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New Poll Shows President Trump's Approval Ratings Remain Low; The Effect of Donald Trump Jr. Russian Meeting on the Policy Agenda. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired July 17, 2017 - 08:00   ET


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: -- poll numbers continue to be in the tank, apparently due to the Russia investigation as well as the stalled agenda on Capitol Hill.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations, Mr. President.

JOHNS: After nearly six months in office, President Donald Trump now facing the lowest approval rating in recent history. Just 36 percent approve of the president's performance in a news ABC News/"Washington Post" poll, a six percent drop since the 100-day mark in April. The president attempting to spin these results, claiming that almost 40 percent is not bad, and asserting that the poll was inaccurate during the election. The poll also showing that 63 percent of Americans think that the meeting between Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer to get dirt on Hillary Clinton was inappropriate.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Most people would have taken that meeting. It's called opposition research.

JOHNS: The president once again focusing on his former rival in a Sunday morning tweet while defending his son amid the latest revelations that at least eight people attended a meeting including a Russian-American lobbyist who serve in the Soviet military. This despite Trump Jr.'s insistence that all the details about the meeting been disclosed.

DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: I don't think as anything else, we've scoured it thoroughly just to be sure.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: He first said no, the meeting happened, and then he said the meeting was about adoptions, and then he admitted the meeting was about getting information on Hillary Clinton, and then he wasn't forthcoming about who was in the meeting. So we can't accept anything Don Jr. says.

JOHNS: One of the president's personal lawyers also coming to Trump Jr.'s defense during a PR blitz on the Sunday show.

JAY SEKULOW, AMERICAN CENTER FOR LAW AND JUSTICE: Donald Trump Jr. himself said things should have been done differently. Having said that, again, none of that is violation of the law. That's more process.

JOHNS: While raising a problem defense of the meeting.

SEKULOW: If this was nefarious, why did the Secret Service allow these people in?

JOHNS: The Secret Service pushing back, noting in a statement Donald Trump Jr. was not a protectee of the USSS in June, 2016, thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at the time.


JOHNS: And the president's signature plan, his big idea, if you will, the repeal and replace of Obamacare also delayed on Capitol Hill, in part due to a health scare involving a key senator, Senator John McCain, now recovering from surgery. Another delay with the CBO score, which is essentially the estimate of the cost of the plan on Capitol Hill. That, too, is being delayed as well. Back to you.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Joe, thanks so much for all of that.

Let's bring in our political panel to discuss. We have CNN Political analyst Alex Burns and David Drucker and Congressional reporter for "The Washington Post" Karoun Demirjian. OK, I think it's interesting to look at a little historical context when you look at these approval numbers to see how President Trump lines up. The two closest comparisons we can find, Alex, are Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton. So at six months in, right here you can see that it was 58 percent disapprove of President Trump, 43 percent approved at that point of Gerald Ford, 51 percent, interestingly, of Bill Clinton, six months in. But President Trump's 36 percent approval is the lowest in 70 years. Your thoughts?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST. He is by far the weakest new president we've had certainly in my lifetime. The fact that Gerald Ford is the most recent really available comparison is pretty striking since Ford never won election as president but was really kind of an accidental president with no national political base in the same way you would expect.

I think some people look at these numbers and I think people who are sympathetic to the president look at these numbers and say he doesn't have to run for reelection for several more years. But the reality is, Alisyn, these numbers affect him right now when he's trying to sell these difficult agenda items on Capitol Hill, when he's trying to persuade members on Congress to take a tough vote with me because I'm your president, this doesn't make him look like a strong salesman.

CAMEROTA: But obviously these numbers are still much higher for Republicans. The Republican Party and Republican voters still strongly support him.

BURNS: Sure. But it's not just Republicans who are going to be voting in House races and Senate races.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: He is having problems with some of those swing districts, unless you think that the 'Washington Post"/ABC poll is an outlyer here, I think we have a brand new poll out this morning which shows the president's approval rating at 40 percent, 56 percent disapprove. It's just not good, David Drucker. He's got serious polling issues. And you could say Republicans are sticking with him but there are a lot of people in this country who are not Republicans, you can see where he's being hurt as well when you ask people about the meeting that Don Jr. had with this variety of Russians at Trump Tower more than a year ago, 63 percent call that meeting inappropriate. So you can see the things that are dragging down his approval.

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So you can look at this, John, in a couple of ways. One interesting way to look at it, and Alex touched on this, is that imagine the president at near 50 percent with an agenda that actually has a lot of potential for bipartisan support in the country.

