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White House After Emails Bombshell; Trump Could Fire Mueller; Trump Jr. Talks Opposition Research; Russia Claims No Proof of Interference. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired July 12, 2017 - 08:30   ET


[08:30:00] PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Alisyn, he's the -- the president's son has had 13 months to think about this and he never actually bothered to review his e-mails to determine if the word Russia was in a subject line? Hard to believe. This is not a heat of the moment decision to keep this quiet.

But on the issue of the intel community, I think there is a really significant point here in all the noise. And there was a lot of noise in that conversation. One basic question, did the campaign officials, including the president's son, willingly accept a meeting to discuss receiving information from a hostile foreign power, yes or no?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. I mean we know -- yes, because we know this from the e-mail.

MUDD: That's the story to me. And -- but, exactly. The rest of this about heat of the moment, about 20 minutes. The real story, Alisyn, is, on the other side of this investigation is who hacked the DNC e- mails and whether they ever had a conversation with the Trump campaign about those e-mails. We don't know the answer to that. But we have one tiny clue that's being lost in the noise. The campaign was willing to speak with Russians who they knew when they walked through the door were going to potentially provide information derogatory about Hillary Clinton. That's huge. The rest of this to me, noise.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Does it matter that their argument is that the guy, Goldstone, in the e-mails was lying, which I feel really -- we have to hear from Goldstone. He could be lying. But, wow, what a doozy he spun with all this detail. But if that's true, that he's lying, does it all go away or does the intent to take that meeting still matter?

MUDD: Well, I mean, there are two pieces. That suggests to me that anything passed in the meeting was not significant in terms of the election. I don't think that's a huge issue here. The issue here is, there's an e-mail chain where somebody in the campaign -- in this case the president's son -- knew the person walking through the door or thought the person walking through the door represented official government circles from a hostile power. All this -- the rest of this is, who knew what when? Did Don Jr. think this was a good idea 13 months ago? It was only 20 minutes ago. I don't think that's the story. You cannot walk into a meeting with someone you thinks is a representative of a hostile foreign power and accept a potentially -- or consider accepting information about a rival political party in the United States. That's not -- you can't do it.

CAMEROTA: Julie Pace, how is the White House dealing with all of this? I mean we know their public persona and a couple of tweets that the president has sent out and then we read reports of what's going on internally.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": In talking to White House officials yesterday and also Trump allies outside the building, there is a shift in the way that they were discussing this matter with the Don Jr. e-mails versus other revelations that have come out about Russia. When those other stories have come out, they've more easily been able to dismiss them as stories that are being peddled by anonymous sources, by people in the intelligence communities who oppose the president. I think seeing the e-mails from Don Jr. in black and white, the very clear language from Goldstone about this being part of a Russian government effort to aid the president and Don Jr. reacting so favorably, whether this pushes the investigations further, whether this creates any legal matters aside, this was a difference for a lot of people who are working in this administration. They may not say it publicly. You may not hear a dramatic shift in tone, as I think we saw from the president's outside counsel just now, but they, privately, know that this is a -- this is a much more serious situation than they have been in previously.

CUOMO: You know, when senator Blumenthal said that thing about getting rid of Mueller --


CUOMO: I kind of rolled my eyes a little bit because I was like, oh, Democrats going too far down the road.


CUOMO: Jay Sekulow then made a lot of points about how the Mueller investigation is inherently illegitimate and based on -- in like kind of fruit of the poisonous tree thing.


CUOMO: Like Comey leaked it in a way that was wrong and that's how we got here.


CUOMO: That made me think a little bit differently.

Ron Brownstein, a man in the same suit that I have on tomorrow -- today, very embarrassing, the --


CUOMO: When you heard him make those points in the context of what Blumenthal said --

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. CUOMO: Do you think there is a chance that the president of the United States would move on Mueller? I know he'd have to go through the DOJ and, at this point, Rosenstein, that he can't remove him directly, but he could try to make it happen. Do you think that's even a possibility?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, there's always been that possibility. He's singled it in some of his tweets. And the key question is whether the Republicans in Congress, who really are the point of leverage on this, send an unequivocal signal that that would be unacceptable to them and that would cause them to break from the president. You know the -- look, what -- I think for Republicans in Congress the entire experience with Donald Trump, from the moment he came down the escalator, has included being put in the position of defending things they never thought -- they never imagined they would have to defend, from the "Access Hollywood" video to firing the FBI director in the middle of an ongoing investigation, to Judge Curiel, to, you know, many, many other things. And what the lesson that President Trump has taken, I think correctly, is that while they may grumble, in the end, very few of them ever truly tried to impose consequences. They tried to look the other way and tried to rally back to the areas of the agenda where they agree.

