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Report: McCain Says White House Scandal Taking Oxygen Out of The Room; Rep. Gowdy Sounds Off on White House Chaos; Trump Has Spoken to Son Over Last Few Days. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired July 12, 2017 - 15:30   ET



[15:35:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: The White House just can't seem to escape the circus-like atmosphere, the seemingly constant chaos surrounding the president described as frustrated and angry, a father desperate to defend and protect his son who's now under the political microscope. Infighting and distrust among White House staffers. Some lawmakers within the GPO say they are reaching the breaking point.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: How much that all this Russia controversy is overwhelming things here for you guys? How much --

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), ARIZONA: It is sucking the oxygen out of the room. Everybody knows that.

RAJU: And when it sucks the oxygen out of the room, I mean does that mean you guys -- this agenda is essentially undercutting the Republican agenda.

MCCAIN: Sure. I think it's very difficult when you have this overwhelming barrage of new information that unfolds every few days. I think it's obvious.


CABRERA: With me now, Mary Katharine Ham, CNN political commentator, conservative blogger and senior writer at " The Federalist." Angela Rye, CNN senior political commentator and former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus. And Harlan Hill, political consultant and commentator. Harlan, a top Republican close to the West Wing said this, the White House is paralyzed right now. What's your reaction, isn't this their own making?

HARLAN HILL, CNN COMMENTATOR: No. The White House is not paralyzed. The president just told CBN that he's sitting in the oval office with a pen ready to sign health care reform, he is ready to sign tax reform, he is ready to do everything that he promised his constituents that he would do if he were elected.

CABRERA: But did you hear what Senator McCain just said? They can't get those agenda items accomplished because of the Russia cloud and the president's continued focus on the Russia investigation.

HILL: That is an excuse from an establishment Republican that has never liked President Donald Trump. That's what this is about. John McCain hasn't had a positive thing to say about this president in god knows how long. Maybe never. And so, to say that they're even on the same team is a falsehood.

CABRERA: Mary Katharine, your response?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: People who are right of center and Trump voters, we would never have accepted the excuse from President Obama that it was all congress's fault that he couldn't get something done. That would have been a dereliction of his duty which is partly to lead the party. Look, there is a rift in this party.

HILL: He is.

HAM: He's actually not. He's not deeply --

HILL: The president can't write legislation. With all due respect, he can't write the legislation. He's sitting there waiting for it.

HAM: It's such a copout to say that the president of the United States, who, by the way, touts himself as the greatest manager who is able to bring people together, who is able to make deals, that he doesn't have some responsibility in this as well, and it would be easier if there was not all of this commotion. He has a point sometimes that some of it is more hype than the evidence is. He has a point that there are people out there who want to delegitimize him. He has a point that there is a rift in the Republican party, there are people that disagree with him but that does not mean that he can't work in the ways that need to be done to get things --

CABRERA: What do you think about this, Angela?

HILL: And he is.

ANGELA RYE, CNN Senior Political Commentator: So, I think several things. One is I would just point to what two ethics lawyers spoke about this earlier, that both worked for George W. Bush and Barack Obama have pointed to, and this issue is major. I would not say it's hype at all. This is actually a real issue. It's a smoking gun as "The Washington Post" has called this particular issue with Donald Trump's son. It's no wonder that he's jumping to his defense, but as folks in the South tend to say, you know, a hit dog will holler.

CABRERA: Trey Gowdy a Republican a guy who was in the front of the Benghazi investigation questioning Clinton, so take that as you will but he is frustrated. Listen to what he said about on. Listen to what he said about people not being on the same page.


REP. TREY GOWDY, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Here we are beginning another week, this one in July, with a new revelation about Russia and then the third, which is more of a medical issue, is the amnesia of people that are in the Trump orbit. Someone close to the president needs to get everyone connected with that campaign in a room and say, from the time you saw Dr. Zhivago until the moment you drank vodka with a guy named Boris, you list every single one of those and we're going to turn them over to the special counsel because this drip, drip, drip is undermining the credibility of this administration.

CABRERA: Angela, to you first. Do you give Republicans credit for stepping up?

[15:40:00] RYE: I don't, because I think it's too little too late. They had the opportunity to do this during the campaign when folks first started flagging issues with Trump's inability to be transparent. Starting with the tax reform. This is not something that's new. He's demonstrated a propensity to either hide the ball or not tell the truth or push, you know, push things off as not true, fake news, like all this is always somebody else's fault. He's constantly pointing the finger and never is owning up to and being responsible for his own actions.

CABRERA: What do you think about what Tray Gowdy said?

HILL: Owning up. Don Junior was on Hannity last night and he said he would have done things differently that he regretted how this went out. But you know what? At the end of the day, taking a meeting with someone isn't criminal. Having a conversation with somebody that happens to be Russian isn't treason. And so, the allegations that are being bandied about, loosely, without any substantiation as Angela's just done here is reckless.

