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New Russia/Trump Controversy Dominating the Airwaves. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired July 11, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: So, everyone, you have to admit the irony of it all. Here we are talking about e-mails, not hers, but his, Donald Trump, not senior, but junior, e-mails showing that people close to this president were ready and willing to work with the Russians to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.
How can I say that? Because here are the e-mails. They say as much. It's titled Russia Clinton private and confidential. Not convinced? Well, the e-mail from a man with connections to a powerful Russian family close to Putin, a former judge in Trump's Miss Universe pageant, offers to set up a meeting with someone who calls, he calls a Russian government attorney with information and documents that would, quote, "incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father." End quote.
Doesn't get any plainer than that, or does it? It goes on to say, "this is obviously very high-level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."
Let me read that again. "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." Government. Donald Trump, Jr.'s response back then, quote, "If it's what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer," in other words, closer to the election. And now, this tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS: Do you tell your father anything about this?
DONALD TRUMP, JR., DONALD TRUMP'S SON: No. It was such a nothing, there was nothing to tell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, let me ask everybody at home this. Why should you, why should any of us believe that? This interview is like, I think his fifth attempt to defend the indefensible. Don Junior is the latest person in the president's orbit to mislead you, the American people, about their contacts with Russia. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Attorney General Jeff
Sessions, his own son-in-law and top aide, Jared Kushner, and now the closest yet, his namesake, Donald Trump, Jr.
So, no one knows exactly where this investigation is going to end up, what it's going to uncover. The president and his supporters have said time and time again that this is fake news! It's a witch hunt! Please, it's time to end that garbage.
Read the e-mails and ask yourself, who do you believe, the people who have misled you over and over and over, or do you believe your own lying eyes?
Let's start our show right now. I want to bring in now CNN's senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, CNN political analyst April Ryan, Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News, and CNN senior political commentator, David Axelrod.
So good to have you all on. David, I'm going to start with you. Two key things about this e-mail exchange released today and I read some of in our open here.
Rob Goldstone, the publicist who set up the meeting e-mails, Donald Trump, Jr. it says this. "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." With Donald Trump, Jr. replying, "if it's what you say, I love it!" And here's what Donald Trump, Jr. said tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP, JR.: Things are going a million miles an hour again. And hey, wait a minute, I've heard about all of these things, but maybe this is something, I should hear him out. This was again, basic information that was going to be possibly there. I didn't know who this guy well enough to understand that if this talent manager from Miss Universe had this kind of thing, so I wanted to hear him out.
HANNITY: Do you tell your father anything about this?
TRUMP, JR.: No. It was such a nothing, there was nothing to tell. I mean, I wouldn't have even remembered it until you start scouring through the stuff. It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, Donald Trump, Jr.'s story kept changing, it keeps changing. He only released these e-mails after the New York Times was about to publish them, and now he's describing the meeting as a wasted 20 minutes. David, what's your response?
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, look, I remember thinking when I saw the initial story over the weekend, when he said we met and we talked about adoption, I was thinking, why would you have a meeting about adoption with this connected Russian lawyer, and why would you bring in Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, the two leading figures in the campaign, for a trivial meeting? It didn't make sense then.
And then as the story evolved, obviously, that's not what the meeting was about. They've got a terrible credibility problem on this, and it's really -- it's beyond credibility now. This is something that's in the hands of the special counsel. Obviously, the congressional committees are torqued up to drill down on all of this, and we have entered a new phase of this investigation. There's no question about it.
[22:05:05] LEMON: Jim, I want to read this. Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker, this is, of the New York Times, they have some new details on Donald Trump's, on Donald Trump, Jr.'s changing statements over the weekend, and here's what they're reporting tonight.
It says, "As Air Force One jetted back from Europe on Saturday, a small cadre of Mr. Trump's advisers huddled in a cabin, helping to craft a statement for the president's eldest son, Donald Trump, Jr. to give to the New York Times explaining why last summer with a lawyer connected to the Russian government.
Participants on the plane and back to the United States debated about how transparent to be in the statement, according to people familiar with the discussions. Ultimately, the people said the president signed off on a statement from Mr. -- from Donald Trump, Jr. for the times that was so incomplete that it required day after day of follow up statements. Each more revealing -- more revealing than the last."