[08:35:24] And if this is, in fact, different for them, if firing Mueller, particularly now that there is reason for him -- genuine reason for him to be investigating the president's son, his campaign manager, his son-in-law, if that is truly different for them, they have to make that very clear.

CAMEROTA: Phil, you keep hearing -- we keep hearing from all sorts of President Trump's supporters in the White House, well, let's look at what President Obama did. He did very little when he was told that the Russians were attempting to meddle in the election. Look at that guy. He should have done something. How do you see it?

PACE: Well, and that's a fair criticism and you've had that from -- from actually Democrats and Republicans alike, but it's actually beside the point of what we're talking about here. President Obama was at least able to acknowledge that Russia was meddling in the election. We haven't heard that in a really forceful, clear way without other caveats from President Trump still, despite what we're told by Rex Tillerson and other aides about his conversations with Putin in their private meetings. So we're actually talking about a more basic question when it comes to the Russia meddling with this president.

And again, it has just spurred this broader investigation that now with the president's own son and these e-mails makes it look like, at the very least, there were people in the Trump campaign who were open to talking about Russia --


PACE: And talking with Russia and trying to get helpful information from Moscow.

CAMEROTA: Phil, we're out of time. Do you have anything to add to that in just a few seconds?

MUDD: I would just say, if you look at the balance, the president -- the former president of the United States spoke with -- in serious terms about -- to the American people, sanction the Russians, expel diplomats and close facilities, also approached the Russian president. President Trump spoke evidently with the Russian president. If you balance the two, I can't figure out how the White House says what they did was light (ph). The White House has done almost nothing.

CAMEROTA: OK, panel, thank you very much. Great to get all of your takes.

So, Donald Trump Jr. says that he considered the meeting opposition research. Should he have seen it that way? Should he have agreed to it knowing that it was from Russia? We discussed with campaign insiders, next. Wait till you hear what they have to say.


[08:41:30] CAMEROTA: Donald Trump Jr. speaking out explaining why he took that meeting with a Russian lawyer.


DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently. Again, this is before the Russian mania. This is before they were building it up in the press. For me this was opposition research. They had something, you know, or -- maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I'd been hearing about that were probably underreported for, you know, years, not just during the campaign. So I think I wanted to hear it out. But, really, it went nowhere and it was apparent that that wasn't what the meeting was actually about.


CAMEROTA: All right, joining us now, two people who know the ins and outs of opposition research during a heated campaign. We have Alice Stewart former communications director for Ted Cruz, and Robby Mook, former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton.

Great to have both of you and all your vast experience on with us this morning.

Robby, it must be a little surreal for you to be back in campaign mode, back remembering those days, you know, 13 months ago. What did you think yesterday when you saw the reveal of all these e-mails?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I was surprised by the tone of the e-mails and how Don Jr. seemed to embrace, without missing a beat, the idea that the Russian government, first of all, was supporting his father, but, second of all, wanting to go get involved in the campaign. But, sadly, I wasn't surprised, you know, to be perfectly honest, that the Russians were doing this and that this kind of contact was taking place. This is what we've suspected for some time and, you know, all -- just to kind of reinforce some of what was being said this morning, this was staring at us all the time. You know, the Republican Party's platform was changed in Cleveland to become more friendly to Russia. They removed protections for the Ukraine. The Russian ambassador was hanging out at the Republican National Convention. And we knew last year that one of Trump's advisors, Carter Page, was flying over to Moscow and giving anti- American speeches. So there was a lot of evidence bubbling up and the experts certainly told us once the DNC hack -- was hacked that that was the Russians. So I'm not surprised that this happening, but, boy, I was shocked that they were this sort of cavalier about something so serious.

CAMEROTA: Alice, I know that you've said that in the past day this story has gone from a quote, "nothing-burger to red meat" for the Mueller investigation. I like the -- I like the metaphor. What do you mean?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, we go from no meeting to a meeting about adoptions to now we know for a fact based on these e-mails that the meeting was set up specifically with regard to providing information that would be incriminating toward Hillary Clinton and helpful to the Trump campaign.

Look, Robby is familiar with how this works. I've been on five presidential campaigns. People are always coming forward with opposition research and generally you have lower level staffers receive the information and decide what to do with it. But when you have three top officials from the campaign meeting with someone they don't even know their name and not really sure what they're talking about, that raises questions. And the way they shoved this under the rug for so long, I think that raises concerns. And one --

CAMEROTA: No, but Alice, I just want to -- I just want to talk to you about that because obviously what has been said is that all candidates, all campaigns, if they got some sort of juicy e-mails suggesting oppo research on their opponent, of course they would go to that meeting. So what does it tell you that the campaign chairman and a top advisor to the candidate went?

STEWART: It means that they expected to get some valuable information. And the key is, like I said, this happens all the time. Campaigns are always searching for opposition research. The main difference is we're talking about receiving it from the Russian government. Anyone with half a brain would immediately call the FBI.

