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New Revelations in Trump-Russia Investigation; White House Threatens Alaska Over Health Care Vote?; White House Infighting; Graham: Hard to Believe Russian Contact "One & Done". Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 27, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: What happens in the White House never seems to stay in the White House.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Mean tweets coming from inside the White House, and, for once, they're not coming from the president, the new communications director calling out the White House chief of staff and making a shocking revelation about the Trump administration.

Republicans scrambling ahead of a marathon voting session on health care that could go well past midnight tonight, as the White House reportedly threatens an entire state over one senator's stance.

Plus, a House Democratic staffer under investigation stopped trying to leave the country amidst allegations of bank fraud. Wait until you hear what job he had at the U.S. Capitol.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin with breaking news in the politics lead.

Just moments ago, the White House gave a total nonanswer to the question of whether President Trump still supports his White House chief of staff.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We all serve at the pleasure of the president, and if it gets to a place where that isn't the case, he will let you know.

QUESTION: So you can't say right now if the president has full confidence in Chief of Staff Reince Priebus?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think I just answered that.


TAPPER: This comes after so much drama in the White House today. One might be tempted to compare it to "Game of Thrones," but in some ways it's more like Pennsylvania Avenue becoming Melrose Place.

The embarrassing infighting spilled over and reached a whole new level. Today, however, I am not referring to President Trump's public humiliation campaign against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, though the template is similar.

This time, I'm talking about new White House Communications Chief Anthony Scaramucci throwing rhetorical punches at Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

Now, according to Scaramucci, he's doing this with the president's approval, and it's all playing out in front of the world, most recently on CNN's "NEW DAY" with anchor Chris Cuomo.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: As you know from the Italian expression, the fish stinks from the head down. But I can tell you two fish that don't stink, OK?

And that's me and the president. I don't like the activity that's going on in the White House. I don't like what they're doing to my friend. I don't like what they're doing to the president of the United States or their fellow colleagues in the West Wing. If

Now, You want to talk about the chief of staff, and we have had odds, we have had differences. When I said we were brothers from the podium, that's because we're rough on each other.


TAPPER: Scaramucci had to call into CNN to explain a tweet from last night that appears to suggest Priebus, a guy who just a few days Scaramucci described as a brother, though, today he compared it to Cain and Abel, that Priebus was behind White House leaks damaging President Trump, more specifically, behind a story in Politico about Scaramucci's financial disclosure forms.

He tweeted -- quote -- "In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info, which is a felony, I will be contacting the FBI and the Justice Department. #Swamped." And then he tagged Chief of Staff Priebus in the tweet.


SCARAMUCCI: If Reince wants to explain that he's not a leaker, let him do that.


TAPPER: Priebus had no comment today. For the record, no one needed to leak Scaramucci's financial disclosure forms. They are public record for anyone who asks for them from the Export/Import Bank, where Scaramucci had worked until recently.

But perhaps the most telling part of the interview had nothing to do with all of this drama between Scaramucci and Priebus, but, rather, it was this moment when Scaramucci -- when discussing presumably Priebus, but perhaps others in the Trump administration as well.


SCARAMUCCI: There were people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president. OK, that is not their job. Their job is to inject this president into America.


TAPPER: Contemplate that -- quote -- "There are people inside the America that think it is their job to save America from this president" -- unquote.

Now, Scaramucci's not wrong here. He's 100 percent right, not about what the job of administration staffers are. Their allegiance should be to the nation and to the Constitution, not to any specific president, but about the fact that there are people in the Trump administration who -- quote -- "think it is their job to save America from President Trump," many of them appointees of President Trump.

The communications director cited this fact as a complaint.


SCARAMUCCI: It is not their job from the establishment, through calcification to sit there and try to withhold the president, to rein him in or do things to slow down their agenda. That's not their job.


TAPPER: Let's take a moment to acknowledge and contemplate this very striking truth delivered by Scaramucci today.

