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THE SITUATION ROOM
Trump Defends Son's Russia Meeting: 'That's Politics'; Growing Concerns Over Kushner's Security Clearance; Interview with Sen. Chris Murphy; Trump Defends Son's Russia Meeting: 'That's Politics'; Growing Concerns Over Kushner's Security Clearance; Graham: McCain Needed Surgery, Was 'Getting Forgetful'. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired July 17, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN: That is it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He's in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.
[17:00:11] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, not in the clear. New questions tonight about presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner's security clearance. Democrats want it revoked. There are some Republicans getting tired of defending him.
"Made in America." The White House tries to change the subject with a week devoted to boosting American products. But as the president climbs into a "Made in America" fire truck and promotes U.S. manufacturers, he ignores the fact that many of the products bearing the Trump name are made abroad.
Sick leave. Senate Republicans delay a vote on their health carebill until colleague John McCain recovers from surgery. The bill can't move without him, and even with his vote, there may not be enough Republican support to pass it.
And what Putin wants. The Kremlin vows to retaliate for seizure of property in the United States, an Obama administration punishment for meddling in the U.S. election. But there's another American punishment which Putin wants to roll back. What's he doing about it?
I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: As President Trump defends his son's meeting with a Russian lawyer, there are new questions tonight about his son-in-law's security clearance. Both Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner attended that meeting, which the president dismisses, saying that's politics. But lawmakers want to hear from both men, and some Democrats want to revoke Kushner's clearance, saying he must be held accountable for omissions on his national security questionnaire.
The president today kicked off "Made in America Week," touting American products but making no mention of the fact that many of the products sold or used by the Trump family businesses are manufactured abroad, including clothing marketed under the Donald Trump and Ivanka Trump names.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, they will put off a vote on their health care bill until Senator John McCain is well enough to return to Washington after surgery for a blood clot. The bill can't advance without him, and even with McCain's vote, there may not necessarily be enough Republican supporters to push it through. Democrats are demanding that the GOP leadership use the delay to hold hearings on the bill, which was crafted in secret.
And the latest polling shows that only 36 percent of Americans approve of President Trump's performance. The president calls that not bad, but it is the lowest approval rating at the six-month mark of any American president in 70 years.
I'll talk with Senator Chris Murphy of the Foreign Relations Committee. And our correspondent, specialists and guests, they're standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.
A beleaguered White House came up with a badly-needed diversion today, promoting "Made in America Week," but even that's raising questions, because the Trump family brands are generally not made in America.
Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, the president already very busy defending family members.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.
The president is defending his daughter, Ivanka Trump, for some of her line of products and clothing that is not made in the USA. A bit of an awkward distraction for this "Made in America" week.
But most of Donald Trump's time is being spent defending Donald Trump Jr., of course, over that Russian meeting from June of 2016. That's why the White House is trying to change the subject to talk about anything but that.
ZELENY (voice-over): There was no fire at the White House today, but this fire truck is one way President Trump and his aides are urgently trying to change the subject from the Russian investigation overshadowing their agenda.
The president kicking off what the administration is calling "Made in America Week," showcasing products from every state in the country, from the South Lawn of the White House to the state dining room inside.
The salesman in chief spent the afternoon promoting American products instead of using his bully pulpit on the Republican health care bill floundering in the Senate, where a vote was delayed once again this week.
The president also made clear it's Russia that's at the top of his mind, tweeting earlier today, "Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don Jr. attended in order to get info on an opponent. That's politics." But that's not what Christopher Wray, the president's nominee to lead
the FBI, said last week at his confirmation hearing when he told senators the meeting with Russians should have raised alarm.
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR NOMINEE: Any threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation state or any non-state actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know.
ZELENY: The president insisting there was nothing wrong with the Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016, when his oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer, after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
The latest "Washington Post"/ABC News poll shows that 36 percent approve of Mr. Trump, while 58 percent do not. It's the lowest rating for a president at this point in polls going back 70 years.
[17:05:10] At the same point of their presidencies, Barack Obama and George W. Bush each had a 59 percent approval rating. Bill Clinton's, 45 percent.
Another warning sign on the horizon: Trump detractors feel more passionate about their views than his supporters: 48 percent strongly disapprove of his performance, while only 25 percent strongly approve. This is a level of disdain never reached by Clinton or Obama and only in the second term of Bush's presidency, according to the "Washington Post"/ABC News poll.
