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Facts Versus Spin: The DNC-Ukraine Allegations; How Do Trump- Russia And DNC-Ukraine Compare? Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired July 17, 2017 - 06:30   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: The cloud of Russia continues to dog the Trump White House. Advisers for President Trump continue to point to the DNC and to the Ukrainian government when asked about Don Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer. Why do they do that?

Well, back in January a "Politico" report stated that Ukrainian officials worked with the Democratic contractor to gather harmful opposition research on Donald Trump and his aides. This is a story that got little attention until now. Listen to this.


SEBASTIAN GORKA, DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: If there's a meeting that was wholly appropriate, but which led to nothing, let's compare that to the DNC sending its people to the Ukrainian embassy to coordinate "oppo" (ph) attacks against our candidate. I mean, if you want to see collusion, it's in the DNC.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think if there's been any evidence of collusion in 2016 that's come out at all or been discussed that actually happened, it would be between the DNC and the Ukrainian government.

JAY SEKULOW, MEMBER, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LEGAL TEAM: I go back to the Ukrainian example. I know you don't want to discuss it because you say it's not being investigated, which raises the question. But here -- and the Ukrainian situation actually exchanged documents from a foreign government.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Nobody from the Ukrainian government met with the Clinton campaign again as I said --

SEKULOW: That's not true. There were representatives at the Ukrainian Embassy. The "Politico" report was clear.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, the Democratic consultant, Ukrainian American activist, Alexandra Chalupa did gather research on Paul Manafort's ties to Ukraine. Ultimately Manafort did resign as chairman of the Trump campaign. Now Chalupa denies that DNC officials asked her to collect information from the Ukrainian embassy itself.

CAMEROTA: OK, so let's discuss. We have David Stern, he co-wrote the initial "Politico" article on which all of this is based, and CNN Politics producer, Dan Merica, who covered Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail and has a new statement from Alexandra Chalupa.

OK, so let's start at the beginning. David, do you think that the Trump team is trying to conflate these two things, OK. That whatever meeting Don Jr. had with this Russian attorney is eclipsed, they say, by whatever this DNC consultant did with Ukraine. What is your take on this?

[06:35:04]DAVID STERN, JOURNALIST AND WRITER, "POLITICO": Well, first of all, I want to say that I'm not here to say whether there was collusion or not collusion. That's not my place to say that. I would say that in broad strokes what we have here is a similar situation, as we've had previously.

It's not unknown. We've had these discussions many times before about foreign governments taking an interest in the American elections. We are the most powerful country in the world and obviously people do try to influence it in their own way. So in a broad way, yes.

These are similar situations, but when you dig down into the details they're very, very different. It's important to note the difference. We said in our article -- this was back in January, already there were obviously accusations being that were being voiced about the -- about Russian involvement.

And what we said in the article is that we don't have, as far as we can see, the type of top-down -- and why broad attack on the American election that was being alleged. You don't have --

CAMEROTA: Meaning it wasn't top down in the Ukraine. It was this woman, Alexandra Chalupa, who was what, freelancing, taking it upon herself to check in with the Ukrainian embassy and see if they had any "oppo "research? How did those instructions come down?

STERN: Well, the exact -- you have two things here. You've got the Ukrainian government, which is a huge thing -- and when he say officials, we're also talking about people who are just deputies in the parliament and not necessarily connected with the president.

Then you have Alexandra Chalupa, who is a consultant for the DNC and left in June. There's questions about where exactly the work between the two or where they connected.

Chalupa, herself said that she did talk to the embassy at least when she spoke to us. Now, she also said that there were no papers exchanged. It's not uncommon, as we put in our report for outside intermediaries to coordinate work.

These are questions actually which -- it's not for me to report whether -- to decide whether this was -- stepped over the line or not. What we were interested in saying actually was, here you have another country that is also with an interest in the American elections. And it became sort of a proxy battle between Ukraine and Russia, a battle which is happening in Ukraine itself.

BERMAN: So Dan Merica, you've been getting statements from Alexandra Chalupa, who gives a sense now of what she thinks of the situation. What's she's saying?

DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: She has somewhat backed away from what she told David and Ken Vogel (ph), his former colleague, at "Politico back in January. She says at the time she actually posted on Facebook that she disagreed with the article, disagreed with the frame.

But now she's told CNN and told me a couple of days ago that she completely denies working at all with the Ukrainian government on any opposition research as the statement that Alisyn read clearly states.

It's also important to note that the DNC is on the record denied any collusion. The Clinton campaign, multiple officials have denied any collusion. But she does -- there are sources that have told us that there was some crossover between her work at the DNC, which was basically working as an ethnic coordinator with Ukrainian Americans at the DNC and her interest, her activist in that area.

So at one point she did actually go to the embassy, sources tell us. She did go to the embassy and was asked by someone at the DNC if the president of Ukraine would be willing to take a question at a press conference about Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign, he was hired basically to do delegates and moved and morphed into the head of the campaign.