RYE: I'm actually not being reckless and I'm going to take this moment to defend myself. What I'm saying to you is this is not just collusion. I believe the criminal charge

I need you to chill out. I need you to chill out. The conspiracy issue is what would be criminal. So, if he conspired, as it appears to be the case in these e-mails, if he conspired to get information from Russian intelligence, which is how it was purported to be in the e-mails, with this particular potential government lawyer, that is collusion that rises to the level of conspiracy. It would be -- and it would run afoul of federal ethics laws, which is what these two ethics lawyers have said.

That is the issue. I'm not up here putting together some case. These facts have to be presented to the special prosecutor. I don't make up my own facts. That's what y'all do over there.

CABRERA: Exactly, we are not here to litigate. Hold just a second I am going to throw this into the mix. In terms of what we're discussing right now and the dynamics inside the White House that are trickling out into the ability for the president and the Republicans to move forward on the agenda, I quote, Trump has not surrounded himself with good strong, smart political operatives. This is one source close to the White House, telling our Sara Murray. These guys have gone from never playing the game to walking into the major leagues and they make mistakes all the time. Is that what's going on here? Do you think, Mary Katharine Ham?

HAM: I do think there's some of that involved and voters voted for something radically different on purpose but when you get radically different, you get people who don't know, actually, maybe how to usher some things through congress and that is part of what we're seeing going on here. But when it comes to, the distinction about whether this is an illegal matter, and whether what Donald Trump Jr. did was legal is important, right.

And that's part of the -- of Mueller's investigation, but the standard should not be that everything that's not illegal is OK. And that is not an argument that I would accept from the other side either. Like there's a spectrum here. And I do think we've turned a corner on the actual evidence of this willingness to work with someone who was an ally of the Russian government, but the problem, again, with the hype, as I was talking about, Angela earlier. Because everything has been so hyped and because everything has been called treason or has been called impeachable or the biggest bombshell, the audience you're talking to, the American voters actually are not sure whether to believe something is new evidence that is really credible. Because everything's been sold that way.

CABRERA: The president is calling the whole Russia investigation, this latest story with Trump Junior, B.S. he believes Mueller is out to get him.

HILL: Look, what I have an issue with is the inconsistent application of outrage, not only in the media but on the left. Because the DNC and staffers on the Hillary Clinton campaign went to the Ukrainian embassy in Washington, D.C before the election and got evidence that was damaging to the Trump campaign at the time. So, I take issue -- and this has been widely reported in "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," all kinds of mainstream media outlets. Why are we outraged when there's this tenuous allegation that Trump's son met with some Russian lawyer that doesn't have any direct ties to the Russian government? But when the Hillary Clinton campaign actually goes to the Ukrainian embassy and sits down with their officials and gets intelligence.

HAM: The reporting is not that it was the Hillary Clinton campaign. It was the DNC.

HILL: I said that.

CABRERA: Just a minute. Just a minute, though, because you're talking about the Ukrainian government versus the Russian government. That in itself is a distinction. The intelligence community also has talked about the Russian, specifically, having an effort, a coordinated, sophisticated effort to hack the American election system. That's another point. Let me follow up with the fact that Clinton is not president right now. Donald Trump is the president of the U.S.

HILL: So, it's OK for the Ukrainians.

[15:45:00] CABRERA: I'm not saying it's OK. HILL: You're making excuses for it.

RYE: I think she was just trying to make sure you knew fact pattern.

HILL: I laid it down. I said the DNC and the Hillary Clinton staffer. That's what I said.

RYE: That is not.

HILL: I did. Roll the tape.

RYE: That's not the fact. It was not Hillary Clinton going to the embassy.

HILL: I didn't say that. I said a staffer.

CABRERA: OK. Go ahead.

HAM: I think the issue is that we cannot act as we often do as if meeting with a foreign government for this kind of research is unprecedented when it is not. We should deal with the facts at hand and that is one of the facts that this has happened in a different way with this other campaign.

CABRERA: Christopher Wray, who was at the hearing today, for his nomination to be the FBI director was asked if he will look into that. He said he will be happy to. Do you have anything more to say on that front, Angela.

RYE: I think it's all been said and I look forward to there being a clear, concise investigation, both from the house and the senate and also to the special prosecutor doing what he needs to do because I think the smoking gun is there at this point.

CABRERA: All right. Thank you all for being here with us. Thank you all.

Just in, President Trump weighing in on what happens if Republicans don't pass a health care bill. Plus, the White House briefing, in full, just moments away.


CABRERA: Here's the CNN newsroom and the White House press briefing just ended. Here's Sarah Huckabee Sanders.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, thanks. Has President Trump had any [INAUDIBLE].

CABRERA: Obviously, some technical difficulties. We'll take a quick break. We'll get it right and come right back.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, thanks. Has President Trump had any communication with his son, Donald Trump Jr., over the last several days and did he become involved in helping Donald Trump Jr. craft his response over the weekend on Air Force One that was reported in "The New York Times"?

