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Trump Dictated Son's Statement; Trump's Involvement Legal or Illegal; Sessions Talks to Cops; Lawsuit over Seth Rich Story; White House Press Briefing. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 1, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Begin with one of the reporters who broke this story from "The Washington Post" today. She is Carol Lining, the national reporter there.

Carol, thank you so much for being with me.


BALDWIN: So, OK, a lot of takeaways. First, you know, it seems to me, from your piece, that all parties involved in that Trump Tower meeting were ready to be transparent with the press once the word was starting to leak out that this was about to be made public. Everyone with the exception of the president.

LEONNIG: Well, what we do know is that everyone involved wanted to be more transparent than they ultimately were, and the president -- I should say it's the president's statement. He directed it. But he put it into his son's mouth.

And so everyone wanted to share more than that statement, but they were overruled by the president himself, which is something we haven't known until now. And those teams of advisers, according to our reporting, were really quite concerned and some of them were stunned when they found out about it after the fact. They were dismayed that, a, the president was involved in dictating a statement, and, two, that he was involved in dictating a statement that concealed critical information, and, number three, while bob Mueller is investigating the president for potential obstruction of this investigation.

BALDWIN: Right. So, just so I'm clear, to underscore your point, it was Jared Kushner and his attorneys, Don Jr. and his attorneys, who, when they found out that people would be learning about this story initially, they were OK with saying, yes, this was about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton, instead of putting it off on this adoption thing, which is what the President ultimately did.

LEONNIG: There were lots of different discussions with lots of different variations.


LEONNIG: None of them were as -- none of them were as misleading and unspecific as the one that ultimately was released to "The New York Times."


LEONNIG: There was one idea that Jared Kushner's team had, which was to release everything to a mainstream media organization, you know, to use -- I'm trying -- Lanny Davis's statement from the Clinton scandal era, you know, tell the story yourself, tell it first, tell it all. That was the theme of this group. And that, obviously, is not what happened.

BALDWIN: Initially. Right. Right.

So then when this story broke in early July, the president's attorney said that the president had no part in the Don Jr. statement, which, according to your reporting, isn't true. Let me revisit that.


JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR THE PRESIDENT: I wasn't involved in the statement drafting at all, nor was the president. I'm assuming that was between Mr. Donald Trump Jr. -- between Don Jr. and his lawyer. I'm sure his lawyer was involved. That's how you do it. And -- you know that. And so to put this on the president, I think, is just absolutely incorrect.


BALDWIN: All right, well, not so according to your reporting.

And so, Carol, is it a safe assumption that the president knew the details about that Trump Tower meeting, which then leads to bigger questions about why he wouldn't be forthright from the beginning in that statement.

LEONNIG: So the president definitely knew that this meeting was about more than adoptions. And the reason that we found it misleading and very interesting that the president dictated it was because it emphasized, as you may remember, I think at the top you were describing the exact quote, it stressed we primarily talked about adoptions, which is true. And the second part emphasizing this is not a campaign issue.

You know, detaching it from the campaign is something that is, you know, you can parse it, you can get legalese about it, but that's what's -- that's what's misleading. And you may know from reading the piece that we interviewed a lot of people who were very concerned about the fact that the president decided, essentially, to take on the role as his own lawyer, his own publicist, his own crisis communicator, and that's not a place they're comfortable with him being because he's never been the subject of a special counsel investigation before.

BALDWIN: Despite the fact that he has a multitude of lawyers, including Jay Sekulow, an attorney for the president, who issued a statement responding, Carol, to your story. This is his quote. "Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent."

Your reaction to those words? And your biggest takeaway?

LEONNIG: I think Jay did not know about what was happening at the exact time in terms of the back and forth of who was drafting. I think a lot of people who advised the president were shocked and were looking to find out what had happened on Air Force One after that statement was issued. I think that it's clear from our reporting, and I have no doubt about it, that the president personally dictated this.

BALDWIN: Carol Leonnig, with this "Washington Post" breaking piece. Thank you so much, Carol.

[14:05:02] Let me quote more from your piece. Quote, "because Trump believes he is innocent, some advisers explained he therefore does not think he is at any legal risk for a cover-up. In his mind, they said, there is nothing to conceal."

So let's ask legal experts about that. CNN contributor Larry Noble is general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center and was the general counsel for the Federal Election Commission, and Jennifer Taub, a white collar crime expert, is a professor of law at Vermont Law School.

So, Larry, if "The Washington Post" piece is accurate, did the president do anything illegal in writing up this misleading statement?

LARRY NOBLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Not necessarily. Lying to the public or misleading the public is not illegal. How it fits into an overall investigation of obstruction of justice is a different question. But I think what it shows is that they are clearly trying to cover something up.

