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President Comments on Growing Trump-Russia Firestorm; Interview With Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 12, 2017 - 15:00   ET



JEFF MASON, REUTERS: That would be seen as criticizing a reporter and a member of the White House press corps. And that's -- that's not our role.

So, that -- you know, part of the learning experience that we have both had, the Correspondents Association and this White House, in the last several months has been figuring out each other's roles. And I had to make clear that that is not a role that we would play.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Jeff Mason, Dylan Byers, thank you both.


MASON: Thank you.

CABRERA: Top of the hour. I'm Ana Cabrera in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Any minute now, the White House will be holding another off-camera briefing, as reports swirl of a White House paralyzed and a president furious and frustrated as his son's e-mails dominate the headlines again today.

We are told President Donald Trump believes it's all B.S., and has reportedly spent much of the last 24 hours holed up inside the Oval Office glued to the TV.

And, on the surface, he continues to stand by Donald Trump Jr., tweeting this, this morning -- quote -- "My son Donald Trump did a good job last night." He's referring to FOX News interview that happened. "He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest witch-hunt in political history. Sad."

Again, Don Jr. went on FOX News, where he downplayed the meeting between the president's top campaign officials and the Russian lawyer last summer. Watch.

We will get that SOT eventually.

Let's go live first to Dana Bash. She's joining us, CNN's chief political correspondent.

Dana, we are also reading part of a transcript from President Trump's sit-down with Pat Robertson on Christian Broadcasting Network. Fill us in.


The -- Ana -- forgive me -- the Christian Broadcasting Network just put out excerpts, kind of a write-up of what the president told the founder there of "The 700 Club" program, Pat Robertson, who did the interview, and there are a few highlights.

But the one that pertains to what we have been discussing, Russia and the question not just of his son, but more broadly of whether or not Russia did try to help the Trump campaign, the defense that the president offered to Pat Robertson was, again, denying that he tried -- that Putin tried to help him, that it doesn't make any sense, said Donald Trump, because he believed that Hillary Clinton would have been better for Vladimir Putin than Donald Trump.

And I'm just going to read you a quote. He said: "We are the most powerful country in the world, and we are getting more and more powerful because I'm a big military person. As an example, if Hillary had won, our military would be decimated. Our energy would be much more expensive. That's what Putin doesn't like about me. And that's why I say, why would he want me? Because, from day one, I wanted a strong military. He doesn't want to see that."

Again, this is a quote coming from the Christian Broadcasting Network about what the president just told Pat Robertson in an interview. So there you have an example, the most recent example today of President Trump denying the notion of Vladimir Putin and the Russians trying to meddle in America's election in order to help him, that despite the fact that we now have, in black and white, an e-mail chain during the campaign to his son from an intermediary, British intermediary, saying, explicitly, that he was asked to contact Donald Trump Jr. because the Russian government supports Donald Trump's campaign and wants him to win.

Now, you know, it's kind of, again, hard to wrap our minds around the fact that the president is still denying that Russia wanted to help him, but there you have the latest example. And this goes to what you started this segment with, Ana, and that is the fact that this is a president and this is a White House that is still -- I mean, one of my colleagues was told -- paralyzed about this issue, but, specifically, the frustration is that this is the lens through which President Trump sees everything, Russia.


CABRERA: He sees himself as a victim.

BASH: He sees himself as a victim, exactly. And he sees it as anything to do with Russia as questioning his legitimacy as president.

CABRERA: What do you know about Jared Kushner and his security clearance following the Donald Trump Jr. meeting that he was part of and failure to disclose it a couple times on his security clearance form?

There have been these calls now, mostly from Democrats, that he should have his security clearance revoked. Anything more on that front?

BASH: Well, he doesn't have his full security clearance yet. He does, according to our colleague Gloria Borger, have interim security clearance, but doesn't have the full security clearance for lots of reasons.


Some of it is that he has delayed properly filling out that disclosure form. There still are calls for him to never get full security clearance, permanent, beyond interim security clearance. And there's no question that's likely to continue as it becomes more clear that the committees on Capitol Hill and even the special prosecutor, they are still looking into a lot of meetings that he had.

