Return to Transcripts main page
Senate GOP Has No Votes To Spare On Health Bill; New Questions About When Trump Learned Of Son's E-mails; Pelosi Speaks On Russia Investigation. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired July 14, 2017 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:08] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good morning. I'm Pamela Brown. Nice to have you along with us on this Friday morning.
Right now, President Trump is in the air headed home to Washington after a whirlwind trip to Paris. He started the day with a parade, but now he is bracing for turbulence over the Russia investigation and that controversial meeting between his son and a Russian lawyer.
This morning, new questions swirling about who knew what and when. Sources telling CNN that a White House aide and Jared Kushner's legal team began strategizing in late June about how to manage the disclosure of the e-mails they had just discovered.
And another new report suggests that the President's own legal team knew about the e-mail chain more than three weeks ago. And hours from now, a former Trump campaign advisor will be in the hot seat when he testifies behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee as lawmakers get ready to request for documents from Jared Kushner and Trump Junior.
We are covering all of this. Let's begin with CNN's Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny. Jeff?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Pamela. President Trump, as you said, has wrapped up his whirlwind 30-hour tour of Paris. Now, five or six hours of that were spent one- on-one with the new French President, Emmanuel Macron, during a meeting at the palace, over dinner last night at the Eiffel Tower, and today during the parade.
Now, this was a new moment, a new test of the relationship of the two leaders here. But despite all of the respite from the Russia investigation, that's exactly what's awaiting President Trump when he returns back to the United States this afternoon.
ZELENY (voice-over): New questions about who knew what and when about the meeting between Trump campaign associates and a Russian lawyer and the e-mails that proved Donald Trump, Jr. thought he'd be getting dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Kremlin.
A source familiar with the process tells CNN that Jared Kushner and his legal team discovered the e-mails in mid-June. A person close to Kushner says they discussed whether or not to immediately go public. That source adding that Kushner told his lawyers he planned a sit-down with the President to discuss the June 2016 meeting. An interaction "The New York Times" reports took place.
All this raising doubt about the President's insistence that he only learned about the e-mails in the past few days.
JAY SEKULOW, PRIVATE ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The President, by the way, never saw an e-mail, did not see the e-mail until it was seen today.
DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It was such a nothing. There was nothing to tell. And I wouldn't have even remembered it until you start scouring through the stuff.
ZELENY (voice-over): Yahoo! News also reporting that sources tell them that two members of President Trump's personal legal team were informed about the e-mails three weeks ago. Despite this knowledge, the President's son only publicly acknowledged the meeting with the Russian lawyer after he was approached by "The New York Times" last weekend, leaving the White House scrambling to craft a response and further drawing the President's closest aides into a crisis deepening by the day.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), RANKING MEMBER, UNITED STATES SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: We feel it's very important that we have all the appropriate information so we can ask the right questions.
ZELENY (voice-over): The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee tells CNN the panel will request additional documents from both Trump Junior and Kushner.
WARNER: It seems strange to me that those meetings were at least conveniently forgotten at least by Mr. Kushner.
ZELENY (voice-over): And Republicans and Democrats leading the Senate Judiciary Committee confirm they will request Trump Junior's testimony.
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, UNITED STATES SENATE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY: We're sending a letter to request his presence.
ZELENY (voice-over): The President appearing to support that idea in a conversation with reporters aboard Air Force One flying to Paris before issuing this staunch defense of his eldest son.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as my son is concerned, my son is a wonderful young man. Most people would have taken that meeting. It's called opposition research.
ZELENY: So now the question here is -- you know, President Trump defending his son obviously, but that is awaiting him. But I do have to tell you, Pamela, I was struck by a moment this morning earlier today here in Paris at the Bastille Day parade, which President Trump was here, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of the U.S. troops arriving here in France.
Now, take a look at this long handshake. This is a -- quite a moment here. President Trump, Emmanuel Macron not wanting to let go here as they are enjoying this moment after the parade. This is really the longest that President Trump has spent with any world leader. Of course, President Macron is new on the stage, elected only about two months or so ago.
They have many, many differences on climate change, trade, immigration. But clearly by inviting President Trump here, they -- he wanted to try and forge a relationship and perhaps also remind President Trump of the hazards perhaps of the -- of some isolationist policies, giving a bit of a history lesson today of how the U.S. has played such a vital role in other parts of the world. Pamela.
