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E-mails Released on Trump Jr's Meeting with Russian Lawyer; Trump Comment on Trump Jr E-mails; McConnell Delays Senate August Recess; White House Audio-Only Daily Briefing. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired July 11, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We're now talking about a member of the first family engaged in what appears to be outright collusion with Russian government officials.

I think what's also interesting here is how suggestive it is that there's probably more stuff to come. Because if you think about what this e-mail reveals, it shows that members of the first family were not above directly transacting business with representatives of the Russian government. They didn't try to outsource this to an intermediary. They were inept enough to actually sit down and engage in these meetings personally. Number two, they were stupid enough to leave a paper trail. It's amazing to me that there was this much explicit communication over e-mail. And so it's impossible to think that this line of communication was shut off after June 8, between this publicist and Donald Trump Jr. So, what else may emerge in this investigation in terms of other e-mails or contacts that happened in the ensuing months where Russia's involvement in the election only got more intense.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I just want to give an update. There's a White House briefing that's not on camera, no surprise there, we're obviously going to bring you the full White House briefing, the audio of it as soon as we're able to. But just in, Sarah Huckabee Sanders read a short statement from President Trump. In it, he said, "My son is a high-quality person, and I applaud his transparency." That's the quote. "My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency."

Scott, I mean, is this a meeting that, if you were on this campaign, you would have recommended Donald Trump Jr to have? What do you make of this e-mail chain?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, this is not a meeting you would want to take. It was a dumb meeting to take. It was a stupid idea to take it and I'm sure in retrospect, anybody who was involved in it would have to admit that. And you can't really make excuses for it, Donald? You can try to explain it and one possible explanation is these are folks that were not acquainted with high- level presidential campaigns and this is a meeting they wouldn't have taken if they had had more experience.

One thing the president can do right now -- and I know you read a statement from him -- is to make a strong statement about Russian meddling in the election. The intelligence agencies agree. A lot of Republicans agree the Russians tried to meddle in the election. That's different than collusion. And I think if the president were to take an even bolder step forward and acknowledging Russian meddling in the election and encouraging the transparency from people on his team, including his son, to follow through on their promises to answer questions, that would show a chief executive in charge of the situation and in command of what's happening in Washington right now that's unfolding before our eyes.


JENNINGS: We don't have any evidence that any collusion took place yet. But questions have to be answered. They've offered to answer them. And I think those things really need to speed up at this point.

COOPER: It does seem the e-mails, though, do seem to indicate that Donald Trump Jr was open to the idea of collusion. I mean whether or not this attorney represented the Russian government, that's how she was pitched to him, and he went for that pitch hook, line, and sinker, right away with great enthusiasm and not only that, was told that the information came from the Russian government. Whether or not any of that was true, the fact that he believed it, Scott, isn't that incredibly important here?

JENNINGS: It's very important. And I hope it was borne out of ignorance that these aren't the kinds of meetings you would ordinarily take in a high level presidential campaign situation like this. I do think it's important to remember that Donald Trump Jr, through his lawyer, has said he is going to answer questions.

One issue about these investigations, Anderson, is that they could take a very long time. They may take months and months and months. But given some of the e-mails that have been released and some of the things we know, and some of the questions that have been asked, if it were me, and I were thinking about not just the legal issue here but the P.R. issue, I would want to get the people who have offered to answer questions in front of investigators as soon as possible to show that, hey, we want to answer questions, we want to acknowledge this stuff that's out there, and we want to show transparency. The president's statement today used the word transparency, so I think that's a good strategy to pursue.

COOPER: You know, Brian, I mean, you're a professional spokesperson. You know about how sort of how run reveals damaging information. The idea that the president is praising his son's transparency, is transparency giving one explanation on a Saturday about this meeting, saying it was about Russian adoptions, and then having to give another statement, and then another and having to release, finally, release the e-mails that you've had all along, because "The New York Times" is about to release them? That doesn't seem like the definition of transparency.