What are these Trump administration officials doing to rein in President Trump and why do they feel the need to do so? Why are they so concerned about the president's behavior, that they think they have to -- quote -- "save America" from this president?


Save America from what? What are they so worried about, these -- quote -- "people inside the administration."

Contemplate that fresh truth from the new White House communications director.

CNN's Sara Murray is at the White House for us, and she filed this report on the latest chapter in this very public drama.


SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even for a White House known for dysfunction, the latest feud is taking a stunningly public turn. SCARAMUCCI: You want to talk about the chief of staff, we have had

odds, we have had differences. When I said we were brothers from the podium, that's because we're rough on each other. Some brothers are like Cain and Abel. Other brothers can fight with each other and get along.

I don't know if this is reparable or not. That will be up to the president, but he's the chief of staff.

MURRAY: Newly minted Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci calling into question Reince Priebus' standing in the White House, and suggesting the chief of staff prove for himself that he's not a leaker.

SCARAMUCCI: When I put out a tweet, and I put Reince's name in the tweet, they're all making the assumption that it's him, because journalists know who the leakers are. So, if Reince wants to explain that he's not a leaker, let him do that.

MURRAY: Priebus didn't comment on the matter Thursday. But allies outside the White House came to his defense.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Reince is a very close friend of mine. Reince is doing a fantastic job at the White House, and I believe he has the president's confidence.

MURRAY: All as White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders was left to play referee.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president hires the very best people. They're not always going to agree. There are going to be a lot of different ideas.

Unlike previous administrations, this isn't groupthink. We all come and have a chance to voice those ideas, voice those perspectives, and have a lot of healthy competition, and, with that competition, you usually get the best results.

MURRAY: Scaramucci's broadsides come on the heels of a report on his personal financial disclosure, which Scaramucci appeared to take as a sign someone in the West Wing is already out to get him, tweeting: "In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info, which is a felony, I will be contacting the FBI and the Justice Department."

He tagged Priebus in the tweet, which he later deleted.

While the document in question is publicly available upon request, a Justice Department spokeswoman weighed in on the leaking issue more broadly, saying, "We agree with Anthony that these staggering number of leaks are undermining the ability of our government to function and to protect this country," and vowing to pursue leak cases wherever they lead.

The backup from the Justice Department coming as Trump doesn't appear to have his attorney general's back. And as the president's anger at Jeff Sessions continues to simmer, Republicans are issuing a stern warning: Back off.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There will be no confirmation hearing for a new attorney general in 2017. If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay. Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.


MURRAY: Now, we haven't heard a lot from Jeff Sessions as this drama has been playing out, but that changed today, when he gave a couple of interviews.

In one of them, he was asked whether he thought the president's criticisms of him was fair. Here's what he said.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, it's kind of hurtful, but the president of the United States is a strong leader. He is determined to move this country in the direction he believes it needs to go to make us great again, and he has had a lot of criticisms, and he's steadfastly determined to get his job done.

And he wants all of us to do our jobs. And that's what I intend to do.


MURRAY: Now, Sessions also made clear in a number of interviews that he's planning on staying on the job as long as Trump will keep him in it -- Jake.

TAPPER: And to be determined on Reince Priebus, I suppose. Sara Murray at the White House for us, thank you so much.

New testimony shedding light on just who those Russians were in that meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner. Stick around for that story.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In our world lead today, new claims about the Russians at the center of that 2016 meeting in June between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort and others.

Bill Browder, a former hedge fund manager in Russia, testified today that the Russian lawyer who was at that meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya, as well as Rinat Akhmetshin, the Russian-American lobbyist with alleged ties to Russian intelligence, were working on behalf of the Kremlin, Browder said, to overturn crippling U.S. economic sanctions on human rights violators. CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill and followed the story.

Manu, you caught up with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina today. He questioned Browder. He asked him about the June 2016 meeting in question.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and he raised concerns after Browder's testimony, Browder saying that with 100 percent certainty, in his view, that the intelligence services in Russia were aware of that June 2016 meeting before it happened, Jake, and, also, Browder saying that it was a -- quote -- "big ask" for the people in that meeting, the Russians in the meeting, to ask the Trump campaign to move and try to get rid of the Magnitsky Act, sanctions act against Russia, the United States enacted in 2012.

