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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
WH Shake-Up, Scaramucci In, Spicer Out, Huckabee Sanders Upped; Wash. Post: Sessions Discussed Trump Campaign Related Matters With Russian Ambassador According To U.S. Intel Intercept; Interview with Congressman Will Hurd of Texas; Kushner & Ivanka Trump Detail Vast Wealth in Disclosures. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired July 21, 2017 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar and Erin Burnett OutFront starts right now.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: OutFront next, Sean Spicer is out and there is a new communications team in town, team big (ph) at the White House on crack.
Plus, breaking news, Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort responding to a deadline from senators requesting that they testify on the Hill. Why are they not agreeing to speak in public?
And, a top Russian official says that Trump and Putin may have met many more times at that summit in Germany. If so, who was there and what was said? Let's go OutFront.
Good evening. I'm Jake Tapper in for Erin Burnett OutFront tonight. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is out after a tumultuous six months and one day on the job. Spicer turned in his resignation today when President Trump named one of his most trusted outside loyalists, Anthony Scaramucci, as White House Communications Director.
Scaramucci met reporters at today's press briefing. He said all the right things about Spicer and then announced that would be promoted to Spicer's old job as press secretary. She'll be the first female White House press secretary since Dana Perino in the George W. Bush White House.
Scaramucci smoothly felted (ph) crash in going so far as to say I love the president at least five times in a half hour before the cameras. And when asked if his job is to get the White House back on track, Scaramucci insisted the questioner had it all wrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I'm going take a slight issue with the question, because I think the White House is on track and we're actually I think doing a really good job. I think we're doing an amazing job. The president himself is always going to be the president.
I was in the Oval Office with him earlier today and we were talking about letting him be himself, letting him express his full identity. I think he's got some of the best political instincts in the world and perhaps in the history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: The best political instincts perhaps in history, shortly after Trump singled out Scaramucci for praise in the Oval Office
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How was your press conference? Good? You did a good job? He's a terrific guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: And that's how made in America week wrapped up. Jessica Schneider is OutFront at the White House for us tonight. Jessica, there are always rumors of impending staff shake-ups at this White House, but this still came as something of a surprise today.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It did, Jake. And this staff shake-up, it really unfolded in rapid fashion. It was first thing this morning. We heard Anthony Scaramucci was here at the White House. Just a little while later, we learned that he was offered and accepted the position of communications director and then literally minutes later, Sean Spicer offered up his resignation.
So despite the optics of this, and what we've heard from sources, that Sean Spicer was obviously displeased with the president's pick, Anthony Scaramucci today insisted that there was absolutely no rift between him and Sean Spicer or between him and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): A seismic staff shake-up in the west-wing, Sean Spicer out as press secretary after six tumultuous months. Spicer submitted his resignation minutes after Anthony Scaramucci, a former Trump campaign fundraiser and New York financier accepted the job of communications director.
SCARAMUCCI: I like the team. Let me rephrase it, I love the team.
SCHNEIDER: Scaramucci announced Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will move into Spicer's role.
SCARAMUCCI: Sarah is going to be the press secretary, right? OK, so congratulations to you, Sarah.
SCHNEIDER: President Trump asked Spicer to remain on staff according to a top Republican advisor and White House official, but Spicer decided to step down instead, a move that shocked White House staffers.
A source familiar with the changes says the president has been pushing to add Scaramucci to the staff for some time, but Spicer opposed the move since Scaramucci isn't a Washington insider. Scaramucci denied any problems with Spicer and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
SCARAMUCCI: I don't have any friction with Sean. I don't have any friction with Reince. This is the White House.
SCHNEIDER: And downplayed tensions with Chief Strategist Steve Bannon whose sources tell CNN opposed Scaramucci's hire.
SCARAMUCCI: I want to keep my head in the game. I want to keep my ego low and I want to work with Steve Bannon as closely as possible. I have a huge enormous amount of respect for him.
SCHNEIDER: Scaramucci pledged to use his role to highlight the advancements the White House is making that he says the media isn't paying attention to.
SCARAMUCCI: I was in the Oval Office with him earlier today and we were talking about letting him be himself, letting him express his full identity. I think he's got some of the best political instincts in the world and perhaps in the history.
SCHNEIDER: Spicer first step upped to the podium the day after the inauguration to lecture the media about reports that the crowd size was significantly less than President Obama's first inauguration in 2009.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe.
SCHNEIDER: In recent weeks, Sean Spicer was frequently replaced in the daily press briefings by Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
[19:05:04] MELISSA MCCARTHY, COMEDIAN: Don't F with me, Glenn. Next question.
SCHNEIDER: Spicer's place at the podium was widely spoofed on "Saturday Night Live."
MCCARTHY: And this is the new spicy.
SCHNEIDER: Spicer says his departure won't be immediate, tweeting, "It's been an honor and a privilege to serve POTUS @realdonaldtrump and this amazing country. I will continue my service through august." The president issued a statement thanking Spicer.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm grateful for Sean's work on behalf of my administration and the American people. I wish him continued success as he moves on to pursue new opportunities. Just look at his great television ratings.
