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New Report: President Trump Dictated Misleading Statement Regarding Trump Jr.'s Meeting with Russian Lawyer; Interview with Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 1, 2017 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A new report finds the president personally dictated the initial misleading statement about his son's meeting with the Russian lawyer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could be evidence of a pattern of obstruction of justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donald Trump's legal team is failing him. Donald Trump's staff is failing him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The special counsel is going to get to the bottom of it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look, the president certainly felt that Anthony's comments were inappropriate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kelly in and Scaramucci out is nothing but good for this White House and for the country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If Donald Trump thought Anthony Scaramucci was doing good for his image right now, Scaramucci would still be there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope this is a sign that his new chief of staff is going to try to bring a little more order to the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, August 1st, 8:00 in the East and there is a big headline this morning.

"The Washington Post" reporting President Trump personally dictated his son's initial and misleading statement about that meeting with the Russian lawyer. This could well matter to the special counsel.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So this report comes after repeated denials from the president's attorney and the White House and now is worried that the president has somehow exposed himself and others to additional scrutiny from the special counsel. Joining us now is Carol Leonnig. She is one of the reporters from "The Washington Post."

CUOMO: Yes, she is. So Carol, give us the headline here and what your reckoning is of the development.

CAROL LEONNIG, NATIONAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": So the real significance of this report, and shout-out to my colleagues. This story wouldn't be possible without the four of us, Ashley Parker, Phil Rucker, and Tom Hamburger and I, the really significant thing here is that the president is the moving hand that misleads the public, the press. It's not a lie to mislead the public or the press, but it is a major problem for the president and everyone who is involved in crafting this statement with him because we have a special council who's investigating obstruction and any effort to lie or mislead is part of a narrative of potential obstruction. If indeed the special council finds evidence of that, this helps play into that pattern, why did the president share something that wasn't true? Why did he order that information be concealed?

CUOMO: So you have potential illegality, that's for the special council. Then you have just wrong, being wrong, doing the wrong thing. Jay Sekulow, one of the president's attorneys, on this show said the president had no role in the drafting of that statement. What do you make of those types of answers? Is this just protecting the president? Do you think everybody knows within that White House and the legal community that is representing different members of the White House that the president had a heavy hand?

LEONNIG: So I think Jay certainly knows this now. Whether he knew that at the moment, I can't say. But remember this is a moment, as our reporting shows, when the president, his daughter, son-in-law, and some of his closest advisors are in Europe. They're far away from their legal team. And the president, being Donald Trump and the businessman that he is, he decides to take this bull by the horns and handle it himself. And actually our reporting also indicates that many of the lawyers were shell shocked when they found out that this statement had been issued and were trying to find out after the fact what in the world had happened.

CUOMO: Of course there are plenty of businessmen and women who wouldn't have done it this way, right, who would have left it to the people who were supposed to do this. But his decision leads to a very important question that your start scratching out in your reporting, which is, what did he know when he helped to draft this statement? Did he know about his son's e-mails the way Jared Kushner's attorneys knew about them? And if he did know, then did he know their content, which was to suggest this wasn't about adoption, which really wasn't about adoption, it was about sanctions, but let's put that to the side. What do you think on that point? Because that's most important, because if the president knew that his son took the meeting because there was a promise of Russian dirt on Clinton, this was really grossly misleading.

LEONNIG: So in talking to advisors, they're not sure that the president knew every sort of disaster kind of line in some of those e- mails, particularly when Donald Trump Jr. says if it's what you say, I love it, with regard to dirt on Hillary Clinton.

It's unclear to me and to I think even the advisers whether he knew those takeaway lines, but he knew this was more than a meeting about adoptions. And if you remember, the statement very clearly says this was really about adoptions and was not a campaign issue. We know he knew more than that.

[08:05:05] And what's I think amazing about this incident, and people are sort of recoiling about it now, especially lawyers around Washington is how different the Trump administration is handling this crisis with an investigator in the field compared to the way that George W. Bush administration handled this when their administration was under investigation by a special counsel for leaking a CIA operative's name.