FALLON: Of course not. And it's clear that he only released the e- mails because "The New York Times" was about to publish them and if you just think back, every explanation that's been put forward by the defenders of this administration has proven to be not valid and they've had to retreat from it. If you think back initially, there were disputes about whether the Russians were behind this hack. Then there were disputes about whether the Russians were doing it for the express purpose of trying to help Donald Trump. Then the line from the Trump camp was, we didn't have any meetings with Russians. Then they said, there wasn't any outright collusion. This e-mail is pretty stark evidence that there was. So now they're retreating to a defense that Donald Trump Jr Was just too unsophisticated to know that it was unethical to collude openly with a foreign adversary. These explanations are shriveling up here. They're left without a leg to stand on.

I do think this investigation is probably going to take a long while to play out. But what I do think should rouse Republicans on Capitol Hill to act is the fact that this is playing out with respect to U.S. foreign policy towards Russia. So the president continues to want to weaken the Russia sanctions the Senate passed last month. The president is apparently entertaining the idea of giving back spy compounds inside the United States' territory to the Russians. So as we speak, the president is still carrying out a foreign policy that is shockingly favorable to Vladimir Putin. And you have to assume it's part of a quid pro quo based on help that was provided during the campaign.

[14:36:00] COOPER: I appreciate both of you being with us.

I want to go to Michael Zeldin, Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the State Department.

First of all, your take upon seeing these e-mails?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There are a couple of things to think about here. First is, of course, Donald Trump Jr's evolving truth, and that's not helpful to him. And I've thought all along that the biggest threat, legally, to the Trumps is when they have to tell their story under oath before Mueller because they seem to have a distant relationship with truth-telling. And that could be very problematic under the laws that govern truth-telling in a grand jury.

Secondly, I think that with respect to Donald Jr, there are probable federal election campaign violations, the solicitation of something of value, probably was implicated by his conduct. For Manafort and Kushner, the leaving out of this meeting on their security clearance forms becomes much more profoundly important to them. It seems to me that leaving this out is emblematic of something that's untruthful or hiding in their behavior. So, you could say, maybe, they made a mistake at one point, and they've now corrected it. But leaving out a meeting that seems to be as important as this, to me, raises lots of red flags about whether they intended to tell the truth to begin with.

The other thing that I find interesting --


COOPER: Michael, very quickly, just another thing on that point, not only did Jared Kushner need to amend his statement on -- for his security credentials, he then had to amend them again, we understand, more recently. I don't know if it was in relation to this investigation, but the idea that you would have to amend it more than once seems extraordinary.

ZELDIN: Well, that's right. Especially in respect of this meeting, given what appears to be its significance. And so, you know, if you have hundreds of meetings, as his attorney said he has, and you forget one that seems to be of minor consequence, fair enough. But this meeting seems to be of major consequence in political terms, and that's one that you don't leave out.

The other thing, Anderson, that strikes me as very interesting, is I can't, in my mind, yet decouple the adoption conversation from the help get dirt on Hillary Clinton conversation. Because it seems to me that there's the possibility that the conversation goes, we will give you information with respect to Hillary Clinton if you can deal with the sanctions issue, which is adoption, is just a proxy for sanctions. And so, if they're tying dirt to -- on her to the release of sanctions or sort of sanctions release, I think that's way more problematic for all three of these men than is yet presently known to them. So, I just can't separate those two in my mind. They're too integrally related to one another.

[14:39:05] COOPER: Michael, I appreciate your perspective. Thank you.

We need to take a quick break. We're moments away from the White House responding to these e-mails. Stand by for that.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

COOPER: Back to our breaking news on Donald Trump Jr's e-mails in a moment.

But first, we're also covering breaking developments out of the Senate. Senate majority leader, mitch McConnell, delaying the August recess in hopes of getting an agreement on a new health care bill. McConnell confirms a new health care bill would be unveiled on Thursday and a CBO score is expected next week.

Senator Lindsey Graham also announcing that he is working on a strategy proposal of his own with other Senators.

