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Kushner Reveals Details of Contacts with Russian Ambassador; Mixed Messages from White House on Russia Sanctions; White House Signals Trump Will Sign Russia Sanctions Bill. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired July 24, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
[05:59:09] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Monday, July 24, 6 a.m. here in New York, and we do have breaking news.
Jared Kushner is going to break his silence today. The White House senior adviser and President Trump's son-in-law, of course, put out an 11-page statement for the public record ahead of that private meeting today with the Senate Intelligence Committee.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So the statement is pretty extraordinary. In it, Kushner says he wants to set the record straight, and he outlines his foreign contacts, which have, of course, been amended several times on his security clearance forms.
So how will he answer congressional investigators today, given this statement? CNN has it all covered.
Let's get right to justice correspondent Pamela Brown. She is live in Washington.
Pam, I know you've had a chance to look through this. What do you see in this statement?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, this morning for the first time, President Trump's senior advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is sharing his side of the story about Russian contacts. And he said in this 11-page statement, released ahead of his meeting today behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, that he had no additional meetings with any Russians that have been -- previously been publicly disclosed.
And he went through each one in detail, in fact, providing some previously undisclosed details. And he started with the Mayflower Hotel last April, where he says he first met and shook hands with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, saying that the exchange lasted less than a minute.
And then Kushner goes on to deny a report from Reuters that he had two calls with Kislyak between April and November. He says he doesn't recall those phone calls, and an extensive search of his phone records has not revealed those calls took place. So clearly, trying to put distance between himself and the Russian ambassador, saying he only had that meeting at the Mayflower Hotel in April during the campaign.
And then he says he only had one other Russian contact during the campaign that he did not recall until a recent document review. And that was the infamous meeting at Trump Tower with his brother-in-law Don Jr.
Kushner claims he did not read the back and forth on the e-mail chain whereby Don Jr. is told that he would be receiving incriminating information from a Russian attorney about Hillary Clinton. He paints a picture that it was a meaningless meeting, that he only attended for ten minutes, that he only heard about adoption in this meeting.
And he said in the statement, quote, "Reviewing e-mails confirmed my memory that the meeting was a waste of our time and that, in looking for a polite way to leave and get back to my work, I actually e-mailed my assistant from the meeting after I had been there for ten or so minutes and wrote, "Can you please call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting."
He says there was no follow-up to that meeting that he was aware of, and he had no knowledge of documents being offered.
And then, Alisyn and Chris, he went on to detail what he said was the second meeting with Ambassador Kislyak during the transition. So after the election, he said Kislyak wanted to meet with him to address U.S. policy in Syria, and that he wanted to convey information from what he called his generals to inform -- inform the new administration. He says Kislyak asked for a secure line in this meeting to conduct the conversation. Kushner says that he replied there wasn't a secure line at the transition headquarters. And he asked if it was possible to use existing communication channels at the Russian embassy. Kislyak said that wouldn't be possible, and nothing happened after that.
So clearly here, Kushner trying to downplay any idea of a secret communication channel to Moscow, as has previously been reported.
And then he says in this statement around a week later, he confirms Kislyak wanted to meet with him again, and he sent his assistant, who reported back to Kislyak to him, that Kislyak wanted him to meet with a Russian banker, Sergey Gorkov, who had aligned to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kushner says he did end up meeting with Gorkov in a meeting that lasted around 20 minutes, where he claims no personal business was discussed. He said it was more of a relationship-type building meeting, given his role in the transition.
He also says Gorkov gave him two gifts that Kushner had formally registered with the transition office. He says that was the only time he connected with Gorkov. And he also said that these are the only contacts he had with Russians during the campaign and during the transition that he can recall. After an extensive search of his e- mails and phone records, he says that is it.
Back to you, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Pam, it's really interesting to read all of this statement in what sounds like his own words, explaining how all of this transpired. What does -- what does he say about his security clearance forms and why those have had to be amended?
BROWN: So this is the first time that he's going on the record to sort of walk people through what he says happened with his security clearance form. Because as we know, he recently amended it to include that June meeting last year at Trump Tower. And he says what happened was last January it was erroneously submitted by his assistant. There was a miscommunication that it was ready to go when, in fact, it wasn't. He says the next day, his office followed up with the FBI to say that it would continue -- filled in some of the gaps and also said it would follow up with all the foreign contacts he had, given the fact that he had thousands of contacts with foreign officials throughout the campaign and the transition.
