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NYT: E-mail to Trump Jr. said Russian Government had Info on Clinton; Sen. Kaine: "We're now Beyond Obstruction of Justice"; 16 Dead in Military Plane Crash in Mississippi; Interview with Rep. Francis Rooney. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 11, 2017 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'll John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. This morning no denial from the White House on an explosive "New York Times" report that Donald Trump Jr. knew before he met with a Russian lawyer during the campaign that there was a, quote, "Russian government effort" behind that meeting. And that effort from the Russian government was to help his father's campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton. So, how did Donald Jr. know that? Because of an e-mail from this man -- a publicist who helped coordinate the meeting last summer during the height of the campaign.

BERMAN: Earlier this morning, the Russian lawyer who was actually in that meeting spoke to NBC News.


NATALIA VESELNITSKAYA, RUSSIAN LAWYER (through translator): It's quite possible that maybe they were looking for such information. They wanted it so badly.


BERMAN: All right. The lawyer for Donald Trump Jr. says, "This is much ado about nothing." All of this is going on as the Senate Intelligence Committee is preparing to begin interview with members of the Trump campaign. Several key officials will speak to them in the coming days. I want to begin with CNN's Jason Carroll at the White House. Jason, as far as we could tell, no denial, that this e-mail exists.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No denial and no sign that these Russia stories are going away, at least not so far. Even Senator John McCain, John, weighing in on this this morning saying, calling the report very serious, saying it's just another shoe that's dropping in the controversy. This White House, this administration, very frustrated that once again, there's another Russia story dominating the news. The administration, for its part, basically saying, look, there's no there, there with this particular story, no evidence of collusion, they say. The deputy press secretary saying yesterday, basically that the only thing that was inappropriate about that meeting last June, June of 2016, was the fact that someone leaked information about it.

Let's talk just a little bit more about that meeting, once again, happened last June at Trump Tower with Trump Jr., also in attendance, former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner and that lawyer, that controversial Russian lawyer, also in attendance. And according to "The Times", Trump Jr. received an e- mail before that meeting indicating that that meeting was going to reveal some sort of evidence, derogatory evidence about Hillary Clinton coming from the Russian government, Trump Jr., for his part, hiring an attorney.

That attorney releasing a statement saying, in part, "In my view, this is much ado about nothing." You heard part of that before. "The meeting lasted 20-30 minutes and nothing came of it. His father knew nothing about it. The bottom line is that Don Jr. did nothing wrong."

Don Jr., much like his father, taking to Twitter and coming out in his own defense tweeting this morning, "Media and Dems are extremely invested in the Russia story. If this nonsense meeting is all they have after a year, I understand the desperation!"

We should point out that to date, John and Poppy, at least seven former and current Trump associates now coming under question for not being initially forthcoming about their contacts with Russians. We are hearing now that the Senate Intel Committee is going to be hearing from some of these folks, could be as early as this week.

The one person that we have not heard from on this subject, so far, is the president himself. You know, he's weighed in on so many issues before in the past. But this time, so far, at least, the president has remained silent. John? Poppy?

BERMAN: All right, Jason Carroll for us at the White House. Keep listening to see if we do in fact hear from the president. This morning, we did hear though from the lawyer, the Russian lawyer who was in this meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and key Trump campaign officials. Listen to how she described it to NBC News.


KEIR SIMMONS, NBC NEWS: What was the purpose of that meeting?

VESELNITSKAYA (through translator): I never knew who else would be attending the meeting. All I knew that Mr. Donald Trump Jr. was willing to meet with me. I could recognize the young gentleman who was only present in the meeting for probably the first seven to 10 minutes. And then, he stood up and left the room. It was Mr. Jared Kushner. And he never came back, by the way.

And the other individual, who was at the same meeting, was always looking at his phone. He was reading something. He never took any active part in the conversation. That was Mr. Manafort.

SIMMONS: They had the impression, it appears, that they were going to be told some information that you had about the DNC. How did they get that impression? VESELNITSKAYA (through translator): It's quite possible that maybe they were looking for such information, they wanted it so badly.

