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Ex-Soviet Intel Officer at Don Jr.'s Meeting; Rinat Akhmetshin's Background; Ex-Trump Aide Testifying; GOP Health Care Bill Approval. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired July 14, 2017 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:23] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Ana Cabrera.
And we begin this hour with a bombshell revelation about who else was inside that meeting room as President Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., and top aides attempted to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. It wasn't just the Russian lawyer in this room with them. The Associated Press is now reporting a former Soviet counterintelligence officer was also there. The controversial meeting taking place at Trump Tower June of last year, just days after then-candidate Donald Trump clinched the GOP nomination. Also present, Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
And a reminder here, this revelation comes just two days after Don Jr. himself declared complete transparency and that there was nothing else to see here. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, "HANNITY": So as far as you know, as far as this incident's concerned, this is all of it.
DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: This is everything. This is everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: I want to bring in Shimon Prokupecz, CNN's crime and justice reporter.
What more are you learning, Shimon?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that's right.
So, you know, Ana, today we learned not only was in the meeting was Rob Goldstone and then this lawyer who we've all been reporting on. We've also learned that there were others, right? There was this translator was in this meeting and then a representative from the Agalarov family, which is connected to Rob Goldstone and it's believed it's this family that sort of started setting up this meeting, claiming that someone may have information regarding the Hillary Clinton campaign.
The Associated Press then later this morning reported that they spoke to Rinat, this lobbyist, American - this Russian-American lobbyist, who lives here in Washington, D.C., is well-known to lawmakers. He's well-known to journalists here in Washington, D.C. And he's done some work on behalf of Russians, those seeking to overturn some sanctions, in particular to the Magnitsky Act, which, as we have been reporting, is directly connected to a lawyer, this woman from Russia, who met with the Trump family.
You know, all this obviously bringing lots of questions about why didn't Donald Trump Jr., why didn't Kushner reveal these other people who were in this meeting, Ana.
CABRERA: All right, Shimon Prokupecz. We know you are continuing to dig and we'll bring you back as you get more information.
I want to bring in our panel for now. Asha Rangappa is CNN legal analyst, national security analyst as well, former FBI special agent, and now associate dean at Yale Law School, and joining her is John Rizzo, former general counsel to the CIA. He's also the author of "Company Man," a book about his 34 years at the agency.
Asha, this breaking news, CNN reporting more people in that room than had been previously disclosed, including Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian- American lobbyist with apparent ties to Russian intelligence. Your reaction?
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL Y NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, Ana, this is the case of the multiplying Russians.
What this tells me, so that somebody might have been at that meeting that has an intelligence and specifically a counterintelligence background is that even the Russians expected that Don Jr. might have called the FBI. This is someone who would have been there to potentially spot FBI surveillance, be able to check, you know, for any technical equipment there. So I think that the Russians, if someone with an intelligence background was there, they believed this to be an intelligence operation.
And I also think that that also raises the possibility and even the probability that that entire meeting may have been recorded and may potentially be in the hands of the government of Russia. Which makes the shifting stories and different accounts even more problematic because it could potentially offer a way for the Russian government to hold this over their heads.
CABRERA: Makes you wonder if there's another shoe that's going to drop in that regard.
RANGAPPA: That's right.
CABRERA: John, they still haven't been totally transparent about this meeting. As we are learning more people who were there that weren't previously disclosed. What could this mean legally? JOHN RIZZO, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL TO THE CIA: Well, I mean, first of
all, the - with respect to Mr. Kushner's current top secret security clearance, you know, when you apply for one of these clearances, and I dealt with these issues for three decades at CIA. And one of the things the government - the security folks consist upon is you be totally forthcoming and complete with any foreign contacts you have recently had. And let alone contacts with Russians. Let alone contacts with Russian intelligence officers.
[14:05:05] So, you know, I must say, Ana, this - every new morsel here, I mean, this is - this is uncharted waters in my experience. I mean it's getting into another dimension almost.
CABRERA: Asha, CNN is also reporting that the White House aides, close aides to the White House, were working behind the scenes since late June to craft a response to this Don Jr. meeting and this subsequent e-mail release. In doing so, did these aides now open themselves up to scrutiny by the special counsel?
RANGAPPA: Possibly. I mean, I think everyone now is going to be questioned. And they're going to find out who knew what. Who - what kind of conversations were had. I mean it's not just limited to Don Jr.'s meeting. This is going to apply to the firing of Comey. All of these things are becoming interconnected.