He basically described it as a rolling process that was amended as they learned about more contacts. And he says it wasn't just Russian contacts that weren't disclosed. He said it was across the board, that he continued to update, including that one last June after a document review more recently.
And he also said for the first time, really going on the record to explicitly say in this statement, "I did not collude nor -- nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded with any foreign government. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector. I have tried to be fully transparent with regard to the filing of my SF-86 form, above and beyond what is required."
So this is the first time, again, Alisyn and Chris, that we're hearing from Jared Kushner during the Russia probe about his side of the story and him coming back and explicitly saying that there was no collusion with Russians, and saying that there were no additional Russian contacts beyond what has been previously disclosed.
Back to you.
CUOMO: Right. And Pamela, thank you very much for taking us through some of the high points of this. And it is what would be expected. It is a very favorable accounting of all facts from Jared Kushner's perspective. That is what he should be putting out before and ahead of his testimony.
So let's bring in our panel and discuss the implications. CNN political commentator Michael Smerconish; CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger; and CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeffrey, this -- there's a little bit of a red herring that it's not going to be under oath. It's illegal to lie to Congress. So his not being under oath, I don't know why people are putting it out there, but people should know it doesn't matter to people. This is extraordinary in terms of its entire context, but very ordinary in terms of what he puts out here for people to see. What is not in here is may be of most interest with lawmakers he meets with today and he meets with the House, which is his business activities. And what was going on with 666 Fifth Avenue, what happens with that
building what's going on. I think there's going to be interest about that. There's no mention in here at all of anything going on with his business that he was dealing with during his campaign.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Except at the very end there's one sentence where he said he has not relied on Russian funds.
TOOBIN: But that's the only reference in any sort of specificity about his business dealings. But I do think we need to mention that, you know, there has been a lot of suspicion about him in terms of contacts with Russians and certainly now with the June meeting that his role has been -- has been questioned. And if this statement is the last word, if this statement is verified by outside sources, I think it would establish that he did not have any significant contacts with Russians. And I think that would be an important fact.
CUOMO: There's no proof that he did.
TOOBIN: But I think one thing in particular that is significant is the period from when Trump won the election to the inauguration, the contacts with Gorkov, he puts a very innocent gloss on that, that there were brief meetings, just pleasantries. If that turns out to be true, that would certainly be helpful to...
CUOMO: He also says he showed up late to the Don Jr. meeting.
CUOMO: Which is fine. But so he says, "I walked in, and they were only talking about adoption." So we still don't know, is it true that when they came in, there was some discussion before the adoption talk? He clears himself of any responsibility.
TOOBIN: ... documents turned over in the course of that meeting from the Russians.
CUOMO: And then he followed up after that. He says none.
TOOBIN: That certainly suggests no. He doesn't speak about documents in particular.
CAMEROTA: But I mean, David Sanger, he also says that he found the meeting to be so kind of irrelevant that he texted his assistant and said, "Can you, like, make a call or come in and say I need to get out of this meeting?" He was looking for an excuse to be able to leave the meeting.
Also, before I let you comment, a couple of other things. He says that he met with officials from approximately 15 countries during the course of the campaign and the transition. And he says, "It has been reported that my submission only omitted the Russians." That is not true. He accidentally submitted his first form. All foreign contacts were omitted, he wants investigators to know. What do you see here, David?
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Two things, Alisyn. First of all, we have to remember that it's Mr. Kushner who has the most to lose in this set of -- this moment in the investigation. He's the one with the job in the White House. He's the one with the security clearance. Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort all have no official role in the administration.
Secondly, I thought that the most important part was the part where he tries to clear up the question of whether he tried to set up a secret channel with the Russians. What's been called the secret channel. It doesn't appear that any, if you believe this account, was set up.
The idea of doing this from the Russian embassy, I think, was at best a bit of a naive suggestion. Anybody who has worked in counterintelligence and so forth will tell you, going in to use a Russian line on Russian property and so forth will tell you, going in to use a secure line on Russian property that is separated out, not legally U.S. territory, probably would be unwise.
[06:10:09] Also, of course, the NSA monitors those, as we know, from the conversations with Kislyak. The conversations with Kislyak themselves appear, if you believe his account, appear to be pretty innocent.
