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Kushner Testifies Behind Closed Doors to Congress; President Trump Pushes Health Care Reform; Federal Judge Allows Trump Panel to Collect Voter Data. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired July 24, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: But listen, he's not the only one from the White House speaking out today.
It was his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, just giving his first public comments on this Russia again, yes, Jared Kushner talking, and not just at the podium, but also before a Senate panel today.
The president's son-in-law and top adviser has now become the most high-profile Trump adviser to explain his interactions with Russia during both the campaign just transition.
And here's the key piece. He is denying any collusion involving him or anyone else from within the campaign, as far as he knows.
Soon after Kushner met with Senate investigators, he said this in front of a lot of cameras at the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: My name is Jared Kushner. I am senior adviser to President Donald J. Trump.
When my father-in-law decided to run for president, I served his campaign the best I could, because I believe in him and his ability to improve the lives of all Americans.
And now, serving the president and the people of the United States has been the honor and privilege of a lifetime. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work on important matters such as Middle East peace and reinvigorating America's innovative spirit.
Every day, I come to work with enthusiasm and excitement for what can be.
I have not sought the spotlight. First in business, and now in public service, I have always focused on setting and achieving goals, and have left it to others to work on media and public perception. Since the first questions were raised in March, I have been consistent in saying I have been eager to share any information I have with the investigating bodies, and I have done so today.
The records and documents I have voluntarily provided will show that all of my actions were proper, and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign. Let me be very clear. I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.
I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses. And I have been fully transparent in providing all requested information.
Donald Trump had a better message and ran a smarter campaign. And that is why he won. Suggesting otherwise ridicules those who voted for him.
It is an honor to work with President Trump and his administration as we take on the challenges that he was elected to face: creating jobs for American people, keeping America safe and eliminating barriers to achieving the American dream.
Thank you very much, and I look forward to taking questions from the House committee tomorrow. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Let's start there.
I have Sara Murray, our CNN White House correspondent, and Jessica Schneider, our CNN justice correspondent, with me.
So first on what we just ahead, yes, that was public from Jared Kushner, Jessica, but what more do we know about what he said behind closed to these Senate committees today?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jared Kushner, he spoke out there, but, Brooke, we really don't know a lot about what happened behind the closed doors with the Senate Intelligence Committee staffers.
There's no public record, no details coming from Kushner himself, except he did answer one reporter's question as he leaving Capitol Hill, saying that he answered "as many questions as investigators had," but you know, it really is likely he went over the details of what he included in that 11-page statement that was made public this morning.
Kushner in it said he wanted to set the record straight. He asserted of course he did not collude with a foreign government, nor did anyone else on the campaign. And then detailed four separate meetings with Russians during the campaign and the transition.
One of them was in fact previously undisclosed publicly. It was the first time he met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. Kushner said it was a quick meet-and-greet at his father's foreign policy speech in April 2016.
But it was really that June 2016 with Donald Trump Jr. and that Russian lawyer that has drawn the most intense scrutiny. Kushner did say in his statement he didn't know anything about the meeting before he got there, saying he didn't read the long e-mail chain.
And he said that really after 10 minutes, he was e-mailing his assistant asking her to call her and give him an excuse to get out of there.
So Kushner did reveal some of these meetings in that 11-page statement. Of course, Brooke, he will once again be on the Hill tomorrow, talking to members of the House Intelligence Committee.
That also behind closed doors, but we will see if we get any more details from there.
BALDWIN: So Kushner's father-in-law/boss, the president, will be speaking just a short time from now there, where you are, Sara, at the White House.
This is all things health care, but are you getting any indication he will mention Kushner or his meeting today on the Hill at all?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, you never want to rule anything out with Donald Trump, right? You never know exactly what he is going to say or tweet any given moment.
That said, this is supposed to be a health care event. He's meeting privately with what the White House refers to as victims of Obamacare. And then he's making a statement.
There is a teleprompter in the room. Presumably, the president will be delivering prepared remarks. He could always go off-script, but also this is just one of the public moments we're going to see him today.
He's going to be in West Virginia later on this evening. Of course, he still has access to Twitter, so if he has feelings to share about Jared Kushner's meeting up on the Hill, I'm sure we will hear them, Brooke.