[09:05:02] BROWN: Absolutely. And seeing that video, it reminds you of another awkward handshake between President Trump and Macron. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much for bringing us the latest there from Paris.
And as lawmakers press Trump Junior to testify, one of the big questions they'll be looking at is whether there was a phone call between Don Junior and Emin Agalarov before the meeting took place as the e-mails might suggest.
Now, during this exchange, the Agalarov's publicist, Rob Goldstone says, quote, Hi, Don, let me know when you are free to talk with Emin by phone about this Hillary info. Don Junior responds: Rob, could we speak now?
Goldstone writes: let me track him down in Moscow. What number should he call? Don Junior then replies he can call his cell. And then Goldstone says: OK, he's on stage in Moscow but should be off within 20 minutes, so I'm sure he can call.
Now, that was at 3:43 p.m. on June 6th. Nearly an hour later, Don Junior replies: Rob, thanks for the help. This raises questions about whether a phone call did take place during that time.
Twenty-four hours later, Goldstone sent another letter saying, Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and the Russian government attorney. I believe you are aware of the meeting.
Agalarov's lawyer and Don Junior's lawyer deny that a phone call ever took place in that time frame.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT BALBER, ATTORNEY FOR EMIN AND ARAS AGALAROV: I really can't speak to what Rob Goldstone was thinking or what he wrote or why, but I'll tell you again that that call didn't happen. I don't know if there was someone else who spoke to Donald Trump, Jr. about this prospective meeting, but it wasn't my client. And again, I don't know where Mr. Goldstone got his information from, but it is just categorically incorrect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Scott Balber, the Agalarovs' attorney does tell CNN that Emin and Don Junior did speak on the phone a few months prior to this meeting. Let's discuss.
Tara Palmeri, a CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for "Politico"; Steve Hall, CNN national security analyst and retired CIA Chief of Russia Operations; and Page Pate, CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney. Great to have you all on, so much to discuss.
The big question this morning, who knew what and when. A source telling CNN Kushner and his legal team discovered the e-mails in mid- June and that there was a discussion about whether to go public. Yahoo! News also reports members of Trump's legal team were informed about these e-mails three weeks ago, but the President said he only learned about the e-mails in just the past few days.
Steve, how crucial is this timeline and why will it matter to investigators?
STEVE HALL, FORMER CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: The timeline I think is critical, Pamela, because we're trying to piece together what appears to be a very complicated Russian operation, a collection operation.
We've already seen the influence piece, the multi-pronged, you know, media attacks, the hacking into the DNC servers and other servers as well. And so this is the latest piece that falls into place, the sort of human part of this operation, where you have people who are probably connected to the Russian government indirectly reaching out to members of the Trump team.
When that happened, what happened as a result of those meetings, is all going to be really important, at least from the counterintelligence and also I think from the legal part of the ongoing investigation. So it's -- putting it all together is going to be challenging but, of course, critical.
BROWN: And you can bet that the investigators on Capitol Hill, as well as part of the special probe, will be looking at all of this. And in light of this, Tara, there is this peculiar moment from the campaign trail and it happened June of last year, four days after the e-mail promising dirt on Clinton and two days before the meeting took place. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I am going to give a major speech on, probably, Monday of next week, and we're going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you're going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.
(APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So, Tara, knowing what we know now, that certainly raises questions about when President Trump knew about this meeting.
TARA PALMERI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Precisely. It actually really draws him even closer to the controversy, the fact that his son was involved, his son-in-law spoke with Russian agents, and now you are hearing him hinting at the possibility of having even more information than what's already known about the Clintons.
Obviously, this speech never happened. Perhaps there was some strategizing or perhaps they never really did get the information that they thought they were going to get. But at the end of the day, it seems to appear that the President, from this promise, is closer to the information than his lawyers would like him to be or he's even suggested in the past.
BROWN: All right. And, Page, to you now. Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley says that Donald Trump, Jr.'s meeting with the Russian lawyer is, quote, absolutely the smoking gun. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: So is this meeting for you the smoking gun?
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: This is -- absolutely. Absolutely. I mean the defense is that we didn't actually get anything good out of this meeting. That's been the defense. That's not the question.
