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Kushner Meeting with Senate Investigators; Trump: "Beleaguered A.G." Should Look into Clinton; Democrats Unveil New Party Slogan: "A Better Deal"; Interview with Rep. Mike Quigley. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 24, 2017 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Just moments ago, senior adviser to the president, Jared Kushner arrived. He is now behind closed doors in a meeting with Senate investigators. They want to know more about these four meetings he had with Russians and Russian government officials as they continue to investigate Russia's meddling in the 2016 election.

But before sitting down with investigators, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, offered a lengthy defense, 11 pages, to be exact, in a statement where he says he did not collude. He did nothing wrong. And he frankly blamed his naivete as a political newcomer.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes and Jared Kushner seems to downplay the meeting that was set up by Donald Trump Jr. speaking to a lawyer and a host of other characters with connections with Russia. That meeting, of course, set up to provide dirt from the Russian government so said the e-mail on Hillary Clinton.

Jared Kushner said though from his perspective, it was so meaningless, quote that, "I actually e-mailed an assistant from the meeting after I had been there for 10 or so minutes and wrote, 'Can you please call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting.'"

We are going to have much more on this 11-page statement in just a moment. First, I want to go to Capitol Hill. CNN's Manu Raju is there. And Manu, you just saw Jared Kushner walk on by.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, we did and we tried to ask him a question. He talked to -- he walked by reporters and we asked him specifically, I did, would there be any concerns that he regretted in any way, that Trump Tower meeting that he acknowledges, being there with Donald Trump Jr., other Russians, which Donald Trump Jr. was promised dirt on the Clinton campaign. He, not surprisingly, smiled, walked on by, did not answer any statements, but did go into the meeting room. It is a secure meeting room with the Senate Intelligence Committee staff.

Now, we are expecting roughly four to six staff members to be there, not staff for the entire committee. We are not expecting any members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And we're not expecting Jared Kushner to actually go under oath. That's because of committee procedures, when their staff level interviews, typically, they are not under oath, but you still have to be truthful in speaking to Congress. Now, Jared Kushner's team certainly on the offensive this morning, trying to make clear that they believe that Mr. Kushner did nothing wrong, saying that they are willing to even see -- transcript of his interview right now, be public should the committee decide to do that as well as saying that they'll be willing to go under oath as well. Now, this comes as Jared Kushner's father-in-law, President Trump, has Russia on his mind.

Earlier today, on Twitter, going after the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, someone who will be interviewing Kushner tomorrow before their panel, saying, calling him sleazy, "Sleazy Adam Schiff, the totally bias Congressman looking into Russia, spends all of his time on television pushing the Dem lose excuse!" And he also, in a separate tweet, referred to his attorney general as the beleaguered attorney general.

So, clearly, this is on the president's mind. But Jared Kushner and his team want to say there's nothing to the meetings that he had during the campaign and during the transition that's going to try to alleviate concerns that a number of members of Congress had. The question is, will he be able to answer all those questions or will it lead to more calls for him to come back here. He'll be testified publicly since he's suggesting he is willing to see his interview come public, guys.

HARLOW: Maybe. Manu Raju on the Hill - maybe he'll answer your question on the way out. You should stay there, just in case. Thank you.

RAJU: I'll try.

HARLOW: Let's talk more about this 11-page statement from Kushner. Justice correspondent Pamela Brown is with us. This is, by far, the most detail we have gotten from Jared Kushner. This is someone who doesn't do any interviews. And now, he lays out what he says is his full story.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is the first time he is sharing his side of the story publicly and defending previous contacts that he had with Russians. Saying in these 11 pages that he has nothing to hide and unequivocally stating that he did not collude nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded with any foreign government. And he also said, I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector.

Kushner painted a picture in this statement of a fast-paced campaign where decisions had to be made on the fly. He juggled multiple jobs within the campaign. And he said in a statement, "I share this information because these actions should be viewed through the lens of a fast-paced campaign with thousands of meetings and interactions, some of which were impactful and memorable and many of which were not."

And the way he laid out the four different interactions he had with Russians. It's clear, he wanted to emphasize that he viewed those as insignificant. Though, it is worth mentioning that two of those meetings, back in December while with Russian ambassador Kislyak and the other with the head of the Russian state-owned bank who has a direct line to Putin, was after the U.S. Intelligence Community publicly concluded Russia meddled in the U.S. election. And it's worth noting here that Russia's election meddling, interference, hacking, was not mentioned at all in the 11-page statement. John and Poppy?

BERMAN: All right, Pamela Brown for us in Washington. Thank you so much, Pamela.