The president in that instance, President Bush was walled or from any discussions. If he ever had to be asked a question it was with his lawyer present and not with any other aides around him. You don't want any whiff of people comparing notes or shaping their stories and certainly not concealing information.

But in the Trump administration, the president, really, as his advisers have told me, really views himself as tackling a PR problem, does not consider this a legal issue for him, and is basically like, hey, this is the way I run my business, this is the way I run the White House. I know the best thing to do, I'm the best lawyer, I'm the best PR man. And that's not a good idea in this situation.

CUOMO: Well, it's an important premise that you laid out in the piece, because if the president believes he has nothing to conceal, he has done nothing wrong, nobody has done anything nefarious, then that gives him full intellectual cover, if not legal cover, to spin it any way he wants because he doesn't believe that there's any substance to any of the suggestions anyway. What do you believe the big questions are going forward?

LEONNIG: Well, back to your smart point just then, Chris. Remember, underlying conduct is critical here, but also remember that Vice President Cheney's most trusted aide was not convicted or prosecuted for leaking information which was the center of that investigation. He was prosecuted for obstruction and false statements. So we don't know how everything is going to play out, but central questions here are going to be here, especially for Bob Mueller, how did that statement come to be? Who advised the president to say what? How many did they encourage or discourage what he did? And who agreed to a statement that was very, very misleading in the best possible reading.

CUOMO: The obstruction is always useful to prosecutors because if you don't get an underlying criminal act you may get a cover-up of whatever it is that you cannot prove. But really great reporting, and important questions raised by it. Carol, thank you very much.

LEONNIG: Thank you.

CUOMO: Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Chris, let's bring in our political panel to discuss all of that. We have CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza, CNN political analyst, David Gregory, and CNN political commentator Ryan Lizza.

David Gregory, it was very interesting to hear Carol Leonnig there just talking about how they're reporting this morning that it was the president of the United States that dictated that message shows he is the sort of unseen hand that is attempting to mislead the American public.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what I thought was so revealing by the reporting is something that we see evidence of on a near daily basis in this administration, especially with regards to Russia. The president thinks it's all a setup, that it's not a real thing. He always believed that Russia was not a real threat, that was arrogance and naivete and just being uninformed to not think that Russia would try to influence the election despite what was known before the election and what has been confirmed since by our intelligence agencies.

The president, now, has just cast all that aside and sees all of that as part of an effort by some in the government or Democrats to embarrass him. He doesn't think it's a real issue. And so you see then him deciding to treat this as a PR issue, saying there's nothing to conceal. Nobody did anything wrong, so we're going to fight. We're going to fight all comers, and not going to treat the special council as legitimate or congressional inquiry as legitimate.

And there's evidence of that throughout, including when it's so close to home where he's got his own son involved in a meeting with Russians where he can be compromised, that is something he knew would be so debilitating because of the publicity it would generate, or worse, that he decides to get personally involved and dictate the statement, and then deny it afterwards and have others deny it.

CUOMO: And you had a couple of layers of trouble with this statement, the initial statement. The first one was, boy, these guys are blind to the fact this wasn't about adoption, this was about sanctions and getting Putin's money back. That's why they pulled the adoption program. And that was relatively benign compared to the second level which was them outright denying the president's role. Listen to his attorney. It's not just some random friend who didn't know what was going on. Jay Sekulow asked about this on NEW DAY said this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[08:10:04] CUOMO: So he didn't have anything to do with the statement that Don Jr. put out that was being worked on with his team?

JAY SEKULOW, MEMBER, TRUMP LEGAL TEAM: No. At the statement that Don Jr. put out -- are you talking about yesterday's, Chris?

CUOMO: The one over the weekend that the president's team was helping with.

SEKULOW: No. That was written by Donald Trump Jr. and I'm sure in consultation with his lawyer.

CUOMO: Because the "New York Times" has reporting that the president OK-ed the statement.

SEKULOW: Well, they're incorrect.

CUOMO: "The New York Times" is wrong?