BALDWIN: On the Twitter note, let's talk about -- quote, unquote -- "beleaguered A.G.," right, because the president has made news when he's now gone after Sessions again in a tweet. This is after "The New York Times" interview in the Oval Office his attorney general for just not disclosing his plan to recuse himself in the wake of the Russia investigation.
What do we know at this point today, Sara, as far as these two men, their relationship and even are they talking?
MURRAY: As of earlier today, when the president was sending out that tweet, he and Jeff Sessions still had not spoken, even after "The New York Times" interview where Trump really hammered his attorney general.
And after those tweets, they still have not spoken as of earlier today. One of the things to keep in mind is that, as frustrated the president is with Jeff Sessions, he has been told by his advisers, look, if you had put anyone else in this job, anyone else who served alongside of you at the campaign, there's a chance they would be in this same position.
If you picked a Rudy Giuliani or a Chris Christie, there is a chance that they would have to recuse themselves from the Russia probe because of the role they played in your campaign, because there are so many investigators looking into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians.
And it's worth noting one of our intrepid colleagues actually caught up with Rudy Giuliani today. He was on his way to Washington, D.C., and asked him if Sessions did the right thing to recuse himself. And Giuliani said that Sessions made the right decision under the rules of the Justice Department to step back from this probe.
I think what you're seeing is the president stewing a little bit because he's in a tough position. He doesn't exactly know how to get his way out of it.
BALDWIN: We wait for the president and we will take it live.
Sara and Jessica, thank you.
Let's have a bigger conversation though about all of this.
I have Michael Zeldin, who is back us today, CNN legal analyst and a former special assistant to Robert Mueller, who is now special counsel and leading this whole investigation. Also with us, Bob Baer, CNN intelligence and security analyst and former CIA operative.
So, gentlemen, nice to see both of you on this Monday afternoon.
Michael, to you first, just on Jared Kushner. He claims with what he said today on Capitol Hill, in the 11-page statement, he's laid it all out there, four Russian contacts. You have read the whole thing.
What's your biggest takeaway?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I thought it was a coherent story, which is something that we haven't yet seen from other witnesses or White House personnel.
I thought to myself this guy should be the communications director, because he told the story that had a beginning, a middle and an end that was coherent.
I think that whether it holds up will depend on the documentation that they have to support this story with. We heard from Kushner that he's presented documents and then oral testimony. We will see if they align, and if they do, good for him and maybe he's off the hook. If they don't, then there will be further dealings.
The financial documents are going to Mueller. His lawyer said that that was normal course investigative strategy by Mueller and that they would cooperate right there too. He's trying to be forthright and proactive, I think. I that just speaks to maybe his character, but certainly to the character of his lawyers and the legal advice he's getting.
BALDWIN: Yes, a lot of as best as I can remember, or from what I can tell, legalese, obviously, in that statement.
Bob, I understand that the part of the statement that struck out to you is his efforts, Kushner's efforts to set up a back channel with the Russians during the transition. What's your takeaway from that?
ROBERT BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I agree with Michael, first of all.
It's a coherent story. He's got the best lawyers that money can buy. No surprise there. It's good public statement.
But the fact is, private citizens don't set up back channels with hostile governments. And this whole issue of whether he requested communications for this back channel, in the intelligence community, this is highly suspect.
You don't go to a foreign government again and ask for communications. If you want a back channel, and you're in the transition team, you go to the State Department or the CIA or anybody else, but you don't do this privately.
And who is to say, was it for collusion? Was it because they didn't trust our own government?
But, frankly, it just stinks. I have never seen this happen with a transition team setting up connections with a foreign government to avoid the American government.
BALDWIN: Just on a legal level, Michael, we're so used to seeing people testify, hand on the Bible, I solemnly swear, and in this case Jared Kushner wasn't speaking to these committees under oath.
What is the difference? And if one were to not tell the entire truth or something comes out down the road, does the penalty differ?
ZELDIN: No, not really.
If you lie in this process, if you lie under oath, more or less, there are statutes that are coextensive with one another that would get you in the same legal jeopardy.
The benefit, I think, in this closed-door staff meeting was that staff, who generally are more prepared to question witnesses than their members, had at him presumably for as long as they wanted with follow-up questions, and they can now digest what he said in more detail, look at the documents in relationship to what he said, brief their members for what will be in all likelihood public hearings in the fall. On Kushner's side, he got the benefit of being present, not under other, and with his lawyer, in fact, getting sort of a dry run for what will be what I presume to public testimony at some point.