[10:05:03] Joining us now to discuss, Doug Heye, CNN political commentator, Republican strategist and former RNC communications director. Symone Sanders is CNN political commentator, former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders in 2016. Michael Zeldin, CNN legal analyst and former special assistant to Robert Mueller at the Department of Justice. Dana Bash is here, Gloria Borger as well.

Michael Zeldin, I want to start with you here. You are the lawyer for us right now. Looking at this 11-page document, carefully crafted by his team of lawyers, Michael, what jumps out to you?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: How well-prepared he is for this meeting. How capable his legal team is. I think this is a pretty compelling assault, if you will, on the accusations made against him, whether it is availing, will depend on how he answers the questions going forward and how broad they want this investigation to be. But as a first volley from his side that we have seen in public domain, this is a pretty good start for him.

HARLOW: Dana, he could have defended himself every step of the way with this, right? He chose not to. He chose to put it all in one and give it to the staffers as he goes into this meeting. Strategy wise, what does that tell you?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, we'll see at the end of the day. I think legally, what his team argues and a source close to him, I spoke with this morning, argues is that this was the strategy that they decided to go with to, as you said, put it all in one place and to present his side of the story to the people who are investigating the Senate Intelligence Community. But at the same time -- and then of course, the House tomorrow and I'm assuming at some point, the special counsel, when they are ready.

At a certain point, you also have to ask, what is in the best interest of the president you are serving, who happens to be his father-in-law. And you know he has been such a central figure in story after story after story, which I may say, are not fake news because he is, you know, corroborating and confirming a lot of these meetings that he said he had. He tries to explain that it wasn't nefarious, as, you know, people might have thought. But he could have corrected the questions or give answers to the questions about the content of these meetings months ago. And it could have potentially let his father-in- law focus more on the issues and on the agenda and maybe more importantly, Republicans on Capitol Hill who have gotten sucked into this vortex of Russia. BERMAN: You know, Symone Sanders, one last question of Jared Kushner before we move on to some other breaking news from the president's own mouth this morning. But Symone, you've worked on a campaign. And Jared Kushner, one of his defenses seems to be, you know what, I got more than 200 e-mails every day. I didn't get a chance to sit through all of them. This one e-mail inviting me to the meeting with Don Jr. and the army of people connected to Russia. I didn't even read to the bottom of it. You know, Symone, is that a plausible explanation based on your campaign experience?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's not plausible explanation. Look, at a camp, whether you are a senior adviser, a press secretary, communications director or the political director, it is literally your job to read those e-mails. And so, I find it hard to believe that Jared Kushner did not scroll to the bottom to find out what was going on.

But on the other hand, you know a lot of the Trump advisers and Trump people currently in the White House have said that we are new at this. We haven't done this before. And they have never worked campaigns. They don't understand campaign protocol. I'll tell you that it's never acceptable to say I didn't read the e-mail. You always have to read the e-mail.

HARLOW: I am guilty of responding. And then, people write back and they say, did you read the chain. But I'm not --

SANDERS: Scroll down.

HARLOW: -- running a presidential campaign. I'm just not reading Berman's entire e-mails.

Let me ask you, Gloria, about an attack - another attack from the president this morning on his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Here is what he just wrote in a statement. "So why aren't the committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered AG, looking into crooked Hillary's crimes and Russia relations?" So not only does he call Jeff Sessions beleaguered, he says he is not doing his job, Gloria.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And of course, you know, this is the president who has made him feel beleaguered. Because this is a president who told "The New York Times" that he wouldn't have hired him in the first place if he had known he was going to recuse himself in the Russia investigation.

Look, I think this is a clear shot across the bow. I think the president was being a little sarcastic here. And if I had to guess, this is one way he's pushing Jeff Sessions to resign. You know, Jeff Sessions said he was going to stay, but he would leave if it were no longer appropriate. And we may really be reaching that point.

I think this is not a president who keeps -- his feelings private and I think this is a clear indication of how he feels about his one-time very, very good friend, Jeff Sessions, who, by the way, was the first Republican senator -- to endorse Donald Trump. And that endorsement was really important to him.

[10:10:14] So, I think there is a rift in their relationship that probably cannot be repaired at this point.

BERMAN: You know, Doug Heye, the president is taunting the attorney general. I mean he brought this up, you know, in his now public interview with "The New York Times" and this morning with this statement. So the question is, how much more can a guy like Jeff Sessions take and what are you hearing inside, you know, those oak paneled rooms that you hang out in in Washington, D.C.? What are Republicans saying - you know, friends of Jeff Sessions?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, around the round table, what we talk about is, you know, what I have heard a lot is -- I have talked to several folks at D.O.J. and from "The Washington Post" story from Friday. They don't just deny it. They deny it very vociferously in language that I can't repeat here, not even calling it fake news, but a lot worse than that.