SCHNEIDER: So the president pointing there to his penchant for television spectacle. And in that same vein, Anthony Scaramucci was asked today if we could see a return to the regular televised press briefing, something we haven't seen in quite some time except for today, of course, and whether perhaps the president might actually hold a press conference at some point, but the only thing that Scaramucci would say, Jake, is stay tuned. Jake?
TAPPER: Jessica Schneider at the White House for us this evening.
We have some breaking news right now coming from "The Washington Post." "The Post" reporting that Russia's ambassador to the U.S. told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters with then Senator Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race. "The Washington Post" citing current and former U.S. officials.
Now if true, this directly contradicts what Sessions has said about his meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Kislyak's accounts of two conversations with Sessions who was then a U.S. senator and top foreign policy adviser to Trump were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies.
Remember, Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Ambassador Kislyak, and then said that the meetings that he had had nothing to do with the Trump campaign. One U.S. official said that Sessions, who testified that he has no recollection of the April encounter has provided "misleading statements," that are "contradicted by other evidence."
A Justice Department spokeswoman responded in a statement to "The Post", "Obviously, I cannot comment on the reliability of what anonymous sources describe in a holy uncorroborated intelligence intercept that 'The Washington Post' has not seen and that is not been provided to me." And she reiterated that Sessions did not discuss interference in the U.S. election.
OutFront tonight, we have -- joining us three journalists. We have Gloria Borger, CNN Chief Political Analyst, Dana Bash, Chief Political Correspondent, and April Ryan who is a White House Correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks.
Dana, I'll start with you. What we have here according to "The Post" are intercepts in which the ambassador to the United States from Russia, Sergey Kislyak, is telling individuals back in Moscow about substantive conversations he had with then Senator Jeff Sessions that had to do with the Trump campaign. Sessions has said he had not done that. Now obviously, this is breaking right now. But if true, this could be potentially damaging.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No question. It could be very damaging for Jeff Sessions because just like many other players in the Trump world, vis-a-vis Russia, we get the drip, drip, drip of information and accusations and changing stories about what connections and what conversations and what communications they had or didn't have with Russian officials.
And this story certainly is fascinating and I don't know timely is the word, maybe very bad timing for Jeff Sessions, given the fact that he is clearly not in President Trump's good graces. We've known that and -- that the president said that in private for several months now, but he let it spill in the open in his "New York Times" interview this week.
Now, the one thing that, you know, the initial reaction as you said from the Justice Department from Sessions' spokespeople is that they can't react to anonymous sources. My assumption is that at some point they're going to come out and say, "Well, wait a minute, this is -- these are U.S. intercepts of what the soviet -- excuse me, the Russian ambassador --"
TAPPER: You're dating yourself. Yeah.
TAPPER: Yeah, the Russian ambassador.
BASH: The Russian ambassador reported back to Moscow. It's not necessarily fact that that was part of the conversation. He could have been boasting. But it does say in the story of "The Washington Post" according to sources who are very familiar with Kislyak's communications back home that he tends to be accurate in what he says, that he doesn't sort of puff them up. And so, look, there's no question. This is not good news for Jeff Sessions.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Jake, I just got off the phone with somebody who is in a position to talk to the president regularly about Russia. And this source said to me, first of all, he couldn't verify the story in any way, shape, or form, but said that this is something that would -- the president would find stunning is the word that he used.
[19:10:14] I mean, as Dana points out, Sessions has already had his problems with the president. This source says, "Look, the president thinks Jeff Sessions is a great guy, but obviously he was angered about the recusal." If this story is accurate, the recusal makes an awful lot of sense right now on every level.
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's true.
TAPPER: And, April, it's interesting because the president's mad at Jeff Sessions for not doing more to protect him from the Russia investigation.
TAPPER: If ultimately Jeff Sessions being tied up in the Russia investigation becomes the reason he is ultimately asked to leave the Trump administration, there would be a bit of -- I don't know if the word is irony or hypocrisy, but it would be rather uncomfortable for everyone involved.
RYAN: It would be more than uncomfortable. The optics would be very blurry because this is -- this is spiraling out of control, if this indeed is true. It seems like, Jake, people in this administration who have been on his bad list for a while ultimately are in the bulls- eye. And I mean, what we saw today, Sean left. You know, who knows? I mean, Jeff Sessions says he's not going to leave. But we don't know the mind of this president right now. He wants to win. He wants to make sure that he does not look like he is involved. And he wants to make sure that Jeff Sessions understands who he is and what he is. And he does not need this. He does not want a distraction. And anything else to weigh down this already weighed down situation.
Russia is an albatross around the neck of this administration. And if this is indeed true, it is a very bad situation for Jeff Sessions and the relationship with this president.
TAPPER: If you're just joining us, "The Washington Post" has some breaking news this evening. According to former and current U.S. officials, there are intercepts of conversations in 2016 between the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and others, presumably back in Moscow in which Kislyak is reporting on conversations that he is said to have had with then senator and Trump adviser, now U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in which they did discuss campaign-related matters and things having to do with Trump's position, Mr. Trump's position when it came to Russia.