His low approval rating is one of the factors complicating the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. Again this week, the Senate is delaying a vote on health care. Senator John McCain recovering from a surgery for a blood clot at home in Arizona.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES: We hope John McCain gets better very soon, because we miss him. He's a crusty voice in Washington, plus we need his vote.
ZELENY: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell postponed action until McCain's return, needing every Republican vote he can get.
Back at the White House, the "Made in America" theme shining new light on how much of the Trump brand is made outside the USA. White House press secretary Sean Spicer brushing aside questions of whether the president and his daughter should stop making their products overseas.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In some circumstances, there are certain supply chains or scalability that may not be available in this country. I'm not going to comment on specific products.
ZELENY: So, Wolf, this very unusual display here at the White House had more of the trappings of a county fair, if you will, with that fire truck and other pieces of equipment on the South Lawn here at the White House, but it shows you the lengths to which the White House is going to try and turn the page from that Russia investigation.
Now, that continues this evening here at the White House. We are told the president is going to meet with some Republican senators over dinner to talk about health care, something he's not talked about in public all that much. He'll have at least three of those Republican senators here this evening -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jeff. Thank you. Jeff Zeleny reporting.
As new questions arise about the Trump team's meeting with a Russian lawyer and other individuals, and lawmakers demand to hear from those directly involved, the president is dismissing the meeting.
Let's go to our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider. Jessica, what's the latest on the meeting and the reaction to it?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, congressional leaders on the Intelligence and Senate Judiciary Committees say they are eager to hear more from Don Jr. about that 2016 meeting. They've already requested documents from him, and they're waiting to schedule his testimony.
But the president is insisting in his pushback that this meeting was all much ado about nothing.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): President Trump defended his son's June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer that promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton, calling it something normal in the world of politics. The president tweeting: "Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Donald Jr. attended in order to get info on an opponent. That's politics."
The president's FBI director nominee, Christopher Wray, told Congress last week the proper thing to do would have been to call the FBI.
The president's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, tried to shift the focus to the Secret Service.
SEKULOW: I've wondered why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why did the Secret Service allow these people in? The president has Secret Service protection at that point. That raised the question with me.
SCHNEIDER: But the Secret Service pushed back, saying, "Donald Trump Jr. was not a protectee of the U.S. Secret Service in June 2016. Thus, we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time."
Donald and Melania Trump did have Secret Service protection at the time, and anyone entering Trump Tower would have likely gone through s Secret Service magnetometer to check for weapons.
CNN has confirmed that at least eight people were inside the room on June 9, 2016. Donald Jr., Jared Kushner and campaign chair Paul Manafort represented the campaign. Music publicist Rob Goldstone arranged the meeting; and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, a translator and an unnamed representative from the Agalarov family were present. The Agalarovs are prominent father and son real-estate developers in Russia. Emin Agalarov is a Russian pop star who has mingled with Donald Trump in Las Vegas and featured the future president in his music video.
TRUMP: You're fired.
SCHNEIDER: The president says he only became aware of the June 2016 meeting recently.
SEKULOW: The president, and this has been unconverted, was not aware of the meeting and did not attend the meeting. So I want to be clear on that.
SCHNEIDER: But it turns out the Trump campaign paid $50,000 to the law firm now representing Donald Trump Jr. just days before Jared Kushner amended his security clearance form to include that meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, and one day after CNN asked about it. The meeting didn't become public knowledge for nearly two weeks, but the legal payment raises questions about whether maybe Trump's campaign team may have known the disclosure would cause problems.
SEKULOW: This is not an unusual situation where the individual that's being questioned or subject to questioning, Donald Trump Jr., retains counsel. It involved an incident that involved an e-mail campaign and a meeting when he was working, doing work for the campaign, so that to me is not an unusual scenario or unusual setup at all.
[17:10:18] SCHNEIDER: And we have just learned that the House Intelligence Committee will delay the classified testimony of Obama national security advisor Susan Rice. That was originally scheduled for tomorrow.
The committee is also working to bring former U.N. ambassador Samantha Power before the panel. Republicans, of course, making a big push to bring in both Rice and Power, to get them under oath about whether they improperly unmasked the identities of Trump associates in intelligence reports -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jessica. Thanks very much. Jessica Schneider reporting.
Let's bring in our CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd. He's a former CIA and FBI official.
Very quickly on the unmasking, why they want to talk to president Obama's national security adviser and President Obama's U.N. ambassador, unmasking, remind our viewers what that's all about.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: A simple process. You get, for example, the intercept of a Russian ambassador who's speaking to a U.S. official. That U.S. official is an American citizen. That is going to be what we call masked in the document.