You know, the spotlight, Ana, has been, over the past 48 hours, on Donald Trump Jr., but what is going on and sort of stirring in the shadows appears to be a very intense scrutiny of his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner.

So that is still happening as we speak. And, remember, it is Jared Kushner, not Donald Trump Jr., who is in the White House. He is actual an White House employee. So, that's why this is something that is being scrutinized, not just about what happened in the campaign, but what it means for whether or not he can and should be able to get the clearances and the responsibilities that one needs in order to be a senior adviser to the president.

CABRERA: Dana Bash reporting, thank you.

I want to talk more about this with Mike Rogers, CNN national security commentator and former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. And also here with us, Asha Rangappa, CNN legal and national security analyst, former FBI special agent and now the associate dean at Yale Law School.

So, Mike, we haven't heard from you yet on this since the Donald Trump Jr. e-mail chain came out and went public. What's your reaction?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I would not I would not confuse conspiracy with incompetence.

I just -- I think this was an amateur who took this information in the heat of a campaign. Clearly, from a legal standpoint, there was nothing illegal that he did. It certainly was not the best decision. And then bringing in the other players was certainly not a great idea.

And I just think it speaks to the lack of understanding and the lack of experience in these matters. And, clearly, when somebody says that a former government is just interested in passing you information, the first reaction you should have is, I think I'm going to pick up the phone and call the FBI and have a chat.

CABRERA: Inexperience does seem to be the defense that we're hearing from Don Jr. and even other members of the team there. But, Mike, are you more disturbed about the meeting itself or that we

didn't know about the meeting and the changing story that has evolved from the Trump team about why they had the meeting?

ROGERS: Well, I mean, certainly they're going to have to get to the bottom of why they had the meeting. I think, to me, it was very clear why they had the meeting. I think that Don Jr. saw an opportunity to collect information that he thought would be helpful to his father's campaign, clearly.

And, by the way, both campaigns are going through that process on any given day in the heat of an election, and we -- you know, we need to understand that. That's very important. There's lots of folks who are checking things that they think may help their candidate.

In this particular case, the thing that concerned me was the judgment call that when they identified that this information would be coming from a foreign government, that that didn't stop -- that didn't stop them and say, wait a minute, this probably isn't something we should be dealing with or messing with. Again, I don't believe anything that I have seen here is illegal. I don't believe that.

I do believe it was just a judgment issue and I think it's important to make sure that we understand it's not bigger than -- you know, it's not what the Democrats say, the end of the world. It's probably not what the Republicans say, absolutely nothing. It's probably the truth is somewhere right there in the middle.

CABRERA: Asha, what do you make of President Trump himself signing off on the first statement that was incomplete, mentioned nothing about damaging information about Hillary Clinton and the Russian government's effort to help elect President Trump?


CABRERA: No, not the disclosure forms, but the statement to the media following the initial story from "The New York Times" in which Donald Trump Jr. came out and said, we had this meeting, it was about Russian adoption.


CABRERA: And then he later came back and said, actually, I was told there was going to be damaging information about Hillary Clinton, and then came back again, releasing all his e-mails in which we see the back and forth and the person who is setting up the meeting saying it's information that is very sensitive and that it is part of a Russian government effort to help President Trump, then candidate Trump.

RANGAPPA: Well, what I take from that entire unfolding of events is that he probably didn't have good legal counsel at that point.

In his attempt to be transparent, he basically put out different versions of what happened in the meeting, contradicting himself, essentially putting out evidence that could be used against him. Even if somebody else had it, he should probably just keep that close to the chest for the time being.

And, really, you just see a lot of this happening both with the president and now with Donald Trump Jr., just acting against interests, because it seems to me that they're not fully aware of the potential legal implications of what is unfolding.


I agree with Mike that this e-mail alone wouldn't be enough to prosecute someone or convict someone, but it is just one bit that has come to the surface, and we don't know what Robert Mueller has gathered in the course of his investigation.

I will also add here, because it hasn't been mentioned, that this also heats up the focus on a potential obstruction of justice inquiry, because there is now evidence that there could have been a self- interested motive on the part of the president to want former Director James Comey to -- quote -- "lift the cloud of Russia."

