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White House Under Siege After E-mails Bombshell. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired July 12, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: We're now beyond obstruction of justice.
[05:57:23] DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: For me this was opposition research, so I wanted to hear it out.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Any time you're in a campaign you get an offer from a foreign government to help your campaign, the answer is no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never in my wildest dreams did I think you'd see a piece of evidence that would be as much of a smoking gun as this e- mail.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president was not aware of the meeting, did not attend this meeting.
TRUMP JR.: It was such a nothing. It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was an attempt at collusion, and so now the question is really, was it successful?
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, July 12, 6 a.m. here in New York. It's a very busy news day. So here is our starting line.
The Trump White House dealing with snowballing revelations about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer during last year's campaign. There are now multiple press reports of turmoil among the president's inner circle about how to handle this crisis, amid finger pointing and chaos.
The president's son breaking his silence, admitting that he would do things differently if he had the chance. The newly-released e-mails are the clearest proof yet that Trump Jr. understood that the meeting was meant to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government, despite most of the White House dismissing any collusion allegations as fake news and a witch hunt.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: CNN has learned that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his investigators are going to be looking into those e-mail exchanges and that meeting that Trump associates had with the Russian lawyer. And in fact, it would be a surprise if he were not going to look into these.
We've also learned that those e-mails were discovered as Jared Kushner and his legal team were preparing for him to testify before Congress.
That bombshell and these other revelations are distracting from the president's agenda once again. He has an upcoming trip to France that's going to start tonight. Why is the president not been seen in public since returning from the G-20 over the weekend? Maybe these e- mails have something to do with that.
We have it all covered for you. Let's begin with Jason Carroll, live at the White House -- Jason.
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And good morning to you, Chris.
You know, the president has really been keeping a low profile throughout all of this. This is the third consecutive day he's had no public events on his schedule ahead of his trip to Paris tonight. The controversy surrounding his son has really overshadowed this White House and really consumed the White House, overshadowing the president's agenda ahead of his next foreign trip.
TRUMP JR.: In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently. For me this was opposition research.
CARROLL (voice-over): Donald Trump Jr. confronting the ever-worsening controversy that has his father's administration in full crisis mode. Multiple outlets describing the president's growing exasperation with the Russian revelations; and suspicion and finger-pointing between his closest West Wing advisors. The behind-the-scenes turmoil described to "The Washington Post" as a Category 5 hurricane, a characterization the president's lawyer refused.
JAY SEKULOW, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: This is a Category Zero. This idea that this has consumed the White House is false.
JOHNS: The White House on the defensive after Trump Jr. released a series of bombshell e-mails he had in June of last year with music publicist Rob Goldstone about setting up a meeting with a Russian government attorney. Goldstone saying he had a lead on dirt that would incriminate Hillary Clinton noting, "This is obviously very high-level and sensitive information. But it's part of Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump."
Trump Jr. replying, "If it is what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer."
TRUMP JR.: Someone sent me an e-mail. I can't help what someone sends me. This is 13 months ago before I think the rest of the world was talking about that, trying to build up this narrative about Russia, so I don't even think my sirens, you know, went up or the antennas went up.
CARROLL: The president's son and his attorney insisting President Trump was not aware of the meeting or the e-mails.
TRUMP JR.: It was such a nothing, there was nothing to tell. I wouldn't have even remembered it until you start scouring through the stuff.
SEKULOW: The president, by the way, never saw the e-mail, didn't see the e-mail until it was seen today.
CARROLL: CNN has learned the e-mails were discovered as Jared Kushner and his legal team were preparing for his upcoming congressional testimony. President Trump has been unusually reserved after months of insisting that the Russia investigations are fake news and a witch hunt.
But the president did come to his son's defense Tuesday night, tweeting that "He's a great person who loves our country," hours after the White House deputy press secretary read a statement on the president's behalf.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: "My son is a high-quality person, and I applaud his transparency."
CARROLL: Vice President Mike Pence distancing himself from the growing controversy releasing a statement, stressing that the Russia meeting occurred before he joined the Trump ticket. The newly- released e-mails undermining what the White House has been saying for days.
REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It seems to be, on the end of the Trump individuals, a big nothing burger.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: No information provided that was meaningful. No action taken.
SEBASTIAN GORKA, DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO DONALD TRUMP: Nothing inappropriate happened. There's nothing inappropriate.
CARROLL: A number of lawmakers on Capitol Hill disagree.