[08:05:05] So imagine a Donald Trump that is not quite as polarizing. He's got an economic agenda that involves tax reform and approaching trade different and domestic manufacturing differently. Whatever the merits of those arguments are, a lot of Americans across the political spectrum find appealing. But when you have a president that is this polarizing with his approval so low among Democrats and problematic among independents in some battlegrounds --

BERMAN: He's under water.

DRUCKER: It makes it harder for him to get a lot of the things done that he believes in because it is such a toxic environment for Democrats to even talk about working with him. And politics aside, whether you think Democrats should put that aside, the reality of politics is they're going to go where their voters are, too, just like Republicans. We talk often about Republicans aren't flipping on Trump yet because their voters don't want them to. Democratic voters don't want Democrats in Congress to give Trump an inch. And so if you care about the president's agenda, it would actually be a much better thing for that and for him if he wasn't quite as polarizing.

CAMEROTA: Karoun, one thing that helps us read the tea leaves are President Trump's tweets, the tweet leaves as I like to call them. Yesterday he sent out a flurry of them about -- it seemed to express consternation in the ongoing Russia investigation. Interestingly, he wasn't singling out CNN as he often does. And that's because FOX was also covering the Russia developments and the Russia investigation. So he was angry at the media as a whole because all the Sunday shows were doing that. So today they're trying to flip the switch, obviously, and move on to made in America week. It's hard to know how these efforts will go.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, the Trump effort to focus on made in America week is certainly -- they have planned events, they have things that they will be doing. So that will go forward.

But the question is how much of it will be interspersed by the president's constant commentary on Twitter about how he's feeling about the Russia investigation. And certainly I'm sure it rattles him. It's FOX News also taking a stern look at this in ways that's been more sympathetic to the president than other networks, let's just say.

The president does consistently try to say there's nothing here, there's nothing here, and divert attention away from the Russia probes and the inquiries that are going on. But he also draws attention to it every single time he tweets about it, and he doesn't seem to be able to let that go. He's not very good at compartmentalizing and putting it off to one side and ignoring it, which might actually help him make it to go away because sometimes when there are no developments, there has been many developments over the Russia story in the last week. I should say this has been one of the most critical pieces of this investigation. But sometimes even at times when there are no developments he will harp on this Russia probe idea and bring it back up into the center of the conversation. And that never seems to go quite well for him.

BERMAN: I keep looking down at my computer screen just to make making sure I'm not imagining things. But as of 8:08 this morning east coast time the president of the United States has not made an official statement on social media about anything so far today.

BURNS: Jinx.

BERMAN: Maybe he wants to focus on made in America week, or maybe he doesn't want to dig a hole that's any deeper about this investigation. His lawyer may have had the shovel out yesterday, digging that hole, Alex Burns, when he made a statement about the Secret Service I want you to take a listen to.


SEKULOW: I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why did the Secret Service allow these people in? The president had Secret Service protection at that point. That raised the question with me.


BERMAN: So Jay Sekulow right there, the president's attorney, saying Don Jr., why would the Secret Service have let these Russians in if there was any threat, if there was any information they had from the Russian government? They surely would have stopped it. And the Secret Service said, don't call me Shirley, essentially, here.


BERMAN: They said this is ridiculous. We can put that statement up right now from the Secret Service. "Donald Trump Jr. was not a protectee of the U.S. Secret Service in June of 2016, thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at the time." It's pretty remarkable that the Secret Service, which would rather stay apolitical, felt the need to say don't put this on us, guy.

BURNS: That's a really dramatic and unusual gesture for the Secret Service to have to take. It's not the first time you've seen the president's lawyer go on TV and say things that actually make matters worse for the president rather than better. And it's certainly not the first time you've seen folks around the president who are tasked with responding to this investigation essentially just try to pass the buck somewhere else or redirect the conversation to, what about this thing that Hillary Clinton did, what about this thing President Obama did? When the reality of the matter is, if you can't just give a definitive answer that gets President Trump off the hook and changes the subject back to something that might actually help his White House enact its agenda and improve those poll numbers, you are simply not getting the job done.

[08:10:02] And folks around Trump know this. They just think there's not necessarily an answer that does get that job done right now.

CAMEROTA: So one of the agenda items that might change the poll numbers is health care. That has been stalled because Senator John McCain recovers from surgery. What's the thinking on whether or not the new incarnation from the Senate is going to fly?

DRUCKER: Look, it's very touch and go. The fact that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, had to put off the vote, had to defer the vote, as he said in a statement, he wasn't doing John McCain a favor. This isn't a courtesy. He doesn't have the vote to replace. If it passed 50-49, they wouldn't need vice President Mike Pence's tie breaking vote. They don't have another vote there to give. And so this is how narrow it is.