There's still some mystery about the Gorkov meeting. That's the Russian banker who came to see him. You'll remember the White House at first described this as a business meeting, then said, no, it was really more about building a relationship, which is what we hear in this one.
The last point, and that has to do with the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. set up. It's not surprising that there was no passage of documents. It's not surprising that the conversation seemed so boring that he needed to go use the dodge of having his assistant call his cell phone.
This meeting, if you ask people who have looked at the Russians and how they do this kind of thing, was a soft approach to see whether or not there were members around President Trump or then President-elect Trump who might be receptive to receiving this information. That's what's we know from the e-mail, that suggested there was dirt on Hillary Clinton, to use the phrase that was used there.
And that's what it was all about. It wasn't really about passage. It was about trying to figure out if there was a real channel.
CUOMO: Michael Smerconish.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: From the outside looking in, that e-mail trail that preceded the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower is -- is stunning. It's an e-mail to someone named Donald Trump. It's Donald Trump Jr. It says, "I want to bring you incriminating information. It's very sensitive information. It comes with the blessing of the Russian government, because we favor your father against Hillary Clinton." I'm paraphrasing each of those things, but not by much.
And a meeting then ensues where we know there were eight individuals present, and one of them is Jared Kushner. And in this statement, he asks us to believe -- and maybe it's true -- that this in the eyes of the Trump campaign or, to his perspective, was "just another meeting where Don Jr. asked me to drop by, as I would ask Don Jr. to drop by."
It kind of makes me wonder, well, how many other e-mails of that consequence did they receive if it wasn't at least the subject of some discussion like, "Holy crap, somebody is coming in here to bring us information to incriminate Hillary, and it comes from the Russian government."
And yet he said, you know, it was a perfunctory sort of thing, as Alisyn pointed out, where he used the trick that many business executives utilize, which is to say to his assistant, "Can you get me out of this?" I think it warrants, Chris, a lot of follow-up questioning.
And then secondly, to David's point, that interaction with Ambassador Kislyak, where they talk about a back-channel communication, I found remarkable that Jared Kushner says, "I ask Ambassador Kislyak with whom can I converse, somebody who could speak for President Putin, so that we can have a direct line of communication."
And I'm thinking to myself, well, isn't that Ambassador Kislyak? Isn't that the whole purpose of having an ambassador that you would -- why are you asking this individual, "With whom do I speak about Vladimir Putin?" You're with the guy.
An then finally, and I'll stop, he says, "I did not suggest a secret back channel." And yet, two sentences prior, he says it was his idea to utilize the Russian embassy for a line of communication. So very interesting. Maybe it all exonerates him, but I'm a trial lawyer. I have a lot of follow-up questions.
CAMEROTA: I mean, so...
CUOMO: He also says Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, to David Sanger's point, was with him when he attended the meeting. So the idea of should you do this type of communicating on Russian territory, he had an intel guy with him in the form of Lieutenant General Michael Flynn who, you know, contextualizing David Sanger's point, Jeffrey Toobin, should have known, this isn't the kind of situation that you have. "Yes, we'll come back to your embassy and talk to you."
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: All the contacts between November and January really underline the fact that the usual practices for the presidents-elect, is that they coordinate with the State Department any contacts with foreign -- with other foreign officials to avoid precisely these problems. That we only have one government at a time at this country and only have one president at a time. And even though the Trump campaign and the president -- from the
president-elect on down, had nothing but disdain for John Kerry, for the State Department, for Barack Obama. The fact that they did all this on a freelance basis and were improvising contacts and how do we make contacts shows why you always work through the State Department when there are -- when we have a president of the United States.
CUOMO: He's also setting himself up, to Michael Smerconish's point, to look naive/foolish on a number of issues.
[06:15:07] But I have to tell you something. That's OK when you're dealing with the FBI or this case with these government lawmakers. It is better to come off -- look, I didn't know.
CAMEROTA: Yes, sure.
CUOMO: If you're going to come off as naive, if you're going to come off this way, this is the time to come off that way, because it's better than the alternative.
CAMEROTA: This is what this -- how this reads, sort of in over their heads, "I got 200 e-mails a day. I couldn't figure out which ones..."
CUOMO: Didn't know any better.
CAMEROTA: These were neophytes, you know. That's how this reads. So we'll see if that's good enough for Senate investigators.
TOOBIN: Indeed we will.