[08:45:18] And you go back a year ago when Robby spoke about this, the questions of Russian leaks and whether or not Russians were involved in spreading information that would discredit Hillary and help the Trump campaign, Donald Trump Jr. criticizes Robby and said he was a disgusting liar and questioned his moral compass. And I think that's a concern. He knew exactly what was going on. He knew what Robbie said and others and journalists were exactly right in what they claimed. However, he tried to discredit them. And I think that is a concern.

I think, moving forward, this isn't going to be about something that might be illegal. It might be improper. I don't think it's about a crime, it's about credibility. And it's not about litigation, it's about the repeated lies we have surrounding the story which continues to raise many more questions.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Robby, I want to ask you about one thing that keeps coming up. We have had probably a dozen guests, supporters of Donald Trump, Republicans say this, which is, a-ha, the Clinton campaign did the same thing. They met with the Ukrainians. They got opposition research from the Ukrainians. So why is the media focusing on this? Why don't you focus on what Hillary did? What's your response?

MOOK: I literally have no idea what they're talking about. I -- you know, I --

CAMEROTA: You didn't go to Ukraine -- you or someone on the campaign, you did not go to the Ukraine to get opposition research?

MOOK: No. Absolutely not. And what I -- what I do know happened was that reporters got information directly from the Ukrainians of secret accounts where Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager, was receiving millions of dollars for work that he was doing to help a Kremlin- backed candidate. So that --

CAMEROTA: So that you did get?

MOOK: No, I'm saying reporters got that. I read about it in the paper like everybody else. I think they're -- I think they're trying to confuse us. To my knowledge we --

CAMEROTA: You never -- no, but just to be clear, because they've said it so many times, you don't know of any meeting with a Ukraine --


CAMEROTA: Forget -- forget going to the Ukraine. You don't know of any meeting between a Ukrainian and the Hillary Clinton campaign?

MOOK: No, not at all. And I think I would have been told, you know, to the points that have been raised earlier. I think if foreign nationalists were reaching out to us with opposition research, there would have been a very deliberate discussion about how to manage that, both from a concern, you know, legally and ethically, but also concern for staffers. You know, we don't want our staff getting in trouble. And we had -- and, you know, the other thing I'd just point out here that's interesting about this, we had people coming to us all the time, particularly a lot of workers and contractors that got stiffed by Donald Trump. These people were vetted very carefully before anybody talked to them. But also, you know, relatively sort of middle or junior staffers on the campaign were the ones who interacted with them. So either the Trump campaign thought this information was so important that they needed the most senior people or they thought it was so secret that they didn't want more junior people reaching out and having these conversations.

CAMEROTA: I mean or -- or they're newbies and they're neophytes, not Paul Manafort. I guess that flies in the face of that.

MOOK: Not Paul Manafort. Yes. And I -- you know, look, Paul Manafort has a lot of questions to answer about Ukraine. So I think -- I think this is -- this is, you know, just a lot of dust that's getting kicked up.

CAMEROTA: Alice, I want to play for you what the top -- one of the top counselors to President Trump, Kellyanne Conway, said about this on NEW DAY. Listen.


CUOMO: You have Donald Jr., who went from saying, I never met with anybody from Russia.


CUOMO: I never met with it -- anybody to have anything to do with Russia. Now he's saying he met with someone to get oppo research on Hillary Clinton who was connected to the Kremlin? These questions matter.

CONWAY: He never said the word opposition research.

You keep on saying opposition research the way you guys constantly vomit words like collusion and Russian interference and affecting the election, all of which you have no evidence.

DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: For me this was opposition research. They had something, you know, maybe concrete evidence to all the stories I'd been hearing about.


CAMEROTA: Alice, what do you think about their responses to all of this?

STEWART: I think it needs to be a lot more concise. And from their standpoint, if they say there is no there there, put it all out on the table. Let's get it all out there. Let's let Mueller do his investigation and let's put this behind us because it is a tremendous, tremendous distraction and I think we can't continue to say that Trump Jr.'s naivety backs in the time makes this OK. Let's get it all out there. Let's put it behind us. Because, to be quite honest, there are a lot of Republicans in this town that want to do good work and, unfortunately, they're engaged in verbal gymnastics trying to distance themselves from this or trying to say, let's let the investigation play out, and they can't get their legislative accomplishments done. And I think that's important. I think the credibility issue right now is important and it's putting a stop on making the ability for Republicans to have legislative accomplishments. So I think, get it all out there. Let's put it behind us and move on to what the American people really care about.

[08:50:11] CAMEROTA: There you go. Alice Stewart, Robby Mook, thank you very much. Thanks for being here.

STEWART: Thanks. Thanks, Alisyn.