As Dana Bash has pointed out, these intercepts are what Kislyak is claiming and not of the actual conversations with Jeff Sessions. Nonetheless, U.S. officials saying that what they have, evidence they have contradicts what senator, then senator, now Attorney General Sessions have said in terms of not having any substantive conversations with Russian officials about the campaign.
And Dana, this is once again something that is going to be uncomfortable news, not just for this administration, but for Republicans on Capitol Hill who want to get along and go ahead with the business of governing and passing legislation. And once again, here they have somebody in the Trump administration and there is evidence that the person has not been fully transparent about relations with Russia.
BASH: And if it turns out that the ambassador, the Russian ambassador, Kislyak, was telling the truth when he reported back to Moscow that Jeff Sessions, then Senator Jeff Sessions did have substantive conversations that are campaign related with him during the campaign, then Jeff Sessions is in big trouble, not just with his job, but with the law.
You remember in his testimony when he was up for confirmation as attorney general, he was I guess now famously asked about connections with Russian officials, and he said no. He had to subsequently amend it just in terms of having any kind of meetings saying that they were really nothing.
But if it's true that they were, first of all, not only that he had more meetings, but also that they were quite substantive and potentially, potentially nefarious, he is in big trouble.
TAPPER: Stay with me, Gloria, Dana, and April. OutFront now, we have Democratic senator from the State of Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator, your reaction to the breaking news this evening. "The Washington Post" reporting that according to current and former U.S. officials, there are intercepts in which the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2016 described conversations he had with then senator and Trump campaign adviser, now Attorney General Jeff Sessions in which they did in fact discuss campaign-related matters, discuss President Trump, then candidate Trump's position on issues having to do with Russia, despite what he has said publicly to the contrary. Your reaction.
[19:15:26] SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: If these reports are corroborated and they can be corroborated by the intelligence community, they are very damaging to Jeff Sessions. In fact, devastating because they indicate that he was clearly untruthful in his confirmation testimony at the judiciary committee, and his subsequent supposed clarifications, as well as his under oath indications on his security forms as to what these contact were.
But they're also highly damaging to Donald Trump because they are evidence that the special counsel or prosecutor, Bob Mueller, will certainly use as evidence of collusion or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians in interfering with the election.
Ironically, they confirm or support Jeff Sessions' decision to recuse himself because clearly he had no choice given all of these contacts with the Russians. And I opposed Jeff Sessions in his nomination. I was the first judiciary committee member to speak out against him.
But he should not be forced to resign for his doing the right thing following the rule of law and the ethics standards. He may be forced to resign because of these contacts and because of his lack of truthfulness before the judiciary committee and the intelligence committee.
TAPPER: Now, for the record, when Attorney General Sessions recused himself from having -- anything having to do with the investigation into any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, he did so, he said, on the advice of officials at the Justice Department who said that because he had been part of the campaign, he should not have anything to do with anything, any investigation into the campaign separate and distinct from any conversation he had with Russians.
But let me play devil's advocate for a second, Senator. How do we know, assuming that "The Washington Post" report about this U.S. intercepts is accurate. How do we know that Ambassador Kislyak was telling the truth to the Kremlin or whomever he was speaking with when he was describing his conversations with now Attorney General Sessions? I mean, is it not possible that he was boasting or making something up in order to report back to Moscow about -- in an attempt at puffery and self-importance?
BLUMENTHAL: That's possible. But Jeff Sessions should be given an opportunity to make that case by coming back before the judiciary committee. As I have urged repeatedly that he do and that in fact he'd be required to do, because he has left this cloud hanging over his confirmation as well as his service in the Department of Justice by failing to state clearly and unequivocally what all the facts are surrounding all these meetings.
And he'll be likely required to do it as a witness during the Mueller special counsel investigation of that collusion, as well as of possible obstruction of justice by the President of the United States. And the president by trying to threaten or intimidate the special counsel, by drawing red lines or boundaries around his financial affairs as precluding them from investigation, by raising this issue about Jeff Sessions and his view that Jeff Sessions need not have recused himself certainly has added to that specter of obstruction of justice.
TAPPER: There is so much news that happens. It feels like every three hours there is some huge breaking story. Sean's aside, a big stories from just a few hours ago.
At about this time last night, "The Washington Post" and "New York Times" were reporting a whole host of fascinating and to many people troubling facts, including the fact that Trump has individuals, I believe on his legal team who are looking into efforts to try to discredit the Mueller investigation by looking into the past histories, political donations and more of investigators working for Bob Mueller.
And "The Washington Post" reported that President Trump had asked advisers about his ability, his power to pardon individuals, whether associates or family members or even himself. Let's start with the pardoning issue first. What was your reaction to that story?
BLUMENTHAL: I was astonished and appalled that the president should be considering pardoning anyone, including himself, even if it is only speculation on his part, it certainly is inappropriate.
[19:20:13] Even Richard Nixon, who was under a very severe threat of prosecution thought it would be improper to pardon himself or any of his closest aides and so far as the intimidation. And there is no other word for it of Bob Mueller's team. It seems to be part of a pattern of obstruction. It raises the specter that the president is trying to politically interfere with the special counsel investigation.
I have every confidence that Robert Mueller, an experienced and expert prosecutor is going to have the grit and determination and unquestionable backbone to stand up to these efforts at influencing him or his team.