It wasn't -- I don't think it can -- it can no longer be brushed aside as just something that he wanted to go away because it was inconvenient.

So, I think there's going to be a parallel intensification of the investigation on that front. And there are going to be multiple lines of inquiry that unfold from this. And even if this e-mail doesn't rise to the level of crime, we have to remember, you know, Al Capone was ultimately convicted for tax evasion.

So what gets uncovered in the course of getting e-mail chains and uncovering calendars and schedules, we don't know what's going to come out of that. And...

CABRERA: Asha, you brought up James Comey. And, today, we brought it to you live here, his potential replacement, Trump's pick to lead the FBI, Christopher Wray. He was on the hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee, his confirmation hearing.

He was asked about the e-mail chain involving Donald Trump Jr. Watch.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Do you believe that in light of the Don Jr. e-mail and other allegations, that this whole thing about Trump campaign and Russia is a witch-hunt? Is that a fair description of what we're all dealing with in America?

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR NOMINEE: Well, Senator, I can't speak to the basis for those comments. I can tell you that my experience with Director Mueller...

GRAHAM: I'm asking you, as the future FBI director, do you consider this endeavor a witch-hunt?

WRAY: I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch-hunt.

GRAHAM: Can the president fire Director Mueller? Does he have the authority and law to fire him?

WRAY: I don't know the law on that.

GRAHAM: Can you get back to us and answer that question?

WRAY: I would be happy to take a look at it.

GRAHAM: Should Donald Trump Jr. have taken that meeting?

WRAY: Well, Senator, I don't -- I'm hearing for the first time your description of it. So, I'm not really a position to speak to it. I gather that special counsel Mueller would...

GRAHAM: Well, let me ask you this. If I got a call from somebody saying the Russian government wants to help Lindsey Graham get reelected, they have got dirt on Lindsey Graham's opponent, should I take that meeting?

WRAY: Well, Senator, I would think you would want to consult with some good legal advisers before you did that.

GRAHAM: So the answer is, should I call the FBI?

WRAY: I think it would be wise to let the FBI...


GRAHAM: You're going to be the director of the FBI, pal. So here's what I want you to tell every politician. If you get a call from somebody suggesting that a foreign government wants to help you by disparaging your opponent, tell us all to call the FBI.

WRAY: To the members of this committee, any threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation state or any non-state actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know.


CABRERA: Mike Rogers, President Trump is still, to this day, calling the Russia probe a witch-hunt. Yet the man he's chosen here to lead the FBI says, no way.

CNN's reporting Trump believes Mueller is out to get him. Do you consider that rational thinking at this point?

ROGERS: Well, I mean, look, I know Bob Mueller. I worked with Bob Mueller as chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

I don't believe he is on a witch-hunt, by any stretch of the imagination. I think where the president gets himself in trouble...

CABRERA: Why is the president continuing to call it a witch-hunt, then? ROGERS: Well, I think where the president gets himself in trouble, he

just keeps talking about it in a way that is not helpful and I think that's what Asha was pointing out.

He's not doing himself any favors. And the more they talk about it, the more they are going to raise questions in an investigation of this nature. And my argument is they should just stop talking about it. So I think Bob Mueller is getting -- as a matter of fact, I believe in this case that the reason that these e-mails were leaked, which was -- is a problem in and of itself, but that the fact that Don Jr. ended up releasing these is, this was all probably likely discovered through the course of the investigation, and then somehow that was leaked out when briefings took place or whatnot.

This didn't just happen out of the blue and somebody didn't pick up the phone and have these particular e-mails. I just don't believe that. So it tells me...


CABRERA: Why wouldn't they have been forthcoming with them previously? We -- our reporting is that this is new to the Senate and House committees who have been investigating the Russia meddling in the election.


ROGERS: Yes. Well, and here's where the problem can start.

And Asha pointed this out as well. If Don Jr. talked to the FBI and purposely said something different than what he's saying and now is proven in these e-mails, he's in trouble. Lying to the FBI is a federal crime.

And that's where these things can get into trouble, which is why I argue all of them should stop talking about it. Let the investigation take its course. It's clearly -- the investigation is working. These -- obviously, these e-mails were uncovered along the way.

