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Sources: Trump Furious, Frustrated Amid Son's Firestorm; Sources: Melania Trump "Borderline Irritated" at Rumors; Legal Implications for Donald Trump Jr after E-mail Bombshell; Who Leaked Don Jr E-mail to Media; Who is Rob Goldstone; Trump Slams Stories with Anonymous Sources. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired July 12, 2017 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] ANDREW RICE, CAMPAIGN EDITOR, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Somebody who presumably should have known that this is outside the norm of what happens in political campaigns. So, if nothing else, it just sort of bespeaks, perhaps, that something deeper about this administration, which is that -- which is that people who work for the Trump administration know that you cross the family at your peril.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Loyalty is the biggest thing. And family, we know, is so important.

Andrew, I wanted to ask you about the chances that Kushner actually just forgot this meeting. We know that he admitted it twice on security clearance forms. It wasn't until a third time where his lawyers were going through his e-mails, apparently, came across it in preparation for him to testify before these committees that they decided they better update that disclosure form. Could he have just forgotten?

RICE: I mean, I'm not inside his --


CABRERA: You know him well. He's a sharp guy, right?

RICE: I'm not inside of his head. It seems like the sort of thing I would remember, an encounter that might be memorable, especially in the context of running a political campaign.

But I mean, I think that the deeper issue is, whether it's true or not that he forgot it or what the circumstances of the disclosure are, the fact that these continual kind of forgetful incidents, to be generous, continue to happen is problematic for the administration because they're constantly having to rewrite their story of what happened. And, for gosh sakes, I mean, you know, if there isn't something at the heart of it, they've done themselves no favors by the way that they've behaved because it certainly has the appearance of being -- you know, of there being some guilt.

CABRERA: Not forthcoming.

David, I want to ask you about the new reporting on Melania Trump. Apparently, she's getting a little unhappy about being tied to reports of the staffing disputes. If Melania's unhappy, we know she's off to France with the president tonight, how's that going to stir things up?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: Well, we were also hearing that she doesn't really want to involve herself so much in the West Wing staffing disputes that she perhaps sees that as really not her role and is focused more on her east wing responsibilities.

But what we do know over the course of this time is that Melania Trump, if not weighing in on staff issues in the West Wing, certainly weighs in with her president on sort of his broader positioning and is careful with his brand and makes it known when she thinks he's going against the grain in a way that's not helpful to him. So I have no doubt that as this swirl is happening, she no doubt is offering some private advice for her husband.

CABRERA: We'll see if he takes it.

David Chalian and Andrew Rice, thank you both for being here.

What are the legal implications for Donald Trump Jr? Our experts discuss the likely outcomes.

Plus, who is Rob Goldstone, the publicist, who set up that meeting between Don Jr and the Russian lawyer. His background and possible motivation.


[14:37:09] CABRERA: Donald Trump Jr is downplaying the meeting's significance, but the fact that it took place at all, could it have serious legal consequences? Some of the charges being floated, violating campaign finance law, perjury, false statements.

Joining me now to talk more about this Philip Allen Lacovara. He was counsel to the special prosecutors during the white -- Watergate scandal. And Rick Hasan is an election law and campaign finance expert and a professor at U.C., Irvine.

Philip, I want to start with you.

Thank you for being here.


CABRERA: On its face, Donald Jr's e-mails, he agrees in writing to this meeting for information that would incriminate Hillary Clinton, quote, "very high level and sensitive information," "part of Russia and its government's support of Mr. Trump." Those are quotes from these e-mails. Do you see legal trouble here?

LACOVARA: I think the memo is important, legally, for a couple of reasons, apart from the political consequences of showing that the Trump administration's denials of contacts with the Russian government were false. But from the standpoint of a prosecutor, such as Special Counsel Mueller, this is red meat. Because what we're seeing is really chapter 6 of the story of the campaign. The first part of the e-mail chain that was released, I think, conveys to a prosecutor not only willingness to meet about Russian contacts and Russian influence, probably obtained illegally through espionage activities, which is the only reason why it's characterizes as Russian government information that's sensitive. But it also seems to suggest to me, and I think to any other prosecutor, that there's a back story behind that contact that Mr. Goldstone and Donald Jr had prior discussions about the Russian support for President Trump and the possibility of providing raw material. So I think that's an important piece of the investigative puzzle.

