign, some damaging information on Hillary Clinton inside of that meeting. Also, the President's son- in-law, Jared Kushner, as well as the former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

Now, various explanations from Donald Trump Jr. this weekend when confronted with this story. On Saturday, this is how he put it, what was behind this, saying that: we primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.

Well, then, a totally different explanation emerged on Sunday, just yesterday, about why this occurred. This, the statement from Donald Trump Jr. on Sunday, that -- the woman stated that she had information about individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous, and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became that clear she had no meaningful information.

And that is what they are really pushing here at the White House, that nothing came of this meeting. But federal investigators and all the investigations looking into possible collusion are looking at the intent. Why was it in the first place that Donald Trump Jr. met with this individual?

Well, Kellyanne Conway, senior advisor to the President, as you saw just in the last hour of CNN, really a very robust defense of the administration, of the President, and also of Donald Trump Jr. Take a listen.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Don Jr. has very explicitly stated he didn't even know the name of the person with whom he was meeting. He agreed to the meeting based on a contact from the Miss Universe pageant.

They get into the meeting and it quickly turns into a pretext for Russian adoption, according to his statements. That the comments this woman are making about any type of information on Hillary Clinton were vague, they were meaningless. Others exited the meeting very quickly.

The meeting itself was very brief. There was no information given. There was no action taken. There was no follow up.

And let me just respectfully say, as well as I can, I don't think anybody had to look very far to find damaging information on Hillary Clinton, or negative information. She provided it --

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: That's beside the point. He still decided to take a meeting with somebody. It was important enough for him to bring Jared and Manafort with him --

CONWAY: You know, it's not beside the point. She provided it in the light of loop --

CUOMO: -- so it wasn't, you know, let's have lunch. He brought two very important people with him. It's a credibility issue as to whether or not he knew who he was meeting with.

I don't know what should be more troubling to you, that he would take a meeting not knowing who it was, but it was important enough to bring Jared or Manafort, or that Donald Jr. would knowingly meet with someone with Kremlin connections on the basis of getting oppo research about Hillary Clinton. There are huge legal and ethical implications to that decision, as you know.

CONWAY: You keep saying -- no, I'm not going to agree with you on that. First of all, you keep saying opposition research the way you guys constantly vomit words like collusion and Russian interference and affecting the election, all of which you have no evidence. We cannot convert wishful thinking into hard evidence.


MALVEAUX: And we are just getting a tweet from Donald Trump Jr. regarding this matter. I want to read it to you very quickly here. It says: 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.

[09:05:04] And John and Poppy, it's important to note that Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee said over the weekend as well that he is interested in hearing from all of those people who were in the meeting about why they decided to meet with this Russian national and what came about afterwards.

BERMAN: And, again, interesting that he said he took that meeting as part of a campaign on a campaign, something that he had denied months before. We'll talk much more about that coming up. Suzanne Malveaux, fascinating. Thanks so much.

The Kremlin is now reacting, says it doesn't know anything about this 2016 meeting between Donald Trump's son and a Russian lawyer. In fact, the Kremlin says they don't know who the lawyer is at all really.

CNN's Matthew Chance, live in Moscow with more. Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John and Poppy, hi. That's right. The Kremlin is trying to put as much distance as they can between these renewed allegations of collusion on the parts of Russian surrogates and the Trump candidate and the Trump team, saying they had no idea who this Russian lawyer was.

Her name is Natalia Veselnitskaya. She has represented government businesses in the past. She's also got strong links with government officials in this country or at least government appointees in this country.

And she's also been prominent in trying to do two things. First of all, overturn the ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children and, secondly, trying to repeal the Magnitsky Act. Now, I think that may have been some of the -- or some of the questions we need to ask is, was she going to meet the Trump candidate team to advocate the lifting of the Magnitsky Act?

They said the meeting was about adoptions and the ban on that. But that was a Russian measure that was imposed following the United States' decision, the Obama administration decision, to impose sanctions on government officials in Russia for taking part in the Magnitsky fraud, $230 million. It was identified as a tax fraud. The lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who identified it, was killed while he was in police custody, and U.S. took legal sanctions on those responsible.