In other words, it says the Russian ambassador is talking to U.S. person No. 1 without naming that person.
Someone like Susan Rice is going to look at this and say, "I want to know who the Russian ambassador is talking about regarding, for example, American sanctions against Russia. So I'm going to request that that name be unmasked," in other words, that I be given the identity of that person in that intelligence document."
BLITZER: And so that's what they want to find out, if anything improper was -- was released. But they're delaying that for now.
Let's get to Jared Kushner, the president's son in law and his security clearance. Right now, we're told he has temporary security clearances. What does that mean?
MUDD: What it means is you go through a process, in this case probably conducted by the FBI, to determine whether you should see the most sensitive information of the U.S. government. That's what we call "TSC," top-secret code word. Intercepts of foreign ambassadors, for example.
If he's got a temporary, that means they haven't made the final decision to determine whether she -- he should be on -- for me it would be a five-year renewable when I was back in the CIA. Whether he should have a permanent clearance that gives him access to the most sensitive information the U.S. government has.
BLITZER: He's being investigated as part of this Russia probe. Should he have any security clearances right now? Because Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, thinks those security clearances should be revoked -- not just suspended, revoked -- because he wasn't completely forthcoming in disclosing all of those meetings he had with foreigners in a security clearance questionnaire.
MUDD: Remember, Wolf, this is not about a court of law. This is about determining whether someone is truthful and trustworthy. My friends and I, when we talk about this, look at this. It looks political when you look at Washington. The question is, if we had gone when I had joined the agency and my friends, if we had gone through the process for a clearance and this were disclosed later, would we have been given a clearance? The answer is no.
BLITZER: If you had not immediately disclosed all your meetings with foreigners?
MUDD: Not just that, you're talking about someone who's getting a clearance who's multiple times -- in this case, three times -- not only did not disclose; you're talking about disclosing meetings with a hostile foreign power. You're not talking about going to London and having tea with somebody from the British security service. I think you're going to overlook that one. In this case, I think taking this out of politics, you'd look at this
and say 0 for 3 on disclosing meetings on people who represented themselves as coming here from the Russian government? You've got to be kidding me. I don't know how he still has a clearance.
BLITZER: But he is the president's son-in-law.
MUDD: I guess so.
BLITZER: He's a senior advisor. The president can make a decision if -- whether or not he gets security clearance. He's on his own, right?
MUDD: He can, but if this is a level playing field, people in my old position would have been bounced. This is not even close to the mark. You would have been bounced for this.
BLITZER: All right, Phil. Stand by. We have a lot more to report. We're standing by, also, to speak with a top Democratic senator. Much more right after this.
[17:18:14] BLITZER: As President Trump defends his son's meeting with a Russian lawyer, there are now new concerns about his son-in-law's security clearance.
Joining us now, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Yes, thanks for having me.
BLITZER: So the House minority leader, the Democratic leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi is calling for Jared Kushner's security clearance to be revoked immediately. Her words, "revoked immediately." Do you agree?
MURPHY: I do agree. It seems as if there is a tremendous double standard here. I mean, there's really only two options. Either Jared Kushner was withholding information from his father, from the father- in-law, from the vice president, from every spokesman in the White House, about being present in that meeting. Or they knew about it, and they were all lying.
Michael Flynn got fired, because he had withheld information about meeting with the Russians that put him in a position to potentially be compromised by the Russians or other foreign agencies who knew about that meeting; and he was summarily dismissed.
So if the Flynn standard still holds, then frankly, I think there's a question as to why Jared Kushner is still in the White House, but there certainly is a more immediate question about whether it's appropriate for him to have security clearance, if he had been lying to his superiors in a routine and regular way. BLITZER: President Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow argues that no laws
were broken in that meeting. If that's the case, would that mitigate your concerns over that meeting with that Russian lawyer?
MURPHY: Well, we have a higher standard than the breaking of laws when it comes to people who are holding the public trust inside the White House.
If Jared Kushner was lying consistently to those that he works with in the White House and allowing for the White House to lie to the American public repeatedly about the nature of the Trump campaign's contacts with the Russian government, then that is a problem, in and of itself.
[17:20:08] I mean, the bar has been set so low; and the White House now says that, you know, if people weren't committing criminal acts, then they should be allowed to stay inside the White House. Well, there's still a question as to whether there were criminal acts that were committed. But there was a massive lie that the White House made and repeated over and over and over again that we now know to be a lie. That, in and of itself, is a big problem.
BLITZER: Was it appropriate for the president's lawyer to blame the Secret Service for not vetting those people who went to that meeting?