GRAHAM: Definitely, he has to testify. That e-mail was disturbing.
KAINE: We're now beyond obstruction of justice in terms of what's being investigated. This is moving into perjury, false statements and even into potentially treason.
CARROLL: Well, Clinton's former running mate has really seized on the implications here. Legal experts say the implications are really unclear. Legal experts disagree on how this is going to be moving forward.
What is clear is that the special counsel will be looking at these e- mail exchanges as part of its investigation into Russian meddling. And Trump Jr. and his attorney have both said that he will cooperate with that investigation -- Chris, Alisyn.
CUOMO: All right, Jason, appreciate it.
We have this spectrum of concern. You have Tim Kaine all the way on this side, which is this listing of possible legal categories very far down the road. And then you have the Sebastian Gorka, this unique world of nothing inappropriate. That tells you more about what Mr. Gorka finds appropriate than it does about reality. Because there's no question that this was inappropriate behavior.
Donald Jr. admitted as much, talking to Sean Hannity, saying he would have done it differently. He would bring in authorities next time and with good reason.
So let's discuss just how much of a concern it should be. We've got associate editor and columnist for RealClearPolitics, A.B. Stoddard; CNN political analyst David Gregory; and CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeffrey Toobin, let's just start with you. This -- what I am calling -- please, correct the assertion if you disagree. Talking about categories of illegality to me seems very far down the road. Inappropriate certainly, but illegal, that seems very advanced as an analysis. You?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I -- I basically agree with that. I mean, certainly, I think it is completely inappropriate and just legally wrong to talk about treason as even a possibility from the facts that we know at this point.
It is illegal to solicit help from a foreign government. That is a violation of campaign finance law.
CUOMO: Just the solicitation? You don't have to receive benefit?
TOOBIN: Absolutely. That is the...
CAMEROTA: But what if it comes to you? You're not soliciting, and it comes and lands in your lap?
[06:05:03] TOOBIN: Then it's not a crime.
CUOMO: So if you don't ask for it, then you're not soliciting, so it would be a question of fact.
TOOBIN: That's right. And, you know, we got enormously important e- mails yesterday. What we did not get were any e-mails about what actually happened at this meeting and whether there was any follow-up and whether there were any other meetings with people who were described as representatives of the foreign government. CUOMO: Don Jr. has said nothing happened and that there was no
follow-up, but his credibility comes into question because he's changed his description of this meeting from the beginning.
TOOBIN: Correct. And so, I mean, I think you know, all of a sudden -- the usual rule that trial -- that lawyers have is that, if someone has lied two times on the same subject, the third description is not necessarily true. It may be another lie.
So I think it's going to be important for investigators working meticulously to get the story of what happened with this meeting with the Russian lawyer and -- and find out, you know, whether any information changed hands. Just because Donald Trump Jr. says nothing happened, that doesn't mean nothing happened.
CAMEROTA: David Gregory, when I heard the text of the e-mails and read them -- they're on the front page of "The New York Times" -- I thought that we were being duped. I thought that it was fake news, meaning, the true definition is somebody fictitiously wrote this, because it was so over-the-top. It's like what you would write in a cartoon about Russia. So let me just read what I'm talking about. Here's the e-mail.
"The crown prosecutor of Russia offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary. This is obviously very high-level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."
I mean, what -- what do you hear?
CUOMO: It reads like a hypothetical of -- let me give you a little tutorial on what to never allow to happen.
CUOMO: It did set up that way. And in fact, we do know that some Trump allies are suggesting this was all a setup, to try to entrap Don Jr. And if so, it was apparently successful.
CAMEROTA: What do you hear, David?
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, right. Because if this was just a pretext to get into a meeting about getting sanctions lifted, it worked, because what's true -- and we don't know what -- where this goes in terms of the investigation.
You know, on a daily basis, a near daily basis we're dealing with pieces of the puzzle that the special counsel will put together, that House and Senate committees will put together.
But what these e-mails make clear is that the Trump team welcomed support from Russia to beat Hillary Clinton. They were open for business, and that at the very least, they were willing to play with fire -- and the fire was Russia, an adversary of the United States -- to try to undermine their political opponent. That is just wrong, and that is why it is engulfing the Trump presidency; and that's why it is undermining his credibility and those around him.
Why? Because these e-mails now contradict months of denials from the White House, that we had to be treated to this garbage, that this was all fake, that it was a witch hunt, that it was just Democrats who are sore losers. Well, apparently, there's more to it than that.