So I think that both sides come out ahead in this from an information transmission and receipt standpoint. And we will just see how it plays out.
BALDWIN: So one side, you should give Jared Kushner huge credit for coming out, and answering all these questions, and he's going back up on the Hill tomorrow.
On the other side, you have the skeptics, Bob Baer, who are pointing out one example in this 11-page bit is this meeting back at Trump Tower with Don Jr. and the Russian lawyer, et cetera. And he says, when his calendar dinged in his phone to go to the meeting, it just said meeting with Don Jr. It wasn't like he said the read the subject line for the e-mail, which, by the way, was Russia, Clinton, private and confidential.
Nor did he say he even took the time to read back the chain of e-mails about the supposed dirt that they would getting on Hillary Clinton.
I set all that up to make a point from this former FBI special agent who wrote in to us and said: "Hang on, Kushner doesn't read things carefully, shows up at meetings for no reason, and meets random government officials he can't remember? Awesome."
BALDWIN: Do you agree with that, or is that being a tad harsh?
BAER: No, that's not harsh enough.
He didn't put in the SF-86 form. Who goes to a meeting in the middle of a campaign or even a transition? Who has the time to meet with a foreign government? It's the optics on all this.
You're about ready to be president. You're running for the presidency. You avoid foreign governments like the plague. And someone, a government official, yes, exactly. You don't go to a meeting when you're a busy man and you don't know what for because the son of the president-elect calls you to it.
I just -- it makes no sense. I just don't -- I agree with this FBI agent. It smells.
And just question, Michael, does he have any wiggle room? When you read -- and Bob said it -- he has the best lawyers money can buy. And when he writes things like to the best of my recollection or as far as I can remember, is that enough wiggle room for him if the story changes down the road?
ZELDIN: It depends on how much the story changes.
If it changes on the margins, for sure. If he's brought -- if a document is brought to his attention that says, does this change your point of view, and it's not substantive, yes, he can change his point of view.
If he said black and now everything is white, that's not the sort of problem he wants in his documentation.
BALDWIN: That's a problem.
ZELDIN: But I have to say I don't take political sides in this, but so far I think that Kushner is behaving himself properly in the course of this.
We will see how it plays out. But the one thing that struck me about the June 9 meeting with Donald -- Kushner -- Jr., is that, if there's a conflict here, that is that Kushner is saying I didn't read this stuff, and he's to be believed, he's putting it all on Don Jr.
So to the extent that anything was wrong in legal terms, wrong with that meeting, as Bob suggests there may have been, then Kushner is saying it's on Don Jr. I got nothing to do with this. You got a problem, go talk to Don Jr. and his lawyer.
So you may now have a conflict between brother and brother-in-law.
ZELDIN: Yes. And that will be very interesting to see how that plays out legally.
BALDWIN: Michael Zeldin and Bob Baer, gentlemen, thank you both so much for that.
So far, we watch as that story line develops.
Meantime, we're watching this breaking news on President Trump's voter fraud commission. A federal judge has just ruled in favor of the administration to continue collecting voter data.
CNN's Dianne Gallagher is with me now live.
So, tell me. This is a win for the administration. What does the ruling mean?
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Basically, Brooke, this federal judge here in D.C. ruled in favor of the administration by declining a privacy rights group's request to order the presidents' voter integrity commission to stop collecting that voter information from the states.
The commission, if you remember, had halted all collection efforts a little earlier this month after the Electronic Privacy Information Center sued on constitutional and procedural grounds.
In this ruling that we got today, it was highly technical and pretty complicated. The judge determined that that group couldn't sufficiently show that it was entitled to the relief that it was seeking under the various federal statutes, specifically because the commission had switched from having the DOD host that voter data to using an existing system within the White House Information Technology Office.
The judge basically determined the collection effort couldn't be reviewed by a federal court. Now, Brooke, she did say that her order, if the circumstances maybe changed, that the plaintiffs could come back to seek some further relief.
But this is a victory for the administration today.
BALDWIN: OK. Dianne Gallagher, thank you very much for that update.
We were wondering what would happen with that.
Meantime, any moment, the president delivering the statement there from the White House on health care, as the Senate gets ready for a vote on the fate of repealing, replacing, or is it repeal, or what do the senators really even know ahead of this procedural vote tomorrow?