We'll bring in Nia-Malika Henderson.

Nia, very significant that McConnell has decided to delay the recess for Senators.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: It shows just what a moving target this is. We, of course, remember that the initial plan for this was to have a vote on this before the July Fourth recess. That obviously didn't happen. You know, in this in some ways is what Donald Trump has talked about, other Republicans have talked about delaying this recess to see if they can get something done. It speaks, I think, to the urgency of them needing to get something done, to deliver on that promise to the base that they will repeal and replace something but it also speaks to how complicated this is. If you've seen over the last couple of days, they seem to lose more people than they gain. There are about 10 people who have come out and said they can't support this bill in its present form, people like Susan Collins out of Maine essentially saying the whole thing needs to be redone so on the one hand, there is some progress but it's still very far from clear whether or not this is something we can get done.

We do know that when there is a big bill like this, we remember discussions in 2009 and 2010, it was dead and reborn and even the bill out of the House, you know, was on life support and died and was brought back to life. So I think that is a cycle that we may be able to expect from here, but again, it's a moving target and a work in progress, this whole bill.

[14:45:34] COOPER: Also interesting that Lindsay Graham said he's working on a bill with Senators.

HENDERSON: That's right, with Democratic Senators and Democratic Senators, right? Essentially saying the repeal part of the repeal- and-replace mantra has to be off the table if you're going to be able to bring Democrats in there. People like Susan Collins saying they don't want to go down the path of Obamacare, which, of course, was approved with only Democrats. They want to have a more bipartisan bill. We'll see what happens.

COOPER: Nia-Malika Henderson, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

HENDERSON: Thank you.

COOPER: More on our breaking news. Donald Trump Jr releasing bombshell e-mails detailing the plan for a secret meeting he had with a Russian lawyer last summer during the campaign with the promise of incriminating evidence of Hillary Clinton and the promise that this came from the -- or the idea that this came from the Russian government and that the lawyer he was going to meet with, which he has previously said he had no idea who she was. In the e-mails, she is described as a Russian government attorney.

I'm joined by Steve Hall, CNN national security analyst, retired CIA chief of Russia operations.

Steve, based on what you know, I mean, the idea that, I mean, this Russian attorney has denied that she has ties to the kremlin, that she works for the government in any way, but if the Russian government did want to give information or wanted to remember to the Trump campaign's interest in receiving information, is this a way that they might go about doing it?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, you're asking exactly the right question, Anderson. If I'm the Russian intelligence officer who's responsible for this operation, and it would be normal in the Russian context for the Russian special services, their intelligence services, to be the ones behind this, what you're going to look for is, OK, we need to find out whether or not the Trump team, as, you know, prior to the election, is actually willing to play ball, is willing to have at least a conversation. The Russians are very well versed in our sort of western business approach. Oh, it's just a meeting, it's just, you know, it's just a blue-sky session, we're not really talking about anything serious. And they know that that's how westerners come at this, and so it would be very normal for them to find somebody who's not a specific member of the Russian government, somebody like Veselnitskaya, and use her essentially as a cutout and go in and say, look, let's see if there is any interest in this. That would be very consistent with their M.O. She would not necessarily have to have any of the information, and she might go on -- go into that meeting, you know, with another pretext, but the end goal of it for the Russian intelligence services and for the Russian government would be to say, let's just see if we can get somebody in the campaign to say, yes, we can talk about that. And then they know that they're halfway home.

COOPER: In this case, they got a meeting with the president's eldest son, one floor right below where the president-elect or then the candidate had his office.

Steve, a lot more to talk to you about. I've got to toss it, though.

The White House briefing, the audio of it now, we're able to bring it to you. No cameras were present. This is Sarah Huckabee Sanders giving the White House briefing today. Let's listen in.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thanks, Sarah. At what point did the president discuss with Donald Trump Jr That meeting? Have you had a chance to get a sense of what he feels about this entire story as it continues to unfold? What's your sense on that?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I have a quick statement that I will 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 John Jr's counsel and outside counsel and won't have anything else to add beyond that today.