Obviously, the president is teeing off on that and using that against Jeff Sessions. What I can tell you is. That's actually making them hunker down more. The more you attack Jeff Sessions, the more he is willing to stay and do his job. That should be a good thing, but given the language we've heard from the president, it maybe something that backfires on the president.

HARLOW: Dana, can I just get your take on the strategy here from the White House doubling down, tripling down over and over again on this whole Russia thing as a hoax, this is a witch hunt, et cetera? Because as you know, that new CNN poll that we did -- that came out Friday morning, actually showed, you know, fewer people think the Russia thing is a big deal. You've got now only 27 percent of Americans say they are very concerned about it and it has fallen, the number of Americans concerned about the president and his team's relationship. Whatever it is with Russia has fallen from 55 percent were concerned in March, 49 percent now. Is there some indication that it is working?

BASH: Possibly. The other thing is that you know people might just be kind of numb to it.


BASH: And more focused on some of the issues that we are also covering and focused on like what is going to happen with health care, which is a giant, open question. A lot rides on what's going to happen in the Senate this week or not happen in the Senate this week.

But I think what you said about the White House calling it a witch hunt. I think that we should also just kind of underscore that it is pretty much one person in the White House, maybe one and a half now, that Anthony Scaramucci said he's not sure to Jake Tapper yesterday, but one person who refuses to acknowledge that Russia was involved. And that is Donald J. Trump. Every single one of his cabinet members and other advisers who have spoken publicly has disagreed with him.

BERMAN: Including, up until you know the last few days - HARLOW: Last week.

BERMAN: -- CIA director Mike Pompeo, you know the DNI Dan Coats --

HARLOW: Mike Rogers, all of them.

BERMAN: Saying it again and again and they knew that it was Russia, you know, that hacked into the election.

You know, Michael Zeldin, take us back behind closed doors in this meeting that is going on right now. We are a few minutes into Jared Kushner answering questions from Senate investigators right now. What avenues do you think they will pursue? Where will they look for answers and what will they get?

ZELDIN: Well, I think they want to explore each of these meetings that he has set out in his 11-page statement to drill down a little bit further into them and see whether his story, which it is, holds up. I don't mean a story in a made-up fiction sense, but his line of defense holds up to further scrutiny.

I think that they also will want to -- because the statement sort of sets up the opportunity for them to pit Kushner against Donald Jr., especially with this June 9th meeting. Because if Kushner is to be believed, he says, I don't scroll down. I didn't read it. I don't know what it's about. That puts the whole meeting and the passing of documents and the like on to Donald Jr.

And so, there's a rift now potentially set up between these two men legally. And if I were one of the community members, I would want to flush that out too because I would like, if I were a prosecutor. I would like two of these opposing witnesses at each other as a mechanism to gain more information from one or the other.

BORGER: Well - and you know, he even went so far in the statement to say, it seemed to me like he was trying to get out of a bad date you know. He called - he e-mails his secretary and says, please call me so I can have an excuse to leave this because he wanted to get out of the room. So in his calendar, he said it just said Don Jr. and Kushner, so there was no notation about Russia or Hillary, but I would say presume his assistant put it in his calendar. But he tried to kind of downgrade any sense that this was a meeting of any importance or significance to him.

[10:15:05] SANDERS: But it struck me that he tried to get out of the meeting, not because he thought the content wasn't proper, but because he thought Don Jr. was wasting his time. And so, I think -


BERMAN: You know Jared Kushner denies -- he really makes it seem as if he never knew what the meeting was about to begin with. -

BORGER: Exactly.

BERMAN: That's an important assertion right there. So he tried to get out of a meeting he didn't know what it was about, to get out of a bad date, according to you know, Gloria Borger. But we get your point.

All right guys, thanks very, very much.

HARLOW: Thank you. We have a lot ahead this hour.

Today, just round one for Jared Kushner. Tomorrow, he'll go in front of the House Intelligence Committee. And we are speaking with someone who will question him, who sits on that committee, coming up.

BERMAN: Plus, the president with new statements on the attack against Republicans. Republicans on many subjects, not having his back on many issues and not doing enough to pass health care. We will hear from the president later today on that subject.


[10:20:15] HARLOW: Right now, the president's senior adviser and son- in-law, Jared Kushner is behind closed doors meeting with Senate Intelligence staffers. Tomorrow, he faces members of the House Intelligence Committee and joining us now, one of those members.

