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New Messages from White House on Russia Sanctions; Kushner Releases 11-Page Statement Ahead of Senate Meeting. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired July 24, 2017 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- meetings that have been alleged to have taken place.
[07:00:03] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The administration is supportive of being tough on Russia, particularly in putting these sanctions in place.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hasn't made the decision yet to sign that bill one way or the other.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he vetoes the bill, we will override his veto.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am confident that the Russians meddled in theiselection as is the entire Intelligence Committee.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president basically said to me, "Maybe they did it. Maybe they didn't do it."
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. We do begin with breaking news for you, because Jared Kushner has put out an 11-page statement saying that he did not collude with any foreign government. The president's son-in-law and senior adviser, getting -- he will be facing tough questions on his contacts with Russia in just hours when he meets with the Senate Intel Committee.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It's a very well-crafted 11 pages, and it certainly outlines all contacts from Kushner's perspective with Russian officials, including what he knew about that meeting with the Russian attorney that Don Jr. invited him to. Now, the question this morning is going to be that. What will the impact be of Kushner's answers on investigators, especially when you get to the special counsel and, of course Congress.
We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown, live in Washington with the breaking details. This is an unusual circumstance, but these 11 pages. So what Kushner wants the investigators to believe when he meets with them.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He wants this for the public record, as well. And this is the first time, Chris and Alisyn, that President Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is sharing his side of the story about his Russian contacts. And he said in this 11-page statement flat out, "I did not collude nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded with any foreign government. I had no improper contact. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector."
And he insists that he had no additional meetings with Russians other than the four contacts that had been reported already. So he did provide fresh details about these meetings. He says besides a quick meet-and-greet, rather, with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last April at a reception at the Mayflower Hotel, the other other Russian contacts during the campaign was the now infamous meeting at Trump Tower with his brother-in-law, Don Jr.
Kushner claimed he did not read down that e-mail chain whereby Don Jr. is told that he would be receiving incriminating information from a Russian attorney about Hillary Clinton. Kushner claiming he would get hundreds of e-mails a day during the campaign, and he just didn't read through each e-mail, including this one.
And he also tried to emphasize in this statement how he viewed the meeting as meaningless, saying, 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 he's aware of, no knowledge of documents being offered. He says the only thing he remembers was a discussion about adoption. He then went on to detail what he said was the second meeting with Ambassador Kislyak during the transition, saying Kislyak wanted to meet with him to address U.S. policy in Syria.
He says during that meeting Kislyak asked for a secure line to conduct the conversations with generals in Moscow. Kushner told him, according to this statement, there wasn't a secure line at the transition headquarters, so 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 Kushner says.
Clearly, Kushner is clearly pushing back on any notion that he wanted a secure back channel to Moscow. After that, at Kislyak's request, he met with Sergey Gorkov, the head of the Russian state-owned bank, VEB, Vladimir's direct connection to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
Kushner says that meeting lasted about 20 minutes. And he claims it was only about relationship-building as part of his role in the transition and that no personal business was discussed. That contradicts a statement from VEB that says this meeting was about Kushner's business.
So clearly, in this 11-page statement, Jared Kushner is painting this picture that these contacts with Russians during the campaign and the transition were meaningless and insignificant, in his view.
Back to you, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Pamela, there's so much to parse in this 11-page statement. Thank you very much for diving in and analyzing all that for us.
So there are mixed messages coming from the White House on whether the president supports another big story, event that will be happening this week, this bipartisan bill in Congress that would punish Russia for interfering in the U.S. election.
CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House with that part of the story. What's the latest, Joe?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.
You know, it was recently, not long ago that the White House was lobbying against that bill to punish Russia for meddling in the last election.
Now there's pressure mounting on Capitol Hill to do something, which could mean the president is going to find himself in a no-win situation. All this when the newly-retooled communications team here at the White House went out to talk about it over the weekend with more 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've got 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 tomorrow. "The New York Times" is reporting that, when they reached out to Scaramucci to ask him about the confusion over the president's position on the bill, he told him he was still new to the information -- Alisyn and Chris.