This is a long way from saying, we have got you, you're going to go to jail, we're charging you with X, a long, long, long way from that. As a matter of fact, you don't know if the woman made it up when she got there. You don't know any of that. That will all have to be part of the conversation.

Did you just say those things to get a meeting? And, again, the meeting, in and of itself, was not illegal. It was probably inappropriate, but it wasn't illegal by any stretch of the imagination.

Now you have to unwind all of that. That's why the investigation's important and why talking about it for every detail from the president's perspective is just a terrible idea.

CABRERA: Now, the president is speaking out. He has been behind closed doors since he returned from his trip abroad, but he sat down with Christian Broadcast Network today. Let's listen.


PAT ROBERTSON, HOST, "THE 700 CLUB": You went to the G20 and you met for the first time, face-to-face, with Vladimir Putin. And George Bush once said he stared into his soul and came away satisfied. What do you think? Can we trust him?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, look, we had a good meeting.

I think we had an excellent meeting. One thing we did is, we have a cease-fire in a major part of Syria where there was tremendous bedlam and tremendous killing.

And, by the way, this is now four days. The cease-fire has held for four days. Those cease-fires haven't held at all. That's because President Putin and President Trump made the deal, and it's held.

Now, I don't know what's going to happen. Maybe, as we're speaking, they start shooting again. But this has held, unlike all of the other cease-fires that didn't mean anything. So, that was a great thing that came out of that meeting.

I think a lot of things came out of that meeting, but I do believe it's important to have a dialogue, and if you don't have a dialogue, it's a lot of problems for our country and for their country. I think we need dialogue. We need dialogue with everybody.


TRUMP: I had a great -- it was a great G20. You had 20 countries. I got along, I think, really fantastically with the head of every country.


CABRERA: Asha, I just want to get your reaction to what the president just said.

RANGAPPA: One of the things that's really concerned me since these e- mails were released yesterday is that basically we can assume that the Russian government has had these e-mails or known the contents of them for the last year.

And even if the president, if we give him the benefit of the doubt that he had no idea that this meeting took place or that these exchanges happened, Jared Kushner did, and so did Donald Trump Jr., even though he's not an official member of the administration.

And Jared anyway is a senior adviser to the president. So, again, you have this foreign influence, a sword of Damocles hanging over people that could be revealed and used against them. And I think it calls into question any kind of dialogue, as the president mentioned, or deals or interests that we have with Russia, and whether they were truly only in the interests of the United States, or potentially motivated by fear of this information being disclosed. I think it's problematic.

CABRERA: Asha Rangappa and Congressman Rogers, we will leave it there. Thank you both.

ROGERS: Thanks.

RANGAPPA: Thank you.

CABRERA: Up next, I will speak with a member of one congressional committee investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. Hear his reaction to today's developments.

Plus, any moment, we will hear straight from the White House in the latest press briefing. Stand by.



CABRERA: Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team will be investigating this meeting and the e-mails disclosed by Donald Trump Jr., but, remember, there are also several congressional investigations looking into the potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

And my next guest is a member of one of those congressional committees, the House Intelligence Committee.

Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley, thanks so much for being here, Congressman.


CABRERA: Our reports say the FBI did not know about this meeting. Did your committee know about this meeting or these e-mails before Donald Trump Jr. published them?

QUIGLEY: I'm not sure what the committee might have known. It was news to me when the e-mail story broke yesterday.

CABRERA: Do you worry there may be more meetings or contacts that you haven't learned about or the special counsel doesn't know about yet?

QUIGLEY: I think what I have learned in this investigation is that there's going to be surprises every day and every week.

I think that's what the American public has seen. I'm often asked, are we connecting the dots? My answer is, we're connecting some dots, but mostly we're learning about more dots. It's part of a more complicated, larger pattern that we have to piece together, so we can find out exactly what took place.

CABRERA: Last night, Trump Jr. in his interview with FOX News said if he could go back, back to June, when this meeting happened, he would have done things differently.

He played the political novice. Will ignorance be an acceptable defense?