CAMEROTA: Yes, thank you very much, panel. Stick around. We have more questions for you. There's this new Russia sanctions bill, and it has triggered some muddled messaging from the White House. Will the president sign this bipartisan measure that would punish the Kremlin for interfering in our election. Our panel discusses that next.
CUOMO: So which is it? We're getting mixed messages from the White House on whether President Trump supports this bipartisan effort in Congress to further punish Russia for interfering in the U.S. election.
CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House with more. What's the latest on this?
[06:20:03] JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris.
It wasn't long ago that the White House was opposed to some key provisions of that bill to punish Russia for interfering in the last election.
Now, with pressure mounting on Capitol Hill to do something, the president may be facing a no-win situation after that big communications shakeup over the weekend. Another round of mixed messaging.
JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump's new communications team offering muddled messaging about whether the president supports a bill that will limit his ability to unilaterally lift sanctions on Moscow. Newly-appointed press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders signaling the president is open to signing the legislation.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The administration is supportive of being tough on Russia, particularly in putting these sanctions in place. And we support where the legislation is now.
JOHNS: But incoming White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci sounding more uncertain.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is President Trump going to sign the Russian sanctions bill?
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: We have to ask President Trump that. You know, it's my second or third day on the job. My guess is that he's going to make that decision shortly.
JOHNS: The new communications director also telling CNN that President Trump still does not accept that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 election.
SCARAMUCCI: He basically said to me, "Hey, you know, this is -- maybe they did it, maybe they didn't do it."
JOHNS: A stark contrast to the unanimous and unwavering beliefs reiterated by President Trump's own intelligence officials in the last week.
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: There is no dissent, and I have stated that publicly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone's on board?
COATS: And I have stated that for the president.
MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: I am confident that the Russians meddled in this election as is the entire intelligence community.
MIKE ROGERS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: No doubt at all. I stand behind the intelligence, the assessment that we've produced.
JOHNS: With three of his inner circles scheduled this week to speak with congressional investigators, looking into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the president unleashing his anger at both political parties, once again calling the investigation a phony witch hunt and an excuse for a lost election while attacking fellow Republicans for doing very little to protect their president. The president raising eyebrows a day earlier by asserting he has the
complete power to pardon, suggesting that might include his family, his aides, even possibly himself in relation to the Russia probe.
SCARAMUCCI: I'm in the Oval Office with the president last week. We're talking about that. He says he brought that up. He said but he doesn't have to be pardoned. There's nobody around him that has to be pardoned.
JOHNS: One of President Trump's lawyers, offering a contradictory message.
JAY SEKULOW, MEMBER, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LEGAL TEAM: We have not -- I continue to not have conversations with the president of the United States regarding pardons. Pardons have not been discussed, and pardons are not on the table.
JOHNS: The house is expected to take up the sanctions bill as early as Tuesday. "The New York Times" reports when they reached out to Scaramucci about the confusion over the president's stance on the bill. He said he was still new to the information, apparently getting up to speed -- Chris and Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Joe, thank you very much for all of that reporting. Let's bring back our panel to discuss that. Michael Smerconish, David Sanger and Jeffrey Toobin.
David Sanger, I want to start with you. You have an article in "The New York Times" about this this morning. This is a pivotal moment for President Trump in terms of the sanctions against Russia, and it's a dilemma for him. Because if he goes along with Congress and he signs the legislation to sanction Russia, well, that must mean that he agrees with the intel chiefs that, in fact, they meddled and, of course, it scuttles his attempt to reset this relationship with Putin.
If he does not sign what Congress wants him to sign in terms of sanctions, well, that has all sorts of political consequences. So what's going to happen here?
SANGER: Alisyn, I think he'll sign it. And I think he'll sign it, because if he, in this political atmosphere, vetoed a bill that appeared to be part of an effort by the White House to somehow protect the Russians from additional sanctions, you can imagine the outcry, and the veto would probably be overridden. I mean, this vote in the Senate, 98-2. The house has not taken this up yet. They've reached agreement on this compromise language
The second thing I think you need to remember about this is this is a significant setback for both President Trump and for Vladimir Putin, both of whom overplayed their hands here by denying the intelligence so consistently, even after he has been presented with everything that those intelligence chiefs you saw speaking at Aspen last week said. He is only fueling this movement, because it looks like he is denying the realities of what's put in front of him. Putin made a mistake, too, because at the moment last summer when he
moved this from a sort of traditional surveillance operation into the campaigns into an influence operation in an effort to try to change votes in the United States, he fundamentally changed the dynamic here.