But clearly, they are part of a pattern, again, drawing the red lines or boundaries and putting subjects out of bounds like his financial affairs which are very, very relevant because the standard Russian playbook is to enlist or involve foreign leaders in financial dealings and his own associate, Agalarov was at that early June meeting. So there is a lot here to be investigated.
TAPPER: Senator, stay with us for one second. I just want to bring in our Justice Correspondent Evan Perez because of this breaking news story. He joins me on the phone.
Evan, thanks for joining us. What might this mean for Attorney General Sessions and the White House?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well, I think, Jake, this would certainly compound the problems for Jeff Sessions. And, you know, it makes it more difficult for you to argue that he should stay in office because there's a lot of pressure now on him.
And obviously the president insulting his attorney general and calling into question whether he believes in Justice Department. And the Justice Department's independence is a real big problem for Sessions. So he is sort of a man on the ropes already.
And this revelation I think adds to the pressure there, perhaps, for Sessions to resign if not after this, I'm not sure what else -- what other new revelation could come forward, especially because of the accusation that you hear from -- especially people on Capitol Hill that they don't believe the attorney general has been up-front about everything.
TAPPER: And if Sessions were to resign, would that have any effect on the Mueller investigation?
PEREZ: Well, potentially. I mean, here is what an interesting thing that could happen, Jake. If Sessions resigns in the next few weeks, this gives the president an opportunity to appoint a new attorney general for him to name a new attorney general and that attorney general would not be recused.
Keep in mind that Sessions recused himself, but that only applies to him because of his role in the campaign. A new attorney general who doesn't have any ties to the campaign is not at all involved would -- you would say come sit with a clean slate and isn't recused and then essentially oversees what Mueller is doing. And, you know, then would be the person who would decide whether Mueller stays or go.
So, I think you keep an eye on that because it does present the president with an opportunity to get what he wants, which is an attorney general still in full control of this investigation.
TAPPER: Evan Perez, thank you so much for calling in. Senator Blumenthal is back with me.
And Senator, obviously, a lot of people on Capitol Hill are very concerned about the messages President Trump is sending about general -- special counsel, rather, Bob Mueller and his investigation and tweets and comments he has made that could be seen as setting the stage for possibly firing him, which is within the purview of his executive office.
Obviously, all 48 Democrats and the two independents that caucus with you would oppose such a measure. But do you think -- do you talk to Republican senators that would do more than harrumph and say that they are disappointed. I mean, would the Senate, the majority in the Senate actually have any sort of effective response if the president were to fire Bob Mueller?
BLUMENTHAL: There would be a firestorm similar to the outcry and outrage that there was when President Nixon fired Special Counsel Archibald Cox, or sought one after another for people in the Department of Justice to do it.
And I would certainly lead, and others I am sure would join in leading an effort to establish a special prosecutor by legislation, probably appointed by a panel of the district court so that the choice of that special prosecutor would be completely nonpolitical.
[19:25:11] And I think there would be strong support for a special prosecutor, probably Bob Mueller himself to continue this investigation. Bob Mueller is following the money. He is looking at the financial dealings. That is not only appropriate, it is proper and necessary to do.
And the President of the United States may be able to fire the attorney general. He certainly wants a political lackey in that role, a lap dog, not a watchdog, but he cannot fire the special prosecutor without extraordinary consequences on both sides of the aisle. I've talked to a number of my Republican colleagues who have already indicated that they would be prepared to act.
TAPPER: Now, one of the problems that Democrats and Republicans have voiced in the past about special prosecutors are they end up investigating -- their first tasked with looking into a land deal, and the next thing you know they're looking into whether or not President Clinton had an affair with an intern.
There are similar Republican complaints about the Valerie Plame leak investigation, who leaked Valerie Plame's name. But it ends up being a fishing expedition and that there are very few people in public life whose lives can bear that kind of scrutiny.
To play devil's advocate once again. So Bob Mueller, let's say, is looking into President Trump's finances. We don't know if he is or if he isn't. What would an improper payment made in a lot -- at an Atlantic City casino have anything to do with the Russia investigation?
I mean, does the president not have -- is there not a case to be made that this special counsel, the general counsel is supposed to be looking at possible collusion. He is not supposed to be looking at every single financial deal that a 71-year-old made.
And certainly when it comes to New York real estate, I don't think it's a stretch of the imagination to think that anybody in New York real estate could probably -- probably has some skeleton in a closet one way or another.
BLUMENTHAL: Well, there are questions like what was his Russian business associate representative (INAUDIBLE) of the Agalarov family doing at that June meeting where the Trump representatives -- in fact, the Trump campaign manager, his son-in-law, and his son were promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. So, those Russian financial dealings may be very relevant to collusion.
Plus, money laundering is definitely a possibility. There were reports that Paul Manafort is under investigation for money laundering. Deutsche Bank, Trump's bank, President Trump's bank has encountered investigation and in fact potential prosecution ongoing criminally for money laundering.
There are these allegations that are swirling around the collusion or conspiracy to join with the Russians in interfering with the 2016 election by the Trump campaign. So it is highly relevant. And it is more than a distraction or a sort of outlying investigation.