Did the White House mishandle this? I hate to ask you that question, but what's your answer?
JIM ACOSTA, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, as they were working with the president's son to craft some sort of statement to explain all of this, they did a pretty poor job of it. They've had to revise their statement a couple of times, or at least Donald Trump, Jr. has over the last several days.
Don, we're running out of white chalk to draw the lines on the TV screen in terms of who is connected to who in all of this. I think over here at the White House, the sense is, is that they are running out of good answers for these questions, and that's why I think you're seeing these briefings off camera.
I think that's why you're seeing people like Sarah Huckabee Sanders giving statements like we saw earlier today, where she essentially was just sent into the room to read a quick two-sentence statement from the president and then deflect questions for the remaining 19 minutes of that briefing. She really didn't have much more to say than that.
And you know, I think what we're looking at here is a situation where the White House and the president, his team, his defenders can no longer repeat what they've said for months now, which is that there were no contacts between Trump world and the Russians.
That denial is now out the window. That cannot be used anymore in light of these e-mails. The one thing that they can say, that they can attempt to say, is that there was no collusion, but it appears there was attempted collusion, if you look at these e-mails from the president's son.
And so, my guess is, is that the president will be asked about this on Thursday. He's scheduled to hold a joint news conference with Emmanuel Macron, the French President, over in Paris.
But, Don, just to give you an indication as to how lockdown things are over here at the White House, (AUDIO GAP) tomorrow will be the third day in a row where the president has a public schedule with no public events where he's out in front of the cameras. The only time we'll see him out in front of cameras is when he departs the White House from Marine One to start heading over to Paris.
And as David Axelrod will tell you from working over here at the White House and I know he worked for democratic administration I don't mean to team him up, it is highly unusual to see three days in a row of just no events on the public schedule.
LEMON: Yes. So you mentioned Sarah Huckabee...
AXELROD: Don, let me...
LEMON: Go ahead.
AXELROD: Let me just say -- let me just say, not only it's unusual normally but you're in the final weeks before recess of a Senate of a congressional session in which health care is hanging in the balance and they're camping up the bid to get some other things done including trying to prepare to deal with the debt ceiling.
There's some really weighty issues going on and the President of the United States is sequestered in the White House, pinned down by a scandal that has now come right to his doorstep.
LEMON: Yes. And Michael, listen, I want to talk about a new reporting shortly, but CNN is now learning that special counsel Robert Mueller will be looking into Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mail with publicist Rob Goldstone. He's the guy who set up this meeting on behalf of the pop star plan.
And then there's his father who has a connation to Putin. Both of whom have a connection to President Trump. My question is, all of this will likely expand the scope of this investigation, will it?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO NEWS: Well, it has to. I mean, here you have in plain language in e-mails representations that the Russian government was seeking to side the Trump campaign. So that begs whole sort sorts of questions. Leave aside how Don Jr. and Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner reacted to the meeting.
You have Rob Goldstein -- Goldtone who I spoke to for hours back in March stating flatly that the Kremlin, through the Agalarov's, Aras Agalarov and Emin Agalarov, business partners of Donald Trump going back to that 2013 Miss Universe pageant were seeking to assist trump's candidacy by providing damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
[22:10:05] So, what, how extensive was this Russian government effort? Was this the sole message, the sole effort to provide information to tilt the scale or was this part of this larger influence campaign that the U.S. intelligence community describe back in January.
LEMON: April Ryan...
ISIKOFF: That's the question on Mueller's best.
LEMON: April Ryan, a couple of things. if -- if Donald Trump, Jr. thought so little of this why bring in the campaign chairman and top adviser, why bring in Manafort and Jared Kushner if he thought so little of this meeting that he forgot about. Why would he bring in those two people who have such influence with Donald Trump?
RYAN: You said it exactly, such influence with Donald Trump, the man who they wanted to be president of the United States. And Don, that brings in the question how wide will this go and how high will it rise to, who else, what higher heights will this implicate someone else.
And this is really getting to people because it's touching a nerve today in the White House briefing room. And Jim will tell you after Sarah Huckabee said, you know, that's it. You know, she ...
LEMON: Hey, April can we play in then you can finish your -- let's play it and then I want you to finish what you're saying because I want -- I want the viewer...