[09:09:59] The question is whether you were aware of an ongoing Russian effort, which this e-mail lays out, whether you were meeting to obtain information, which they admit that they were. And so this is definitely the type of collaboration that other events made us think might exist, but we hadn't seen it laid out so crisply.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So, Page, is he right?
PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Pamela, I think it is certainly a critical piece of evidence, although I don't think I'd go so far as to call it the smoking gun. The meeting itself was not a crime, but what it does do is it allows prosecutors to see the intent of the Trump campaign at that point.
They were obviously very interested in working with people who represented the Russian government to find out information about Hillary Clinton. That shows an intent to try to do whatever is necessary to get that information. So it's important to show that.
It is also critically important because now we have all these inconsistent statements about what led up to the meeting, what was said in the meeting, and perhaps who was even in the meeting. So in that situation, it can also become very important to prosecutors if, later, people who were there or who talked about it say something inconsistent. So it's important, but maybe not the smoking gun.
BROWN: And, Tara, on that note, you have some reporting about how Jared Kushner wants a more aggressive communication message when it comes to this meeting. Tell us what you've learned.
PALMERI: I've learned that Jared Kushner has really been putting a lot of pressure on the communications and press shop to have a more forceful response to the revelations of the meeting. These people who work for the White House, a lot of them were not necessarily involved in the campaign, and the issue that they're having right now is that they are fearful about going on the record and trying to fight back against these stories.
Jared has suggested that they try to change Chirons on cable news shows, that they try to put statements in stories, place op-eds. And these people are thinking, you know, I'm on a government salary. Can I really afford to know more that would require me getting a lawyer that could cost, you know, close to $100,000?
So there is really a conflict between the staff and those who are closely tied to this Russia investigation. A lot of these people are saying less is more, I don't want to know. And yet Kushner seems to really want them -- because he sees the entire Russia investigation affecting the President, therefore it should be the priority of the communications and press shop to defend him.
BROWN: Well, and it's interesting, too. Our Evan Perez reported last night that some of the White House aides and the President crafted the initial statement which could make them witnesses in this ongoing Russia probe.
BROWN: So it sort of drags them into it. Steve, quickly, I want to get your reaction to something.
Trump was asked on Air Force One, would you invite Putin to the White House? He replied, I would say, yes, yes, at the right time. I don't think this is the right time but the answer is yes, I would. Your thoughts?
HALL: You know, Pamela, this is what the Russians looked for. This is what Putin is all about. Whenever you get -- you want to try to get to the bottom of Russian motivation, oftentimes it's nothing more than returning to great power status, to be treated as a -- you know, as the Soviet Union used to be, to have a seat at the table.
And when you do things like you get into the Oval Office, get into the White House, it allows Putin and the Russians to say, yes, you know, we're back, we're as important. When in reality, when you look at the size of their economy and their relative geopolitical strategic part, you know, it's not as big as other countries. But that's what they play for, and so it doesn't surprise me Putin would want to do that.
BROWN: It is important to keep that in perspective. I think the U.S. economy is, what, 10 times the size of Russia's, and yet here we are talking about it every day. And now the President is open, it seems, down the road, to inviting Vladimir Putin to the White House. Very interesting.
Steve Hall, Page Pate -- Tara, stick around because we have much more to talk about. Thank you all so much.
And serious concerns, multiple undecideds, and a couple of senators who are flat-out no's. That's the battle facing Senate Republicans in their own party and their latest attempt to repeal and replace ObamaCare. President Trump acknowledging the challenge on his trip to Paris, telling reporters aboard Air Force One, quote, the only thing more difficult than peace between Israel and the Palestinians is health care.
And this morning the President is turning to social media to underscore the urgency, stating, among other things, that he is at his desk with pen in hand ready to sign this bill into law, and that Republicans -- his words -- must come through as they have promised. But will the new bill even make it to the Senate floor for debate?
M.J. Lee is on Capitol Hill tracking all of these developments. M.J., what's the latest?
M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Pam, I think a lot of Senate Republicans would agree with President Trump this week that health care reform is very, very difficult. The revised bill that was released yesterday drawing a mixed reaction at best.
And keep in mind, of course, that Mitch McConnell wants to try to have a vote on this bill sometime next week. But already, we have two Senate Republicans who have come out to say that they are opposed to the motion to proceed.