The complaint made about the Starr investigation, which led to Monica Lewinsky and so forth, I think is a typical one that is raised. It's one of the reasons why the law was permitted to expire.
But I think that the special prosecutor so far has been extremely responsible, and his investigation is relevant. And this latest report about Sessions talking with the Russian ambassador, if corroborated, would be additional evidence.
TAPPER: I certainly have no information that contradicts what you're saying. I'm just saying -- suggesting that this has been the criticism of special prosecutors in the past. But I take your point, and I thank you for joining us this evening. Senator Blumenthal, always good to see you. Thank you, Sir.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
TAPPER: I want to bring back my panel right now, Gloria Borger, Dana Bash and April Ryan. Gloria, this could not have come at a worse time for Attorney General Sessions.
TAPPER: Already we know that people at the White House were stunned that he did not resign after the comments the president made. And just to remind people since it was only a few days ago, but it feels like a month ago, Jeff Sessions -- the president said that if he had known that Sessions would recuse himself, he never would have appointed him attorney general to begin with, despite Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying that the fact that Sessions still had his job showed that he still had the president's confidence.
[19:30:12] That is a big show of no confidence --
BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
TAPPER: -- to say I wish that he did not have this job. So, this latest revelation couldn't come at a worse time for Sessions.
BORGER: No, it couldn't come at a worse time. And the reason the president is so upset is because he believes that if Sessions were there, you wouldn't have had an independent counsel and that, in fact, if Sessions were there, and you had an independent counsel, he would have fired him. So, if you want to kind of play this out a little bit, if Sessions goes, either because this becomes untenable or because the president believes it's untenable one way or another, then the president could conceivably appoint another attorney general -- getting that person confirmed might be difficult. Maybe you could do it while Congress is out of session, you know, that would be another option.
But if the president could appoint another attorney general who would then not have to be recused from this, then if you want to play it out, that person could be loyal to the president and decide that maybe the Mueller investigation was overstepping its bounds. But, again, it's a long way from here to there. But if you look at why the president is so upset at Sessions, it's because he feels that he should not have recused himself because of Russia.
Now, I also think we have to keep in mind here that while "The Washington Post" does quote a U.S. official saying that Sessions has provided what the official calls misleading information, we have -- this could be a Russian ambassador bragging about what was said.
BORGER: -- between the two of them. And so, we really don't know how this -- how this gets resolved. And, you know, there is a lot -- there is a lot of work that needs to be done on this to get at the truth.
TAPPER: Ladies, wait one second. I want you to listen to sound of Jeff Sessions that when this U.S. official says that Sessions has provided misleading information, he may this official, I don't know if it's a man or a woman, the official may have been referring to at least this as one example.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Let me be clear. I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign, and the idea that I was part of a, quote, continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government is totally false. That is the question that Senator Franken asked me at the hearing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Just a little note, Senator Franken will be my guest on "STATE OF THE UNION" on Sunday morning as long as Attorney General Sessions is bringing it up. That is from March 2nd, April, when Attorney General Sessions was recusing himself, saying that he never had any dealings with Russian operatives.
And, obviously, what we have in "The Washington Post" this evening breaking is U.S. officials, former and current saying that there are interception in which the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, whom is also considered by U.S. intelligence to not only be a diplomat, but also to be a spy and a spy recruiter meeting with Sessions last year and talking about the campaign, according to the intercepts of these phone calls, April.
RYAN: Sessions made a declarative statement of what he did not do. He did not follow the line of Kushner or Donald Trump Jr., as I recall or what I remember. That could be damning for him.
But, Jake, I'm thinking about the president, and I'm thinking about his communications team and how they think right now, with all of this going on. This president is very concerned with the scope of how Mueller is going through his investigation. And I'm thinking also about the line of succession at justice. If the president indeed decided to say Jeff Sessions, you're gone, he still also met with the deputy attorney general who would fill in for the moment who deputy Rosenstein, he is not happy with him as well because he believes he is allowing Mueller to go so far.
But the next person in line, Rachel Brand, is a supporter of President Trump. So, the question is how do you move these pieces around to get what you want? And I'm trying to think about how this president and how this White House is thinking, because yesterday before all of this came out, they were looking at the possibilities of what they could do.
[19:35:09] This is from my sources, Republican sources, telling me, what they could do with Rosenstein, you know, because they felt that he was allowing Mueller to go further. And the president clearly does not particularly care about Rosenstein right now as he blasted him in that "New York Times" article as well.
TAPPER: Went after the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, the former FBI director, the acting FBI director, and Bob Mueller. Dana?
BASH: You know, I don't want to sound conspiratorial, but I think, you know, just speaking from experience and you all, the three of you have as much or more experience in watching kind of the anatomy of how these things work. It's hard to imagine that it is a coincidence that this story about Jeff Sessions came out on the same week, 48 hours after the president of the United States made public his ire, his anger at Jeff Sessions, which again he has made very clear and private for a long time, that somebody somewhere for whatever reason saw an opening to, you know, kind of do a counterpunch on Jeff Sessions.