The statement that he doesn't think he did anything wrong or he doesn't think that he has any liability and therefore he can tell the truth is just -- is just nonsense. I mean he -- what he's actually doing is he's just misleading the public. He's -- and, you know, I actually think these actually come very close to lies because he knows what actually happened and he knows that he is totally misdirecting the answers and that what he's also doing is leading you to think he's answering a question that everybody has, when, in fact, now he can say he's not.

And so I think that the problem here is that -- is that it's not just this. It's all these things that came before and that are going on now. Is that for somebody who says he has nothing to fear about any of the investigations, he's going very far to try to really misdirect people to cover up what happened.

Also, you know, the statement was made earlier that he's acting as his own lawyer. He's actually acting as his son's lawyer in this case. He's not just -- it's not just his jeopardy. It's the jeopardy of his son, of Jared Kushner, of others. And I think that's really disturbing is that, you know, he's treating this as, basically, you know, the king with his family around him, and that he's going to call the shots on what's going on. I don't think this is going to end well for these people. I think he

has to realize at some point that he does have lawyers, that his lawyers do know what -- hopefully know what they're doing and that they are advising him not to say this.

And, you know, there are two things when you're a lawyer and you're advising a client in a situation like this. Generally you say, don't say anything. Anything you say can and will be used against you. Be quiet. If you want to take the full let it hang out route, then tell the truth. What you never want your client to do is lie, and he lies or misleads in such a way that it almost immediately comes out that it's untrue. So he does (INAUDIBLE) --

BALDWIN: Right. Well, it sounds like they were, in listening to Carol, that they were, or that the original thought was, let's just let it all -- let's get it all out there. The truth is going to get out eventually, so let's just go on the record and get out in front of it, when in actuality, according to "The Washington Post," that's not at all what happened.

So, Jennifer, you know, if it's not a crime to mislead, you know, us and the public and the media, this definitely, you know, to Larry's point, gives Bob Mueller more reason to look into the motivations behind it and he used the "c" word. I mean people are shouting cover- up.

JENNIFER TAUB, CO-AUTHOR, "CORPORATE & WHITE COLLAR CRIME: CASES & MATERIALS": Brooke, this is about so much more than just the president helping his son mislead the public and the press. You know, as a mom, I would never help my children lie to the public or press. But as an attorney, I look at this as a potential felony of witness tampering.

And I say that because there is an ongoing investigation by the FBI of Russian interference in the election. And we have the president here helping a potential witness interfering with this witness to help him create a possible false story. So this looks like corrupt intent. And I would be very concerned, as Larry said, this won't end well. We just have this layer upon layer in this kind of corrupt and, you know, criminal cake here, layer upon layer of potential avenues to pursue here. We have, the obstruction --

BALDWIN: But, again, the president believes -- going back to that original quote, just to button this up, you know, the president believes he did nothing wrong. Therefore, in his eyes, again, this is his eyes, he doesn't see it as a cover-up.

Larry and Jennifer, thank you so much on the legal piece of this.

While the president's attorney says "The Washington Post" report is, quote/unquote, of no consequence, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating any Trump campaign ties to Russia is taking note. She is Senator Dianne Feinstein, who says Donald Trump Jr. will be going before her committee next month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: So, yes, this will be a factor when he comes before the full committee. I do not yet know, you know, absent one newspaper report, whether this is true or not. So, if it's true, I think it is of serious concern. But we don't know that it is.


BALDWIN: Let me turn to CNN political director David Chalian.

You know, this is -- it's interesting, one of the points that was made before about this being a family issue. But when you think of the initial desire of transparency and you think of Jared Kushner, who wanted to put it all out there, why, then, did Jared Kushner allow his father-in-law/boss to, according to "The Washington Post," erroneously dictate this statement?

[14:10:19] DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I think it's one of the big question marks hanging over this whole story, how is it possible that Jared Kushner, who, remember, this whole episode of this meeting, this additional meeting, additional contact with the Russian, came up because of Jared Kushner's discovery process --


CHALIAN: With his legal team in anticipation of testifying before the House and Senate Intelligence Committee and clarifying his application for security clearance, right?


CHALIAN: So he goes back. He finds this. He knows of the e-mails existence. He knows the entire chain of events. Even if he didn't recall the meeting, at the outset, he knows it now. So, as you asked before, did the president know all of that? Did the president have all of that information? Had the president read the e-mail about the meeting? And the context of the meeting? And the pretext of the meeting?

BALDWIN: The dirt. And that I love (INAUDIBLE) --

BALDWIN: That it was an anti-Hillary Clinton meeting? That it was the Russian government wanting to set up a meeting to help Donald Trump's presidential campaign? All of that was there in black and white in the e-mail. Did the president know that when he dictated that statement?