BERMAN: Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois joins us right now. Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. You know, unlike the Senate, who are just having the Intel staffers doing the questioning today. You will be in that room. You will be facing the senior adviser to the president, Jared Kushner, tomorrow. What do you want to ask him?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, he started to bring out these meetings that people want to know about. What happened in the meeting? How many were there? Why would you meet, allegedly the head of the VEB bank in Russia, a bank sanctioned? Why would you have, allegedly, a conversation with the ambassador to develop a back channel, ability to communicate with the Kremlin? Many other questions. Why was the first meeting set up with the Russians and Trump Jr. and Manafort? What was the topic of those discussions, unofficial, official? I mean, we are only allowed two hours tomorrow. This could go on for weeks.

HARLOW: So, you bring up Sebastian Gorkov, the head of this Russian, big Russian bank. It's interesting because there's a dispute, right? The bank has said previously, earlier this spring that they actually - that he met with Kushner about, you know, business dealings. And the White House and Kushner said no that's not the case. This is about -- it's always been, you know, as part of the transition. So there's an interesting divide there. Sergey Gorkov, excuse me. But also, are there things in this statement that you believe are still missing that it leaves you with more questions than answers?

QUIGLEY: Well, it's a change in policy, I guess. The length of this investigation, the Trump people have said first, fake news, denial, and then they sort of grudgingly admit a meeting took place, but it wasn't about anything. They are finally under oath. We finally get to find out exactly what happened if they are you know risking perjury.

So you know this is interesting approach. I was a criminal defense attorney ten years. I never use naivete as a defense. And this is Jared Kushner claiming naivete. I can imagine Opie Taylor saying, Pa, the Russians in Mt. Pilot fooled me again. It just doesn't seem to work.

HARLOW: It is interesting though. Jared Kushner is not the one who's been saying fake news because he doesn't give interviews or speak publicly.

BERMAN: Congressman, you raised a bunch of questions that Jared Kushner seemed to try to answer in this 11-page document. You said why did he meet with the Russian banker. He says, because the ambassador asked his assistant to. And you know and he did. You know, you asked why did he meet with the ambassador. He says, well, the initial meeting came at a speech that was set up and the ambassador was invited. He spoke to him there. Then, he had separate meeting. You know, he does try to answer each one of those questions. You are not satisfied with the answers he gives in the 11-page statement?

QUIGLEY: Well, if anyone has been part of a deposition before, you know that you are not going to answer a deposition with a written response, right? First, you are not under oath. Second of all, you are not under the scrutiny of follow-up questions and the ability going to some detail.

So I have no idea what to expect. I have no prejudgment of what he is going to say. The fact is, when I talk about naivete or changing narratives. It's part of the Trump plan overall. Under the scrutiny of cross-examination in this questioning, in a deposition-like format, perhaps we can find out exactly what took place.

HARLOW: Switching gears completely here to something that is very important for your party in elections moving forward. So the Democratic Party and leadership have adopted this better deal, sort of slogan and campaign, if you will, about your message going forward. This comes after a lot of polling that shows that you know the Democrats didn't have a message they were standing on in the last election other than an anti-Trump message.

So here is what Chuck Schumer said, the Senate minority leader, in a new interview this weekend. Quote, "When you lose to somebody who has 40 percent popularity, you don't blame other things -- Comey, Russia -- you blame yourself."

Frankly the president took that, turned it to his advantage, issued a statement, a tweet on it this morning. Is Chuck Schumer correct?

QUIGLEY: I didn't hear that last part, I'm sorry.

HARLOW: Is Chuck Schumer correct. When he says, when you lose to someone with 40 percent popularity, you don't blame other things like Comey and Russia -- you blame yourself, meaning the Democratic Party.

QUIGLEY: Yes, I don't think you blame anybody for your losses. I think you move forward and find out what you need to do.

[10:20:04] I'm on the Intel Committee. So obviously a lot of my time is dealt with finding out what took place here. But as a Democrat and someone who represents Chicago, I'm an appropriator. My job is to try to drive resources back to Chicago.

I think our first message is we need a big infrastructure bill. We need to rebuild this economy, creating jobs in the meantime. More people take the train in Chicago, the CTA than ride Amtrak in a year and they do it in a month.

So sure, I would love to talk about that message. But obviously, we have been busy on that committee, focused on the measures at hand.

HARLOW: All right. Congressman Mike Quigley, we'll talk much more about that and what the better deal is, specifically, moving forward and how it's different from Hillary Clinton's campaign or the presidency of Barack Obama. Thank you for being with us.

QUIGLEY: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. He didn't want to be a public figure, but right now, high profile meeting is underway between Jared Kushner and the Senate Intelligence investigators.

Up next, we speak with two journalists who have covered Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, extensively.