And, you know, we'll see. We'll see, A, if this is accurate. And it's going to be hard to prove, I think, unless Jeff Sessions had somebody transcribing his interactions, every interaction he had with the Russian Ambassador Kislyak. But -- so that I think is something that we need to watch for on the part of Jeff Sessions' job.
But again, you played the sound bite from what Sessions said in public, denying any of this, saying I never had these conversations. He went further than that. He gave an amendment to his testimony to the Judiciary Committee where he said I do not recall any discussions with the Russian ambassador or any other representative of the Russian government regarding the political campaign on these occasions or any other occasion.
BORGER: Right. BASH: Now, he did the do not recall, which gives you a little bit of
wiggle room, as he knows, as a lawyer and also a former member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But it is still the fact that he didn't -- that he did that as part of his amendment to his initial testimony makes it hard to believe that he is just basically lying.
TAPPER: Let's remind people also, Gloria Borger, Jeff Sessions was not President Trump's first pick to be attorney general. That job had been offered to Rudy Giuliani and turned down. Giuliani wanted to be secretary of state. The job had been offered to Chris Christie, and he turned it down as well.
I don't know how many other people were between those two and Jeff Sessions. But he was not his first pick.
And another reminder for people out there who are wondering, well, who might President Trump appoint if Jeff Sessions does in fact leave. That person still would require Senate confirmation.
TAPPER: So presumably, there are at least -- there are sufficient Republicans and Democrats in the Senate who would be concerned enough to make sure that it is somebody who would let the Mueller investigation go forward, one assumes, Gloria.
BORGER: Right. I mean, you have to assume that. And you have to assume that anybody the president would appoint would have a bruising, bruising confirmation battle certainly, unless the president decided to do it while they were in congressional recess and do that kind of a appointment.
I mean, anything -- you know, anything is possible. It's the summer right now, and they are going into recess, unless they stay in. And maybe this would make the Democrats want to stay in to handle health care.
But I think that at this point, we need to hear from Jeff Sessions. And he has been pretty unequivocal, as Dana points out. She read you from what he said. I mean, he did say to the best of his recollection.
But in statement after statement, he has been unequivocal about the nature of the conversations he has had, saying that they did not involve the campaign or substantive issues. And from what we read in this "Washington Post" piece, that is not what Ambassador Kislyak was talking about. He believed they were substantive conversations and told people in intercepted conversations.
So I think that Sessions is going to have to have a conversation with the president of the United States. And --
RYAN: And the American people.
BORGER: And the American people. You're absolutely right about what transpired here. Because you do, again, you have one U.S. official here on background but quoted here saying that Sessions has been misleading. And I think that's very damning.
[19:40:00] And I think that Sessions is going to have to address that.
TAPPER: There are a number of officials in the government who have been talking to reporters since last December because of things that they have heard from members of the Trump team about, specifically about contacts with Russians that they feel were not accurate. Not accurate statements to Vice President Pence by national security advisor, General Flynn, and a whole host of other individuals.
Gloria, Dana, April, thank you so much. We really appreciate your insights.
OUTFRONT next, breaking news, and more on our breaking news involving Jeff Sessions. Plus, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and others just responding to a request to testify in Capitol Hill. Why will they not agree to tell their side of the story in public? Stay with us.
TAPPER: Some breaking news: President Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort are finally responding to Senate investigators and their requests to testify, but they will not agree to testify publicly just yet. The Senate Judiciary Committee announcing moments ago that both men agreed to interviews with the committee prior to any public hearing. Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa vowed to subpoena them if they did not respond by today if they would testify Wednesday.
CNN's Phil Mattingly is OUTFRONT from Capitol Hill.
Phil, thanks for joining us.
Clearly, this doesn't seem to be what Chairman Grassley was hoping for. He seemed to want Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. to testify next week publicly.
[19:45:03] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it. But according to sources, this was kind of a case of something is better than nothing. They believe the threat of the subpoena, the threat of the public hearing was enough to kind of bring Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and their lawyers to the table. Now, there's a negotiation.
They have said they will negotiate to provide documents. They will negotiate to have a closed door interview. And Chuck Grassley took to Twitter, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and said there will at some point be an open hearing.
Now, the schedule for the interviews, the documents and the public hearing that supposedly is in the works, that has not been set yet. But they do feel like they have some leverage. They used some leverage. And now, those two individuals will at least sit down with committee members.
It is worth noting, Jake, one subpoena was issued today to Glenn Simpson, the head of the firm Fusion GPS, which is behind the Russian dossier. He has already stated through lawyers he would not testify next week. He would invoke his Fifth Amendment privileges if he was compelled to testify. The committee has sent a subpoena to him.
But at least for now, not Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort, though, both Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Grassley said they reserve the right to issue a subpoena if they don't get the answers they're looking for in the future, Jake.
TAPPER: All right. And, Phil, we're also hearing tonight that the House Intelligence Committee will interview Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser early next week. I assume that's going to be in private?
MATTINGLY: Yes, that will also be closed door that will also follow the Senate Intelligence Committee that is supposed to sit down on a staff level with Jared Kushner on Monday behind closed doors. House Intelligence Committee will do the same thing on Tuesday. Look, we know that there is a multitude of investigations both on the federal side of things and on Capitol Hill, the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee clearly ramping up.