And, if he didn't, how did Jared Kushner, who is not just a son-in- law, but clearly also was trying to save his own hide throughout this whole process, how does he allow, as the senior adviser that he is --

BALDWIN: This to happen.

CHALIAN: To allow the president of the United States to dictate a statement that would be clearly misleading and untrue.

BALDWIN: Totally. One of many questions. But while I have you, and while we've been talking, we've just learned

this. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, told a room full of police officers that the president's remarks -- remember he was in Long Island a couple of days ago talking about really coming down on MS-13 and he was talking about roughing up suspects, was done, quote, "in jest." This joke explanation is becoming a thing.

So I guess A.G. Sessions is saying -- agreeing with the president and saying, yes, yes, yes, it was a joke. Like, we're not trying -- you know, police brutality in this country and trying to improve relations between police and community. He was kidding.

CHALIAN: Right. So I think he was meeting with a police officer organization today and delivered the White House line on this to them, that the president was -- that that was said in jest.

Here's the problem. That excuse is not working with these police -- with these organizations that represent police officers because the response from this group back to Attorney General Sessions was, but you understand that that complicates what we're trying to do.

BALDWIN: Each and every day on the streets, right.

CHALIAN: And according to this group's telling, the attorney general said, I do. I agree with you. I do understand that.

We have not heard from the attorney general directly. We're getting this through this group's, you know, putting out a readout, if you will, of their meeting with Sessions. But clearly the fact that the attorney general is toeing the administration's line here, obviously an attorney general who's been left twisting in the wind.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

CHALIAN: So I'm sure he's trying to do nothing to further upset the waters for his own job security.


CHALIAN: Nonetheless, that is not the answer that it was in jest is not making this go away the way the White House had hoped that it would.

BALDWIN: Not good enough, as we've heard from so many different police chiefs around the country.

David Chalian, thank you so much.


BALDWIN: Stick around, if you will, because we're waiting for this White House briefing to get going. Explosive allegations that the White House worked with Fox News to push out this conspiracy surrounding the death of a murdered DNC staffer. Those details today and the legal fallout, next.


[14:17:32] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Live pictures there of the podium at the White House. The press briefing should begin any moment now.

The White House is now squarely in the middle of this lawsuit involving explosive allegations that officials worked with Fox News to peddle this conspiracy over a murdered DNC staffer.

Let's me just -- let's revisit this Seth Rich story that Fox News had to retract.

According to a new lawsuit filed by this Fox contributor, a wealthy Trump supporter worked with Fox News and the White House to push this bogus claim that Rich's death last year may have been connected to the leak of all those DNC e-mails to WikiLeaks. The lawsuit claims it was to, quote, help lift the cloud of the Russia investigation.

Now, to be clear, the Seth Rich DNC murder conspiracy, again it's a conspiracy because it's been entirely debunked. There was no truth to it whatsoever. However, Fox News host Sean Hannity continued to push the conspiracy on the network and then later on his own radio show with zero proof.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX HOST: Welcome back to "Hannity."

So more on the story of murdered Democratic National Committee Staffer Seth Rich, who was gunned down last July in Washington, D.C. D.C. Police are officially in charge of this case, but former D.C. homicide detective Rod Wheeler, who was hired by a third party to investigate the murder on behalf of the family, says Mr. Rich was communicating with WikiLeaks before he was killed.

This issue is so big now that the entire Russia collusion narrative is hanging by a thread. If, in fact -- take Seth out of it -- there was a whistleblower within the DNC, a truth teller, that actually was the source for WikiLeaks and not Russia working with the Trump campaign -- that are -- these are questions that I have a moral obligation to ask.


BALDWIN: Again, wrong, debunked, you get this here. Oliver Darcy, CNN's senior media reporter, and David Chalian is back with me.

You know, it was the intel chiefs saying, no, it was Russia all along.

To you, tell me more about the lawsuit that was filed today.

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Right. So this is -- there's a lot to unpack in this lawsuit. But essentially what it's claiming is that this wealthy Republican businessman, who has ties to the White House, Evanowski (ph), worked with a private investigator, Fox News Contributor Rod Wheeler, to push this story out there that Seth Rich possibly leaked the e-mails from the DNC to WikiLeaks, which was aimed at sort of discrediting the narrative that's been put forth that Russia meddled

in the election. That's the assessment of the U.S. intelligence committee.

[14:20:14] BALDWIN: Which isn't a narrative. It's fact.

DARCY: Right, it's a fact. The U.S. intelligence community believes that Russia meddled in the U.S. election. And this story that was put out there was, according to his lawsuit, aimed at sort of casting doubt on that. And you can see Sean Hannity, you just played the clips, where he uses it to say, well, maybe it wasn't the Russians. Maybe it was an internal disgruntled DNC staffer.