And when you think about the fact that the health care system does have problems, when you think about the fact that Republicans have been promising to repeal Obamacare for seven years, how uniting of a topic it was, every Republican could agree on this. The fact that Republicans are holding out, one in particular, Susan Collins, never voted for Obamacare in any way, shape or form, not in committee, not on the floor, nothing. AND now Republicans are struggling to partially repeal Obamacare by keeping a lot of the Medicaid expansion that's in there but not enough for Collins and maybe Senator Dean Heller.

And this just shows you how difficult this has become. One thing in that "Washington Post" poll -- I think it was "The Post" poll, it now shows that Obamacare is a lot more popular than it's ever been. So think of what Republicans have squandered in six months, a health care system that was broadly unpopular, a sort of mandate, if you will, at least to fix it, to do something new. And now the public thinks their plan is nothing. They prefer Obamacare even though they don't like it, and they've squandered one of the biggest advantages in politics that I've ever seen.

BERMAN: It is remarkable to see. All right, guys, was the meeting between the president's son and his top advisers with a Russian attorney a Russian intelligence operation? We're going to speak to somebody who has got an opinion on this, the former head of the CIA, next.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We are learning new details about that meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and associates of the Trump campaign and with a Russian lawyer, among others.

CNN has confirmed that at least eight people were present for that June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, including a lobbyist with possible ties to Russian intelligence.

Joining us now with his take is General Michael Hayden, CNN national security analyst and the former director of the CIA and NSA. General, great to see you this morning.


CAMEROTA: Our understanding of this meeting keeps morphing. It was not, obviously, pitched as something about adoption. That was the first story and it wasn't just with a Russian attorney. It turns out there were also some other people in this meeting.

Let's talk about it. Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist, born in the Soviet Union, served as a Soviet military officer, was also there, as well as a translator, as well as this associate of this pop star, family representative. What do you make of what was happening in this meeting?

HAYDEN: Well, Alisyn, understanding deepens, not just morphs, but deepens about the meeting. You know, over the last 96 hours, I've been quite impressed with a quite few former CIA case officers, all of them with Russian experience commenting on this is just how the Russians would do it.

Were this a meeting that the Russians wanted to use to establish this kind of influence campaign? It's almost classic and that's been confirmed to me in private conversations with other Russia-experienced case officers.

Number one, it's the soft approach to begin with, indirect. Two individuals you mentioned, Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin, connected to the Russian state, connected to influential Russians, but not quite on the business card.

It's non-threatening gives them plausible deniability. They are the perfect choice for the first meeting and so it begins to play out and at least from the Russian side, this was a purposeful event.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You know, one of these intelligence operatives you're referring to is a man named (inaudible) Larson, who is an operative for decades, you know, inside the CIA and then the Department of Energy.

Let me just tell you what he wrote because everything we know about Don Jr.'s meeting from whom it involved to how it was setup to how it unfolded is in line with what Russian intelligence analysts would expect an overture and a Russian-influence operation to look like. It bears all the hallmarks, professionally planned, carefully orchestrated intelligence, soft pitch design to get receptivity while leaving room for plausible deniability in case the approach is rejected. So what do you think if, this is correct, that the Russians would have learned from this meeting?

HAYDEN: It was a very successful meeting from the Russian point of view, John. By the way, I talked to other case officers, what do you think about the meeting? Their response was what Rolf said. There's consensus around what Rolf put in that article.

Several things the Russians got out of the meeting. Number one, they learned that the Trump team would accept it. That's really important. Number two, they learned that the Trump team would not report it.

Because as Rolf points out in this article, they would be watching for increased counterintelligence activity after the meeting. If the Trump team reported it to the FBI, there wasn't because they didn't.

And then finally, they established that there will be linkage. That at least implicitly the Trump campaign accepted the linkage between sanctions relief because that's what those two individuals have been all about for months if not years between sanctions relief, and cooperation with the Russians or at least accepting the information that the Russians then offered.

And then one more thing, this would have been the first downpayment on (inaudible) on the Trump campaign for having accepted such a meeting and again except for the Russian interpretation of the meeting should they had turned to that.

CAMEROTA: General, this is extraordinary. I mean, having you spell it out in such a way and the way that Rolf did, it's extraordinary to think about that we might have a window into how the Russians work if this is in fact what it appears to be to CIA operatives.

[08:20:05]That we are seeing a classic case of how they maneuver and infiltrate. So let's move to the Trump side. Was saying yes to this meeting simply naivety and not knowing that they were being played? Is that the generous way of look at this?