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White House Under Siege After E-mails Bombshell; Interview with Sen. Angus King. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired July 12, 2017 - 07:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The president's son admitting that he would handle things differently if he could do it all over again. His newly-released e-mails are the clearest proof yet that Trump Jr. understood that the meeting was intended to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. At least that's what was promised.

[07:00:19] The president again trying to call investigations into Russian meddling a witch hunt.

Let's begin with our coverage with CNN's Jason Carroll. He is live at the White House. Never a dull moment there, Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Never at all. You know, other than tweeting, the president has really been keeping a low profile throughout all of this. This is the third consecutive day he's not had a public event on his schedule ahead of his leaving for that trip for Paris later on -- later on this evening.

This controversy has really not only overshadowed the White House, but overshadowed the White House but overshadowed the president's agenda as he prepares for this next overseas visit.


DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: 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.

JAY SEKULOW, DONALD TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: The president, by the way, never saw an e e-mail, did not 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. After being unusually reserved on Twitter, the president returning to a familiar line of attack this morning, tweeting, "My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest witch hunt in political history. Sad."

Yesterday, 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.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Definitely, he has to testify. That e-mail was disturbing.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: 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, those are pretty provocative statements coming from Clinton's former running mate, but legal experts disagree on the implications here. What is clear is that going forward, the special counsel will be looking at these e-mail exchanges as part of their investigation into Russian meddling, and both Trump Jr. and his attorney have said he will cooperate with that investigation -- Alisyn, Chris.

CAMEROTA: Jason, thank you very much for all of that background. Let's bring in our panel. We have CNN political director David Chalian, CNN senior analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN political analyst David Gregory.

David Chalian, let's start with the reports this morning that are everywhere. On the front page of "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," et cetera, of what's going on inside the White House as they're trying to deal with all this breaking news.

So the reports are that there's a lot of suspicion among staffers and among the president's top people about who's giving information to "The Times" and "The Washington Post," and that this is creating -- you can imagine the climate inside as they try to deal with all this.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: There are two threats to the psychology inside the West Wing right now. One is that, just looking around and saying who's -- who's leaking this stuff, and is family turning on family? Is every advisor sort of now in for himself? And there's no sort of sense of a real alliance of everyone working at the White House. That's one thing that's affecting the psychology there.

[07:05:16] The other thing is, the president, who remains completely consumed by this story line and, therefore, not advancing an agenda elsewhere.

CAMEROTA: How can he not be consumed? I mean, when it's on the front pages of every newspaper, how can he not be consumed that his son is now embroiled in this?

CHALIAN: I used to laugh back in the '90s with Clinton and the White House saying, "Oh, compartmentalizing." And that became a laugh line of a word. But there was something to it. If you talked to people inside the Clinton White House at the time, they -- they were able to wall off sometimes, and Clinton himself was able to wall off all his -- he was totally into the legal proceedings before; I mean, he was consumed by it, too. But he was able to wall off and move forward as best as he could on an agenda, as well.

I think we know that this president is not only consumed by the investigation around him, but he's consumed by the news coverage of it. And I think that total immersion into this really prevents him from being able to sort of set as a north star inside the administration, this is where we're going. CUOMO: And look, I think David puts his finger on what the concern

here is, at least for the president, who often watches this show. It's not that he's consumed with this. He should be. This is really important.

But it's why and what aspect he's consumed with, which is what David just said, the coverage. What he should be consumed with is what the Russians just tried to do to his son and how that is connected to their efforts to infiltrate our election.

One would think -- common sense, let along political exigency would suggest embrace it, own it and correct it. Instead, they're fighting it and denying everything, even when the facts are presented by his son's own e-mails. Listen to the chain of denials.


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: Well, it was a meeting that produced nothing. Let's be realistic. It's a 20-minute meeting out of a, probably at that point, 18- or 20-hour day. It produced no results, no information, no knowledge of anything.

PRIEBUS: It was a very short meeting, a meeting apparently about Russian adoption, and after about 20 minutes, the meeting ended. 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.


CUOMO: The only thing we know for sure is one part of what Reince Priebus just said: "I don't know for sure." None of the people you just heard have good reason to believe anything they just said other than what they've heard from Don Jr. And as we know, his story has changed, so the credibility is at issue.