HUCKABEE SANDERS: That's the end. I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: If I could follow up really quickly about the accident. How soon afterwards did the president learn about what happened? What was the tick tock in terms of that? Did he get immediate word or did that sort of go through a concerted chain?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not sure on the exact process. I'll have to check. I know he was aware of the situation, briefed on the situation, and continued to get updates on it. But I don't know the exact tick tock, so I have to circle back with you on that, Kevin.

Jill? UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sarah, somebody who was identified as a

Russian government lawyer, Don Jr agreeing to meet with him, being told in those e-mails that the Russian government was trying to help the president win the election, do you stand bay statement you made yesterday when you said that our position is that no one within the Trump campaign colluded in order to influence the election.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I do, and beyond the statements yesterday and what I read today, I don't have anything else to add.

[14:50:04] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When's the last time --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you know when the last time the president spoke with Don Jr?



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thanks. So the White House hasn't disputed any of the following that the president son campaign, campaign chair, and son-in-law had this meeting, and with knowledge of the Russian government supporting Trump campaign. How is that not collusion?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Once again, I know you guys are going to get tired of it today and not to sound like a broken record, but on all questions related to this matter, I would refer you to Don Jr's counsel and the outside counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But you're not disputing any of the facts.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm simply referring you to people that can answer that question, Matthew.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sarah, in January, the president said that nobody in his campaign had been in touch with the Russians and the White House stood by that statement. Was the president misled or was he not truthful?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Once again, to repeat myself, I'm going to refer you to the outside counsel, and I don't have anything else to add.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sarah, can we ask you, why were you interested in answering questions yesterday and why the president is not answering questions himself, either through you or directly today.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What changed between yesterday and today? HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, the president gave a statement on the matter,

which I read to you, and like I've said, I don't have anything else to add beyond that.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is the president still of a mind that he would like the investigation on this special counsel and the committees on Capitol Hill to work as expeditiously as possible and he wants to Cooperate and wants his family members and his top aides from the White House to Cooperate.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Absolutely. That's never changed since day one. We'd love to get this matter closed and focus on the big priorities of the American people.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sarah, by not answering questions directly himself, or through you, is that, in his mind, expediting the investigation? Or is it blocking the investigation?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not going to get into the back and forth on that.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sarah, when the White House says there was no collusion, what does the White House mean? What's the definition of collusion?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, I've said all that we're going to say on that matter and anything further, you're going to have to each out to outside counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sarah, the word collusion has been used. Other words, obstruction of justice. They're saying now that's not even half of it. Could be treason or perjury. What does the White House have to say with new terms brought into this, more serious terms brought into this.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't know how many times we'll have to address this.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I'm not asking about Don Jr I'm asking about these words being brought into this equation that you want this -- this White House wants this whole investigation to be gone. The new words now brought in.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think those new words are ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Two questions for you. First, asking specifically about actions taken by White House staff in the last 72 hours -- actions taken by White House staff recently, to something that should not require you conferring with special counsel. Can you talk about who inside the White House has been involved in your response on this, has the president been kept in the loop and the chief of staff, others in the administration, are you looking into the potential communications by others on the White House staff with regards to this matter or several matters.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: All of the appropriate parties have been a part of that conversation and part of that discussion.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Second question. Jared Kushner was apparently forwarded the same e-mail. Is he still -- is his security clearance still valid right now?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: As always, we've never discussed the security clearance of any --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: One more. Yesterday, you said you'd check back to us on the status of the -- how the president views the U.S./Russia relationship. So, is Russia friend or foe?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, I haven't had a chance to have that direct conversation. I've been a little preoccupied with other things. But I certainly will check on that.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Policy question on Afghanistan. So, has the president, through H.R. McMasters, notified the Pentagon that he is reasserting the cap of 3900 additional troops to Afghanistan, initially as reported that he had given the Pentagon and General Mattis authority to increase the troop numbers in accordance with the strategy. It's now been reported that a memo from H.R. McMaster said it's now limited at 3,900 and no more troops, regardless of the strategy. Can you tell us if that's true?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not aware of that specific memo but I will check into the specific details of that and circle back with you.