[09:15:00] That means that they don't even want to bring up the bill for a debate on the Senate floor. Those two senators, of course, are Rand Paul and Susan Collins, not to mention the many others who are still undecided on how they would vote for this bill.
Now that means that one more "no" Senate Republican could mean that this bill could be tanked even before it comes up for debate. Now, I have to note that all of these reservations are remaining within the conference despite the fact that Mitch McConnell agreed to make a number of changes to the original bill that was released last month.
I just want to walk through a couple of the key changes that were made. First is the fact that insurance companies could offer cheaper and skimpier plans. That of course was an amendment that was offered by Senator Ted Cruz. It was unclear even until the last minute if that would make it in. It is now in the bill.
HSAs, or Health Savings Accounts, those could now go towards paying for premiums. That was something else that conservatives wanted. An extra $45 billion would now go towards opioid funding. That was important to senators like Rob Portman, Shelly Moore Capito.
And now the important part -- this bill would keep the very steep cuts to Medicaid that a lot of moderates had issues about. That is going to be the key issue and the key debate to watch in the coming days for members like Dean Heller, Shelly Moore-Capito, and Rob Portman.
If McConnell wants the chance to move this bill forward, he needs to make sure that he wins over some of those senators. That is what all of the discussions are going to be about in the next coming days.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, I know you will be tracking all of it. M.J. Lee, thank you very much.
And just moments from now, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is set to speak on the Russia investigation. She's already called for Jared Kushner's security clearance to be revoked. So will she double down? I'll ask a Republican congressman what he thinks should happen.
Plus, timeline questions, President Trump says he learned about his son's meeting with the Russian lawyer just a few days ago, but a new report says his lawyers have known for weeks.
And the confession bombshell, a man who's already been behind bars reportedly confesses to his involvement in killing four men. But the search continues for three of their bodies.
BROWN: Any moment now on Capitol Hill, top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi will be speaking out. She's expected to call out House Republican leaders for what she calls their, quote, "failure to investigate President Trump and his administration when it comes to possible collusion with Russia."
Pelosi now calling for an outside independent commission to look into the disruption of the U.S. election. We will monitor that and bring you the very latest.
Back with me now to discuss, Tara Palmeri. Also joining us is Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun Times," and David Swerdlick, CNN political commentator and assistant editor for the "Washington Post." Great to have you all on.
Lynn, first to you. Pelosi came out yesterday calling Trump Jr.'s meeting, quote, "cold, hard evidence the Trump family and his campaign colluded." What more can we expect to hear today?
LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": We'll probably hear her reinforce her call for independent counsel saying that you need outside sources to look at connecting the dots to what happened. Special Counsel Bob Mueller is looking for crimes. He has a different mission.
He might not care about knowing the details of the story. If he concludes that there was no crime, for example, in the meeting, he might not -- he might move on. An independent commission such as the 9/11 Commission can put together their whole story from start to finish as much as we know about Russian collusion and the Trump campaign.
That's what is important to know can be done. I think that's the trail that she is on in reinforcing it, and then she has the cold, hard evidence from the e-mails themselves.
HARLOW: Let's actually dip in and listen to what Pelosi has to say.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: -- learned of former Russian counterintelligence agent was also present at the Trump meeting. Members of Congress take a sacred oath, "I do solemnly swear" and that to uphold the Constitution of the United States. It is what our responsibility is.
The president also takes that oath. Speaker Ryan has avoided any response by the Republicans, any positive action to uphold the Constitution of the United States in terms of our electoral system, our democracy.
Earlier this week, I called upon him to give us a vote on an independent commission, outside independent commission, to investigate the ties to Russia. What do the Russians have politically, financially or personally on Donald Trump that he fawns over Putin, questions sanctions, is reckless when it comes to Article 5 of NATO. The list goes on and on.
The American people have a right to know. Maybe they'll clear the air. Maybe it will be exculpatory. Maybe it won't. But we know one thing for sure, we have a responsibility, an oath of office, to make sure Russia does not meddle in our elections again and that would be the pumps of such an investigation.
I mentioned calling upon the speaker to give us a vote on an independent commission. I also call for the revoking of the security clearance for Jared Kushner. It's absolutely ridiculous that he should have that clearance. It's not justified in any way.
The president could revoke it in a moment, and he should. But Congress should call -- Republicans in Congress should stop hiding from the truth and stop hiding the truth from the American people.