And in addition, what the memorandum demonstrates is what I would say a prosecutor would characterize as a kind of consciousness of guilt. That is, for the last almost a year now. And you've played many times Don Jr's comments calling these speculations disgusting and denying absolutely that there had been any contact with the Russians. That was false because he had had, now, it's clear, the very same kinds of contacts that he was disavowing just a few weeks earlier. And prosecutors wonder, why is somebody being so aggressive in denying something if the contacts that are now demonstrable were really that innocent.

CABRERA: So you're saying there's more and more evidence here, but am I hearing you say that the memo alone shows he broke a law?

[14:30:08] LACOVARA: I don't know that the memo itself demonstrates that he broke a law. There is a very broad federal conspiracy statute that makes it a federal crime to conspire with anyone else to not only to obstruct justice but to deprive the United States of its lawful functions. And there's been speculation that that might include conspiring with others, including foreign operatives, to interfere with the integrity of a federal election. And of course, your other guest will comment on possible solicitation of election law violations --

CABRERA: Exactly.

LACOVARA: -- which could also be in themselves troublesome.

CABRERA: Let me go there with you, Rick.

You have talked a lot about campaign finance law. How would you prove he did anything illegal in that regard?

RICK HASAN, PROFESSOR OF LAW & ELECTION LAW & CAMPAIGN FINANCE EXPERT, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, IRVINE: Well, it's a pretty straightforward question. Under federal campaign finance law, a person can't solicit, which is either explicitly or implicitly, ask for anything of value from a foreign person or entity. So the argument would be that by Donald Trump Jr, by saying, I love it, in that e-mail chain to, would you like to see some high level and sensitive information from the Russian government that's dirt on Hillary Clinton, that that is something of value that's being provided by a foreign source, and he's asking for it. And so, while I don't think that the memo itself is the smoking gun ends the case, I think it's more than enough for the special prosecutor to dig in and to really determine whether or not the statute and potentially other campaign finance and other laws outside of campaign finance were broken in either soliciting the meeting or in the meeting itself.

CABRERA: Now, Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, they were not professional campaigners. They're pretty new to politics. Rick, is ignorance a defense?

HASAN: Well, they certainly were not -- there may have been ignorant that there was a particular statute on the books. That's not going to help. They weren't ignorant of the conduct, or at least it appears that Donald Trump Jr, I should say, was not ignorant of the conduct. He's being told that the Russian government is offering him sensitive information on the campaign's political opponent and he says, I love it. Sounds like he has all the knowledge you would need to show that he is a willing participant in this.


HASAN: As to how that applies to Manafort and to Kushner, I think we don't know.

CABRERA: Philip --


LACOVARA: That's an extremely important point. It's often said, ignorance of the law is no excuse, and that's important, because over the last few months, we've heard many attempts at defending the conduct here, that these people are neophytes. President Trump himself is not a professional politician. But the law is the law. And it forbids certain kinds of conduct. One does not have to know about the existence of a particular statute in order to run afoul of it, if the person knowingly or deliberately engages in the conduct that the law forbids. And I think that's where not only Donald Jr but Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort and others may be in trouble and will certainly be pursued by Mr. Mueller's investigation on the basis of this memorandum and, as I was saying earlier, on the basis of the back story that led up to Goldstone's memorandum --

CABRERA: Right. Right.

LACOVARA: -- and later contacts that probably took place thereafter.

CABRERA: And our understanding is Mueller is interested in talking to Don Jr and looking at this situation.

Philip Lacovara and Rick Hasan, thank you both for coming on.

Coming up next in the NEWSROOM, Don Jr tweeting out his own e-mails surrounding the meeting yesterday, but who leaked them to "The New York Times" prior to that? We'll discuss with a former CIA undercover operative, next.


[14:47:18] CABRERA: By all accounts, there were just four people in that meeting, the Russian lawyer, Donald Trump Jr, his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. The question many are asking, including White House staff, is how could people so high up in the Trump campaign agree to such a meeting. And once they met with the Russian, who leaked it to the media?

I'm joined by former CIA undercover operative Lindsay Moran.

Lindsay, thanks for being here.

Goldstone's involvement, you say this is classic KGB. Explain.