He had a long track record of work in Ukraine that raised a lot of suspicions with Ukrainian Americans, including Mrs. Chalupa, and they were asked actually would the president of Ukraine want to take or be comfortable of taking a question at a press conference.

And Mrs. Chalupa went to the embassy and actually asked officials there and she was told no and reported that back to the DNC. That's the extent that we've been told that her activist has crossed over in terms of her work with the DNC.

CAMEROTA: David, let me read this statement from her again. "During the 2016 U.S. election, I was a part-time consultant for the DNC running an ethnic engagement program. I was not an opposition researcher for the DNC. The DNC never asked me to go to the Ukrainian embassy to collect information." Does that square with your reporting and what she told you in January?

STERN: Well, to be honest, Ken Vogel, who co-wrote the piece. He was the one that spoke to Alexandra. Now I wasn't there for the entire conversation, but it was on the record.

[06:40:07]So it's easy to find out exactly what she said. That's possible. I guess you could say, from what I understand -- what we reported and what she's saying, that the DNC did not ask her to go to the embassy. She had these relations with the embassy. She was possibly you could say freelancing when she spoke to them. Now there was obviously cooperation or there seemed to be some work which she admitted to when she spoke to us.

But the question here I guess is whether or not the DNC was asking her to do this. Remember, I said she was a consultant until June of 2016. So, you know, it's entirely possible that this was of her own -- that she did this on her own.

BERMAN: All right, guys. Thanks so much. We want to get a take from the Clinton campaign, a former member of that team. Joining us now is Karen Finney, former senior adviser and spokesperson for Hillary Clinton's campaign.

You know, Karen, it's clear what this isn't, right? We know the Ukrainian effort was not directed by the president of Ukraine, whereas on the Russian side, Vladimir Putin's intelligence services say, you know, Vladimir Putin was in charge of that.

We know on the Ukrainian side, it wasn't the campaign chairman, the son of the candidate and what not at the meeting. There are clear differences here. But let's try to figure out what this was.

I mean, this woman out there, Alexandra Chalupa, is someone who did work with the Democrats over a period of time, wasn't she?

KAREN FINNEY, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER AND SPOKESPERSON, "HILLARY FOR AMERICA": Well, It's my understanding at the time, I know this from the "Politico" reporting, she was a consultant to the DNC at that time. I can tell you and I think Dan's own reporting can tell you I never met with her.

I don't think anybody who was actually part of our research team met with her. I can tell you our director, the person who was directing our Trump research never met with her.

But here is something that's more important that I think is getting lost in this. My understanding from the "Politico" reporting that the information or conversation was about Paul Manafort's ties and the work that he had been doing -- which, by the way, was not a secret.

It was very open and it is a very open fact that Paul Manafort for years worked for -- worked against the pro-western government in the Ukraine and was actually supporting the sort of Putin puppet in the Ukraine.

And so the questions, as I understand it, were about was there information anti his work and those relationships. Let's remember, he actually had to quit the campaign after the convention in 2016.

Because it's now under FBI investigation, and that is yet another investigation that the Trump world doesn't want to talk about. It's another investigation that is expanding. Clearly there was there "there."

CAMEROTA: Hold on a second.

FINNEY: This is publicly available information.

CAMEROTA: But are you saying if there's there "there," does that justify getting oppo research from a foreign country?

FINNEY: I think what we're saying is there's no evidence that that's what happened, right. I mean, even David just now from "Politico" was suggesting he couldn't say that that's what happened.

In your introduction you didn't say that's what happened here. She may have been freelancing and trying to see what kind of information she could get. That is not the same. She most certainly did not sit down with Chelsea Clinton and John Podesta and Robby Mook and say here is what I got.

Here is the other thing, guys, that I think is so important, let's not take the bait. What is important here, we are talking about what we now know was the intrusion of a foreign government into our election.

We know that in 39 states they tried to interact with our voter data. The state of Illinois says there were efforts to actually try to delete and change voter data. That is very serious.

We are talking about a hostile foreign government trying to impact the outcome of this election. They were very clear with Don Jr. about what their goals were, and he decided that that meeting was OK. This is total false equivalency here.

BERMAN: Look, as I've been saying, this is not apples to apples. It just didn't. These are two very different things that happened here. We've outlined what the differences are. We are trying to figure out the best we can the fact versus the spin here.

And one of the things that David Stern said, at a very high level, what it does seem that you might have is another government, in this case the Ukrainian government, that did have an interest in the outcome in the U.S. election, maybe providing documents when someone was asking for it. Do you deny that?

FINNEY: I don't know. I was not part of any conversation like that, nor was anyone at the DNC -- they've said there was no collusion with the Ukrainians. I can tell you on the part of the campaign there was no such thing that happened.

[06:45:03]Again, I think it's important to remember that a lot of the information that it seems like just from what I've read in reports that we're talking about, it's public information that Paul Manafort was doing this work in the Ukraine.

So I think, again, in his ties to the Russians, you know, that was an issue from the time he was part of the campaign. There were a lot of reporters working on that story as well.

I think in the "Politico" reporting they mentioned that there were a number of reporters actually in touch with the Ukrainian embassy to try to get information.