MURPHY: Well, listen. This is an act of desperation. The fact of the matter is the Secret Service is not in charge of making sure a campaign exercise is good political policy judgment. The Secret Service is in charge of protecting the physical safety of the people under their charge.
Now, there's reports that they may not have even been in charge or having oversight over Donald Trump Jr. at this point, but even if they did, it's irrelevant.
This is an administration that is grasping for explanations for why this meeting happened. Instead, they need to start helping investigators get to the bottom of the potential collaboration between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
BLITZER: We reported there were at least eight people in that meeting, maybe more. Who knows? But would you like to see the log, if there was a Secret Service log, for example, of that meeting?
MURPHY: I think you have to assume that we are still being fed lies about the nature of this meeting.
If this meeting was so important, so potentially politically explosive that Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner lied about it so consistently for such a long period of time, then it stands to reason that they still aren't telling us the whole truth.
Maybe they did get important information in that meeting. Maybe it was the beginning of a very long period of coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. I think you have to assume, given the number of lies that have been
told about this meeting so far, that we probably haven't gotten the whole truth yet, which is one of the reasons that Donald Trump Jr. and many others that were in that meeting have to come before Congress and explain themselves.
BLITZER: Well, would you like to -- would you seek the logs, for example, of the Secret Service of all the meetings that occurred during the campaign at Trump Tower in New York City?
MURPHY: Well, I would assume that the FBI, that Robert Mueller, is going to get his hands on everything available to him, and I would certainly support the Senate Intelligence Committee's effort to get all of the evidence that is available as to who were in those meetings.
BLITZER: In that first e-mail that all of us read now multiple times, a man by the name of Rob Goldstone, who is a publicist for one of Donald Trump's associates in Russia, a pop star, if you will, wrote this, and I'll put it on the screen.
"I can also send this info to your father via Rhona" -- Rhona, the president's long-time assistant -- "but it is ultra-sensitive so wanted to send to you first."
Do you believe there are additional e-mails that would shed light on what President Trump personally knew about all this?
MURPHY: As I've said, Wolf, I'm assuming that we have not heard the whole story. What you have seen consistently for the last six months is a pattern of lying from this White House, a pattern of using every tool available to them to try to obfuscate the truth. Right?
They have told half-truths about who met with the Russians. At first, they said no one met with the Russians. Now we know that Flynn met with the Russians; Kushner met with the Russians; Sessions met with the Russians; Donald Jr. met with the Russians. They have fired the FBI director as a means of trying to stop him from getting to the truth.
I think that we still know just a small percentage of the full story, and it ultimately is going to take the good work by you and other journalists and investigators to get to it. It's not going to be the Trump White House that is going to, all of a sudden, cop to the full story.
BLITZER: Let me get your quick reaction on the health care legislation stalled in the U.S. Senate right now. The vice president, Mike Pence, spoke at the National Governors' Association Friday night. I want you to listen to how he defended the bill's -- the Republican bill's -- changes to Medicaid.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: When it comes to Medicaid, not only does the Senate's health care bill expand state flexibility, it ensures that every state in America has the resources you need to take care of your most vulnerable.
President Trump and I believe the Senate health care bill strengthens and secures Medicaid for the neediest in our society. And this bill puts this vital American program on a path to long-term sustainability.
Under the Senate health care bill, federal Medicaid spending will be 300 to $500 billion higher over the next decade relative to current amounts, ensuring that our states have the ability to provide for the most vulnerable and give them the care that they're counting on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[17:25:03] BLITZER: All right, senator, what's your response to what we just heard?
MURPHY: I mean, the vice president might as well have given a speech about how the moon was made of green cheese. That is a fabrication from beginning to end. There is not a single independent source that will back up what the vice president said in that speech.
The Congressional Budget Office, which his friends in the Congress, including Paul Ryan, refer to as the neutral referee of legislation, confirms that 15 million people, the most vulnerable amongst us, will be kicked off of Medicaid; and states will get billions dollars less than they were scheduled to get. It is just not true what he said.
And the willingness to just create this alternative narrative by this administration about the health care bill is really troubling. And it's not just about trying to pull one over on the American people, it's also about the example it sets for the world. I mean, folks just don't believe this administration, not just because of the trouble they're having with our allies, but because they watch these utter fabrications be represented to the American people from the higher levels of government.
This is a big issue for the credibility of this administration and the credibility of this country, not just inside the health care debate but more globally, as well.