And, you know, I think at this point, these have become legal issues that each of these individuals should be consulting with their own attorney about because all of these official statements that are coming out, that end up being untrue just - it complicates each individual's own legal situation in my opinion. So I would just say that no comment at this point would probably be the best course of action for everyone involved, particularly the principals, and stop tweeting.
CABRERA: John, about these changing statements. White House aides, they're government employees. They're not supposed to be involved in the president's personal business. That's the whole reason he hired Mark Kasowitz as his personal attorney on the Russia matter. Our reporting says that at the time this story broke, Kasowitz wasn't even traveling with the president. He was largely uninvolved. What's your reaction?
RIZZO: Well, I mean, I - this is something that the president's personal lawyer, and for that matter Mr. Trump Jr. and Mr. Kushner, sure, that's what they have private lawyers for, to represent them in these things and advise them. Again, I just - just from what I'm hearing, it just seems exceedingly irregular for White House officials and not their personal lawyers to be taking the lead in crafting the responses for these people.
CABRERA: And on top of it, "The New York Times" is reporting that President Trump signed off on that first Trump Jr. statement about the meeting. We now know that statement wasn't 100 percent accurate. Could that have legal implications for the president, Asha?
RANGAPPA: Well, we have so many - we have a pattern now of the president - of things coming to light that are untrue, that the president has signed off on. But, yes, especially in this case, because this is the first time that there is a concrete, direct link between people close to the campaign and to Russian intelligence, what he knew and when he knew it becomes very critical. And if there was an attempt to potentially cover up or say something untrue or contrary to what he knew, that is very problematic because, again, it points to potential deception at the highest levels of the government.
So, at this point there needs - again, from a legal perspective, I would think that there would be a bigger firewall between even the president and his son to try keep those lines completely separate and not embroil him. But I've been perplexed by some of the legal moves that have been made in this administration to date, so I guess I can't be really surprised.
CABRERA: This is some other new reporting from CNN, John. According to a person who's close to Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, one of his top aides, when he learned of this newly discovered e-mail in mid-June, he told his lawyers he was going to sit down with the president and discuss the meeting and the e-mail that had been discovered. Of course the big questions remain, did he do this, and what did he tell the president?
RIZZO: Yes. Well, certainly that's the question, Ana. I mean, you know, the circumstance is so unique. This is not just a president and one of his aides. I mean this is his son-in-law. You know, there's that familial bond and complication here. So, honestly, I don't know at this point what to take of it. It is just so unprecedented and surreal to be in these circumstances.
CABRERA: All right, got to leave it there. John Rizzo, Asha Rangappa, thanks for your analysis and insight.
Now, this Russian-American lobbyist, the latest name that has emerged in this story, who was apparently at that meeting, his name is Rinat Akhmetshin, has confirmed to the Associated Press that he was indeed inside this meeting. But why?
Let's bring in Natasha Bertrand, breaking news editor at "Business Insider."
Natasha, I know you've been doing some digging. What do you know about this man?
NATASHA BERTRAND, BREAKING NEWS EDITOR, "BUSINESS INSIDER": So, Rinat came to the United States in 1994. His ties to Russian military intelligence are still a little bit murky. He was a member of the GRU, which is Russia's military intelligence arm in Afghanistan in the late 1980s and then he came over to the U.S. and he started working as a political lobbyist.
[14:10:11] And his work has actually been extremely effective for all intents and purposes. He's known as a very smooth political operator. He's been here for almost two decades now and he actually became an American citizen in 2009. He denies having any ties currently to any Russian spy agencies, which is important to note, and there is no evidence that he still does.
CABRERA: But that being said, he was on the radar, apparently, of U.S. lawmakers at the very least. We're learning that Senator Chuck Grassley had sent a letter back in April to the DOJ flagging this man. What more do you know about this?
BERTRAND: Yes. So, Chuck Grassley wanted to know whether or not he had registered as a foreign agent for his lobbying activities and for his lobbying work over the past two decades. That seemed to be very much aligned with Russian interests. He's been a lobbyist mostly for his interests aligned with the post-Soviet states, not necessarily exactly for Russia in and of itself.
But then last year he got involved with this Russian lawyer, whose name is Natalia Veselnitskaya, who, of course, met with Donald Trump Jr. last June at Trump Tower. And, actually, she hired him to lobby to repeal the Magnitsky Act.
CABRERA: All right, Natasha Bertrand, thanks so much. That gives a little bit more color into who this new individual is who's emerged on to the scene.
Right now, behind closed doors, a former Trump campaign adviser is testifying before the House Intel Committee. We talked to Michael Caputo beforehand. Why he says there's absolutely no way the campaign colluded with Russia.