And if you go back to the time when this was happening, what else was happening? A candidate for the presidency of the United States was openly flirting with the dictator of Russia. He and the vice- presidential candidate were talking about what a great leader Vladimir Putin was, this man who orders people in prison, who's been associated with people getting killed who are political opponents. They were talking about him being a strong leader. He was -- Trump was openly calling for Russia to try to hack Hillary Clinton's e-mails, which was going on at the time. They were so cavalier about what an enemy of the United States could do, and they were welcoming help to undermine their political opponents.
CUOMO: The president gave that announcement -- gave the announcement on June 6 or 7, right at the same time of these e-mails. That...
CUOMO: ... big speech on Hillary Clinton coming, and he did that in a couple of states.
GREGORY: And all the things that she's done wrong, yes.
CUOMO: Not a great coincidence.
CAMEROTA: And we wondered what that was. Do we want to remind people of the denials to just further drive David's point home? Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONWAY: Let's focus on what did not happen in that meeting. No information provided that was meaningful, no action taken, nothing.
GORKA: If there's a meeting that was wholly appropriate but which led to nothing, nothing inappropriate happened. There's nothing inappropriate.
SEKULOW: It was a meeting that produced nothing. It was a 20-minute -- let's be realistic. It's a 20-minute meeting out of a, probably at that point an 18- or 20-hour day. It produced no results, no information, no knowledge of anything.
PRIEBUS: It was a very short meeting. It was a meeting, apparently, about Russian adoption, and after about 20 minutes the meeting ended; and that was the end of it.
This is a developing story. I don't know much about it, other than it seems to be, on the end of the Trump individuals, a big nothing burger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: The good news: they're finally on the same page. We're getting one message out of the White House spin machine.
The bad news is, is that their fervor is only as good as the facts. We have no objective basis to believe about what happened in that actual meeting, you know. We don't know what was said. We know that the lawyer has said, "Oh, I didn't do anything like that." But everybody in there has a reason to not be telling the truth, so we don't know.
And it has to be -- again, just to correct this one premise, taking this meeting was a mistake for Don Jr.
CAMEROTA: As he's admitted.
CUOMO: He has said as much in his defense. So for Sebastian Gorka or for anyone to say nothing inappropriate happened in taking this meeting is only a window into the lack of ethical considerations of Sebastian Gorka, A.B. Stoddard, because to think there was nothing inappropriate in taking this meeting means that you have an ethical problem.
A.B. STODDARD, COLUMNIST/ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Right. Look, before the meeting, Chris, this response in the e-mail, he doesn't say, "Well, I'm going to have to give this pause" or "What do you mean the Russian government's efforts to help my father's campaign?" There's no -- there's no response in any kind of surprise from Don Jr. in the e-mail.
CUOMO: No, he asked to speak to the person who's supposedly setting this up. Eamon? Is that how we say his name?
CAMEROTA: I don't know.
STODDARD: So this is the problem. It makes it seem as is that is not the first reference to the Russian government's efforts to help his father's campaign. Because it didn't take him by surprise. He didn't ask what that meant. So he's not only willing to take the meeting. He doesn't say, "What do you mean? Can you tell me a little bit more about the Russian government's efforts on my father's behalf?"
CUOMO: And in fact, in the -- in the chain, A.B., just to your point, Goldstone says, "I believe you are aware of the meeting," and then discusses timing. So we don't know that this is a complete factual chain of all the conversations. He had asked to speak to this guy Eamon on the phone, and he said, "Have him call me on his cell." We don't know if that call happened.
CAMEROTA: An intermediary between the Russian lawyer and this guy, Rob Goldstone.
CUOMO: But we don't know if there was an actual call, but we do know that Goldstone, in their next back-and-forth...
CAMEROTA: Yes. CUOMO: ... between Junior and him, says, "I believe you're aware of the meeting." How?
CAMEROTA: There's obviously a lot of things, questions and information that still needs to be filled in. Yes, David?
GREGORY: Well, I mean, it's just this lack of transparency. I mean, look how Don Jr. has handled this whole thing. He didn't give any of this up until "The New York Times" got it. And then he -- and then he released the e-mails showing how much he would love to get information that would be helpful to his father, given that the Russians wanted to help his father get elected, according to these e-mails.
So he wasn't transparent about that. This is the same White House that's turning off the cameras in White House briefings; where the president is sitting here, recording television all day and watching it and fuming about what's going on.