Now, when I caught up with Lindsey Graham after the pretty dramatic remarks by William Browder, he said, very clearly, that perhaps this was not the only time that the Russians met with the Trump campaign and it pushed dirt and also to ask for something in exchange.

And he said this is something Congress needs to look into further. Here's what he said.


GRAHAM: It's also hard for me to believe that, once the Trump campaign expressed a desire to get help, yes, love it, maybe later in the summer, it'd be better, that that meaning, it was one-and-done.

[16:15:09] That contact came from a person that Mr. Browder said should have been registered as Russian agent, the Russian female lawyer. The likelihood that that was the last contact needs to be looked into.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Now, he also had some pretty serious concerns about the possibility that President Trump may get rid of Jeff Sessions as attorney general and Bob Mueller as a special council. And as a result, Lindsey Graham right now, Jake, is drafting legislation, bipartisan legislation to try to insulate the special counsel from political pressure, to say that if the special counsel were to be -- try to be fired by the president of the United States and there have to be judicial review looked at first by judges to make sure that it is consistent with the law, expect that bill to be introduced next week, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Real concern on Capitol Hill by Republicans and Democrats alike that President Trump is going to try to fire Bob Mueller.

Manu, the Russian sanctions bill, new sanctions, as punishment for the election interference, passed by the Senate, passed by the House, what's the latest on the status?

RAJU: Yes, overwhelmingly by both chamber, nearly unanimously, something you rarely see. Now, a deal -- a final deal has been reached between the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, the House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, to move forward on this sanction's package that includes any effort to, by the White House to try to loosen Russia sanctions at the Congress essentially had to approve to that request. They could veto the possibility of loosening sanctions.

Now, one question is remaining, will President Trump sign this legislation or will he veto it?

Today, asked at the White House, Sarah Huckabee Sanders again would not say, said they're still reviewing that. So, that's a big question here, whether or not they veto this? But if they do, Jake, almost certainly, he would be overridden -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju, thank you so much.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is firing back today, calling the new proposed sanctions illegal, and bemoaning that it's a, quote, pity U.S.-Russia relations are being sacrificed.

CNN's senior international correspondent Matthew Chance had the opportunity to question Putin personally at a news conference today in Finland.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: With these U.S. congressional investigations, thoroughly under way into allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, and with the possibility of U.S. sanctions being tightened shortly, do you sometimes sit in your office in the Kremlin thinking about how badly U.S.-Russian relations are going? And regretting the day that Donald Trump was elected?

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): The first point about the election of the U.S. president, that's not our business, and it is not up to us to assess what he does in this very senior post. That's up to the U.S. public.

As far as the investigation which you referred to is concerned, I don't actually think it is an investigation because an investigation implies full study and analysis of the situation, the causes concern. What we see is merely a growth of anti-Russian hysteria, and utilization of Russophobia for domestic policies.


TAPPER: Putin has, of course, denied any Russian interference in the U.S. election, despite the American intelligence community's certainty that it did happen.

President Trump has only said nice things about Vladimir Putin. So, would Mr. Trump really be tougher on Russia than Congress will, as Scaramucci claimed might happen? Stick around.


[16:22:54] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Sticking with politics, we have so much to talk about today with our panel, let's just dive in. And, guys, I want to start with this rather astounding quote from Anthony Scaramucci talking to Chris Cuomo this morning.

Let's roll that tape again.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: There are people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president. OK. That is not their job. Their job is to inject this president into America --


TAPPER: OK, we can put inject this president into America aside for a second. Let's just talk about, that's a fairly stark thing to say. I think it's true. I think there are people inside the Trump administration that think it's their job to save America from this president. But I'm kind of stunned that Mr. Scaramucci would admit it.

Josh, I want to start with you.