CAMEROTA: Joe, thank you very much for all of that. We'll talk about it with our panel. Let's bring them in.
We have CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger; Bloomberg news White House correspondent Margaret Talev; and former U.S. undersecretary for political affairs, Ambassador Nicholas Burns. Great to see all of you. David Sanger, I want to start with you. If you read this 11-page statement, this extraordinary statement from Jared Kushner in the first person, in his own words, do you read it as someone who was confronting a steep learning curve, somewhat over his head in his new role as senior adviser, had a lot on his plate, and so a lot of what he says were casual meetings with Russian officials slip through the cracks; and that's all there is there.
DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, certainly, Alisyn, the way he's trying to portray himself in this 11- page document is somebody who was completely new to foreign affairs, couldn't remember, after he had met him, the name of Sergey Kislyak, the long-time Russian ambassador to the United States, who suggested at one point -- Kushner himself said he suggested that if they needed to set up a secure communications line to the Russians that maybe they should go to the Russian embassy in Washington and use their phone lines to go do that. I've never been in the foreign service.
But our fellow panelist, Nick, has. And I suspect there are people in the -- in the foreign service world and counterintelligence world who would have a problem with that. So his defense here is basically, "I was overwhelmed and a little naive about how all this happened. I didn't know who I was meeting."
I think the most interesting part, Alisyn, was his description of the Donald Trump Jr. meeting with the Russian lawyer and the parade of other Russians who were there. He maintained the part he was in was mostly about adoptions that, as you heard, he wanted to get out of the meeting early.
[07:10:03] But what he's missing is that the purpose of that meeting, if you talk to people who have done Russian counterintelligence was mostly to see if the Trump campaign or the transition at that point was -- the campaign at that point was receptive to getting information about Hillary Clinton, to receiving Russian government data about Hillary Clinton. That's what the meeting was all about. And he seemed to have missed that, by his own account.
CUOMO: And one of the interesting revelations about Don Jr.'s e- mails, is that it shows that it's not a hoax, not a witch hunt. The Russians were trying to move on people close to the president.
Now, Jared Kushner gives himself some space on that meeting. He says, "I showed up late, so whatever was said before the adoption, I don't know. I wasn't there." That's the implication of the statement.
But as someone who does have such profound knowledge of foreign service, to David Sanger's point, he presents himself as overwhelmed and naive. Is that good enough for you?
NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Well, I think that's the key question for the Senate Intelligence Committee and for the special counsel.
Chris, I think that the major thing here that I would like to relate today is how strange and bizarre it was that the Trump campaign spent so much time thinking about Russia. They were running for election in the United States. It's not unusual for campaigns of either parties to have incidental contacts with foreign officials just to get to know them, to exchange views. But to have this reported focus by the campaign chairman, by the president's son, by the president's son-in- law, by the president himself on Russia, I find strange.
CUOMO: Jared Kushner says he had very little contact with Russia. He didn't even remember the ambassador's name.
BURNS: But look at the campaign in total. The most important thing here is the statements Donald Trump made as candidate and now as president. He's rejecting that Russia hacked our election. He's been doing that since autumn.
He's repeatedly excused what the Russians have done in Ukraine and Crimea. He hasn't even been for the sanctions that nearly every other Republican has supported on both of those issues. He is the weakest president we've had on Russia. I think that's the central story from a policy perspective.
CAMEROTA: Margaret, you've had a chance to read through this. Let me read for our viewers one of the salient moments. And this is Jared Kushner talking about that Russian attorney that Don Jr. set the meeting with. "I had not met the attorney before the meeting nor spoken with her since. I thought nothing more of this short meeting until it came to my attention recently. I did not read or recall this e-mail exchange before it was shown to me by my lawyers when reviewing documents for submission to the committees."
What do you see here, Margaret?
MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, when you look at it in its totality, this 11-page statement, it attempts to do at least two things.