David Gregory, the president this morning, listening to your compelling words about why this isn't a witch hunt, responded by saying it is the biggest witch hunt in history.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's what you were saying a moment ago. I mean, the president only has one speed, which is defiance, insecurity in an effort, a campaign for which he's using almost all of his political capital to besmirch the news media and to try to get Americans not to believe the facts that are being reported.

These are facts that are often leaked by people who are around him, which underscores how dysfunctional this White House is, how chaotic it is, and how isolated the president is. And instead of embracing an attack on America and fighting it, embracing that fight against it, getting to the bottom of it, he is doing just the opposite.

And, you know, the idea that what the Russians did to his son, what we know -- the real story this morning about these e-mails is that, contrary to months of denials from the White House, in fact during the campaign, the Trump campaign was open, welcoming help from the Russians who wanted to see Donald Trump get elected and who wanted to hurt Hillary Clinton. That was foreign interference on the part of our adversary. They didn't stand up to it. They embraced it. That e-mail indicates that, and it is concurrent with what the president was saying at the time when he was a candidate.

He called on Vladimir Putin to hack Hillary Clinton's e-mails. That was going on at the DNC. He was so cavalier about what Russia was and what it could be, openly flirting with Putin, talking about what a great and powerful leader he was. This was not just naivete and arrogance; it was dangerous policy.

[07:10:03] And it's striking this morning, that the Republicans, the Republican Party, a strong anti-Soviet and anti-Russian party standing up for U.S. interests, has decided to sit this one out and just let all of this unfold and all of this chaos.

CAMEROTA: So Jeffrey, one -- President Trump and his son are getting -- being defended from one corner, and that is the Kremlin. They just moments ago put out a statement that comes from the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, who says, "President Trump is under unprecedented pressure." He says there's nothing to investigate with this Russian lawyer. The lawyer has nothing to do with the Russian government.

He also, interestingly said that people are trying to make an elephant out of a fly, and maybe there is no fly. I like that analogy. And that he calls it wild, just wild to watch all this unfold.

TOOBIN: Well, I certainly agree with that part. It's wild to watch it unfold. But I'm not sure, you know, the Russian foreign minister is the best source about Russian secret measures to influence the -- the 2016 election, and I'm not sure he's the character witness that the president really wants at this point to vouch for him.

Look, these e-mails are very important, very suggestive. But they are a narrow slice of a bigger story. The congressional committees, the special counsel are going to need to look at a lot more e-mails. These are just the e-mails setting up the meeting. You know, we've had this parade of people starting with Donald Trump Jr. saying, "Well, nothing came of this meeting."

Well, you know, their record isn't so great in terms of telling the truth about their relationships with the Russians. Maybe we should see the contemporaneous records of what came out of this meeting.

CAMEROTA: But if nothing did come, I'm just curious, Jeffrey, if nothing did come out of it, then is -- are we cool? Everything is fine; there's no crime if nothing came out of it? TOOBIN: I think that's right. I mean, if...

CUOMO: Under the FEC rules, though, solicitation -- remember, we were talking about earlier, you know, there doesn't have to have been any fruit from this poisonous tree for there to be a problem under the election laws, but you'd have to show that he had solicited something. And it seems like it was being offered to him.

TOOBIN: Right, and I think Alisyn's question to me was, if this -- if their story is true, that we know nothing more about this encounter, then I don't -- I think in fairness we have to say there was no crime here, because the crime is in solicitation, and this e-mail was an offer. It was not, at least in terms of what we've seen, a solicitation by anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign.

CUOMO: Only with respect to Don Jr. Again, the bigger problem here, David Chalian, is the one that the president seems so insistent in ignoring, which is what the Russians were trying to do and succeeded in doing. This the most stark evidence yet that's been made public. To his own

son, at a minimum, somebody was trying to loop him in.

CHALIAN: Remember, it's broader than just his son. Yes, to his own son. But to his campaign organization, that entity, the Trump 2016 effort, is what the Russians were infiltrating there. Yes, through his son. But it's broader than that. It's the organization that Donald Trump sat atop.

And that, I think, there's no doubt we have not seen the level of concern from President Trump about the election meddling that you might expect to see from a U.S. president who wants to ensure that it never happens again. We just haven't seen that. In fact, our reporting indicates that it's not something he really wants to focus on when it comes up in meetings.