SIMMONS: Have you ever worked for the Russian government? Do you have connections to the Russian government?

VESELNITSKAYA (through translator): No.


HARLOW: Her answer, no. But we should note. This was not just a meeting about adoption. This was a meeting about sanctions and sanctions that infuriate Vladimir Putin.

Let's discuss with Page Pate, CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, Lynn Sweet, the Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun-Times" and our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

[10:05:07] Page, on the legal front, if, as "The New York Times" is reporting and the White House is not denying Donald Trump Jr. knew through an e-mail that this was a Russian government effort to give him dirt on Hillary Clinton that would help his father's campaign. Is there anything illegal in that?

PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Poppy, that's obviously going to be the most significant question. And there's no doubt that the Special Counsel's Office will look very closely at the context of this meeting and the substance of this meeting.

Now, there are two different criminal statutes that could come into play here. First, we always are looking for evidence at least the Special Counsel's Office will be of any agreement to do something unlawful between the Trump campaign and representatives of the Russian government, whether it's involved with hacking of DNC e-mails or some other activity to in any way influence the presidential election. But something else pops up in this meeting.

It is absolutely illegal for a foreign national to contribute to a presidential campaign, anything of value. That's not just money. That's not just assistance. But the question here, the legal question will be, is this information that Donald Trump Jr. wanted to get from this individual valued. Is it valuable? Is it something that would fall under the statute as being unlawful if it was contributed by a foreign national? That's something I think the Special Counsel will look very closely at.

BERMAN: You know, Lynn Sweet, it's interesting. We hear from Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. A moderate Democrat, who really, you know, is careful not to be overly critical of this White House, who told us, this is not acceptable. And no one can defend this as being acceptable. Has something shifted again in the last 24 hours on this story as more and more comes out?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHIGAGO SUN-TIMES": Yes. And here is what's shifted. What's shifted is, is there the story says it's a family member who had an e-mail that had a Russian connection in it. And that is different.

Of course, we need to know the go between that set up the meeting on whose behalf was he acting? We now have heard from the Russian lawyer. So, we know a little bit more. She seems a little bit be dazed herself over why she was there. She knew what she wanted to do when she got there, to talk about her issue.

So, this is different because this is another - what is this? We call, drip, drip, drip. It is connecting the dots. There's just -- no matter where you go on this story, there's another person involved, another disclosure that had to be amended, another meeting that someone is just remembering. And now, we have somebody who actually came and said I may have dirt on Hillary Clinton that had some connection with a Russian source digging it up.

So, there's a lot more to know, which is why these investigations on the Hill with Bob Mueller are necessary, to put together the story. This is an important element. And I agree with you, it's a turning point because this takes this into Trump Tower, into top people in the campaign.

HARLOW: So, Jim Sciutto, do you remember this moment, this interview with Mike Pence in January? Watch.


JOHN DICKERSON, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": Just to button up one question, did any advisor or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Of course not. And I think to suggest that is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.


HARLOW: Bizarre rumors. Jim, that's the same interview that ended up with Michael Flynn, fired. Does this, you know, throw away the White House ability to throw shade on every Russia story?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, they will never give up the ability to throw a shade, right? That's the - they claimed that right. I think, the key here, we have had evidence of meetings for months, meetings between people close to Trump and Russians. But we have not known what the substance of those meetings were, what was discussed. What was the reason for the meeting? What was the impotence of the meeting initially?

This is the first time, definitively, you have a meeting and not just with a Carter Page or Roger Stone, someone in the orbit of Trump world, but the president's son, himself, in Trump Tower and a meeting where, explicitly and there is electronic proof of this in e-mail. It was to get damaging information about Hillary Clinton. And it was known in that e-mail, that this was part of a Russian government effort. So, this adds enormous substance to, what to this point, we have had - I mean, people will say a lot of smoke, is there fire, right? You've had a lot of meetings with questions about what happened and why they happened. Now you know one meeting with a very -- you know, someone extremely close to the president, you know exactly why that meeting happened. And that is certainly under the umbrella of collusion, whether it is a legal, meets the legal definition or the political definition of collusion is certainly under that umbrella. And that detail is enormously important to this investigation.