As a result, she has been -- Natalia Veselnitskaya has been a leading advocate in Russia to get that U.S. act of law lifted. And so, I think the big question is, did she go to New York to Trump Tower to advocate a new Trump administration, potentially, if it were elected, to do just that?

HARLOW: Matthew Chance in Moscow, thank you for the reporting. And that's the word from the Kremlin on it.

Let's talk about all of these, the political implications and what it means. Mark Preston is here, CNN senior political analyst. Susan Hennessey joins us. She's a CNN national security and legal analyst and former National Security Agency attorney. And David Rohde, CNN global affairs analyst and online news director for "The New Yorker."

Nice to have you here. And, Susan, let's begin with you because what cannot be disputed by anyone is the fact that this is the first time that we know that someone within the Trump campaign was willing to meet with a Russian on the premise of accepting help from them. The significance?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Right. So it's important that this occurs before there's actually public reports of Russian hacking, and so that makes it hard to make the case that, oh, this is the first sort of proof of an attempt at collusion.

There are potentially legal issues here. It violates campaign finance laws to accept an in-kind donation from a foreign national. So if he accepted to -- if he expected to get information with that kind of value, that would be criminal.

And then, of course, we know that federal investigators and congressional investigators have been looking into this matter. And so if anyone were to make misstatements or to lie to federal or congressional investigators, that's a lie.

It's also a felony to not disclose this information on SAP's fixed security clearance forms. We know that Jared Kushner has had to make addendums in order to update these filings after reported oversights of not disclosing these meetings.

BERMAN: Look, you say lie. You know, on the face of it now, it looks like Donald Trump Jr.'s story has changed, and there are serious honesty questions here. Look at what he told "The New York Times" in March in an interview.

Did I meet with people that were Russian? I'm sure I did, but none that were set up, none that I can think of at moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.

And this tweet that we just heard from him this morning, he says -- obviously, I'm the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear about an opponent. On a campaign.

You know, Mark Preston, he's basically admitting he lied when he told "The New York Times" that he never took a meeting with a Russian, you know, as a representative of the campaign.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, no question about that. You know, in addition to that, John, he held this meeting on June 9th.

On July 22nd, that is when WikiLeaks dumped all the DNC e-mails.

On July 24th, in an interview with our own Jake Tapper, Robby Mook was on right before him, who was the campaign manager and has suggested that the Russians were trying to help Trump in the campaign.

Right after that, Donald Trump Jr. was interviewed by Jake Tapper. And in that interview, he described it as, what the Clinton campaign was trying to do, is it just goes to show you their exact moral compass. I mean, they will say anything to be able to win this.

[09:10:10] I mean, this is, time and time again, lie after lie. So not only do we have those that you just talked about, but we also have this other timeline about him further saying that he had nothing to do with it, nor did he think Russia was trying to interfere with the election. And clearly he knew, at that time, that Russia was trying to interfere.

HARLOW: So I think, David Rohde, people could argue about how important Donald Trump Jr. was to the core of the campaign, right? And that's a valid point but it wasn't him alone.


HARLOW: It was Paul Manafort, then campaign chairman.


HARLOW: And it was Jared Kushner who would go on to run the data operation and would go on to be one of the central advisers to the President near the end of the campaign and now in the White House. How does that change things?

ROHDE: This adds to this sort of parade of people who have not disclosed meetings with the Russians. I don't think there's, you know, evidence of collusion here yet, but you're talking about Flynn had meetings with the Russians that he didn't disclose. Jeff Sessions had meetings with the Russians that he didn't disclose. And now, you've got Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and Manafort. That's five.

Ten days ago, "The Wall Street Journal" reported that a long-time political operative Peter Smith contacted a British intelligence official to try to find Hillary Clinton's e-mails. And before that, these are more peripheral fingers. You've got, you know, fingers, Carter Page, Roger Stone. Roger Stone sort of warned about the Podesta e-mails being released.