SEKULOW: Yes, I know. Is that shocking that sometimes they make a mistake?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: What is shocking would be, Chris Cillizza, if the president's lawyer didn't know the president had been muscling up the statement. Do you think that's more likely or is it the worst case scenario, which is Skulow came out here to try and sell us?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: No. I don't think Jay Sekulow would put his entire professional reputation on the line for that. I could be wrong, but my guess is he didn't know that. Now, the question is, did he not know because he asked President Trump, or someone close to President Trump, did the president have any input on this and the president said no or whoever he asked said no? Or did he not ask? Those are the questions we don't know the answer to.

What we do know the answer to is I think we should play that tape at the top of every hour today, because that is not -- what Jay Sepkulow said there is not true, right? I mean, there's no -- if you belief "The Washington Post" reporting and I know all those folks intimately well from having spent a decade over there, and I do, those two things can't be true. "The Washington Post" report of Trump dictating the statement and what Jay Sekulow told you, Chris, can't be true.

CAMEROTA: Why can't Jay Sekulow not have known? Jay Sekulow might not have known that the president dictated it.

CILLIZZA: Absolutely true, but that's not what he said. He could have said to Chris, I don't know. I didn't ask the president that. What he said is the president had nothing to do with that statement. It was done by Don Jr. and his lawyer. So you're right, it is possible he didn't know, but that's not what he said. And he has been around the block long enough, talking about Jay Sekulow, and Donald Trump, frankly, but Jay Sekulow, to know that your words matter in these situations, and I'm sure he chose his words carefully based on what he did know.

CUOMO: Bad or worse situation for Jay Sekulow. I have a Billy Joel song banging around in my head. From Cillizza saying that --

CILLIZZA: Piano man?

CUOMO: You may be right. I may be crazy. But it just may be a lunatic I'm looking for. Of course.

CAMEROTA: Thank you for now planting that worm in my head.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I can't wait for the segue. CAMEROTA: Here it comes, Ryan, in three, two, one -- they need a new

communications director because obviously the message is all over the place. Somebody has to rein it in. They now have no communications director.

CUOMO: It should be Carrot Top.

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: Because of Anthony Scaramucci's rapid demise that you were in the center of. So any reporting on what is next and how they're going to tackle all this?

CUOMO: Mario Cantone is available.

(LAUGHTER)

LIZZA: He did a great impersonation. I think up until this point, really, president Trump has been the communications director, right? I mean, that's what that "Washington Post" story suggests. And just to go back to that for a second, think of how mindboggling -- think of the how mindboggling it is and the poor judgment that it shows that President Trump, who had a special council on the case looking into obstruction of justice, decides to overrule his staff. The staff is saying hey, boss, we should really put out something that gets this information out. Let's do something that's more fulsome. Who knows what the "New York Times" has. Basically what "The Post" is saying is no, I've got a better idea. Let's not disclose all that. Let's just say the meeting was just about adoption and literally dictates it himself.

Just politically and legally, the fact that his advisers let him do that is really nuts and suggests that for a while now, he has been the chief of staff, the communications director, someone who is just sort of micromanaging the operations in the White House in a way that would make Jimmy Carter blush. That's the first point.

GREGORY: But Ryan, it's not just a matter of him not listening to advisors. The communications problem in the White House is the fact that the president is the problem in the White House, and that he's not listening to people who are giving him the right advice, or those people don't have enough fortitude to then leave.

[08:15:02] So, he's got an opportunity here with General Kelly, if he means it, if he's really going to listen, to change a little bit.

I think what's striking about all of this, we'll continue inside Washington to go over names and dissect how the West Wing is operating, but, you know, the rest of the country is moving past this. I mean, look at corporate earnings. Look at the performance of the market. The performance of our overall economy.

You know, corporate leaders are looking at Washington and saying it's a mess and it's irrelevant. Nothing is going to strike at the ego more to President Trump than the fact that his Washington is now irrelevant, in kind of global commerce. Now, that can change on a dime of course with regard to how the government inserts itself into the economy, or outside factors. That's the thing we have to keep our eye on.

You know, all of this may be kind of gossip fodder but when you get outside events in North Korea, or any kind of crisis that befalls the White House, you have to ask yourself whether they're up for the task. And I think that's something on a daily basis we need to bring up.