[10:10:11] BERMAN: We are talking about whether or not this has shifted the view of the Russian investigation on Capitol Hill. We have heard very recently with two senators, from two senators, our Manu Raju chasing them down. And if I heard correctly in my ear, Manu, what these senators are saying, the answer is kind of. This has shifted the level of rhetoric on Capitol Hill. What have you learned?

MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right, some serious concerns, coming from not just Democrats, but Republicans too, about this latest revelations. Now, we just caught up with the former vice presidential nominee of the Democratic side, Tim Kaine, who said this may have shifted the view not just to the issue of possible obstruction, possible collusion, but also possible treason. Those were his words coming from the former vice presidential candidate. Here is what he said.


RAJU: Do you think this is treason?

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: The investigation, nothing is proven yet. But we are now beyond obstruction of justice in terms of what's being investigated. This is moving into perjury, false statements and even potentially treason.


RAJU: In addition to that, some Republicans, not going as far as Tim Kaine, but some also, raising some significant concerns, including Senator John McCain who has raised concerns that were in each additional revelation in this story, saying this is just another development in this ongoing controversy. Here are his remarks.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Many illusions and many stories of meetings, communications and stuff, yes. There will be many more shoes that will drop.

RAJU: How serious do you think this particular shoe is?

MCCAIN: But it's certainly another shoe that's dropped that needs to be pursued and looked at.

(END VIDE CLIP) RAJU: And what we are learning, John and Poppy, is that this will be part of the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation, not just Sen. Mark Warren, one of the top Democrat in the committee, who wants to talk to Don Jr. and everybody who was involved in that meeting. But also, some Republicans as well wanting to actually have call for Don Jr., including senator John Cornyn, the number two Republican who told me yesterday, he, too, wants to hear from Don Jr.

Don Jr. says that he's willing to cooperate with the committee. The question is when that will happen. Initially, first though, this committee moving on the Senate side, moving into a new phase of its investigation -- interviewing some Trump witnesses this week. Trump campaign officials. Of course, some of the bigger names come later in the month, possibly into the fall.

Also, watching the House Intelligence Committee side, some witnesses as well, including Michael Caputo, former Trump communications adviser, on Friday before that committee. It shows the new direction of these investigations are heading. Don Jr. adding some more steam to this investigation as well, guys.

HARLOW: Yes and saying he will answer questions, you can bet they will ask them whether it's in private or public. We will see. Manu Raju, great reporting, thank you very much.

Now back to our panel. So, Page Pate, to you, legally, you heard what Senator Tim Kaine said. This, you know, could be close to treason. The argument from the White House is nothing came of this meeting, right? Much ado about nothing is the terminology used by the new lawyer hired by Don Jr. Does it matter what came of it or does the intent matter, legally?

PATE: That's a great question, Poppy. And it's all about intent. In any criminal investigation, one of the very first things that a prosecutor will try to determine is did this person simply make a mistake or they're foolish or did they intend to break the law. And what we have here is not just willingness by the Trump campaign to meet with the Russians or receive information from the Russians but almost a hunger for it. I mean, they sent their top guys to meet with someone, they say they didn't even know who she was. What was interesting to them? The fact that they may have information provided to them by the Russian government.

So, whatever their story is going to be, we have heard several inconsistent stories at this point about why the meeting took place? What happened at the meeting? They better get those stories straight before they start talking to investigators or Congress. Because just as Senator Kaine said, they are going to end up committing additional crimes in making false statements and obstructing an investigation, if they lie to investigators. You can lie to "The New York Times." You can even lie to CNN. But you cannot lie to a federal investigator and escape criminal prosecution.