[06:25:04] And what's interesting about this bill is, when you read it through, there's a section of penalties for the interference in the election. That would be the first significant penalty he has paid, when you consider the fact that what President Obama did at the end of his term was pretty mild.
CUOMO: Michael Smerconish, so you have the political reality, and then you're going have the larger political reality. The basic political reality is, sanctions are often cooperative between Congress and the president. So the idea of allowing Congress to have a hand in whether or not these sanctions are removed down the road, that's pretty easy to swallow politically. You know, that's not the first time that that's happened.
But Anthony Scaramucci gave everybody a gift early on in his tenure as the head of communications. He said what we've been speculating on for a very long time, certainly on this show. Every time the president hears the words "Russian interference," he hears "illegitimate." That's what he hears when he hears those words, and his analysis stops at that. "This is bad for me; I won't own it."
It doesn't matter that we have the montage of his director of national intelligence, of the head of the CIA, all saying what everybody has said. He will say, "I don't know who did it, because it is bad for him." Is it as simple as that now?
SMERCONISH: Well and then he'll use the word "hoax," or he'll use the word "witch hunt" to describe the ensuing process. And he boxes himself in by utilizing that verbiage, not only with sanctions, the way in which David and Alisyn just explained, but also with regard to Attorney General Sessions.
We have that report at the end of the week from "The Washington Post" that said that the intercepts revealed that there had been conversation between Ambassador Kislyak and Jeff Sessions relative to the campaign, and the president, as you know last week, threw Sessions under the bus.
But I don't know that he can get rid of Jeff Sessions for that reason. Because to do so would be an acknowledgment that this is all not a hoax and not a witch hunt. So, you know, the president's own words, I think, have limited the options that he has relative to both Attorney General Sessions and what he'll now do on sanctions.
CAMEROTA: Well, Jeffrey, I mean, look, we're often cautioned, look at his actions. You know, his words can be all over the place. His tweets can contradict himself. Let's watch his actions. If he signs this, as David Sanger predicts that he will, and it does sanction Russia in a more tough way than they have been, is this over? Do we know that then President Trump actually has accepted the findings of his intel chiefs, that Russia did meddle in our election? TOOBIN: I think the answer is no, it's not. I mean, you can't have
it both ways. You can't sign legislation that says, you know, Russia tried to manipulate our election and then say, as president of the United States, as chief of state, as head of our government, say, "Well, I don't know if they manipulated, if they tried to intervene in the election."
I mean, words matter. And president's words matter more than anyone. So, you know, obviously, if he signs this legislation, it will be a sign that he is more or less on the same page as Congress about Russia. But if he keeps saying that that's not the case, that you know, it's unclear whether Russia meddled and this is just a hoax, that matters, too.
CUOMO: David, he's no stranger to parsing. You know, it would not have been beyond his set of political skills and rhetorical skills to say, did they interfere? Yes. And I'll get them. I'm not Obama. I'll get them. I'll get them in a real way.
But to say that I had anything to do with it or that my campaign had anything to do with it, that's just the Democrats. That's just a hoax. That's just -- whatever pejorative you want to put on it, why doesn't he separate the two?
SANGER: You know, it would be pretty easy to get out and say, "Look, the Russians manipulated the -- or attempted to manipulate the vote with a series of techniques. We have to make sure this never happens again. And by the way, they didn't succeed, and I was elected legitimately. It doesn't strike me as very difficult."
And the president's own aides will tell you they have not heard him be able to sort of make that leap, as you've heard before from Michael.
To Jeff's point, I think it's entirely possible that he can sign this legislation and then continue to deny that he believes the evidence is very strong, because he doesn't say they didn't do it. He just tries to muddle it up. Well, maybe they did it. Maybe a lot of other people did it. It's hard in cyber to know who was doing what and so forth.
And I suspect that that is so ingrained in him that he can't get that line out of his head. So I think you'll continue to hear the mixed message. And, you know, this is sort of begging the larger point, which is, if you sign this bill, if you have these new sanctions in, where do you take the relationship with Russia?
I have a little bit of sympathy for the president on one point here, which is most presidents have the ability to go lift some sanctions, as President Obama did with Iran, for diplomatic purposes.