LEMON: Here's Sarah Huckabee Sanders today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I got a quick statement that I'll read from the president. "My son is a high quality person and I applaud his transparency." And beyond that I'm going to have to refer everything on this matter to Don Jr.'s counsel and outside counsel." I won't have anything else to add beyond that today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Go ahead, April. That was pretty lukewarm, though.
RYAN: It was lukewarm but the devil is in the details and the nuances. The president did not tweet this. He gave it to Sarah Huckabee Sanders to read. It was basically almost 140 characters. He could have tweeted that if this was... (CROSSTALK)
LEMON: Not even on camera.
RYAN: He wanted his spokes -- right. Not even on camera. But he wanted his spokesperson from that White House podium to deliver that statement. But we kept peppering, we kept peppering on Sarah Huckabee Sanders about it.
I even asked her, you know, some of the words now being used. Treason and perjury. And she, ultimately after asking her again, she said, you know, it's ridiculous. Those words are ridiculous. But they were so frustrated with this because like Jim said, you know, they cannot say there's no collusion anymore. They can -- there's no justification for some of the things that that they've been.
When they walked out of that room someone in that line with Sarah Huckabee Sanders open that door so hard with force and frustration that you could feel the door crack of it. They were so angry when they left that briefing room today. So the frustration is now evident. There are some legs with this and the legs come from a person that bears the president's name.
LEMON: Jim, did you want to weigh in on this?
ACOSTA: Well, you know, I think that and I think perhaps the rest of the panel will agree. I think the next terminal of this is when republicans up on Capitol or republicans leaders up on Capitol Hill will say enough is enough.
I talked to somebody from Trump world earlier today who was saying, well, this is just a minor headache, we can recover from all of this. There is a sense inside the Trump team that, you know, well, we survived Access Hollywood and we can survive anything.
And I just don't know how long they can run with that mindset. I was talking to a senior republican source up on Capitol Hill earlier this evening who was describing this as another depressing turn incompetence. This is why good people don't go into government. There is this gloominess that is hanging over republicans here in Washington.
And I think that the death watch that you have to keep your eyes on here in Washington is just when republicans on Capitol Hill say enough is enough. When if they just, you know, taking up to hear and not go any further. And I think that is when things will start to turn here in Washington and get real serious.
AXELROD: Let me just...
LEMON: David, David, I need you to hold that thought if you can because I got to get to break in and you'll come back on the other side. Stay with me, everyone. When we come back, much more on our breaking news. The bomb shell e-
mail chain on Donald Trump, Jr.'s Russia meeting.
Plus, what CNN learned when we spoke to the Russian lawyer who was in that meeting.
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Our breaking news tonight, Donald Trump, Jr. speaking out tonight, trying to explain his campaign meeting with the Russian attorney who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Jim Acosta, April Ryan, Michael Isikoff, and David Axelrod are back with me. David, you wanted to weigh in. Jim was saying how much longer the concern would be, how much longer republicans in Washington would put up with this. Go on.
AXELROD: Yes, and I just want to offer a little bit of reality check. The fact is that as we sit here today, Donald Trump's numbers overall aren't particularly good, but his numbers among republicans are very strong, and they've been pretty consistent throughout. The base has stuck with him. There hasn't been as deep an interest in this story among his base.
There's been more of an inclination to believe his story, and there's much more of an interest in other things that he's doing -- Supreme Court appointments and trade and immigration and some of the issues that fire up that base -- fighting Obamacare.
So, the real question is -- I think there are plenty of republicans on the Hill who are dismayed, who would like to walk away from the president, but they're not going to walk away from a president who has 85 percent approval numbers among republican voters, and until those numbers change, or if they start walking up to those midterm elections, and it looks like he is going to be a lead weight for them, I don't think they're going to walk away.
LEMON: Now I want to play more of Donald Trump, Jr. tonight. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP, JR.: My takeaway, when all of this was going on, is that someone has information on our opponent. This is 13 months ago, before I think the rest of the world was talking about that, trying to build up this narrative about Russia.
So I don't even think my sirens, you know, went up, or the antennas went up at the time because of it, because it wasn't the issue that it's been made out to be over the last, you know, nine months, ten months.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: All right, you know, Jim earlier I asked then why would you invite, you know, Manafort and Kushner to the meeting. What's your reaction to that?