I think in light of the actions this week, the e-mails that we saw related to Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russians, now we know a counterintelligence person was in the meeting as well, that it is important that we see all electronic communication.
Whether it is direct messaging, Twitter, e-mail, text, whatever it happens to be, among members of the Trump family and within the Trump administration. Did he convey that message that -- the spirit of that message to the president?
[09:25:13]The American people have a right -- have a right -- to know. And so here we are, House Democrats are not going to let the Republicans off the hook for their complicity in this. Today, we announce a new effort to force votes to get answers for the American people. We will force Republicans to take votes on the record to continue from hiding the facts from the American people. We will expose House Republicans in action for their willful, shameful enabling. They have become enablers of the violation of our Constitution, the attack on the integrity of our elections, the security of our country.
The integrity of our democracy is at stake. House Republicans will have to answer for their actions. And one of the questions they will have -- some of the questions they will have to answer will be posed by our colleagues, I'm pleased to yield to distinguished top Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California.
REPRESENTATIVE MAXINE WATERS (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE: Thank you. Thank you, Leader Pelosi, for organizing all of us today --
BROWN: -- leader of the House Democrats Nancy Pelosi calling for a vote on an independent commission and saying Republicans have become enablers with everything going on surrounding Russia and the Trump campaign and all the investigations.
I want to bring our panel back to discuss this. David, as you heard, she really is focused on this notion of an independent commission. But there are investigations on Capitol Hill already under way looking in to the Russia situation.
You have the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, just to name a couple. So what would an independent commission do that those investigations won't?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Pamela, I think, as Lynn said, it would give us the big picture, right? The Mueller special counsel investigation is looking into specific crimes, and they may, as this proceeds and more e-mails are looked at, find things like inconsistent statements from the Trump team to what was in their previous e-mails as we saw over the last several days which could lead to various smaller charges, if not broad collusion or espionage related crimes, whatever those may be.
But a commission will look at the big picture of the relationship of Russia to our election system, what, if any, meddling took place. I think it is pretty clear that meddling took place, but how it came about. What the United States response could be to that.
Like Lynn said, a 9/11 Commission. I do think, though, what I thought Pelosi was doing was a political thing, a turning of the screw toward Republicans saying stop slow-playing this, don't enable. It is a Democratic line of attack. They don't have a lot of cards to play, but there is a card they can play.
How likely is it that Republicans will get on board and give the votes for an independent commission, David?
SWERDLICK: Well, we are starting to see some Republicans slowly back away from Trump. You saw Senator Grassley yesterday calling for Kushner and Manafort to testify. He sounded sort of reluctant, but yet I think he sounded like, yes, we've got to go forward with this.
It is because Republican members of Congress -- maybe not the leadership yet, but rank and file members have their own credibility on the line here. Again, I think this effort by Pelosi is a way to put the pressure on them to move this forward. But I think it is still going to be a long process before we see Republicans break wholesale from the president.
BROWN: It is interesting to see more Republicans come out and really criticize the fact that this meeting happened. You have Jeff Flake yesterday talking to our Manu Raju saying that he wouldn't attend a meeting like that.
Tara, to you know, another issue that Nancy Pelosi brought up once again is a call for Kushner's -- Jared Kushner's security clearance to be pulled. Would that be enough to satisfy Democrats or is this just the beginning?
TARA PALMERI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think, like you said, this is just the beginning. Inside the White House, my sources tell me that there is basically a clock ticking for how long Jared Kushner will remain inside the White House.
His presence is considered quite toxic at this point because he is the administration official who is closest tied to the Russia investigation. They don't see it as sustainable. Also with the pressure that he's putting on the Comm shop and the press people to defend him.
He has his own spokesperson is inside who basically spends all of his day defending him in the Russia investigations. Once he starts testifying I think it is going to be really difficult for him.
If anything new comes out, I don't know how they can justify continuing to give him a security clearance. But if it is just Nancy Pelosi calling for it, then we'll see, but once the Republicans come along, then they're in some real trouble.
BROWN: I want to put this all in perspective. The FBI has been looking at this for a year now. It was last July, let's remember, that this investigation was opened. We've been talking about Russia for months, but this meeting that Don Jr. took and Jared Kushner attended raises the bar.
Conservative writer, Charles Krauthammer, put it in this way in the "Washington Post" this morning. He said, "The evidence is now shown.