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Look, I mean, we have a management here issue. You know, in business, you often see teams of rivals to the point where good management means that people compete with each other and try to push each other to different conclusions to come out with better products, what have you. In politics, it's difficult for a variety of reasons.

Number one reason is in politics, you're under attack at all times. And there is four, five, six opportunities every day to draw contrast between staff and their views and whatever bad decisions the press are criticizing on a day-to-day basis.

This administration really needs to figure out thousand get on the same page internally, because we're talking about, A, a spat with a week-old communications director and a White House chief of staff on the day that the president's agenda is literally being determined in the United States Senate.

TAPPER: Health care. Health care.

HOLMES: Right. Right. So, I mean, this can't end soon enough for Republicans, in my view in terms of the inner bickering and the problems between Priebus and Scaramucci.

TAPPER: Yes. Jen?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, this has taken it to a new level. I realize you picked out one clip from a pretty astounding interview this morning.

TAPPER: Well, it was 25 minutes long.

PSAKI: Yes, of course. You know, what's striking to me as somebody who served as the communications director for President Obama is that your goal is never to be the story. Your goal is to further the agenda and the story of your boss.

[16:25:00] TAPPER: That's the tired old Washington way of doing things, Jen.

PSAKI: Well, but I think that's really not giving what the role is enough credit. And what public service is enough credit. And he has become the story this week.

So, as Josh said, we're not talking about health care, maybe that's the goal, I don't really know. We haven't been talking for months about specific pieces of the Trump agenda because we're talking about the who's up and who's done pieces. So, this was definitely a particularly striking piece of it.

I would say that when you're president, you're elected by the people, and also the communications director, you are serving the American people as a public servant and hopefully will come around to that in week two. I won't put money on it though.

TAPPER: So, there's -- this is -- Reince Priebus is not the only one who's in the barrel this week. Jeff Sessions is as well. He spoke with Tucker Carlson, take a listen.


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, it's kind of hurtful, but the president of the United States is a strong leader. He is determined to move this country in the direction he believes it needs to go to make us great again, and he has had a lot of criticisms, and he's steadfastly determined to get his job done, and he wants all of us to do our jobs. And that's what I intend to do.


TAPPER: It's kind of an impossible position Attorney General Sessions, but saying it's kind of hurtful is fairly candid.

HOLMES: It is candid. I mean, I'm sure that's exactly the way he feels, but Jeff Sessions has spent his adult life in public service. I mean, this is somebody who's literally dedicated his entire life to try to make the world a better place as far as he sees it. And he's stuck in a situation right now where he's got a president who's obviously trying to undercut him.

But he's also got remarkable support on Capitol Hill. I mean, you've seen statements almost unsolicited coming out of senators, Republican senators saying, please, Jeff Sessions, stay where you're at. What you're doing is good for the country and good for everything. And, you know, it's hard to disagree with that. I mean, again, another distraction, another situation where we're not

talking about the president's agenda here. And I just think as soon as they can get off of all of this stuff and focus on health care and tax reform, which they've tried to do today --


HOLMES: -- later today, which is, you know, that's where they need to be. That's where they can unite Republicans.

TAPPER: Senator Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a tweet out last night basically saying, we're not going to have hearings for a new attorney general. Lindsey Graham said there will be hell to pay if the president fires Sessions, and they are also very concerned about the president firing Bob Mueller.

PSAKI: Yes. And many of them have spoken out about that as well to their credit. I think what we're seeing right now in the Republican Party is many of them have tolerated Trump, and they haven't been quite able to figure out what his political power or his political support in the country means for them. But now when given the choice, if Trump and Sessions are on different sides of the road, they're veering away from Sessions. And they are protecting him.

And that's an interesting dynamic. Because what does it mean for other policy. What does it mean for Trump's agenda moving forward? I guess we'll see.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, it's anyone's guess what version of health care reform the Senate will end up voting on in a few hours, but there was a lot of talk about so the-called skinny repeal. What does that actually mean for you, your health care, your insurance?

Stay with us.