That's not the same thing as actually making it clear that you have a strategy that goes all the way to the top, like Vladimir Putin, who is former KGB who made it clear he wanted Donald Trump president and he did not want Hillary Clinton to be president.

BERMAN: All right, Karen Finney, great to have you with us this morning for perspective from the Clinton campaign itself. Appreciate it. What's the bottom line here when it comes to the Democratic National Committee and Ukraine? CNN political reporter, David Chalian, gives us his view next.



CAMEROTA: When asked about Trump ties to Russia, Trump officials continue to say what about Hillary and Ukraine. Is there something to that?

Let's get to the bottom line with CNN political director, David Chalian. David, I'm sure you were listening in. We just had the reporter for the "Politico" article, which was the genesis for this entire conversation about what this DNC consultant did with Ukraine in terms of opposition research.

You heard Karen Finney from the campaign say, basically nothing to see here. This is nothing like what we're talking about with Trump and Russia. What's your take on all this?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, we should stipulate that if, indeed, Ukraine was trying to meddle in the U.S. election and if, indeed, Democrats were somehow helping that happen, that would be a terrible thing, and we should be doing just like we've been saying about the Russia scenario.

Everything in our power as a country to prevent foreign meddling in our elections going forward. What is -- in that sense, it's a similar situation, of looking at a foreign country trying to have influence in our election perhaps.

But as you, guys, noted, it doesn't seem to be in the reporting from "Politico" or since, a top-down effort of Ukrainian government actually seeking that the way the U.S. intelligence agencies believe Vladimir Putin is. That's first of all.

But second of all, here is where the comparisons just start breaking down. This is, first of all, not a foreign adversary, so there's a difference between Ukraine and Russia, though no difference between foreign countries wanting to meddle in our election perhaps.

But there's a difference between playing ball with an adversary of the United States and not -- I think that is one difference. More importantly, you are talking about the upper echelons of the Trump campaign. Nobody closer to Donald Trump than Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. After months of saying that there were no contacts, learning in black and white in Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mail that there actually was contact in a meeting there.

So perhaps this would be a more comparable situation, guys, if in two months from now we find some John Podesta or Robby Mook e-mail that they sat down to receive information that the Ukrainian government sort of put together to try to inject into the campaign.

BERMAN: The other thing that's gone on here, David, is that Donald Trump Jr. at a minimum has misled now for more than a year in a broad sense in that they didn't disclose this meeting and in a very narrow sense, over the last month these stories about this specific meeting have changed very consistently.

They haven't been completely straight from the beginning here as to what went on, and that is something that is very unique to this situation with the meeting with the Russians.

CHALIAN: There is no doubt about it. To your point, John, we still don't have the full accounting now of what fully took place in that meeting, who attended that meeting. We are still awaiting more details.

The last version of events from Donald Trump Jr. are now far behind where the reporting and the facts are of this meeting are. I will also make one last point here, listening to this whole conversation and the reporting.

And I was thinking there seems to be some logical dissonance happening here because if the Trump line about the meeting with Don Jr. is anybody would have taken that meeting.

And this is just how opposition research is done in campaigns then I don't think that they should have any problem with what they're alleging is the case on the DNC side.

CAMEROTA: There's more dissonance, which is look how bad what Hillary Clinton did with the Ukraine. You want to investigate something, look at collusion. In other words, there are parallels, so how can they then say but what don junior did was nothing. Both those comparisons don't work cognitively.

CHALIAN: I don't see how you can hold both of these things to be true.

BERMAN: They're both contradictory. You can't say we didn't do it, but they did it too or you can't say what they did was horrible and we did it, too.

CAMEROTA: David, the evidence does show this woman, Alexandra Chalupa, did meet with Ukrainian officials and was directed by then the head of the Communications Department for the DNC, Luis Miranda, to do something on their behalf. He did want her to approach the president of Ukraine to ask if he would be willing to take a question about Paul Manafort, in other words, get it out there in the ether, the Paul Manafort ties.

So there is some collusion. The DNC was working with her, and they wanted to carry a message or get a request to the Ukrainian embassy, so there is a direct link.

[06:55:06]CHALIAN: There is no doubt, you are right. If we are to believe Chalupa at her word, and this was indicated in Dan Merica's reporting, that the DNC was interested in finding a question to get asked.

But I don't know that is entirely comparable to the information coming in to Trump Tower to help Donald Trump's campaign, but you are right, there is a connection between this woman's work at the DNC and her connections at the Ukrainian embassy.

What is unclear is whether or not that really had any election impact whatsoever. We don't know that, quite frankly, on the Russian side as well.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much for sifting through it all with us and for the reporting on this. Obviously we'll continue to follow all of these threads. David Chalian, thank you.

The White House is trying to turn the tide this week as President Trump's approval rating reaches a historic low. We'll tell you about the strategy the White House is hoping will change all that.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Approaching six months in office, the president has the worst job approval rating since modern polling began.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president was not aware of the meeting and did not attend the meeting.