That hasn't been a secret over the last couple of weeks. And now, we're starting to see a lot of key players start to come in. Jared Kushner will be the latest Monday at Senate Intel. Tuesday with House Intelligence, Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Phil Mattingly for us on Capitol Hill -- thanks so much, Phil.
OUTFRONT tonight, Republican Congressman Will Hurd, a Republican of Texas. He sits on the House Intelligence Committee and he is also a former CIA agent.
Congressman, good to see you as always.
What do you want to ask Jared Kushner next week?
REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: Well, I'm always reticent talking about who is coming in and when they're coming in, some times scheduling issues happen. But ultimately, when were contacts made, what was discussed, you know, basic conversations around engagement with Russian officials. I think is important in getting a laundry list of the topics of those conversations. I think is the first step.
TAPPER: I also want to get your reaction to this other breaking story this evening. "The Washington Post" is reporting that according to current and former U.S. officials, Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who you know, is considered by U.S. intelligence to not only be a diplomat, but to be a spy and spy recruiter himself, that Kislyak in intercepts that were picked up by U.S. intelligence said that he discussed with then-senator now Attorney General Jeff Sessions substantive campaign related matters during the 2016 presidential race.
I guess one of the big questions, Congressman, is how credible it is that Sergey Kislyak would say something like that, thinking that he was saying it privately? And that he wasn't telling the truth? Because this come down to Attorney General Sessions saying, well, Sergey Kislyak is lying and Kislyak wouldn't say anything. Is it credible that maybe Kislyak was just boasting but it doesn't really based on anything?
HURD: Let me answer those questions and unpack that statement by putting on my former CIA hat.
HURD: We have -- and, look, I was calling for Kislyak to be kicked out of the country back last summer. I think -- and it's clear that the Russians attempted to try to influence our elections, and the Russians are our adversaries, not our allies.
But we have unnamed sources talking about confidential, classified information. One, why are we talking about classified information? Two, this is claiming that he said something. Was the -- do we know the details of what was actually said in this conversation?
So, there is a whole lot of questions about the report in and of itself before we can start drawing conclusions. Yes, there is a possibility that this was an exaggeration of information. If Ambassador Kislyak believes that he is being listened to by the U.S. government, you know, this is a denial and deception opportunity.
One of the things that we do know that the Russians are trying to erode trust in our Democratic institutions. And so, you know, they're some of the best in the world at using disinformation campaigns. So, we have to be we have to be careful in drawing too many conclusions based on a report from unnamed sources.
[19:50:05] But I will say this, there's nobody better than Robert Mueller in getting to the crux of a matter. And you've got to know that he and his team are working hard to unpack all this. They're researching everything, and they're going to make sure that no stone is -- they're going to make sure every stone is turned over when it comes to this investigation.
TAPPER: Former CIA Director John Brennan slammed Donald Trump Jr. for taking that meeting with the Russian lawyer, that 2016 meeting, including Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner. I want to play for you some of what former CIA Director Brennan had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: This is profoundly baffling why three of the senior most members of a presidential campaign would jump at the opportunity to meet with individuals that were going to, according to the reports, provide information, dirt, information on Hillary Clinton that was coming from the Russian government. The Russians operate in a very, very cunning manner, and they will take and exploit any opportunity they get. And it seems as though some folks swallow the bait.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: You told me before you would never take a meeting like that, that you would call the FBI. What do you think of former CIA Director Brennan referring to the decision to take the meeting as profoundly baffling?
HURD: Well, again, it's hard for me to separate my previous experience and knowledge of Russian activity. It's hard to separate that, and it's hard for me to believe that anybody would take this kind of meeting.
The Russians are notorious for trying to put people in compromising positions. They use that to extort people. This is one of their hallmarks of their trade craft. And so, you know, I had 9 1/2 years of experience going toe to toe with Russian intelligence. And, you know, to me, it's pretty clear, stay far away.
TAPPER: Congressman Will Hurd, thank you for your service with the CIA and thanks for joining us this evening.
HURD: Always a pleasure.
TAPPER: Yes, good to see you, Will.
And now to more breaking news. New details on Jared Kushner's wealth. President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser just submitted revised financial disclosures, detailing not only his extensive holdings, but multiple changes, including omissions of some of his most valuable holdings.
Cristina Alesci is OUTFRONT for us.
Cristina, what have you found in these documents?
CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, these documents have just been released. So, we're still going through them. But they're important, because it's a way to hold Kushner accountable for possible conflicts of interest between his substantial financial assets and his position as one of the closest advisers to the president. Now, in this latest revision, Kushner added, as you noted, more than 70 holdings he says were inadvertently omitted from the previous form he filed.
Now, some of these assets he divested. But two of them stood out because they happen to be among his most valuable assets.
First, a tech company called Cadre, which is an elite crowdfunding platform. On the original form, we actually didn't see the name of the entity, just the holding company. And that's a problem because you can't assess conflicts without knowing the name of the asset. And in the new form, you see the new company listed.
And it has an interesting end note. It's actually recusal. It says Kushner can't participate in particular matters that would impact Cadre. Now, Kushner heads as you know the technology initiatives for the White House. So, the recusal could limit some of what he does there.