LINDSAY MORAN, FORMER CIA UNDERCOVER OPERATIVE: Sure. I mean, I think it's helpful and important to look at this administration from the vantage point of a foreign intelligence service, like Russian intelligence. And this administration has shown itself to be a Kremlin dream come true, really, because it's truly target rich. A foreign intelligence service, when they're looking at acquiring secret information about the United States, they're going to look foremost for people with placement and access. So, Don Jr.

They're secondly going to look for people who have vulnerabilities, and motivations. We've heard Don Jr say that his antenna didn't even go up over this requested meeting with the Russian lawyer. I'm sorry, but if you're antenna does not go up over something like that, you're showing incredible either naivete or just plain stupidity. This is exactly what we do when -- CIA officers, when we're out looking to recruit human sources in foreign countries, we're looking for people with placement and access and people that we might be able to manipulate and exploit. So, what I think we're seeing, before our eyes, are some classic KGB tactics and intelligence human operations taking place for all of us now to see, because it's been exposed.

CABRERA: So, what we are just showing were pictures of Rob Goldstone. He, of course, is the publicist of this pop star in Russia, who apparently was the one who coordinated this meeting between Donald Trump Jr and the Russian lawyer. Do you find it interesting that he was the guy who was putting these different sides together?

MORAN: I find it interesting. I don't find it surprising at all. I mean, one way that Russian intelligence gathers secret information is to prey upon people who are kind of ordinary citizens, who might not have the knowledge of Russian intelligence tactics, whose antenna might not go up. And so Mr. Goldstone, someone who's connected, someone who might have motivations of his own, this is exactly what Russian intelligence or the Kremlin would do, to find someone to kind of act as an intermediary. Nobody's going to come to Donald Trump Jr and say, hey, I work for Russian intelligence, would you like to have a meeting with me. No, they're going to have a number of go-tweens that massage that meeting so that it appears innocuous. But to anyone with any knowledge of how human intelligence and source recruitment works, it's obvious that it was -- that there were ulterior motives in seeking that meeting.

[14:50:23] CABRERA: The word inside the White House now is to find the leaker of this story. "The New York Times" cites three advisers to the White House briefs on the meeting, two others with knowledge of it. These leaks are, apparently, coming from inside the White House. What does that tell you? MORAN: What it tells me is less important than, again, what it tells

our foreign adversaries and people who might collect intelligence against us. Because now we have not only an administration that, as I said before, is displaying kind of glaring vulnerabilities. But also, we have an administration that's obviously in complete disarray. Again, target rich for overtures from any foreign intelligence service but particularly from the Russians.

CABRERA: Are you surprised Donald Trump Jr put out his e-mails for the world to see?

MORAN: I'm not entirely surprised, no, because I think he knew that they were going to come out. So it was a little bit of, I would venture to say, cover his own hide. He knew the e-mails were going to be published anyway, so really, he had no other choice if you say, OK, I'm going to be completely transparent and put them out myself.

CABRERA: All right, Lindsay Moran, thank you so much for your take.

MORAN: Thank you.

CABRERA: President Trump today slamming stories with anonymous sources, even though he often cites them when it's good news for him. But this time, the source was his own son. We'll discuss.

Also, breaking this afternoon, the man nominated to be the new head of the FBI answering this question on the Hill: Would he meet alone with President Trump? His answer, next.


CABRERA: There are reports today that the White House is paralyzed by suspicion that someone in their midst anonymously leaked the Donald Trump Jr story to the media. President Trump got on Twitter early this morning to rail against unnamed sources, "Remember when you hear these words, 'sources say' from the fake media, oftentimes, those sources are made up and do not exist."

Joining me to discuss, CNN senior media and politics reporter, Dylan Byers, and the president of the White House Correspondents Association, Jeff Mason.

So, Dylan, first of all, the president's tweet just isn't true. We have the e-mails. We have the statement from his very own son about the meeting that he had with this Russian lawyer, and what he thought he was going to get going into it. This is not a conspiracy.