I mean, the reality is they need to -- first of all, the president needs an attitude adjustment about this Russia probe, that it's not an attack on his legitimacy unless there's more to this that we don't know, and that's quite possible. He needs to get out there and answer every question about what went on, who met with whom, what those associations were like; try to account for the fact that he was so flirtatious with Vladimir Putin that it could have resulted in this. And how about detailing all his financial arrangements with Russia, as well?
CAMEROTA: Guys, stick around. We have many more questions for you. But meanwhile, Democrats are on the attack using words like treason to describe Donald Trump Jr.'s actions. So what about Republicans? What are they saying? We have much more with our panel next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[06:18:09] KAINE: Nothing is proven yet, but we're now beyond obstruction of justice in terms of what's being investigated. This is moving into perjury, false statements and even potentially treason.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: All right. So you hear there some Senate Democrats launching a new attack line on Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mails. You heard there Tim Kaine saying he may have committed treason. Is Tim Kaine out in front of his skis, and how will this play into the broader investigation into Russia meddling? Let's bring back our panel for all this: A.B. Stoddard, Jeffrey Toobin, and David Gregory. So Jeffrey Toobin, isn't that a little premature?
TOOBIN: Yes. I think any discussion of treason is not only premature.
CUOMO: Very narrow statute, right? TOOBIN: Because it involves helping an enemy during -- during times of active hostilities. And, you know, whatever else you can say about our relationship with Russia, which is certainly tense at the moment, we are not in a hot or Cold War with Russia. And also just there is no evidence that -- yet -- that the Trump campaign gave the former Soviet Union anything. So I mean, I just think...
CAMEROTA: Or vice versa, by the way. I mean, part of the irony here is that what Donald Trump -- what Don Jr. was hoping for, as far as we know, wasn't delivered.
CUOMO: As far as he says.
TOOBIN: As far as he says.
CAMEROTA: As far as he says and the lawyer says and everybody says. I understand we're taking them at their word on that.
TOOBIN: That's right. But we do know that, at least according to intelligence agencies, there were active measures but it's so -- like, it's been a long time since it was the Soviet Union, since Russia hacked all those e-mails. And that was something of great benefit to the Trump campaign. You know, John Podesta's e-mails, the DNC's e- mails.
So, you know, what the Trump campaign knew, if anything, about the hacking that went on, that's a critical, critical question that the special counsel and the congressional committees will have to investigate, because that does -- that would be a thing of value if the -- if the Russian -- if the Trump campaign, you know, knowingly received those e-mails.
[06:20:23] CAMEROTA: Sure.
TOOBIN: Plus, it is a crime to aid and abet the hacking of e-mails. So there's a lot to investigate here, but treason seems way off.
CUOMO: But, look, one thing is clear, is that this exposure of these e-mails and this meeting has really rocked the White House, A.B. Stoddard. They had to figure out how to get on the same page about this. I'm sure your sources are saying the same things that I'm hearing, which is some of them didn't see this coming, didn't know. You have reporting out there that these e-mails only came to light when Kushner was getting ready with his lawyers. What does that suggest?
If that's when these e-mails came to light, when Kushner was preparing and next thing we know, they're in "The New York Times," that's a problem for the White House right there.
STODDARD: Right. There's a lot of dagger throwing going on, because people are -- they're all suspecting each other, and that "New York Times" piece, the second one that cited three White House officials, made it clear, and I did check around on that. That that's not from the FBI or some deep state. That's from within probably the West Wing. There's a lot of suspicion that Jared Kushner shared that e-mail after
his lawyers came across it and kind of threw his brother-in-law under the bus. Now, we don't know that for sure, but it's contributing to this sort of feeding frenzy that's going on of paranoia and distrust that was already there.
There are already these feuding factions in the White House, we know. And from several accounts we've read that -- so Gloria Borger has reported on that. So has Maggie Haberman. And that's how the e-mails originally surfaced, from Jared Kushner gathering his documents for the investigations. And he might be thinking that he's going to spare himself. But it's the reaction, obviously, always from the top, right? That we keep reiterating...
CUOMO: Well, here it is. Here it is A.B. While you've been speaking, no disrespect, but the president was tweeting. Probably listening to you, and this is what he says.
CAMEROTA: "My son Donald did a good job last night," meaning on "Hannity." "He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest witch hunt in political history. Sad."