CUOMO: In fact, we're hearing that even some of his defenders would rather attack the reporters and find trash on us to subvert any efforts to talk about this.

CAMEROTA: David Gregory, last word?

GREGORY: But that -- that's the point, is that the legal questions are so important but they're narrow.

The broader point is that there were active measures by the Russians. They were probing. They were interfering. They were trying to undermine our election and perhaps sway the result. It doesn't appear that they succeeded, based on what we know to date, but they'll keep trying.

And the problem is in Trump in his rhetoric and in Trump Jr. in his actions, we have some window into the fact that they were welcoming this. That's the kind of arrogance, hubris, naivete at the very least that is a foundation for it happening again. That's the policy concern here. CUOMO: Look, it's so stark that "The New York Post," certainly a

friend to President Trump, from its editorial staff to its owner, called the president's son, I believe inappropriately, an idiot in their editorial this morning. That's how stark it is right now.

So the question becomes what will his e-mails, Donald Trump Jr.'s e- mails mean? This meeting with a Russian lawyer, which is again, the most stark evidence we've seen about what Russia was trying to do.

[07:15:05] We're going to ask a member of the Senate Intel Committee, Senator Angus King, next.



TRUMP JR: In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently.

For me, this was opposition research. They had something, you know, maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I'd been hearing about.


CUOMO: No small irony, it is the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., that wound up disproving his father's own theory about the Russia investigation, about its efforts being a witch hunt. His e-mails show a chain of solicitation about a meeting, with alleged information developed by the Russian government to help the Trump campaign. This is obviously going to be a focus for the special counsel investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. What does it mean to our lawmakers who are investigating?

We have independent Senator Angus King of Maine. He serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian election interference.

If you don't mind, I'd like to get a two-fer today. I want to talk about this news about the e-mails and its implications, but I want to talk to you about what we're hearing will be the latest offer from the Republicans on health care and how it squares with your reckoning of what is needed to pass. But let's start with this, the e-mails. What do they mean to you?

[07:20:06] SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Well, I think, Chris, we've got to sort of step back. I'm not going to be an armchair prosecutor. I'm going to leave that to Robert Mueller whether laws were broken and -- and solicitation of information and all that kind of thing.

What I want to talk about is the larger sort of policy implications. There's one thing that we know that happened. It's very well- established. I think everyone understands and recognizes that, except perhaps some people in the White House. And that is the Russians did try to interfere in our elections in 2016.

This -- this e-mail confirms that in a rather mundane way, sort of matter-of-factly says, you know, we're going to give you some information based on the Russians' effort to help Mr. Trump. I mean, that -- that's one more confirmation.

But what we don't know and what most of the investigations up here are focusing on is whether there was some kind of coordination or cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Russians. We've been told for six months or a year now that there was no such thing, never happened, no involvement whatsoever. This confirms that there was an opportunity to help with this salacious material about Mrs. Clinton, and then the question is what happened. And that meeting is important. Everybody is saying, "Well, you know, nothing really happened. They talked about adoption."

Let's be clear: the lawyer that they were talking to, her mission isn't about adoption. It's about getting rid of sanctions. And that's what the Russians want, and that's what they wanted. So the question is what did happen in that meeting and what happened subsequent to the meeting? And were there further relationships, connections, coordination? And that's what we don't know.

This revelation is certainly an important piece of evidence. It doesn't define the case; it doesn't end the case. But it's just one more piece of what we're trying to dig into and understand.

CUOMO: Well, it is certainly proof that the president is wrong to characterize their efforts as a witch hunt, because his own son was targeted by the efforts of Russia as part of what you're investigating.

Secondly, in no small irony, the Kremlin is getting out in front of this situation in defending the president, saying there's nothing to this e-mail chain and the meeting and saying -- we just heard from their foreign minister just moments ago -- that there's not one single fact that shows that Russia interfered in the election. Your response?

KING: Well, the first response is to look at the report of the intelligence community on January 6 and again back in last October before the election that details the evidence of Russian interference in our election. There's no doubt about that.

