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Trump Defends Son; Trump Reverses Criticism; Trump on Paris Accord; Trump Calls on Chinese Reporter; Trump Praises Macron; GOP Unveils New Health Care Bill. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 13, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:17] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Ana Cabrera, and this is CNN's special live coverage of the president's trip to Paris, as Donald Trump's son, Donald Jr., may be about to testify publicly about his meeting with a Russian lawyer. President Trump standing alongside French President Emmanuel Macron getting grilled right out of the gate on the firestorm surrounding his son's meeting.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My son is a wonderful young man. He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer. It was a short meeting. It was a meeting that went very, very quickly, very fast. Two other people were in the room. They - I guess one of them left almost immediately and the other one was not really focused on the meeting.

I do think this. I think from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting. It's called opposition research or even research into your opponent. I've had many people - I have only been in politics for two years, but I've had many people call up, oh, gee, we have information on this factor or this person or, frankly, Hillary. That's very standard in politics. Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it's very standard where they have information and you take the information.

In the case of Don, he listened. I guess they talked about, as I see it, they talked about adoption and some things. Adoption wasn't even a part of the campaign. But nothing happened from the meeting. Zero happened from the meeting. And, honestly, I think the press made a very big deal over something that really a lot of people would do.

Now, the lawyer that went to the meeting, I see that she was in the halls of Congress also. Somebody said that her visa or her passport to come into the country was approved by Attorney General Lynch. Now, maybe that's wrong. I just heard that a little while ago, but I was a little surprised to hear that. So she was here because of Lynch.

So, again, I have a son who's a great young man. He's a fine person. He took a meeting with a lawyer from Russia. It lasted for a very short period and nothing came of the meeting. And I think it's a meeting that most people in politics probably would have taken.


CABRERA: The president's comments come as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is sending Trump Jr. a formal letter asking him to testify. Reminder here, in Macron's very short time in office, the French president has made headlines for slamming President Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris agreement on climate change, for mocking Trump's "make America great" slogan and for that white- knuckled handshake that Macron later called a moment of truth, that early on, the first one when they first met.

Joining me now, Jeff Zeleny, CNN's senior White House correspondent, traveling with the president today in France.

Jeff, the first question to the president in Paris there was about Don Jr.'s meeting with the Russian lawyer.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was indeed, Ana, and that is a sign that of course this news, this cloud really followed the president over here to Paris. But I think when you dissect the president's answer, when you go through what he said and, in fact, he repeated himself pretty much verbatim about twice in that sort of long, meandering answer and he presented it as a benign situation, as a run of the mill standard practice. If that was the situation, I do not believe the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley, as well as other Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, would be wanting to hear from Donald Trump Jr. next week before the Judiciary Committee.

The reality here is that Republicans, Democrats, and indeed the president's own director nominee to lead the FBI said that is simply not standard practice. And, in fact, the Trump campaign should have alerted federal authorities when they received that letter - that e- mail saying that someone from the Russian government, a Russian lawyer, wanted to have a meeting last June to help the Trump campaign and spread dirt on Hillary Clinton's campaign.

So the president presented it as standard practice, but that is not the situation. And he said the press is making too much out of this. That's really beside the point. It is the fact that investigators on Capitol Hill, and indeed at the Justice Department, are now looking at that meeting to see if that is a sign of anything more in this broadening investigation over whether anyone at the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials.

But, Ana, that, of course, is one sort of moment from the press conference, but also so many more interesting discussions as well. In fact, the fact the president's even here is interesting, but is wanting to show that America is working alongside French allies, particularly on counterterrorism and other things. So they're going on tonight to have dinner at the Eiffel Tower and then tomorrow he'll be along the parade route at Bastille Day, which marks the 100th year of when the U.S. started helping, entered World War I.

[14:05:27] Ana. CABRERA: Jeff Zeleny in France for us, thank you.

I want to bring in our panel to discuss. Kaitlan Collins, CNN White House reporter, Garett Graff, he's a journalist and a historian and the author of "The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War." Also with us, Mary Katharine Ham, CNN political commentator, conservative blogger and senior writer at "The Federalist," and Jackie Kucinich, CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief at "The Daily Beast."

So, Jackie, the president says this meeting between his son and a Russian lawyer, along with Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, was all very standard. I want to get your take.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if it was very standard, why didn't they just come out and say that with the first explanation that Donald Trump Jr. gave. They didn't. They've said a couple different things and then finally he released his e-mails once "The New York Times" was going - was going to publish their story. So that's problematic.