BALDWIN: But not only that, then the additional layer to this story is that this guy, who filed this lawsuit, is alleging that the White House and the president, knowing that this story was false, pushed it out.

DARCY: Right. So, Sean Spicer met with this wealthy Republican businessman and this Fox News contributor and investigator Rod Wheeler. He just confirmed to us that they actually did talk about the Seth Rich case during that meeting, but he characterized it as a ten- minute meeting and he did it out of respect for someone who goes on TV and defends the president quite a bit.

And it's also worth noting, though, that Fox is pushing back strongly on this. Butowsky is pushing back strongly on this. Both of them say that this is -- this lawsuit's not true and it's full of errors. But the claims are quite explosive.

BALDWIN: This is, David Chalian, the definition of fake news, if you want to go there, if the allegations are correct, that this, you know, this story is entirely false. This poor family has been saying to Fox News --

CHALIAN: And Fox retracted the story.

BALDWIN: Fox retracted the story.


BALDWIN: Thank you. But again, the allegations that this went as high as the White House to push this false narrative out there.

CHALIAN: Yes. And one of the allegations in this lawsuit is that the president reviewed copy of the Fox News report before it was published. That is -- I don't know -- have you ever worked on a story that the president of the United States reviewed your copy --

DARCY: I have not. No.


CHALIAN: In advance? Have you? BALDWIN: I said no.

CHALIAN: No. Yes, exactly.


CHALIAN: So there's something odd that this is in the West Wing. That even if it is a courtesy meeting on behalf of Sean Spicer, this is not the normal way that stories are reported out, written and produced. And, obviously, it's not the normal way because it was retracted. And now there's this lawsuit over it.

Why the White House was involved in this at all, it defies understanding.

BALDWIN: It defies understanding. I feel like so often we're hearing these stories and it's like, should the president be meddling in a script? No.

Stay with me. We're going to continue following that story and we're also just waiting for the White House briefing moments away.

We're also getting new information about Anthony Scaramucci and his financial life. What's next for him. The details, next.


[14:26:59] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: People are employed by small businesses around the country account for nearly half of the United States employment. That's 58 million individuals whose families count on small businesses to keep food on the table, send their children to college, or save for the future. And that's why we have an entire agency, led by an incredibly successful businesswoman, dedicated specifically to promoting small businesses.

During the last administration, small businesses found themselves under assault from a federal government that seemed determined to keep piling on regulations and compliance requirements until it became impossible to keep their doors open. Obamacare's mandates saddled many with health care costs they simply couldn't afford, and every year these business owners see new additions to the tax code that force them to spend additional time and money to file.

The president is committed to ending these anti-growth policies and unleashing the American economy. We will continue to work with Congress to repeal Obamacare's oppressive mandates. And along with our partners in Congress, we will deliver bold tax reform that provides relief for middle-income individuals, a more competitive model for businesses, and simplification for everyone. And we will continue the president's ambitious plan to eliminate unnecessary regulations, which disproportionately affect small businesses.

We look forward to hearing from the small businesses this afternoon about how the Trump administration can continue to be an advocate for them.

And with that, we'll keep it short today, and I'll take your questions now.

Alex (ph)?

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about a comment Senator Lindsey Graham made this morning. (inaudible) wrong that there's no good military option regarding North Korea. He said there's a military option to destroy North Korea's program and North Korea itself.

Would the White House be supportive of (inaudible)?

SANDERS: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Would the White House be supportive of that option, to destroy North Korea's (inaudible) program and North Korea itself?

SANDERS: (inaudible) this direction. Sorry, I just keep hearing somebody's phone talking or something.


SANDERS: Yeah, it's very distracting.

QUESTION: ... military option against North Korea is to destroy North Korea's program and North Korea itself.

SANDERS: Look, the president obviously has been very outspoken about how he feels about North Korea. We're weighing all options, keeping all options on the table. And as we've said many times before, we're not going to broadcast what we're going to do until that happens.


SANDERS: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: ... destroying the country, like Lindsey Graham says, an option?

SANDERS: Look, that's not what I'm saying.

What I'm saying is the president has been very outspoken about the need to stop North Korea. We've been very focused on stopping the nuclear program, stopping the missiles, stopping the aggression. That still continues to be the focus, and we're keeping those -- all options on the table in order to do that.

QUESTION: Sarah, according to the Washington Post, the president tried to change the narrative of what went down in (inaudible) meeting with the Russian lawyer. Can you address that story and tell us did the president really try to do that.

[14:29:59] SANDERS: Look, the statement that Don Jr. issued is true. There's no inaccuracy in the statement. The president weighed in, as any father would based on the limited information that he had. This is all discussion, frankly, of no consequence.