I have to laugh. I said this once before. Hearing what Lavrov said this morning reminds me of Obi-Wan Kenobi outside of the cantina in the first -- in the first "Star Wars," "These are not the droids you're looking for." Remember that? You know, there's nothing to see here. That's just -- that's nonsense. And what do you expect them to say?

So I don't put much credibility in what they're going to tell us, but the issue about a witch hunt, this isn't a witch hunt. This is an attack on our country and a very serious one. And what I'm focused on is how do we prevent it from happening again?

Their pattern in Europe and in other places is to -- this is a continuous ongoing program of disinformation and undermining, basically, democratic regimes. They did it in France. They did it in Holland. They're doing it right now in Germany. And we really need to understand exactly what they did, how they did it, and then start talking about how do we protect ourselves, because they're going to be back in 2018 and 2020. I don't have any doubt of that.

CUOMO: And again, as you know, the president often watches this show. And as we've been saying often this morning, we understand why he calls it a witch hunt. We understand why, every time he hears interference, he hears illegitimate, you know, meaning about his election. But that's not what this is about.

And hopefully, seeing what the Russians tried to do to his son will empower him to put his arms around that investigation that you're doing and get to the bottom of it and make our elections safer.

So health care, we do understand that there's going to be a new offer from the GOP, that they want to get this through. What do you make of the urgency and what do you make of the talk of what this bill will be comprised of?

KING: Well, I haven't really heard anything resembling details, let alone, you know, the overall structure of it. I know what they put on the floor a couple weeks ago. It was terrible.

But here we are again, Chris, with something developed literally in secret. I know many Republicans that don't know what's in it. And so it's going to come out. Maybe tomorrow there will be a congressional budget analysis, on Monday maybe, and then they're talking about a vote next week.

[07:25:06] I mean, why not slow down and do it, you know, in the normal course of business? Have a hearing, get some information, let experts from around the country, from hospitals, from physicians, from advocates, from people that want to fix it. Whatever the point of view is, let's get some information. This place doesn't work well when a few people put something together behind closed doors and then spring it on the rest of it. And just -- that's just not the way the process is supposed to work.

CUOMO: In -- short of details, I heard a philosophical argument made by a Republican on the show recently that I want your response to. He said, you know, "We have to figure out what we can afford. And we're spending too much. We can't keep spending it. So we're going to spend what we can, and that's all."

And my counterargument was, but you're taking a lot of money out of the system and giving it in tax breaks to people you could argue don't need it as much as the people you'd be giving that money to in the health care plan, which are the neediest on Medicaid. What is your point about the philosophy of "We're spending too much; we must spend less; and that's what it is about"?

KING: Well, he's absolutely right. We are spending too much. We pay more by a factor of two. We paid almost twice as much per capita for health care in this country as anybody else in the world. Our outcomes aren't that much better. In fact, in many cases, they're worse. So there is -- absolutely, there's a problem of spending. I think

that's the basic issue that we really need to be talking about rather than who pays, whether it's Medicare, Medicaid, anthem or whoever. But his solution that he proposed to you is, so we're just going to stop spending it on the federal level.

What that really means is those costs, which aren't going to go away, are going to be shifted over to the states or to the individuals who are going to lose their coverage. I don't think that's a solution, to just say, "Well, it costs too much, and, therefore, we're not going to pay it anymore." That doesn't make the cost disappear. It's just shifting them to somebody else.

And as you said, it's about a trillion out of the original bill that we saw a couple of weeks ago. It was, I think, $1.1 trillion over ten years out of the medical system. You can't do that without hurting people.

CUOMO: So let's do this, Senator. When we get the details to the extent that they are released, why don't you come back on, and we can go through what you think this addresses in terms of costs, what it doesn't and what would be better.

KING: Absolutely. I'd be glad to. You know, one of the places I would start, Chris, is the prescription drug prices.

CUOMO: Right.

KING: We're paying more than anybody else in the world, and it just doesn't make any sense. So there are lots of places where I think we need to talk about reforming the system in terms of the costs. I'd be glad to come back and talk about it.

CUOMO: Thank you, Senator. Appreciate it -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK. So Chris, as you know, very few Republicans are talking about the Don Trump Jr. controversy. But we found someone who will. Iowa congressman Steve King is willing to talk to us. He will be here on this controversy as well as the president's agenda and what happens next.