BLITZER: Yes, the Congressional Budget Office does estimate that federal spending on Medicaid, what was supposed to go up would be reduced by about $772 billion by 2026.
Let me put up on the screen your response, what you tweeted. "This I'm going to say it. There is a real -- there is real evil in the epidemic rate of lying that is going on right now that this is not normal."
So I take it what you're referring to, you're saying that the vice president of the United States is lying?
MURPHY: So he knows what he said isn't true. He knows that this bill doesn't expand and protect Medicaid, and he has no source to draw on.
And so that's why this is so frightening to us. Defend what you're doing. If you think that it's important to kick 15 million people off of Medicaid, if you think it's important to cut the allocation to the state of Connecticut by $3 billion over 10 years, then explain to us why you're doing that, but don't think that we are fools. Don't think that you can go out and say that you are strengthening and supporting Medicaid when every independent analysis of what you're doing says the opposite. One of the reasons why this bill has such an abysmal approval rating is because people know what it does and it doesn't do what the vice president said.
BLITZER: We would like the vice president to come here to THE SITUATION ROOM and defend this. He has an open invitation and has had for quite a while. Thanks for being with us.
MURPHY: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Top members of the Trump campaign team, Democrats want Jared Kushner's security clearance revoke td because he didn't report sitting in on that meeting until recently.
BLITZER: Tonight questions are swirling around President Trump's son- in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner. Congressional Democrats are demanding his security clearance be revoked because of the latest revelations about Russia interactions with the Trump team during the presidential campaign.
[18:32:41] Let's get some insight from our specialist, Chris Cillizza.
Is that at all realistic that he could lose his security clearances, Jared Kushner? get his clearance revoked? He's a senior adviser to the president and the president's son-in-law. I don't know of anyone who's closer to the president than he is.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: I defer to Phil Mudd on all things CIA/FBI/security clearance related. But I will tell you that Democrats calling on Jared Kushner to lose his security clearance is not going to worry Donald Trump all that much.
This is the inner sanctum of the inner sanctum when you're talking about Jared Kushner. He is literally family.
What we do know about Donald Trump, however, is that he does not like it when the people around him get negative press for him. He didn't like it when Steve Bannon did it. He didn't like it when Reince Priebus did it. He's defended Donald Trump Jr. He's defended Jared Kushner. So I'm not really sure.
This is something that will absolutely resonate with the Democratic base. They will be able to raise money off this sort of thing. Their base will be activated, because the Democratic base believes very deeply -- polling came out from Monmouth University today that had 70 percent of Democrats saying Donald Trump should be impeached.
So there's a no-lose situation there if you're a Democratic leader like Nancy Pelosi. I think it's very unlikely this moves Donald Trump's hand in any meaningful way.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And apparently, he only has interim security clearance now. He hasn't gotten his full security clearance for, I think, many reasons, most of which is that he didn't properly fill out his -- his form, which was left blank on questions of -- initially about questions about which foreign officials he had met with, which sort of led to the snowball of where we are now, the delay in saying that he had this meeting and so forth. So there's that.
But the other thing to keep in mind -- and correct me if I'm wrong here on this, Phil -- for somebody like Jared Kushner, who's a senior adviser to the president of the United States, to have no security clearance effectively means he's bye-bye. I mean, he's not going to have -- be able to have the job he has now.
So when Democrats are saying his security clearance should be revoked, that is a way for them to say he should get kicked out of the White House and not be able to do the job that he's doing now, because he can't without even minimal security clearance.
BLITZER: He's got many portfolios, including peace in the Middle East.
BLITZER: There's no way he can negotiate peace in the Middle East without security clearance.
[17:35:03] PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, heck, we have the White House, the president, saying Jim Comey's memos on his conversations with the president are classified. I don't buy that.
But if you take a step further, every time you have a conversation in that Oval Office, think of those conversations. Commitment to NATO; questions about the Arab-Israeli peace process; North Korea; Iran's commitment to the nuclear deal we have. Every single one of those conversations is classified.
And furthermore, every time you're in the room and one of those conversations come up, someone has got to look around and say, "Jared, you've got to leave the room." That's not tenable. That can't happen.
BLITZER: But the president can override all of this. He's the commander in chief. He has the authority -- correct me if I'm wrong -- despite what the FBI or CIA or any other agency might say, if he wants his son-in-law to have security clearances, he gets security clearances.
MUDD: I suppose so. I can't imagine this political environment that happening. Let me take the name out of it. Level playing field. In my world, you've got two choices, two decisions here.