[14:55:02] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you tell us how seriously the president considered the idea of using private time trackers to augment U.S. personnel on the ground in Afghanistan, as opposed to U.S. Military personnel.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I know that we feel it's important to get input from all perspectives, and all of the right people were part of that process throughout, and any conversation. Look, we've used contractors extensively over the last 16 years. Currently, there are tens of thousands of contractors that are bravely serving alongside a lot of the U.S. military and coalition forces, and we're finalizing the review fully of the Afghanistan policy, and it only makes sense to consult those leaders in the field as well. And that's simply just part of the review process.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When you say the right people, does that include Eric Prince?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I meant from our inside, internally, all of the right people would be part of that process.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you confirm if Eric Prince was part of the conversations about the contract.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I can't. I cannot at this time. But I'll check and let you know.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: On the president's statement, because you can talk about that, I would assume, since you read it to us. What transparency is the president applauding?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I believe the willingness on behalf of everyone within the administration or anything beyond that -- I'm trying to finish my sentence. And anyone beyond that that might be asked questions. The willingness to do so and to be fully transparent and open and answer any questions through the correct process. Whether that is through special counsel or anything beyond that.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sarah, is the president aware as he speaks about the transparency of his son that he only released those e-mails after being informed that the "New York Times" was about to publish them?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Let me ask about what we talked about in appropriateness. Why is it appropriate for a presidential campaign to accept a meeting with a Russian national after being promised high level and sensitive information presented as part of a -- part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump. Explain to Americans why that would be appropriate.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to get into the details of anything surrounding this, and would refer you to Don Jr's counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you stand by your statement --


HUCKABEE SANDERS: As I mentioned earlier, I stand by everything that I said yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The vice president, through his spokesman, said today that Mr. Pence is not -- about the campaign, particularly stories about the time before he joined the ticket. That's been taken by many people in this town to suggest that there is a distance between the president and the vice president on this. Is there such a distance?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Not at all. There's absolutely no distance between the president and the vice president.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you know if the president has spoken to the vice president about this?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't know if they've spoken directly about this, but I know they've spoken today.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: One more question. There are lots of people who would like to know why this briefing was off camera today. Do you have a rationale for it?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: As we've said many times before -- I believe Sean stated back in December -- we're always looking at different approaches and different ways to communicate the president's message and talk about the agenda. This is one of the many ways we choose to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I'm going to take two bites of this apple as well.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Let's not break precedent.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The stock market sharply declined today on the release of the e-mails by Don Jr, and so I'm wondering if you're concerned that it's going to impact the U.S. economy and if you want to offer any assurances to investors that see this news and are obviously responding.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, the president, as he has been, not just since assuming office but throughout the campaign, is focused on doing everything he can to strengthen and grow our economy, and that certainly hasn't changed today, nor will it at any point that he's president.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And then go back to the statement that you read, the president says that he applauds Don Jr's transparency. I'm wondering if you would commit now to disclosing any meetings that happened between Russian nationals and members of the Trump campaign toward that sort of --

HUCKABEE SANDERS: There's nothing that I'm aware of at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Yesterday, you compared the meeting to -- coordination. Do you feel that coordinating with any -- all countries in the world are pretty much the same? That there's no difference between Ukraine and Russia or any other country?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think it would depend on the nature. I mean, I can't speak about theoretical or hypothetical situations.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Just take Ukraine and Russia. Do you feel that they're equivalent?



HUCKABEE SANDERS: I mean, they're two very different countries. I'm not going to put them on an equivalent playing field across the board on any matter that could possibly come up.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you consider them both, you know, allies, partners of the United States or adversaries? In what way are they similar?


HUCKABEE SANDERS: I was talking about the process, not the two countries. I was talking about the process that had been gone through by both sides. That was all -- that was the only point I was making.