Now, a second holding I want to highlight is a glimpse into his wealthy lifestyle. He has a big art collection that's worth anywhere between $5 million and $25 million. The form also shows Kushner once held Israeli bonds but divested from them and bonds could have led to a conflict because of the role the president has given him to broker a peace deal in the Middle East.
Look, it's important to note at this point that the document is now certified, which means the Government of Office Ethics has reviewed it and is now vouching that Kushner is apparently managing potential conflicts, Jake.
TAPPER: And to tap it off, these forms came after a day of rather vocal administration critic left the Office of Government Ethics.
ALESCI: Yes, that's an understatement. Walter Shaub, the former director of government ethics, as you pointed out, left his position without signing off on Kushner's financial disclosure forms. Shaub repeatedly criticized the White House for how it handles ethical issues, and his signature, Jake, would have provided added credibility to the document.
But on his last day on the job, Shaub told me that his stamp of approval, even if he had given it, would not be a permanent blessing for anybody. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER SHAUB, FORMER DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: In the end, our regulation says we're certifying that on its face, there are no obvious conflicts of interest.
[19:55:02] That's not a free pass going forward.
ALESCI: That's not a clean bill of health.
SHAUB: That's right. It's not a clean bill of health. It's simply saying we have not detected any, in our review of this report. It's snapshot in time not only of the report, but in terms of our analysis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALESCI: Now, for Kushner, the process of getting this form certified was not an easy one. There was a lot of back and forth between the agency and Kushner's lawyers. Kushner's lawyers say the back and forth is completely normal given the complexity here. But clearly, Kushner not taking the advice of several experts who wanted to see Jared and Ivanka shed their assets completely, which we have now estimated tonight, based off of this forms, to be worth anywhere between $139 million and $626 million.
Tonight, we're also seeing more about Ivanka's holdings. She has to file similar paperwork, which is still under review at the OGE. But you'll see a lot of similar holdings as her husband in her form. She does list a few fun things, less residuals from "The Apprentice", "SNL", and "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." Jake, I'll be going through the document in much more detail because there's a lot to be mined here.
TAPPER: All right. Cristina Alesci, thanks so much.
Joining me now to discuss this, Stephen Moore, CNN senior economics analyst. He also served as a senior economic adviser to the Trump campaign, and Richard Painter, who served as an ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration.
Richard, let me start with you. You just heard Cristina report that Kushner added more than 70 holdings to his forms. Do you think that will be the complete picture or is there going to be more likely that comes out?
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I have no idea. I think he's getting good legal advice on his financial disclosure form. And hopefully, he's disclosing everything. It's troubling when he keeps changing his forms, at least on the security side with respect to his meetings with the Russians.
So I don't know what's going on here. But I assume that it's all there and that it's true.
The problem is, with his form, as well as President Trump's form, we do not get information about what's going on at the corporate level in these entities that they own and control. The corporate entity listed on the form can go and borrow money, from the Chinese, from the Russians, or anywhere around the world or have joint ventures around the world, and you're not going to get that information on the form. And most of the activity in these business empires, both Trump and Kushner, is going on at the corporate level.
So, yes, we know he's in the real estate business, but we don't know where he's borrowing his money. We don't know who the various other joint venture partners are, because they don't have a contractual relationship directly with him. And that's what goes on the form. Companies that he either owns stock in or that he has a contractual relationship with.
So, the disclosure is nowhere near enough to find out where the economic dependency relationships are, particularly what entities or governments outside the United States. And that's my biggest concern and it applies to the president, as well.
TAPPER: Stephen, one of the issues when you're dealing with individuals like the president or Jared Kushner who have such vast amounts of wealth is whether or not they can ever really be completely free of conflicts. I remember Penny Pritzker, who ended up being President Obama's secretary of commerce in the second term, it took her literally years to untangle all the things that might have been a conflict of interest and cost her quite a bit of money, as I understand it as well.
When you have such wealth, can you ever be completely free of conflicts?
STEPHEN MOORE, HERITAGE FOUNDATION DISTINGUISED VISITING FELLOW: It's the great question to ask, Jake. You know, I probably know 20 people, highly talented, extremely successful in the financial or business sector, who said no when they were asked to take a position in the Trump administration for precisely this reason, that they didn't want to go through months of divulging all of their financial assets and literally thousands of pages of financial disclosure.
And we really need to ask ourselves, do we want people of wealth to be in public service? Now, I would make the case to you, Jake, that the American people knew that Donald Trump was a real estate man.
You asked a really interesting question earlier, when you played the devil's advocate about do we want a special prosecutor going through every financial transaction that Donald Trump has engaged in, in the last 10 or 15 years? This could be the kind of thing that could cripple and paralyze his presidency at a time when we have to deal with health care reform and tax reform. We're not talking about that tonight. We're talking about Russia and these financial disclosure issues.
So, I would -- I would say that this is a big problem, because if it goes forward, and Trump has to disclose all these statements, he's going to be paralyzed because you know you all in the media are going to obsess on this night after night after night.
TAPPER: That's all the time we have. Stephen Moore and Richard Painter, thank you os much.
Thanks for joining us.
"AC360" starts right now.