This is not proof of collusion, but this is a political problem for the White House. Why don't they disclose these meetings and how many more meetings haven't been disclosed? You know, it's drip, drip, drip. And maybe they're innocent of collusion but this is a political problem for them, and they have disclose this information.

BERMAN: You know, Susan Hennessey, you wrote a fascinating article. You know, David kept on using the word "collusion" here. After that story about Peter Smith in "The Wall Street Journal" appeared, the story from some White House allies started changing a little bit.

It wasn't, oh, there was no collusion. They said, even if there was collusion, maybe small C, or even if there were discussions between Russians and people associated with the campaign, it's not illegal. Explain to me the shifting argument and where that sits legally.

HENNESSEY: Yes. So we've seen these shifts sort of over the past few weeks of high-profile surrogates and conservative media, essentially changing the story from there's no evidence of collusion to, well, collusion is not illegal. And so what's essentially happening here is collusion is a term of art in the law. It really only applies in the context of anti-trust violations.

We're not accusing -- nobody is accusing the Trump campaign of price fixing or that kind of activity. People are using the term collusion sort of in a colloquial, general sense to try and capture that inappropriate, secret, illegal sorts of agreements, or improper agreements, that might have occurred.

Now, what we're seeing is, as additional stories come out with more and more specific allegations, we're going to start shifting that language from sort of that general term of collusion into more specific terminologies, legal terminologies, things like conspiracy, solicitation, violation of campaign finance laws. So really, this talking point, it just doesn't make much sense.

HARLOW: Mark Preston, one of the most significant parts of "The New York Times" reporting on this is their sourcing. It's five people, and that's something that Chris Cuomo kept bringing up in that interview with Kellyanne Conway, right?

This is five people, three of them advisers to the White House, two people with knowledge. And the fact that they came out and, it appears, spoke to "The Times" after their Saturday story broke, after news of the meeting broke, but added a whole lot more detail about why this meeting was accepted by Donald Trump Jr. How do you see it?

PRESTON: Right. Well, and those sourcing really forced Donald Trump Jr. to come out yesterday and to, once again, amend his statement, as John had been talking about earlier, saying that this meeting, you know, was about -- was supposed to be talked with the idea that he would get information about Hillary Clinton and then they talked about adoption. That Saturday statement was about adoption. So he's -- you know, clearly, he had been changing his story.

It's also worth noting you have two top campaign officials and Paul Manafort two weeks before the Republican convention. And I think this is very, very important to put in context here. That Republican convention was a bit of a mess.

They were having trouble getting speakers. There were having trouble putting together programming. It takes an incredible amount of effort. So for Paul Manafort to take time out of his very busy schedule to sit down in this meeting is very bizarre, to say the least.

BERMAN: You know, David Rohde, I don't know if you heard the Kellyanne Conway interview on CNN, all 76 minutes of it, that appeared in the last hour. The argument from the White House seems to be now, nothing came of the Donald Trump Jr. meeting. Yes, he took the meeting. You see the tweet saying it was just off of from Donald Trump, but nothing came of it. Long term, will that matter?

ROHDE: I think it's -- and this is up to sort of viewers and voters to decide. Do they trust this White House? And I go back to, why didn't they disclose these meetings?

[09:14:57] The interesting nugget in the story also was that Jared Kushner only disclosed this recently, this meeting. Jared Kushner has still not disclosed all of his meetings with Russian officials. So I think it's a problem for the White House in terms of credibility and this makes the Mueller investigation critical.

If the President tries to obstruct because he was tweeting this morning attacking James Comey again, I think all the tweets are distraction. But if he tries to obstruct this investigation, it raises all kinds of questions.

You know, if they're innocent and there was no collusion, the White House should let Mueller go forward and trust out system of rules and laws. That's the best way for them to go politically. If they keep with these attacks, try to impinge on Mueller, then I think they're digging a deeper hole for themselves.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: (Inaudible), David Rohde, Mark Preston, Susan Hennessey, thanks so much. It's not the only news about Russia happening this morning, involving the White House. President Trump has backtracked on a Cyber Security Commission he was bragging about having with the Russians after Republican senators, one of them said it's pretty close to the dumbest idea he has ever heard.