No. 1, does somebody get a clearance? When I was at the agency, if this came up on your security clearance process, no way you're going to get within 100 yards of a clearance.
No. 2, the issue is whether someone can maintain a clearance once they have it. I think somebody would be revoked.
BASH: You said level playing field. It's not a level playing field, which is why the president was advised by more than one person who, my understanding, going in, there's a reason why nepotism laws and rules and protocols exist, for this reason.
MUDD: With one quick comment, and that's a political comment. If you hold a clearance and you go to the White House and say, "We recommend revoking it," then the political question is whether the president says, "I'm going to overturn that." I'd like to see that.
CILLIZZA: By the way, could he do it? Sure. It would be a -- I mean, this is the whole could he fire Bob Mueller? I mean, yes, but politically speaking, I mean, that would have very long-lasting and almost certainly negative consequences for Donald Trump. If the FBI recommends that Jared Kushner -- way far down the road, but if the FBI would recommend that Jared Kushner should lose his security clearance or be stripped of it, the president overturning it would be the sort of thing that would cost Republicans a lot of political power in Congress.
CILLIZZA: I mean, that would be a huge deal that -- well, I was going to say that he wouldn't do, but I don't make -- you know, I've stopped making those full claims now, but it's something that would be very, very politically bad.
BLITZER: Yes, I suspect -- I don't know this to be a fact, but we'll maybe do some checking. There's never been a case where the FBI and the CIA and other agencies have revoked someone's security clearances and the president decides to supersede that. Have you ever heard of that?
MUDD: I can't imagine -- I can imagine somebody coming and saying, "Hey, there're some questions. This person smoked marijuana three years ago. In my world you'd say, "OK, that's a waiver."
This, undeclared conversations not only with Russian officials but Russian officials offering this kind of information? Boy, that's...
CILLIZZA: And I mean, it's like the president's son-in-law, too. This isn't like some guy at mid-level.
BLITZER: Let me read -- 10:07 a.m., the president tweeted this this morning: "Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don Jr. attended in order to get info on an opponent. That's politics."
BASH: It's not politics. I mean, it's unfortunate that we have to keep saying this, but we do, because unless the record is corrected to be what is the reality and not what the president wants to make the reality, it is going to become so. Because he is obviously fixated on putting this narrative out there that this is just business as usual, hoping that, you know, it kind of gets into the zeitgeist and everyone says, "Oh, this is just business as usual," certainly for the people who follow him and those who adore him in the base.
It is not business as usual. The -- there is no political operative or political professional or even a lower level person who's worked on campaigns who does not tell you that they get training from the legal team that, if you get a request for a meeting that is even remotely like what was requested in the e-mail that we have now all seen to Donald Trump Jr., you say, "Unh-uh. We're not going to do this." And what you should do is you should report it to the FBI. And again, this is not me talking. This is the president's own nominee to be the director of the FBI said so in public under oath last week.
CILLIZZA: And yet another -- just to add to Dana's point, another point. Sean Spicer this afternoon said there's no reason for anyone to think that adoptions wasn't the main -- or the topic of this meeting.
Donald Trump tweeted at 10:07 that the meeting was to get information about Hillary Clinton and that any campaign, any adviser would do that. So it -- both of those things can't be true. I mean, this is the gang that can't shoot straight.
BLITZER: One of the problems for the White House has been the evolving explanations for this meeting a year ago June. There have been several different explanations. Almost every day there are some new arguments.
MUDD: There is no revolving explanation. If you look at black and white, the e-mail says, "I'm interested in information derogatory that comes from a hostile foreign power."
[17:40:08] By the way, if the president says it's OK, let's make sure we understand what that means. That means we are encouraging hostile foreign powers -- read the Russians and the Chinese -- to use intelligence capabilities to collect information against American politicians.
I don't know what to say. That's like, you know, clear the swamp, pump in the pond scum. I mean, what are we going to get out of it?
BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. We're getting some more information right now about Senator John McCain. I want to bring in our congressional reporter Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill.
Manu, what are you learning?
MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I just spoke with Senator Lindsey Graham, who is John McCain's closest friend in the United States Senate. And Graham actually talked to John McCain yesterday, and he said that he noticed a measurable difference in John McCain after what he called a very serious surgery, one in which a, quote, "brick bat" essentially was taken to John McCain's head. That is John -- Lindsey Graham's words. But he says that it was a successful surgery, and he believes it may have helped John McCain in the issue of memory and attention.
Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: How did he find out about this?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think it was a routine check, but John had not been feeling good. He had been traveling a lot. WE wrote it off to being tired, that he was getting forgetful and, you know, just wore himself out traveling all around the world. I'm glad they found out what I think was the cause.