SANDERS; I'm not sure of specific communications and the nature of those conversations, I know they've spoken at least some point in the last few days, but beyond that I don't have any other further details.


SANDERS: Not that I am aware of, don't know the answer to that, Phil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was that not true?

SANDERS: I'm telling you I'm not sure. I don't know the answer. I'll have to check and let you know. Matthew?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You opened today talking about the strong character and integrity of Christopher Wray. He said during the hearing today that he does not consider Mueller's probe to be a witch hunt, neither do Republican leaders in congress, neither does the Justice Department, so why does the president continue to call it a witch hunt, especially now that there's hard evidence released by his own son That the campaign knew that Russia sought to interfere in the


SANDERS: I think the president made it extremely clear his position clear on that, and it certainly has not changed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know why he calls it a witch hunt?

SANDERS: Because the president knows very specifically any action or inaction that he's taken, so I think that's pretty clear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does that include members of his campaign?

SANDERS: Look, I think we've been extremely clear, and I know Don Jr. was and discussed it at length last night, as did the president's personal counsel over the last couple of days and have walked through that very detailed. I think if there's been any evidence of collusion in 2016 that's come out at all or been discussed that's actually happened, it would be between the DNC and the Ukrainian government. I don't often quote "The New York Times," but even one of their reporters tweeted earlier today that while this example provides evidence of collusion, quote, cooperation was between DNC officials and officials of the Ukrainian government, not just some associate. Ukrainian actions to coordinate with the DNC was actually successful,

unlike anything shown by Don Jr.'s e-mails. Information passed from the DNC to the Ukrainian government directly targeted members of the Trump campaign in an attempt to undermine it. And that was just Ukraine. The other big news was the foreign intelligence dossier that the president's political opponents funded and disseminated widely and was based on discredited opposition research from foreign intelligence sources. The only collusion I've seen, and that's certainly been proven, would be between those people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the president work through changes that senate Republicans have made in the health care bill to retain all the tax increases on covering investment earner and health care CEOs? And if so, why?

SANDERS: I haven't talked to him about the specific breakdown of those three things. I think the president from day one has been very clear on his priorities when it comes to the health care legislation. That is what he is focused on and beyond that I have not gotten into the details of either he or Mark.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tax increases that Republicans have criticized since their enactment, does the bill pledge to repeal, the affordable care act when there are foundational tax increases of that very law?

SANDERS: I'm not sure on that specific piece, but I do know, again, that the president is fully committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can he do that and keep the tax increases?

SANDERS: I'd have to look at the specific piece you are talking about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me just ask you one question on those within the administration who have had to subsequently admit or concede contacts with Russians, Mike Flynn, Jared Kushner, the attorney general and now Don Jr. Can you explain to us why there is this plague of amnesia that affects all these people associated with the campaign and one country, and one country only?

[16:00:00] SANDERS: Look, I think if you want to talk about having relationships with Russia, I would look no further than the Clintons. Bill Clinton was paid half a million dollars to give a speech to a Russian bank personally thanked by President Putin. Hillary Clinton allowed on one-fifth of the America's uranium reserve to be sold to a Russia firm whose investors were Clinton Foundation donors. The Clinton campaign chairman's brother lobbied against sanctions on a Russian largest bank and failed to report it. I think if we are looking at Russia relations with anybody it would be directly with the Clintons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Specifically, about the need and the requirement to remember things that were undisclosed or forgotten. I'm just trying to get your explanation as to why so many people can't remember contacts with one nation, and the inquiries lead them to then remember and subsequently disclose them. What accounts for this plague of amnesia?

SANDERS: Every single day we try to give you the most accurate account that we have and allow it to be as transparent as possible with all committees and anybody invested this matter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is anybody trying not to be transparent?

SANDERS: Not at all. Our goal is to be as transparent as humanly possible and put every bit of information we have at the forefront and willing to cooperate with anybody that is looking into the matter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does this suggest to you a pattern of not trying to be transparent?

SANDERS: Not at all again, our goal is to be as transparent as humanly possible and to put very bit of information that we have at the forefront and willing to cooperate with anybody that is looking into the matter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But when it's not at the forefront, when it has to be conceived and then security clearance forms in the case of Jared Kushner have to be amended, and there is a re-remembering forced on them by either investigators or journalists, how is that being at the forefront of transparency?

SANDERS: Again, every time a question that is asked, we try to give you the best information that we have and try to give you as full and accurate information at all times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you've done that in this case?

SANDERS: Absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just so we're on the same page and you've had time to look into these various meetings, and people can remember things, are there any other additional meetings members of the campaign have had, advisers to the campaign have had during the campaign with any Russian nationals, members of the campaign or advisers to the campaign? Anything else that's come to light that we should know about?

SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of. Dave.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I just have one more follow-up?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You've been doing a lot of briefings lately. Will you continue doing the briefings or can we expect Sean to be doing any briefings in the future?

SANDERS; You know, I think we're all just trying to do the very best job we can every day, and sometimes it may be me, sometimes it may be Sean. Dave?