BERMAN: We don't recommend any of those. --

HARLOW: We'd prefer you don't. - BERMAN: Just to be clear. Page Pate, Jim Sciutto, Lynn Sweet, thank you all so much for being with us. -

HARLOW: Thanks guys.

BERMAN: Donald Trump Jr. reportedly told of Russian government efforts to help his father before taking that meeting with a Russian lawyer. So, does this cross a line for Republican lawmakers? We will ask one, next.

HARLOW: Plus, it's a very important day on the Hill. Senate Republicans get their first look at the revised GOP health care bill. But will it get them any closer to 50 yes votes?

And the question this morning about whether an attack was an act of domestic terror, the FBI investigating an explosion at a U.S. Air Force recruiting office. We're on it.


[10:19:14] HARLOW: "The New York Times" with an explosive report this morning, a report the White House is not denying. "The Times" reporting before Donald Trump Jr. entered a meeting with a Russian lawyer in the summer of last year. He was told in an e-mail that the dirt she had on Hillary Clinton was part of a, quote, "Russian government effort."

BERMAN: All right. Let's get reaction now from Capitol Hill. Joining us, a Republican congressman, Francis Rooney of Florida. Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. Last hour, we spoke to Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia and we asked him the question about whether or not the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and this Russian lawyer was acceptable given that Donald Trump Jr. was informed by e-mail, reportedly, that it was part of a Russian government effort to help his father's campaign. This is what Joe Manchin told us.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: This is not acceptable. And no one can defend it as being acceptable behavior, especially with someone like Russia.


[10:20:04] BERMAN: So, Congressman, was the meeting acceptable?

REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R-FL), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: First, if you don't mind, I would like to offer a few thoughts and prayers for the folks, the families of people that lost their lives in Mississippi, that military crash is another heart wrenching element of things lately.

What we know now is you have a private citizen from a private sector, not schooled up in politics, talking to a Russian. I think I hope they would assume that she would be on the inside. I would assume, speaking with anyone from that part of the world and I always have, that they were on the inside. And so, we'll have to see where the Intel Committee's investigation goes. But I think it pales in comparison to the professional political machine of Hillary Clinton repeatedly meeting with Ukraine people to try to dig up dirt on Donald Trump.

HARLOW: So, are you letting Donald Jr., who is a key part of the campaign off the hook by saying he was a novice at this? Because isn't that akin to saying that a CEO of a public company should tell his board, give me another chance because I didn't know better? I haven't done this before.

ROONEY: No, I'm not saying that he should get any kind of free ride. I think he should be investigated by the Intel Committee as has been on your show recently. But I can -


HARLOW: Because you are doing what the White House is doing. They did it this morning. Sebastian Gorka came on and refused to answer Alisyn's questions and kept deflecting to Hillary Clinton. And I'm not saying there aren't legitimate questions, but I'm saying she's not president.

ROONEY: No, but she was an experienced political operative and this guy is not. And so, maybe -


BERMAN: But you know -

HARLOW: He chose to get into politics.

BERMAN: But Congressman, he was an experienced American, OK? He had been in America his entire life. He was sent an e-mail that according to "New York Times," told him that this meeting was part of a Russian government effort to help his campaign. Now, given that the White House hasn't denied that, Donald Trump Jr. has not denied that. Was it appropriate to sit down at that meeting that was part of a Russian government effort to help his father's campaign?

ROONEY: Well, again, we haven't seen any results yet. Let's see what the investigations --

BERMAN: Why do the results matter? Why do the results matter? -- If you try to rob a house and don't come out with anything, do you still try to rob the house?

ROONEY: Well, that's a little different.


ROONEY: This -- I would rather, in a perfect world, there be no negatives in campaigns, no bad information, no infiltration. But I'm just saying we didn't hear any of this stuff when Hillary Clinton did something, I think is a lot worse. Maybe you ought to investigate them both at the same time.

HARLOW: So, as you know, it is against federal campaign laws to get anything of any value from a foreign entity, right?