GUPTA: You think this was the cause of whatever?
GRAHAM: Yes, I think so. After talking to him -- I talked to him Sunday. Just like the old John McCain, much more engaged in conversation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, an interesting note just to hear Lindsey Graham say that he was, quote, "getting forgetful." Now, we all remember that exchange that Senator McCain had with James Comey during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, a confusing exchange between McCain and Comey, and Comey wasn't quite clear about what Senator McCain was asking.
Afterwards McCain said he was up late watching baseball, and that's one reason why he wasn't on his -- on his game then.
But we're learning from our colleague, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, that the area of the brain that was affected does not have as much to do with memory loss but has more to do with the issue of attention.
And Senator Graham, of course, is not a physician, but clearly, Wolf, noticing a significant difference from his friend after having that discussion with him yesterday. He said that McCain is ready to race back here, wants to get back to Washington. He does not know when he's going to get back. He said probably one to two weeks.
And also uncertain about what has come back back from the pathologists who are looking at what they removed as part of this surgery. They hope it's a blood clot and nothing more serious than that, but he does not know the answer to that question just yet.
But significant here, Wolf, in that he does sense that there's a difference in John McCain and how he's acting. And in the words of Lindsey Graham, quote, "the old John McCain" after this surgery over the weekend, Wolf.
BLITZER: We, of course, wish Senator. McCain a speedy recovery.
Another interesting note came up in your conversation with Senator Graham, Manu. You had a chance to ask about Kushner's security clearance. Tell us what he said.
RAJU: He didn't want to go as far as the Democrats have gone in calling for Jared Kushner's security clearance to be revoked or suspended. He said he wanted to look into it further.
But he took the opportunity to criticize the president's tweets suggesting that the meeting that Donald Jr. Had with Russian officials was normal.
He said he does not want the president to encourage this kind of behavior given what we now know, that Donald Trump Jr. went to this meeting after being told that the Russian government wanted to help his father in that campaign.
Lindsey Graham saying that is not the message you want to send to campaign officials of any stripe that this is an OK meeting to take. So continuing, Wolf, this bipartisan pushback from the president's own defense of his son's very controversial meeting they took last year, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Manu, good work. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.
Dana, Senator Lindsey Graham was pretty blunt in discussing his best friend, Senator John McCain, noticing that he had been, before the surgery, somewhat forgetful.
GRAHAM: Yes, maybe more blunt than they might have been expecting in John McCain's office. We'll see what happens with that, because certainly the initial word that we got from McCain's office was a blood clot in his eye, and it was a lot less specific and focused on the notion of it having to do with his memory and so forth.
So yes, I was surprised to hear him say that, but the good news is that we're all human beings, whether you're a U.S. senator or anybody else, and he got something checked and it sounds like he got it taken care of, and that's really all that matters.
BLITZER: I know he has a history of various issues, including melanoma. Dr. Sanjay Gupta who really reviewed his medical record back in 2008 when he was running for president of the United States, he knows senator McCain is healthy. He's 80 years old right now, and we wish him only the best, but there have been issues.
CILLIZZA: And remember, John McCain released a significant amount of his medical information, more than he needed to, when he ran for president in 2008, which gave us a better picture of himself. Yes, Dana is right. The timeline was -- you know, not that this was a routine -- never having craniectomy or, you know, something into your eyebrow in -- behind your eye is never a routine surgery, but this was something that wasn't a big deal. But when Dr. Gupta reported, well, this is sort of a bigger surgery, I was stunned. You know, honestly.
I mean, obviously, we just heard of it, but to hear Senator Graham talk in those terms, that the old John McCain is back, that, you know -- it impacting sort of his attentiveness. I would guess that as good as friends they are, John McCain -- to add on Dana, John McCain probably would rather Senator Graham kept walking past Manu rather than --
BASH: But can I --
CILLIZZA: -- rather than stop and talk.
BASH: Can I just say that John McCain is -- look, there are lots and lots of senators who travel a lot. Nobody travels the globe more than John McCain.
I mean, he -- to say he is tireless is the understatement of the day, despite the fact that he is certainly not one of the youngest senators.
BASH: And so, you know, I think, for him, the pace he keeps is something that I think a lot of his colleagues and even us would not be able to keep.
BLITZER: He's always welcome to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, or also call in. If he's watching us right now, we'd be happy to say hello and wish him a speedy, speedy recovery in the process.