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR MEDIA & POLITICS REPORTER: No, of course it's not a conspiracy. And it's not true. And trying to cast doubt on the media with your supporters becomes very hard when your own son, who's at the center of this story, is not only acknowledging the e-mails but publishing them himself on Twitter. And you know, as former President Obama said in his farewell address, reality has a way of catching up with you. At a certain point, all this demonizing of the mainstream media, calling it fake news, calling into question whether or not these sources actually exist, it becomes very hard to do when there is actual evidence that is being acknowledged by members of your own family or members of your own team. And in that context, a tweet like this from the president of the United States sounds more akin to something you would hear over a loud speaker in North Korea. Don't believe what you're hearing from the other side. Don't believe what you're hearing from the outside. It's becoming increasingly hard for the president of the United States to make that argument. And I would make the appeal to his supporters to question how can something be fake if we have the e-mails and his own son is acknowledging that they're real.

[14:55:50] CABRERA: And on top of that, Jeff, the president seems to like anonymous sources when they benefit him.

What's your reaction to him saying, don't believe anything if sources aren't named.

JEFF MASON, PRESIDENT, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENTS ASSOCIATION: Well, the president obviously does like to complain about stories that he doesn't like. And he uses anonymous sourcing as one of the vehicles for doing that as well as some of the rhetoric that he's employed.

The use of anonymous sources is something that journalists do. But honestly as a reporter, I'd always prefer to have a named source. And the irony of the president criticizing that is the White House uses anonymous sources all the time. So, we will often speak to people here in this building behind me and they will say, we can use that but you have to use it on background or you have to use it in a way that does not attribute my name.

So it's, yes, I'm sure it is frustrating to read something that you don't see the name to. But journalists would almost always prefer to have a name if sources, including the ones that are used here at the White House, would agree to it.

CABRERA: And sources are nothing new to this administration. For a long time, there have been people who don't want to be named but are giving important information that does need to be put out there for the public to keep government officials and people in power accountable.

But, Jeff, what do you now make of these reports that people, Republicans, who are close to the White House, plan to dig up dirt now on the reporters who are covering this Trump Jr story and then feed the information to Trump-friendly outlets and social media?

MASON: Well, I've heard those reports. I don't have any independent knowledge of that myself. There is, you know, often an effort by folks who don't like the coverage that they see to attack the messenger. And if that's the strategy that is employed, then it won't be the first time. I think good reporters and good news organizations can take it. We can take the heat as long as we continue to do our jobs.

CABRERA: Now, in the briefings for the last year, we're expecting a briefing to happen at the top of the hour. It's off camera. Of course, we'll have to wait until after the briefing is over to bring it to you all live.

But last year, in the past year, with these briefings, we've heard over and over and over, there were no Russian contacts between Trump campaigners and the Russians. None. Then we learn this.

And once again, it seems, Dylan, that this is a credibility issue for the White House and its associates.

BYERS: Sure. Well, and this White House, unfortunately, I just think this is a point of fact, I don't think it's a biased thing to say. They lost their credibility a long time ago. They've shown a total willingness to mislead the American people, to lie to the American people, to mistreat the press. Very often, you talk about these press briefings, the people sitting or standing at the podium in the press briefings, whether it's Sean Spicer or Sarah Huckabee Sanders, don't actually know what the president is thinking or have a sort of coherent message that they can put forward from the White House.

You know, the "Wall Street Journal" made this point several months ago in an editorial, which was, if the president of the United States tweeted that a missile had gone off in North Korea and landed somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, would you believe it? Would you, as the American people, believe it? There's room to doubt. And the reason there's room to doubt is because nothing that this administration says can be trusted, going back to the tweet that you mentioned at the top of this segment, which is casting doubt on a story that, once again, was confirmed by the son of the president of the United States. It's a joke.

And by the way, that credibility gap does not only hurt the relationship between the press and the president of the United States, it hurts America's credibility both here and abroad.

CABRERA: Jeff, what can you tell us about the Trump administration reportedly reaching out to the White House Correspondents Association to call out reporters and news organizations?

MASON: Well, I don't think it was about calling out reporters and news organizations. I shared a story at a town hall that the Correspondents Association had earlier this week about an incident where the White House was unhappy with a story that a White House reporter had written. It was about the press. And they asked me in my role as the head of the Correspondents Association to issue a statement about that and defending the White House. And I said, no, that's just not something that we do. That would be seen as criticizing a reporter and a member of the White House press corps, and that's not our role. So that, you know, part of the learning experience that we've, both the Correspondents Association and this White House, in the last several months. We've been figuring out each other's roles --