HARLOW: And isn't intent the key here? I actually think John's analogy is spot on. If you intend to rob a house, you try to rob a house, there's nothing good in the house, you leave empty handed, is there no crime for entering that house and trying?

Admittedly, from his own words, Donald Trump Jr. took the meeting because he thought that he would get dirt from a Russian. And now we know he got an e-mail before that saying, yes, and this is all an effort from the Russian government to help your father. Isn't intent the key?

ROONEY: You know I'm not a practicing lawyer. And I don't know, whether in this particular area intent is the key or you have to have some specific action. It seems to me that you would have to have something happen. If you create an actionable offense in your breaking and entering case, breaking and entering or attempted robbery is a clearly delineated separate offense from actually committing a robbery or burglary.

HARLOW: Except I'm not asking you if it's illegal or not. I'm asking you, is it American or not? Is it right?

ROONEY: Well, there are a whole lot of things that goes on in campaigns that I don't think right. I think this whole - the acidity and negativity and abrasiveness are bad --

BERMAN: Congressman, let's put it this way. If I came to you and said I have information as part of a Russian government effort to help your campaign for Congress, would you take that meeting?

ROONEY: Well, I don't really need any help for my campaign for Congress. I just have to pay attention to what -


BERMAN: That's not my question. That's not my question. Would you take the meeting? Would you, Congressman, take the meeting?

ROONEY: With a foreign operative? Probably not.

BERMAN: Probably not.

ROONEY: I don't know why it would help to try to dig up information. I'm much more of a positive campaigner. You can look back at my campaign. I campaign on why I want to run for Congress to try to get back to conservative principles in government. And so, something that would be presumptively negative would just kind of distract from the main positive message. That's where I look at things.

HARLOW: All right. In March, you wrote an opinion piece. Let me read you a line that stood out to us this morning. "Putin's boldness has been encouraged by a series of foreign policy blunders committed early in President Obama's administration." Did Donald Trump Jr., taking this meeting with the Russian lawyer, knowing what he knew from that e-mail that this was tied to a Russian government effort to help Donald Trump. Did that just further embolden Putin?

ROONEY: I can see that argument. I'll be very interested in what the Intel Committee comes up with. Because I think that is the case. That we have committed many mistakes vis-a-vis Russia with taking some bold actions or what it's going to take to kind of get the relationship back on track.

[10:25:13] BERMAN: Congressman Francis Rooney of Florida, thank you so much for your time this morning, sir.

ROONEY: Thank you.

HARLOW: And as you heard the Congressman bring up at the beginning of the interview, this tragic military plane crash. We still don't know this morning what caused it in Mississippi. Everyone on board was killed. All 16 people that were service members perished. The plane took off from the base in North Carolina and crashed in a field north of Jackson. The cause, as we said, is still being investigated.

BERMAN: Just hours ago, the president expressed his condolences for the families of the victims. CNN's Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr joins us now. Barbara, what are you learning about the incident?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Very little information coming to light because of the investigation. What we do know is that the U.S. military now fanning out across the country to reach out to the next of kin for all of those who perished. After all the family members are notified, then the names of those who died in this crash will be made public by the U.S. military, but not until then.

So, it could be another day or so before we learn exactly who was on board. This was a KC-130 air crafter, a real workhorse of the military fleet. It's used mainly for refueling other aircraft but it can also carry cargo. It can carry troops. We don't know exactly what its mission was as it was flying across the south eastern United States.

What the military has told us is at 4:00 yesterday, when the plane disappeared from commercial radar, the FAA contacted the Marine Corps right away to tell them they've lost track of one of their planes. No word on whether the pilot or the crew was able to radio or signal at all that they were in distress. John? Poppy?

BERMAN: Barbara Starr and our hearts go out to those families. (INAUDIBLE) -- sending his condolences as well.

All right, the people who are reportedly set up the meeting with Donald Trump Jr., a Russian pop star, his publicist. So, why would they be involved in what was called an e-mail, a Russian government effort to influence last year's campaign?