And a big milestone overseas, Mosul liberated, at least most of it. ISIS losing its key Iraqi stronghold. What does this mean for the terror group?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Also President Trump says Congress would not dare leave Washington without a health care bill. Some Republicans say it's already dead. So where does Mitch McConnell go from here in their fight to repeal Obamacare? Next.



HARLOW: President Trump is now backtracking a complete reversal on his idea to team up with Russia to fight cybercrime. This stance just coming 12 hours after he first wrote this, "Putin and I discussed forming an impenetrable cyber security unit so that election hacking and many other negative things will be guarded."

BERMAN: Yes, the reaction to that from both sides of the aisles swift. Listen to how Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham responded.


SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I am sure that Vladimir Putin could be of enormous assistance in that effort since he's doing the hacking.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's not the dumbest idea I ever heard but it's pretty close. The more you do this, the more people are suspicious about you and Russia.


BERMAN: All right, joining us once again, Mark Preston, now here is Salena Zito, a CNN contributor, and Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst.

Salena, you know, it was 12 hours after the first statement from the president on this commission that he wrote in the morning that he then wrote this, "The fact that President Putin and I discussed cyber security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't, but a ceasefire can and it did."

This was a remarkable about-face in the course of just one day here from the president of the United States. And in between, he had his secretary of the treasury and others out defending his cyber security unit. He sort of hung them out to dry and then went back on it. What's going on here?

SALENA ZITO, CNN COMMENTATOR: Groundhog Day. So, I mean, one of the things that has been consistent about President Donald Trump is that he has never stopped being Donald Trump, right? He has always been this person that is willing to throw something out there, see if it sticks, see what happens and if it doesn't he's like, I'll just try something else.

It's part of his business persona. I'm not saying it's right. It's certainly not the type of behavior we have seen from previous presidents. Having said that, that's not who people wanted for president.

And I think that while it is really difficult for politicians and for reporters to sort of try to wrangle and understand exactly what he's standing for, it is not that difficult for people who supported him because they kind of knew who they were getting when they picked this guy.

BERMAN: Mark Preston, to you. It wasn't just Lindsey Graham and John McCain. Republican Senator Ben Sasse tweeted it is inexplicably bizarre, this is before the reversal from the president.

Is there more pressure now for the White House to get behind getting that Russia sanctions bill to pass the Senate 98-2 through the House? I mean, we know a lot of House leadership wants it.

But, you know, it's not just Democratic senators that are frustrated it's not getting through the House. It's Republicans, like John McCain. Is there more of an onus on the White House now after all this to say you met with Putin. Now get this thing through.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, we know the White House right now is trying to tinker with that bill before it actually goes through again and gets sent to the president for him to sign. Can you imagine if his first veto would be a Russian sanction bill?

HARLOW: Right.

PRESTON: It would be insane for him to do so. So, they're trying to tweak it a little bit that would allow the administration, at least in their mind, to have wiggle room when negotiating with Vladimir Putin.

Now having said that, you have the likes of John McCain -- and there are a lot of Russian hawks, Republicans now both in the House and both in the Senate that want to see this sanctions bill go through.

So this could actually become a big defeat for Donald Trump and his administration specifically because they are trying to change it right now. They might not be able to and Congress may very well send him that bill.

BERMAN: Hey, Ron, let me tell you what "The New York Times" reporter from the Donald Trump, President Trump, President Putin meeting. The first words about the Russian meddling apparently allegedly according to the "Times" from the president was, "I'm going to get this out of the way. Did you do this?"

From President Trump to President Putin, which some see is not exactly as a strong, leading line there. I feel like since Friday when we first got word that President Trump confronted President Putin about this, sort of the story has changed and diminished minute by minute by minute by minute.

Politically as he sits here Monday and Congress gets back to work, where does it stand? What are Republicans saying as we sit here about the president's confrontation?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I felt all weekend that the difference between the Russian version of events and American version of events was less than met the eye because President Putin is saying that President Trump agreed with their assertion that they had nothing to do with it.