Not only that, this isn't happening in a vacuum. This is the latest, the closest Trump adviser to, it turns out, have contact with the Russians during the campaign when they said that - when Trump himself said that didn't happen. So, because of that, it just continues to erode the credibility of the White House and the president when it comes to this issue. And him dismissing this as something that's run- of-the-mill campaign - things that happen in a campaign, that's just not - that is not the case. You don't regularly get foreign governments, hostile foreign governments, trying to give information like this to campaigns. So there's a whole lot of holes there.


Mary Katharine, everybody we've talked with who is very familiar with working on campaigns says taking a meeting with a foreign adversary, somebody representing a foreign adversary, remember the e-mail chain said this was a Russian government lawyer who - which Donald Trump Jr. would be meeting with, that is - that is not standard practice. And beyond that, Don Jr. has since said he would have done things differently in retrospect. The president isn't even going so far as to say that.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, "THE FEDERALIST": Yes, look, I think you can maybe make the argument this is unprecedented but it's not standard practice. And even if you put aside - even if you don't think it's like mind-blowingly bad judgment, which is what it seems like to me, what they have been saying all along, what the Trump White House has been saying, what the Trump family, Trump campaign, is that meetings of this type did not exist, and this is not an anonymous source's story. This is not just a media story. This is not a leak from the intelligence community. This is a group of e-mails that Donald Trump Jr. himself released. So that makes it much harder to argue with because it's right there in black and white what happened in this meeting. Now, does that mean that they were in this giant global conspiracy? Not necessarily. And that meeting probably didn't change the face of the election at all, but it still speaks to what - it still refutes what they've been saying.

CAMEROTA: And on top of it, Garrett Graff, you've written a book about the FBI is essentially undercutting what his incoming FBI director says about meetings like this.

GARRETT GRAFF, AUTHOR, "THE THREAT MATRIX: THE FBI AT WAR": Yes, I mean it was a striking scene in Chris Wray's nomination hearing yesterday in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee where he said, in unequivocal terms, any time any campaign, any candidate gets an e-mail like this, they should be contacting federal authorities. The FBI would want to know about something like this. And we're seeing just sort of an evolving set of explanations, both Donald Trump Jr. and President Trump have said in recent days, you know, well, this is before the Russian mania, before everyone was concerned about Russia. Well, it's sort of like listening to an arsonist say that the meeting where they decided to burn down the building is irrelevant because it was before anyone was accusing them of arson. I mean, this is - this is a very specific meeting with a specific person on a specific date that now is raising all sorts of new questions about the length and the breadth of this involvement with Russia.

CABRERA: Now, Kaitlan, it also struck me that he actually put blame on Loretta Lynch for allowing this Russian lawyer into the country.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes. What you saw, Ana, was basically the president laying the blame on Loretta Lynch, the former attorney general, for his son responding to an e-mail from someone who said they were a Russian government attorney who had incriminating information on Hillary Clinton.

Now, we also saw the president not answer the questions he was asked, which was, what would his response be to his director - his nominee for the director of the FBI saying that someone who was contacted in that manner should immediately reach out to the FBI, and he was asked if he felt misled by his team because, as you know, the president has said in the past that no one in his team or his campaign had any contact with anyone in the Russians, when his own son, his own son - in-law and his own campaign manager all met with a Russian attorney one floor beneath his office in Trump Tower last summer.

[14:10:13] CABRERA: All right, everyone, stick around. Much more to discuss.

Two other big headlines.

The president reversing on his previous criticism of the city of Paris and also suggesting something may change after he pulled out of the U.S.' position in the climate deal.

Plus, breaking news on Capitol Hill this hour. Senate Republicans unveiling their revised health care bill, but two members of their own party announced at the same time an alternative idea. The reactions are pouring in. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CABRERA: More now on the president's news conference just moments ago. I want you to listen to what President Trump said about Paris during this news conference with the French president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to be just fine because you have a great president. You have somebody that's going to run this country right. And I would be willing to bet - because I think this is one of the great cities, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and you have a great leader now, you have a great president, you have a tough president. He's not going to be easy on people that are breaking the laws and people that show this tremendous violence. So I really have a feeling that you're going to have a very, very peaceful and beautiful Paris. And I'm coming back. You better do a good job, please, otherwise you're going to make me look very bad.


[14:15:25] CABRERA: My panel is back with me, including Mary Katharine.