QUIGLEY: You know, I suspect, at the best, it's naivete. At worst, it's something along the lines of an element of a conspiracy.

I mean, there are more questions being asked than answered here about this latest revelation. I mean, what else was said at the meeting? How many meetings were there?


I mean, they denied existence of any of these things until recently. Now they're acknowledging it. What else aren't they telling us? And why were there other campaign officials there, like Manafort and Kushner?

I mean, they're clearly not having campaign people there to talk about adoptions out of Russia.

CABRERA: We know Donald Trump Jr. went into this meeting thinking he was going to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, believing that there was a Russian effort to help his father win the election, according to the e-mail chain that has been disclosed by Donald Trump Jr. himself.

You're a former criminal defense attorney. Putting your legal hat on here, do you see anything illegal?

QUIGLEY: Well, first of all, in the simplest terms, there's campaign violations.

You're not allowed to take contributions from foreign sources, and you're not allowed to solicit information from those you know to be foreign. So, at the very least, there's campaign violations, though I think we're seeing in a larger -- here is a pattern of a conspiracy and a criminal violation.

You know, I don't think anything's been proven yet, and the American public needs to be cautioned. We're more at the beginning stages of the investigation than the later stages.

But, clearly, the pattern here with other elements, in which Mr. Stone says he knew Julian Assange and he knew when the next attacks were going to take place. We have reports of setting up back channels with the Kremlin out of the Russian Embassy by Mr. Kushner. Clearly, again, these are the elements of a conspiracy at the very early stages.

CABRERA: Do you believe Trump Jr. when he says his father knew nothing about this meeting?

QUIGLEY: Well, I hear how close he is to his family and his father. Those are his exact words.

It defies credibility that something of this magnitude, that he was, as he said, just -- he's going to love to hear, especially late in the summer, isn't something he wouldn't share with a candidate who happens to be his father. CABRERA: Now, Jared Kushner, you mentioned, is somebody who was at

the meeting who is still an active part of our executive branch. Do you feel his security clearance should be suspended until the investigations are concluded?

QUIGLEY: I believe there's enough questions about Mr. Kushner's role in this entire process for his clearance to be held back, and just to see where we go from here.

Remember, we're talking about elements of things that can be used against him. We can't have anybody who gets the information of this high a level facing the possibility of it being -- of some bad information being used against him. That's exactly why we have concerns about his security clearance.

CABRERA: I want you to listen to the leader of the Republican Party, also the leader of the House, House Speaker Paul Ryan, commenting on these e-mails.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Look, I'm not going to go into hypotheticals, only because I think it's important that we get to the bottom of all of this.

As you all know, I supported Bob Mueller being appointed special counsel, and I think we need to let him and his team and our investigators here do their jobs and follow these leads wherever they may lay and follow -- wherever they may go and follow the facts.


CABRERA: Congressman, do you think Republicans are being too soft?

QUIGLEY: I think the speaker should have taken another step.

I think he should have said to the president of the United States, hey, if you think this is a witch-hunt, tell your people to come forward and testify under oath. Quit holding back. And, by the way, quit calling it a witch-hunt. Make sure that we have the resources to go forward.

And have the president of the United States quit threatening to fire Mr. Mueller and his work. At the very least, it's an attempt at a chilling effect the investigation involving the White House.

CABRERA: Now, President Trump just said -- we played it here, his interview with the CBN, Christian Broadcast Network -- he said Vladimir Putin would be happier if Hillary Clinton was president.

What's your reaction?

QUIGLEY: Yes, it's pretty clear in the public testimony from the intelligence community that just the opposite is true.

And it's pretty clear that the intelligence community unanimously has said it was the Russians that hacked into the democratic process. In the first public hearing, Mr. Comey said it was the Russians, and they did it to benefit President Trump, candidate Trump, and to hurt candidate Hillary Clinton.

So, again, the president of the United States is defying the advice and the words of the intelligence community, however strong they might be.

CABRERA: Congressman Quigley, thank you very much for your time.

QUIGLEY: Thank you.

CABRERA: Up next: Some Republican leaders are fed up with the constant swirl of scandal around the White House. Hear what Senator McCain is saying about Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mails next.