One is completely distance him from any notion that Hillary Clinton and her, you know, fate in the election entered his calculus.
And two is to sort of preemptively state that his own business interests at the Kushner companies were not tied up in his thinking at all about this meeting with the bank chief, the Russian bank chief who had connections with Vladimir Putin. There is so much material in this 11-page statement. But these are two kind of parallel points that I think are really important to understand that he is underscoring.
And the third is, as all statements attempt to do, to set the narrative going into this interview with this Senate panel. As we know, this is sort of an unusual arrangement, not what we think of as typical committee testimony. It's happening behind closed doors, not happening under oath. And it is with staff. But they will have a chance to ask him questions. And this is his opportunity to try to set the parameters of those questions and to shape the staff's thinking before that meeting actually begins.
CUOMO: You know, Kushner doesn't have to be under oath to be... CAMEROTA: To tell the truth.
CUOMO: You can tell the truth, no matter what. And you can be punished for not telling the truth without being under oath before Congress. And he also is the only one who has any onus on him. He's a member of the administration. Manafort isn't, Donald Jr. isn't. So he had disclosure responsibilities, and that will be part of the questioning today.
But there are other issues, as well. David Sanger, what do you make of the president's posturing on the sanctions bill? We get it. We get it from Anthony Scaramucci when he hears Russian interference, he hears, "I'm illegitimate." So he doesn't like it. He rejects it. It doesn't matter how many people say Russia interfered. He's going to fight it.
The sanctions bill puts him in a little bit of a pickle, but could he not sign this? I mean, haven't members of his own party told him, "We're going to override your veto on this. It matters to us?
[07:15:05] SANGER: Well, Chris, I don't think he's got a choice here. First of all, in this political atmosphere, if he vetoed this bill, first significant piece of legislation to reach his desk as president, maybe the only piece of significant legislation that will reach him in this session of Congress, he would be in position of appearing to do Vladimir Putin's bidding. Because this bill is exactly what President Trump in his interviews with us last year at "The Times," and what Vladimir Putin wanted to avoid. H
Mr. Trump said in those interviews that he thought that the sanctions that had been imposed after the annexation of Crimea and the military action in Ukraine were an impediment to building up a better relationship with Russia. He didn't quite go so far as to say he wanted to get rid of it, but that was the implication.
Now this legislation actually expands the sanctions. It doesn't do it in a very dramatic way. But it certainly puts specific sanctions on individual Russians and entities for the election hack. So by signing with the bill, which I think he's going to have to do, he is basically acknowledging that the Russians were responsible for the -- for the hack.
I don't think that will change in any way his continued effort to sort of muddy that up. And as you say, the reason for that is clear. He is not capable of, in his own mind, of saying they tried to interfere in the election; and it probably didn't affect the outcome. He's a legitimate president in any way. All he hears is this is a way to attack his legitimacy.
CUOMO: And once and for all we can say, it's not us speculating about it. His own coms director said that the president, this is his reckoning of it. So it's not speculation. It comes from the White House.
CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much for all the information and perspective. CUOMO: All right. And look, you know, just to further the point, the
intelligence agencies agree. It doesn't matter which one of them you ask from which administration. They say Russia interfered in the election. So what do GOP Congress members think about the president's continued muddying of those waters? We're going to ask a House member next.
[07:21:11] CUOMO: All right. Staying on top of breaking news, Jared Kushner put out an 11-page statement this morning, of course, ahead of his private interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Now, you keep hearing Kushner won't be under oath. That doesn't matter if you're testifying before Congress. If you don't tell the truth, there's a penalty for it. So don't worry about whether or not he's under oath. He insists in this statement he did not collude with any foreign government during the campaign. Nor does he know of anybody else in the campaign doing so.
Joining us, Republican Congressman Leonard Lance of New Jersey. Congressman, good to have you here.
REP. LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: Thank you.
CUOMO: So I know you only looked at this statement briefly, but in general, what it does is say, "I didn't meet with anybody under any type of circumstances to suggest any type of undue influence or control."