We will take that live when it happens. Stay with me.
BALDWIN: Just live pictures there from the White House, as we're standing by waiting to hear from President Trump himself delivering this statement on health care specifically.
He's turning up the pressure on Senate Republicans to find a way to repeal and replace.
That's a good sign as they're leaving his speech there on the podium.
He did tweet today they have a last chance to do the right thing after years of talking and campaigning on it.
The president's speech comes at the Senate is preparing to hold this vote or this procedural vote initially on health care tomorrow.
But the bigger question, what exactly will they be voting on?
CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly has been all over this on Capitol Hill.
I read your notes each and every morning, Phil Mattingly. Tell me -- this is this procedural vote, but it's my understanding that the senators don't even know what it is they're proceeding on.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what happens next.
Look, the idea -- the ideal world for Senate Republicans would be they would have had an agreed-upon bill. It would have been put up as a substitute amendment that would have the necessary 50 votes, and you would go into what is a very long, kind of multiple amendment after amendment after amendment process, knowing, Brooke, that at the very end this bill was going to be there, that was the ultimate endgame, and that's what you were going to vote on.
Brooke, that's the bill that has fallen apart multiple times up to this point, and they still haven't figured out a way to compromise yet. If they vote tomorrow, as they are scheduled to do, to move onto the debate, essentially, what they will have is kind of a Wild West amendment process.
Anybody can put anything up that is germane to the bill that falls within the budget rules, but there's no endgame there. So, senators that have made very clear, including Shelley Moore Capito, who the president will be with tonight in West Virginia, that they need not just repeal, but also some type of kind of assured replace plan as well, that doesn't exist yet.
And that, Brooke, is why there is a lot of question right now whether they can kind of wrangle the 50 votes they need to actually move forward and why what the president is about to do right now and what the president is going to do tonight with Senator Capito is so important in this kind of very public, very endgame lobbying effort to get them to move on to something that they don't really know what the endgame actually is.
BALDWIN: Capito, as you well know, was that key no on that one iteration of this bill with those three female senators to stop it in its tracks.
Phil Mattingly, I know you will by watching for the president closely, as will I.
We have a team of all-stars joining me to discuss what it is the president will say and how he delivers this message to fellow Republicans.
A quick break. The president is moments away.
BALDWIN: Again, we are waiting to see the president of the United States stand behind that podium there in the White House and deliver a statement, specifically on health care, one day ahead of this procedural vote on the Senate side, ahead of some sort of vote on repealing and replacing Obamacare.
It's all very ambiguous. And is the part of issue some of these senators are having with this tomorrow.
Let me bring in Dana Bash and Gloria Borger to talk through this.
And so, as we await, ah, two ladies in white, Dana, to you first.
What will you be listening for from the president?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, presumably, he's going to be doing the kind of cajoling he's been doing on Twitter for the past few days, through the weekend, in a way that is reminiscent of what we heard from him during the campaign, really trying to sort of not -- unafraid of sticking it to his colleagues in his own party.
He really kind of goes back and forth. It's a little bit kind of a roller coaster in, at some points, he tries to cajole Republicans on health care. Other parts of this process, he has tried to be more, you know, presidential in the way he treats them, you know, saying that kind of he's one of them, and they need to come along.
We will see which Donald Trump shows up at this particular event. But the bottom line is that the presidential pressure is important. The big question, as Phil Mattingly reported very succinctly before the break, what is he pressuring them to do?
Even the president doesn't know. And it's through no fault of his own. It's because there's such a chaotic, uncertain atmosphere on Capitol Hill and in the United States Senate amongst Republicans about where things stand.
And it is because, frankly, they are trying to figure out which of the various plans, whether it's repeal only and replace later, whether it's the old Republican bill, which has kind of now become kind of a patchwork to try to get the various factions of the caucus, or this new idea from Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy to block grant the money, or maybe a fourth idea that nobody has ever heard of.
Nobody knows what exactly it is that is going to get on the floor. And, most importantly, the key thing is get 50 Republican votes.
BALDWIN: Well, so let's go with math. Let's just go with what we know, which is you have to have the 50.
And, Gloria, I mean, Dana put it perfectly. We don't -- I say we. I'm putting -- think of the senators who are, you know, in Washington and thinking, hang on --