STODDARD: Well, you know, witch hunts are great, but when they involve an e-mail that your son responded to and then a meeting that he took, which subsequently could have led to the release of the WikiLeaks hacks, changes in the Republican platform to make it less anti-Russia and less pro-Ukraine, there are a lot of things that could have -- what we were talking about in the previous segment, we don't know what came of that meeting. This is not a witch hunt.
And I think it's interesting that we keep reading from White House sources and hearing from them that the president doesn't believe that the actions his son took are the problem. He believes the fact that we're covering it is the problem.
GREGORY: And I think we have to get -- look, the president's got a real problem here, which is he's only got one mode, which is defiance and insecurity. He has made it very clear that his primary use of his political capital is to besmirch the news media, to try to discredit the news media so that people won't believe what is reported.
But facts are stubborn, and these facts are very difficult for this White House. And the leaking that he decries coming from his own midst, from his own people, is a sign that the White House is dysfunctional and is chaotic.
And all of this is happening in the middle of an administration that is not accomplishing anything. That's the real problem. He promised to deliver results. He's not doing that, because he's engulfed by his own suffering credibility and the suffering credibility of those around him. That's going to continue. Political capital gets sucked up and used
up, and he's not able to train it in the direction that he really needs to. And I don't know who around him is going to help him see this.
Republican leaders have made a decision. Apparently, they've forgotten the history, the strong history of the Republican Party to stand up to Russia. But they've decided to sit this one out and kind of wait for the special prosecutor to do this thing, because they're still afraid of Trump and his supporters.
CUOMO: Well, look, let's just do a quick fact check. OK? Sebastian Gorka, again, was unleashed to get out there and say leaking is the problem.
We learned about this situation from two places. One, as the e-mails were developed by Jared Kushner and his attorneys, that's the reporting about when this e-mail chain came to light, was discovered; and Kushner then once again revised his disclosure form. OK? So it's coming from the White House.
[06:25:14] Secondly, it's coming from Donald Jr.. OK? So those are the first two facts.
The third fact is this. For this to be a witch hunt, everything that Donald Jr. is saying would have to be untrue. For it to be a witch hunt, Donald Jr. would have to be lying about this whole e-mail chain and someone coming to him with this suggestion. Because if Don Jr. is telling the truth, his father, the president, must be wrong.
CAMEROTA: But I don't think that we need to defend the coverage (ph). I mean, I think that it's obvious that it's not a witch hunt.
CUOMO: Except that the president of the United States just said it is. And you have to remember, again, it is either about him or it's about us. And if he's going to make it about us, he's got to embrace this Russian interference and say, "Look what they were trying to do to our election, to my own son."
CAMEROTA: One last thing that I want to get Jeffrey Toobin on, and that is that obviously, there's an investigation going on. So we all talk about it. We don't know as much as, obviously, special prosecutor Robert Mueller does.
Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut yesterday said that he fears that the next thing that will happen is that Mueller will go the way of James Comey Comey. Let me play this for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: The bottom line is that we are beginning to understand why Donald Trump, the president, may have been so eager to fire Jim Comey, if he felt that his own son was at risk. And we should begin looking for alarm lights flashing about possibly firing Bob Mueller, because clearly this investigation is coming closer and closer. There's a lot of fire here, more than smoke, closer and closer to the president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: OK. Senator Blumenthal is obviously speculating there. He doesn't have any information. Your final thought, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: Well, I think it's a legitimate question to ask that, you know, whether the president plans on firing the special counsel. He would have to get Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department deputy attorney general, who because of Jeff Sessions' recusal is in charge of the investigation, he would have to tell Rosenstein to do it. Rosenstein might refuse, quit, get fired, and they would have to work their way through the chain of command in the Justice Department. But it's not a frivolous concern on the part of Mr. Blumenthal.
Today is the day that the new FBI director nominee is going to have his confirmation hearings.
TOOBIN: And I know that several Democratic senators are going to ask him about whether there will be independence in this investigation which, of course, also involves the FBI. So that's, you know, one clue to watch what's going on.
CAMEROTA: We will have them on, and we will ask them about that.
CUOMO: And there's a lesson for both sides. You know, for the president and the Republicans, don't call it a witch hunt. It clearly isn't. The president's own son just proved that.
And on the Democrats' side, don't go flying down the road of how bad the implications are. Let the facts lead the way. Republican operatives, some are scrambling to defend Donald Trump Jr. Others are staying quiet. The plan -- listen to this -- is to reportedly dig up dirt on journalists who break stories about this situation. How does that sound to you? We'll discuss next.