Plus, new questions about Republican operative who was hunting for Hillary Clinton's missing e-mails, but he was recently found dead. Hear about the note he left behind.
And breaking moments ago, homicide charges against two suspects in the disappearance of four men. A case involve a 12 -foot grave and a confession.
[14:15:51] CABRERA: Right now, behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, the House Intelligence Committee is grilling Michael Caputo. Now, he is a former Trump campaign communications adviser. And he's being questioned as part of the panel's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.
Now, Caputo, who worked on the Trump campaign, has strong ties to Moscow. He's one of several former Trump aides who has worked in Russia and is the first one to testify before the House Intel Committee as it tries to find out what, if any, involvement Russia had with the Trump campaign.
I want to bring in CNN's investigative correspondent Drew Griffin, who sat down with Michael Caputo recently for an exclusive interview.
And, Drew, what is Caputo expected to say today behind closed doors?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Ana, I don't think there's any surprise he says he will deny there was any involvement in Russia while he was part of the Trump campaign. He's a long-time supporter of Donald Trump, but he was no fan of how this campaign was run. He was actually fired from the Trump campaign in June of last year after seven months of in-fighting with campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. He says during his time there he saw no collusion with Russia. In fact, no one in his circle even spoke of Russia to him at all, not even over Russian policy issues, because the campaign, he says, Ana, was in such disarray.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: Let me ask you some questions you'll probably get in Congress.
Before, during, or after your involvement in the Trump campaign, did you bring any Russians to that campaign? Did you talk about Russia or the possible help the Russian government could give the campaign?
MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER: Never once. Never once.
GRIFFIN: Did you overhear anybody talking about collusion, getting help from the Russians, either through information, through fake news spreading, through tweets.
CAPUTO: No. I heard nothing of the kind. In fact, we were so busy just trying to keep up with the sun rising and setting on that campaign that I can't imagine anyone had the time, nor the wherewithal, to go out there and even do something like this. Anybody who covered the Trump effort knew this was a pell-mell operation from the moment he woke up in the morning until the moment he went to bed.
GRIFFIN: I've heard it described as a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) show. Too harsh?
CAPUTO: Too harsh for family television, yes.
GRIFFIN: This is cable.
CAPUTO: Right. OK. Yes, I think that - I think the Trump campaign was in many ways a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) show. There's no question about it. But that was always to be expected. He's not a politician.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: Ana, why Michael Caputo was important to House investigators is his long-time ties to Russia and his ties to several other players in this Russian investigation. He was a protege of Roger Stone, a friend and colleague of Paul Manafort, both expected to testify. He also worked for years in Moscow as a political consultant and public relations expert working for Russian politicians and for major Russian-owned companies all with ties to the Kremlin.
And as for the recent revelations about Donald Trump Jr. meeting with a woman he was told was a Russian government attorney, Ana, that meeting took place 11 days before Caputo was fired. He was still communications aide at the time. He says he never heard about that meeting or the Russian lawyer before, during, or after it took place. He learned about it, he says, just this past week as the news broke.
CABRERA: All right, Drew Griffin, thank you for that.
Just in, Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he will appeal the new ruling on the president's travel ban. A federal judge in Hawaii loosened some restrictions on who is allowed to travel to the U.S. from half a dozen nations. Now grandparents, in-laws, aunts and uncles will be permitted. This appeal, however, will go directly to the Supreme Court. So we'll see where it goes from here.
Just how close is the Republican health care bill from failing? The party can't afford to lose one more vote. Hear what the president is now doing behind the scenes to save it.
Plus, the top Democrat on the House Intel Committee reacting to the breaking news that more people attended the Donald Trump Jr. meeting than previously disclosed. More on that just ahead.
[14:24:16] CABRERA: If a health care plan doesn't happen now, then when? That is the message from the White House today. An official tells CNN the administration is frustrated and annoyed with Senate Republicans as their revised health care bill is looking less likely to make it to a vote. At least two senators are already publicly opposing it. One more no vote, that's it.
Mitch McConnell's revised version makes some major concessions to hardline conservatives, but one of the biggest causes for concern is what the bill did not revise, deep, sweeping cuts to Medicaid and a proposal to delegate that responsibility to individual states.
Let's go to CNN's national politics reporter MJ Lee. He is joining us from Capitol Hill.
MJ, is there any indication right now that the senators who opposed that first version, because of these Medicaid cuts, will have to have a change of heart this time around?
[14:25:05] MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Ana, if this bill does not make it, there is a very good chance that it will be because of Medicaid. As you said, there were a number of changes made to that original bill. Some changes that were meant to appeal to conservatives, like that Cruz amendment, others that were meant to appeal to moderates. But the number one thing that moderates are most concerned about right now, the Medicaid issue, that issue was left virtually unchanged.