So what he just said there is very different than what he has been saying to an American audience. What do you think that's about?

HAM: I think it's partly about Donald Trump because he often changes his message depending on the audience. It's also about diplomacy. He had this discussion with Macron behind closed doors about terrorism, no doubt, about cooperating, about making Paris a very safe place and working together to make that happen. And so he comes out with a much softer message about that kind of thing and working in the interest of Paris while he's standing alongside his French friend at this point. So -

CABRERA: Yes, they did - they did call each other friends even. So we have a great friendship developing.

HAM: Yes.

CABRERA: Garrett, what's your take on this evolving relationship? Remember that white-knuckle handshake we saw previously. Remember all the things Macron has said about Trump on camera in public saying, make the planet great again on the issue of climate change. Here we see a friendly handshake, lots of smiles, lavishing Macron with praise, calling him strong, a tough leader. Your take?

GRAFF: Yes. I mean this was a man who just weeks ago was elected, basically, as the anti-Donald Trump. I mean the person who was able to bring to a halt this wave of nationalist populism that we've seen sweep the U.S. and Europe over the last year and a half. And so this is an important moment for the two of them to, as Mary Katharine said, begin to build some international diplomacy around this. I mean we saw President Trump, you know, remind the audience that France was America's first and oldest ally, a fact that Donald Trump says most people don't know but is perhaps, for students of history, a little bit more obvious. And that this is something where we are seeing, again, the president evolve his positions from what he has said from a distance before, just like in many of the meetings that he's had with world leaders over the last six months or so where he said one thing at home and then another thing to their face when he's actually been meeting them.

CABRERA: Do you think he's being genuine or do you think - you mean - is he just that impressionable that his position is evolving or is he just saying what he thinks the person wants to hear in that moment?

GRAFF: I think it's a little bit of both, as Mary Katharine said. But at the same time, one of the things that we are learning is that President Trump is impressionable. I mean he said that his conversations with China's leader really did change his mind about how complex the issue of North Korea was. And so he is learning, while president, in these interactions with foreign leaders, and we hope trying to do some repair work on some of these alliances that have been strained and harmed over the last year.

CABRERA: All right, let me ask about the Paris Climate Accord, what he said on that issue. He says, "something could happen with respect to the Paris Accord. We will see what happens."

Jackie, Trump, we know, made a big deal about pulling out of this agreement. Do you think he's wavering?

KUCINICH: No, I don't. I think what Garrett and Mary Katharine very much rings true here. He's saying he has a very different audience in who he was speaking to there. He does have this tendency to say things that are kind of verbal tofu. They are what you put them in. And is that - that seemed to be what he was doing here. That was a very noncommittal answer. We know what he said and what he's done, which matters far more than sort of a one-off noncommittal answer that he gave at this press conference.

CABRERA: There were four journalists selected to ask questions there at the press conference, two from the French media, two from the U.S. media who were with the American press corps. That last question did not go, though, to a traditionally U.S. journalist traveling with the president. Instead it went with somebody who was representing Chinese media who is based here in the U.S.

Kaitlan, is that normal? How do you read this?

COLLINS: No, that's not standard at all. And as you saw, at the end, the French president suggested the last question go to an American journalist and instead of sending it to anyone from a typical outlet who is here at the White House every day, it went to that Chinese journalist.

Now, we don't know whether that was an attempt to avoid a question or that was just who Trump pointed at during that press conference, but it definitely didn't go to a typical American journalist like it does during most - these press conferences where they each get two questions to their respective reporters.

CABRERA: Mary Katharine, was that a missed opportunity?

HAM: Yes, I'm not sure if he's sending a message or what here. I don't mind him sort of messing with the traditional way of doing things in a press briefing, but I think perhaps going with an American reporter over a Chinese reporter would be a good move in that moment.

[14:20:08] I did want to say about Macron too, I think - I think he recognizes an opening. And I think he recognizes that Trump is open to new ideas or impressionable and that you can have a conversation with him about something like the accords and get him to at least rhetorically move quite a bit when he's in front of this different audience and that perhaps he's playing a longer game where he's like sort of (INAUDIBLE) him with this handshake. Now he's having him and flattering him and welcoming him to his country. And then maybe, down the road, they actually do come together on some things that perhaps people in his base are not excited about. I don't know.

CABRERA: A great point, that Macron seems to have evolved as well in terms of how he treated Donald Trump compared to what he has previously on camera.

HAM: Yes.

CABRERA: Thank you, everybody.