It was not true. The American version is they agreed to disagree and you move -- either conclusion takes you to the same place where they both say, well, let's move forward rather than the U.S. president saying, look, I don't care what you say. We know that you did it.

Here are the consequences for you having done it and here will be the further consequences if you go forward. That is a very different end point than we got from an administration clearly signaling they want to move forward.

[09:25:04]Can I just kind of amend -- I think Salena and I have had this conversation before. There's clearly an element of President Trump's base that likes that he is a disruptive force. That is not all of his voters.

He won 46 percent of the vote to begin with and roughly 20 percent of them in the exit poll said they did not believe he was qualified or have the temperament to be president.

These kinds of erratic moves back and forth are more reinforcing than resolving those doubts. It is not cost free for him politically. You can see that in the approval rating to be behaving so far outside of the boundaries I think of what a usual president does.

There are elements of people who voted for him who clearly in polling are saying they are unnerved by the way he is executing his job as president.

BERMAN: Salena, there also seems to be confusion amongst some of the president's closest allies on exactly what the White House strategy and tactics now when it comes to Russia. I mean, Rudy Giuliani, very close to the president, and also someone who advises him on cyber security issues was asked in Poland why the U.S. has not punished Russia for interfering in the election.

Here is his response and at the back end of it you'll hear U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley responding when our Dana Bash asked her what is Giuliani talking about. Listen.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: I do think we have taken action. I just don't think we've announced it.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: I don't know what he's talking about. I don't know what it's in reference to. So, no, I can't talk about a conversation he had in a different form where I just heard a sound bite.


HARLOW: Salena, what do you make of that? Giuliani says I think we've taken action. I just don't think we've announced it.

ZITO: Well, I think likely, both things are true. I'm just saying, I don't know for sure. I think there's probably conversations that not everyone is involved with, right?

But with Giuliani being a close ally of the president, they've probably had this conversation, you know. We're going to be doing this. We're going to be doing that. Has that gotten out to, you know, spread out, outside to Nikki Haley?

It appears it hasn't or if it has, she's not in a position to talk about it and that's why she gave that answer. I mean, this is what happens when you have a group of people. Some of them have Washington experience. Some of them don't, who are collaborating and creating this new kind of presidency. And sometimes the message is sort of all over the place.

BERMAN: All right, we have to leave it there. Salena Zito, thank you. Mark Preston, Ron Brownstein, we appreciate it.

The Trump administration in the middle of all of this is still trying to get health care through, and tax reform promising this year maybe?

BERMAN: That's right. The treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, says a plan is on the way. CNN chief business correspondent, Christine Romans is here before the bell. Is it on the way?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: With something for everyone, according to Steven Mnuchin. He says it will happen and have all the things they want, a corporate tax cut, corporate tax simplification, fewer tax brackets for individuals like you and me, and a top tax bracket of about 35 percent, and this is the timing.


STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: Our plan is to have a full-blown release of the plan in the beginning of September, with being able to vote and getting this passed before the end of the year.


ROMANS: So, it won't be easy. There's a reason it hasn't been done since 1986. It won't be easy and everybody will have to give something up. What am I talking about? Well, 30 percent of filers, they itemize their deductions and the White House plan and House Republican plan would get rid of all deductions except mortgage interest and charitable deductions.

That means no more state and local taxes, being able to write those off your federal return, medical costs, student loans, child care, and the like. This will not be popular with people who live in New York, California, Illinois, New Jersey, and Connecticut, where they have an awful lot of state and local taxes that they write off.

And the treasury secretary says he has been hearing from people on that subject. They will try to be sensitive to that, but they want to move forward here.

BERMAN: Those were all blue states. I could help but notice.

ROMANS: Yes, they were.

BERMAN: Christine Romans, thanks so much.

HARLOW: After eight months of brutal fighting, trying to retake Mosul from ISIS, Iraq's leaders say the victory is finally at hand. The question now becomes what is next? What fills the vacuum? A live report, ahead.