Now, that of course, is very, very worrisome for members like Dean Heller, Shelley Moore Capito, Rob Portman and others and it's not an accident that this was the group that was seen meeting and going into Mitch McConnell's office yesterday afternoon after the bill was unveiled. So we know that Mitch McConnell is trying to get to that 50 magic number and this is the group that he is going to be lobbying very, very hard in the next couple of days to try to bring them some relief, some answers, about these deep Medicaid cuts that they are very uncomfortable with.
CABRERA: We know the president has said, quote, he would be very angry if this bill doesn't pass. Any more from the White House today?
LEE: Well, President Trump is obviously out of the country right now but he is making it clear and reminding Senate Republicans that this is his top priority. Health care is the number one thing that he wants to get done. He sent out a series of tweets earlier today. One of them reads, after all of these years of suffering through Obamacare, Republican senators must come through as they have promised. He also said when that bill is ready, I will be at my desk, pen in hand.
Now, my colleague Dan Merica over at the White House is reporting that Trump, while he was in Paris yesterday, he made a number of phone calls to a number of Senate Republicans. We are told that Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, is one of those senators that Trump reached out to. He, of course, is a firm "no" right now.
I am also told that Vice President Mike Pence made a phone call to senator Mike Lee. He has said that he is still undecided. So a lot of lobbying that is going on right now. We can expect in the next couple of days. But these phone calls and conversations will continue as Mitch McConnell looks for those 50 "yes" votes.
CABRERA: We also know that there's going to be a meeting, apparently, with the governor of Nevada, Sandoval, who has also been very critical regarding those Medicaid cuts.
Thank you very much, MJ Lee. We appreciate it.
Another sticking point for some moderate Republicans. The Cruz amendment proposed by Texas Senator Ted Cruz that allows insurance companies to offer stripped-down policies that don't cost as much but also don't cover as much, those policies alongside another Obamacare option.
Joining me now to discuss, Rick Newman. He is a columnist for Yahoo Finance.
Rick, thanks for being with us.
RICK NEWMAN, ECONOMIC ANALYST: Hi, Ana.
CABRERA: You believe this revised Senate bill could actually make the health care system worse for a lot of people than current law. Explain.
NEWMAN: Well, as you've been discussing, it would - it retains all those cutbacks in Medicaid. The Congressional Budget Office found the earlier version of the bill that had the same provision for Medicaid would leave 15 million fewer people insured under Medicaid in the future. So that's a lot of people just without health insurance in the future.
And now the Cruz amendment, it actually addresses a legitimate problem, which is that there's some people who just want a bare bones policy. They - some people want, you might call it catastrophic care policy. So if something terrible happens, they're covered, but it doesn't include a lot of other things. The problem with that is, if that were the case, and you also got rid of the individual mandate, you'd have a lot of people leaving the Obamacare exchanges and going over and getting this cheaper insurance, which means you'd end up with healthy people getting the cheap insurance and even sicker people staying in the Obamacare exchanges. The insurance companies are allowed to price the premiums as they need to in order to be profitable. And the more sick people you have in - or the higher proportion of sick people you have, the higher those premiums are going to go. And this bill does not include an increase in subsidies for lower income people that would keep up with the increase in premiums. So you'd just end up with all the sick people in Obamacare and healthy people getting the cheap policies.
CABRERA: So is there a way to do both, to have a policy option for people who don't want the Cadillac version, who don't need that, so that they are paying less, but not drive up the premiums for people who have preexisting conditions, for example?
NEWMAN: Under the existing architecture, probably not. And that's why this is such a difficult thing. So you squeeze a little water in the balloon over here, it comes out over here. That's why this is so difficult. It's why the Affordable Care Act included the individual mandate, which was not popular then. It's never been popular. It was never popular when it went into effect. But you kind of need this forcing mechanism.
The real problem here is when you have - in all the other advanced countries in the world, the reason they have universal coverage with a big government role is that the government basically fills those gaps. We do not have a system like that. We have a system that relies on the free market to a large extent. And Obamacare was devised with all these sort of - to mimic free market mechanisms, that's the - the reason it's so kind of jury-rigged is because this problem is so hard to solve. So if you're not -
[14:30:03] CABRERA: And you don't think that Obamacare is sufficient, do you, right now? It's a problems, right?
NEWMAN: Well, it leaves - it leaves 30 million people uninured still and it did cause some harm to these people in what's called the individual insurance market which the