All right, guys, stand by. Coming up, the new demands from Vladimir Putin's Russia. Will the Trump administration unconditionally give back the two compounds seized in retaliation for Russia's meddling in the presidential election?
[17:51:19] BLITZER: Tonight, we are following new demands from Vladimir Putin's Russia. It's insisting the Trump administration give back two diplomatic compounds seized during the closing weeks of the Obama administration.
Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's following the story for us.
Brian, so what else does Putin want?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we've got new information on Vladimir Putin's end game in this broader diplomatic dispute. His goal, we're told, is to roll back an American law that hurts his cronies and the fight over those diplomatic compounds is just part of it.
TODD (voice-over): A convoy of buses rolls out of a Russian diplomatic compound in Maryland. Inside, Russian diplomats kicked out of the U.S., accused of being spies. The property, confiscated by the U.S. government. The order given in December by the Obama administration after U.S. intelligence concluded Russia had meddled in the U.S. election. Tonight, Vladimir Putin's government vows to retaliate and rejects any
conditions the U.S. has for returning two diplomatic compounds in America to the Russians. The Kremlin is threatening to expel American diplomats from Russia.
MARIA ZAKHAROVA, DIRECTOR OF THE INFORMATION AND PRESS DEPARTMENT, RUSSIA'S MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS (through translator): If the U.S. partners don't understand it any other way, then at some point, we will have to act exactly this way.
TODD (voice-over): That's not the only move against Putin that Washington is being pressured to roll back. At that Trump Tower meeting last year which Donald Trump, Jr. is now being scrutinized for, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya says she and a Russian- American lobbyist talked about U.S. sanctions against Russia. Though the Kremlin denies connections with Veselnitskaya, analysts say what Putin really wants, what the Russians at that Trump Junior meeting were angling toward, is to get an American law called the Magnitsky Act killed.
TODD (on camera): How angry is Putin still at the Magnitsky act?
SARAH MENDELSON, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL: Our -- every indication is he is still very angry, that he would still like it rolled back.
TODD (voice-over): Putin was so angry at the Magnitsky Act, he banned adoptions of Russian orphans by Americans. The 2012 American law was named after a whistle blower named Sergei Magnitsky who died in Russian custody after he uncovered a massive fraud scheme benefiting Putin's cronies.
Putin and his circle have denied involvement in Magnitsky's death, but critics like Magnitsky's former boss, Bill Browder, say some of Putin's cronies are being hurt by the Magnitsky Act because it cuts them off from money they were able to squirrel away in the U.S.
BILL BROWDER, FORMER BOSS OF SERGEI MAGNITSKY: They take that money and they keep it at in American banks, in British banks, and Swiss banks. They send their kids to boarding schools. They send their girlfriends to Milan on shopping trips.
TODD (voice-over): Another reason Putin hates the Magnitsky Act according to former State Department human rights official Sarah Mendelson, the law means Putin can't guarantee protection for the oligarchs who do his bidding.
MENDELSON: This is essentially the business model, kind of a good fellas business model, that is being called into question, where he is asking or somebody close to him is asking something that -- to be done. People are benefiting from it. If that entire business model is called into question, it's going to get harder for him to rule this way.
(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: Sarah Mendelson says, in the end, she does not think Vladimir Putin is going to be successful in getting the Magnitsky Act killed. What happens then? Well, she says Putin might be angry enough to ramp up military tensions with NATO or to escalate the information wars, to have his hackers work overtime to create trouble for the U.S. and their allies, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Brian, regarding those diplomatic compounds seized from the Russians in Maryland just outside of Washington, D.C. and New York, is there any chance the Trump administration would actually give those properties back to the Russians?
TODD: There could be a chance, Wolf. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer this afternoon was asked about that. Spicer did not say unequivocally that the U.S. would not give those compounds back. He referred that to the State Department.
[17:55:04] And we are told State Department and Russian officials just got out of a meeting. They're talking about this. Nothing decided yet, but they are meeting about it.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you.
Coming up, as President Trump defends his son's meeting with a Russian lawyer, there are now new concerns about the President's son-in-law. Will Jared Kushner be able to keep his security clearance?
BLITZER: Happening now, clearance and security. Tonight, mounting calls for the President's son-in-law and senior advisor to have his access to classified information revoked. With Jared Kushner under scrutiny in the Russia investigation, is his pivotal White House job in any jeopardy?
[18:00:05] Defending Don Junior. In a new tweet, President Trump keeps trying to downplay his son's meeting with a Russian lawyer aimed at getting Kremlin dirt on Hillary Clinton.