He paints himself as overwhelmed and perhaps naive. Do you think that should be good enough for questioners, to explain why he didn't disclose what he was supposed to when he was supposed to?
LANCE: I think at first blush it appears to be an open statement. And I'm sure there will be questions raised by members of the Senate Intelligence Committee today. But upon first reading, it appears to me to be an open statement.
CUOMO: Do you have any concerns when it comes to Russian efforts to meddle in the election and what they may have tried to do with Trump's campaign?
LANCE: Yes, obviously, I think that Russians were up to no good, and I think that they did try to be involved, and this is true across the globe, not only here in the United States. And I agree with Mike Pompeo. with whom I served in the Congress, and Dan Coats. And, yes, I think they attempted that.
CUOMO: The president does not agree with the intelligence. He says that it is still an open question. It could be other people. Maybe it was Russia. Maybe it was not. Why do you think that the president doesn't share the certainty that you do?
LANCE: I think the president has said that it may have occurred; it may not have occurred. I believe that it did occur. That the president was elected for other reasons. And as Senator Schumer said over the weekend, this was not based upon the Russians or Jim Comey. The president was elected for other reasons. And I think the president's point is that he was fairly elected based upon the Electoral College and that we should move forward.
CUOMO: How do we get to the bottom of what happened and take the actions as a government necessary to stop it from happening again if the president of the United States doesn't accept the premise?
LANCE: I think that we're going to have that opportunity. We're going to pass a strong sanctions bill this week in the House of Representatives, and I hope and expect the president will be signing that into law. His press spokesperson, Ms. Huckabee, indicated that yesterday. Mr. Scaramucci really deferred to Sarah Huckabee. So I think that the president will be signing that into law, and I certainly hope he does so.
CUOMO: So mixed messaging. Because politically, as his party, you're boxing him in on this. He does not want to own Russian interference as a reality, because he believes it hurts his legitimacy as president. We know this, because Anthony Scaramucci said as much from his conversation with the president. By making him -- you can't make the president do anything, but if he does sign this bill with pressure from his party, because you guys are in favor of it, then he has to own the reality of Russian interference.
Are you OK putting him in that position?
LANCE: We're a separate and independent branch of government as the president is a separate and independent branch of government. And I believe, upon reflection, that he will sign this into law. And I would certainly urge him to do so.
I respect the presidency. I recognize that he's a separate branch of government. But we need this tough sanctions bill not only against Russia, but also against Iran and North Korea.
CUOMO: Why is it so important for you to have congress manifest its ability to check the president on sanctions?
[07:25:06] LANCE: I think it's our independent coequal branch responsibility to indicate to the Russians and to the Iranians and to the North Koreans that we recognize what they are doing and that is why we're going to be imposing these additional sanctions.
CUOMO: What do you make of Paul Ryan, speaker of the House, obviously, pulling the AUMF language from the appropriations bill? Meaning right now it won't get to the floor for a debate. The authorization for the use of military force.
Do you believe, as an independent body, that Congress should step up and debate its constitutional duty when it comes to declarations of war?
LANCE: I do. And this, of course, has been a matter of contention for quite some time. It didn't begin this year. This has been quite some time since we've authorized force. And certainly, we should examine that in a bipartisan manner. And I'm willing to do that, Chris.
CUOMO: Why do you think Ryan pulled it?
LANCE: I don't know. I'm not on the Appropriations Committee, but I hope we have a legitimate debate on that issue at some point in the future.
CUOMO: Everybody keeps saying that, but it never happens. Why?
LANCE: I would imagine it's difficult. And this was true in the Obama administration, as well. This is not new. But I would like Congress to debate this in a timely fashion.
CUOMO: No president is going to ask you to take back power from them, but it certainly is your constitutional duty to declare war. You know that, sir. Thank you for being on NEW DAY.
LANCE: Thank you.
CUOMO: We look forward to that happening.
CAMEROTA: OK, Chris. The president says he has complete power to pardon. Why is he talking about that? We get both sides next.