MOOK: Thanks. CUOMO: Good conversation.

The Kremlin says there is no proof Russia interfered in the U.S. election. They say that these Donald Jr. e-mails should be dismissed and there's nothing to investigate. That's the Kremlin. Is that a legitimate basis for defense on these matters? What does this mean to our democracy? We will hear from former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden, next.


CUOMO: The Kremlin is speaking up on behalf of Donald Jr. this morning and against the idea of Russian interference, of course. They say no single fact proves they interfered. They say that there's no need to investigate anything in this e-mail thread from Donald Jr. because the meeting, the agent, everything about it is untrue.

So let's bring in somebody who can kind of help us make sense about what does matter and what the remaining questions are. CNN national security analyst, the former director of the CIA and NSA, General Michael Hayden.

General, thank you for joining us.


[08:55:00] CUOMO: So, let's get to it. When you see these e-mails, what questions do you have?

HAYDEN: Well, I think Phil Mudd actually captured it exactly. You know, it's interesting, maybe even important what happened before, what happened after. But what's core is what's in the e-mail in black and white. That the Trump campaign, at the very highest levels, people related to the president, at the highest levels agreed to accept a meeting from what they believed to be a representative of the Russian government who is volunteering their support to try to get Donald Trump elected president of the United States. That's very clear and, frankly, I think that's a game changing exchange in that e-mail chain.

CAMEROTA: And tell me about that. Why is this, after all the threads for all of these months, why is this one in a different category?

HAYDEN: It provides linkage from what, number one, we know the Russians did, all right? That's established, high confidence judgment of the entire American intelligence community and don't obfuscate this with three, four or 17. The overall American intelligence community, high confidence judgment, the Russians interfered in the American election. Now, we've got a lot of work to do to prevent them from happening again and I fear that the current administration isn't putting enough energy into that.

But, Alisyn, to answer your question, the criminal investigation we have underway was, is about the question, is there -- is there a link between the already established Russian effort and people inside the United States whose similar activity would constitute a crime. That's the investigation. We don't know that a crime has been committed. All we've got in the e-mail is an expressed willingness on the part of the Trump campaign to cooperate with what the Russians were doing.

CUOMO: Now, the general is famed for having a great BS-ometer (ph). Where is your BS-ometer, general, on the defense from the Kremlin, but also from Trump allies and his own -- and the counsel for the family that's referred to in this e-mail chain, that this man, Mr. Goldstone, made up these detailed accounts that he has in here about the meeting with the crown prosecutor and what the information was and why it was being owned. That he made it up. This man who was not fired by the man he represents, by the way, which would be the man he was lying about this way. Do you buy that it can be completely BS?

HAYDEN: No, no, no, I don't. And, you know, I just, instinctively, base on my life experience, discount the Russian denials for all of the things that are associated with this.

But, Chris, I come back to my core point, it really doesn't matter. What you had in the e-mail was an expression that was accepted by the Trump campaign and then a willingness to have the meeting.

CUOMO: But the intents there regardless.

HAYDEN: So, look, we'll get the detail but the intent -- the intent is there.


HAYDEN: Look, we'll get all the other details and, frankly, my instincts are, this is part of a sustained, well-orchestrated, synchronized effort on the part of the Russian federation to infiltrate and effect the American electoral process.

CAMEROTA: So, in that case, what do you make, general, of President Trump resisting his own intel chiefs, I mean as recently as last night, CIA Director Pompeo reiterated once again the unequivocal belief --

HAYDEN: Right.

CAMEROTA: And evidence that Russia meddled. So what does it mean that the president doesn't go along with that?

HAYDEN: Yes, it's very disappointing and reflects my comment earlier, Alisyn, that I don't think we've got enough energy on that track here. Not the criminal track, but the counterintelligence track, what happened, why, how can we prevent this from happening again.

You know, the American account, the American account of the meeting in Hamburg between President Trump and President Putin has President Trump beginning the meeting with, I've got to get this behind us, did you do this is what he said to Vladimir Putin. That's the American version.


HAYDEN: Chris, Alisyn, that's conceding serve in the whole exchange. The question was not, did you do this? We know they did this. And it turned the confrontation, so to speak, into a discussion as to whether or not we had enough evidence not holding Russia to account to this. And the day before the president called into question the judgment, reminded everybody of my generation intelligence officers' mistake with regard to Iraq weapons of mass destruction, and then finally said, we can never know for sure. That's teeing up the Putin denial.

CUOMO: General, thank you very much. Appreciate your perspective, as always.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Great to talk to you.

All right, it's time now for CNN "NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and John Berman. We'll see you tomorrow.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[09:00:03] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


This morning, the White House is paralyzed. That's new reporting from our Jeff Zeleny about what is happening behind closed doors right now in the West Wing.