More breaking news. The newly revised Senate health care bill is out today. I'm going to talk to a senator involved in the changes up next. What does he make of an alternative plan also unveiled today by Senator Lindsey Graham? That's next.

Plus, the president's love and hate relationship with "Time" magazine covers is well documented, but today another chapter. We'll talk about Don Jr.'s debut.


[14:25:39] CABRERA: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is hoping his second attempt at replacing Obamacare will get a second wind among Republicans. And this time he's including a contentious amendment from Senator Ted Cruz, which would allow insurers to offer cheaper yet skimpier plans.

Let's go to CNN's Washington correspondent, Ryan Nobles, who is live on Capitol Hill for us.

So, Ryan, talk to us about the changes in this new bill and the early reaction up there.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a lot of senators still digesting this bill, Ana, and, of course, there's still a lot to come here. We're going to wait for the Congressional Budget Office score at the beginning of next week. But let's go over some of the changes that we see in place that are going to happen here as this bill comes out, if we can show them to you now.

One of the big things, it's going to allow insurers to offer cheap plans with less coverage. This is part of an amendment that was pushed by Senator Ted Cruz. It does keep some of those Obamacare taxes out of this bill. There was going to be a repeal on those tax for wealthy Americans. That's no longer going to be a part of this bill.

But the Medicaid changes that were part of the initial bill largely remain in place. And that is a big point of contention for many of the moderate senators. They were hopping to see some of those cuts to Medicaid, especially in the off years were reigned in a little bit.

And we're already seeing some senators voicing some displeasure with this plan. Among them Maine's Susan Collins. She's a key moderate. She's already said that she's not going to vote for the motion to proceed. That would even allow the bill to come to the floor for a debate. And Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, he's on the other end of the spectrum. He is a conservative. He's been against this reform plan from the very beginning. And his position hasn't changed.

And, Ana, the margins here are tight for Republicans. They can only afford to lose two votes if they hope to move this bill forward. So right now they're going to have to do some convincing of their colleagues if they hope this bill moves forward sometime next week.

CABRERA: All right, Ryan Nobles, thanks for breaking it down, trying to simplify it for us. We appreciate that.

This revised bill is already facing criticism, as he notes. The very same hour these new details were released, Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy announced they will propose an alternative for senators to consider. Listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: In a nutshell, we're keeping the taxes in place on the wealthy. We're repealing the individual mandate, the employer mandate, the medical device tax that 75 senators voted to repeal. There's about $500 billion of money. Rather than trying to run health care from Washington, we're going to block grant it to the states. And here's what will happen. If you like Obamacare, you can re-impose the mandates at the state level. You can repair Obamacare if you think it needs to be repaired. You can replace it if you think it needs to be replaced. It will be up to the governors. They've got a better handle on this than any bureaucrat in Washington.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: By the way, if we couple this with the Ted Cruz amendment, which allows people to purchase insurance through health savings accounts, you can imagine that a state would put money into someone's health savings account with which you could then purchase the insurance which you needed. The essential health benefits would still be there. We can't repeal those as part of this process. And so you'd still have the protection.


CABRERA: Did you follow all that? It's complicated. But will that alternative pose new problems politically for Mitch McConnell. My next guest is one of the Republican architects of that bill. Senator John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota and chairman of the Senate Republican Conference.

Senator Thune, thank you very much for joining us.

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: Nice to be with you. Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: We're going to talk about Graham and Cassidy in a moment. But first, let's just talk about your revised version. It keeps two of the most highly criticized taxes from Obamacare on high incomes, on investments. Is it fair to say this bill doesn't fully repeal Obamacare?

THUNE: Well, I think it repeals the core of Obamacare. It repeals the individual mandate, which requires people to buy insurance products that they don't want and can't afford. It repeals the employer mandate. It employs many - it repeals many of the regulations. And it repeals most of the taxes. The taxes that affect consumers. Those taxes that get passed on, that drive to higher insurance costs and higher health care costs.

So there are a couple of, yes, the high-end taxes. A lot of our members were concerned in keeping those and plowing those back in, those resources back in to - for particular purposes that they wanted to see served with the bill. And so that's where it stands today. But like I said, none of these things are ultimately final until we get up on the floor and open to an amendment process.

[14:30:00] CABRERA: Rand Paul says this is in no way a repeal. He plans to vote no on it. We have, on the other side, moderate Senator Susan Collins. And she tweets out "it doesn't do enough. Still deep cuts to Medicaid in the Senate bill.