LIZZA: I think that's a really -- yes, that's a really good point. It's sort of we like covering the soap opera. We like showing the "New York Post" head lines comparing to a season of survivor but this has real world consequences if you have a White House that is in chaos, a White House that doesn't have the trust of the public because it obfuscates.

When we hit a real crisis here, this is not going to seem like such fun and games anymore. We're going to depend on this White House to lead us through a serious crisis as ever administration experiences in their first year and it's not going to be pretty.

CAMEROTA: Yes. But I mean, I'm not sure that the president sees a gangbuster's stock market as him being irrelevant, you know? I mean, they obviously pick their successes or what they see as their successes and have been touting them. Just heard that from Jason Miller.

All right. But, guys, I can't let you answer that. We're out of time.

(LAUGHTER)

CUOMO: We're done.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. Thank you guys very much.

We have to get to this, because maybe something has changed in terms of what Republicans are willing to say today. There's a Republican senator who is calling out dysfunction in D.C. W will speak with Senator Ron Johnson about his ideas to fix it, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:20:50] CUOMO: A new report in "The Washington Post" says President Trump dictated his son's initial and misleading statement on his meeting with a Russian lawyer. Remember, the White House through the president's counsel had denied he had any role.

Joining us now, Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

Let's wade through some politics and get into policy as well. What do you make of this "Washington Post" report in light of the fact that the president's attorney said right on this show he had no role in drafting that statement. Now, "The Washington Post" said he dictated it?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Good morning, Chris. I think you're aware of the fact I'm not involved in any

investigations at Senate Intel Committee, as well as Robert Mueller. So, I'll leave those capable individuals and committees to get to the final facts of these things. We need to find out what the facts are. Whether we need to take any additional action, but I'm not going to comment until we have their reports.

CUOMO: Not concerned by that report?

JOHNSON: Chris, there's so much out there being talked about right now.

Tim Strauss (ph) wrote a pretty interesting article, who funded the Russian dossier on Trump? That's pretty interesting as well. What's happened with Debbie Wasserman Schultz? I still don't have any information on that. I think you could do all kinds of reporting.

What I'm focusing on is how do we fix the messes of Obamacare? How do we get tax relief to the American taxpayer? You know, how do we actually grow our economy so we have greater opportunities for Americans?

CUOMO: Dysfunction in the White House and how we are led matters though, right? One of your fellow senators from Arizona, Senator Flake, wrote on op-ed saying that it's time for conservatives to stand up against this dysfunction, to realize that they own, in part, making Donald Trump president. What do you make of his op-ed?

JOHNSON: Well, I wrote my own op-ed about dysfunction in the United States.

CUOMO: I know. I'm going to get to it.

JOHNSON: Listen, I'm not a fan of Washington, D.C. It's one of the reasons I'm trying to devolve power away from the federal government to state governments and local governments where it's going to be more efficient, more effective, and more accountable.

So, I'm not going to defend this process. I'm not going to defend this place. I'm here to limit the influence of the federal government over people's lives. And one of ways so do that, of course, though, is we need to kind of turn back the clock. We need to actually have the Senate function.

For example, right now the Senate, a lot of people don't realize this, were primarily the personnel business and both parties have obstructed presidents trying to make appointments. I think we're ahead of the obstruction of past administrations and one of my simple proposal is let the committees primarily vet administration nominees, do a good job of it and just limit debate on any nominee that's sub cabinet or other than Supreme Court justices to two hours so we can actually turn our attention to the enormous challenges facing this nation. Right now, precious center floor time is being wasted on nominees.

CUOMO: Well, let's talk about the word wasted because is less time the right remedy for a toxic tone. Isn't it about garbage in, garbage out? I mean, isn't the bigger part that partisanship, tribalism, has been reward?

And that that's why when the Republicans are the out party, they block everything they can. Your leader going as far as saying that's our plan is to obstruct everything and now you have the Democrats who are in that position. That seems to be part of their modus operandi.

Isn't that about more than just how much time they get?

JOHNSON: So, I'm proposing let's not allow either party the ability to block a president being able to staff his administration. Let's not use Senate floor time that should be used to debate for example, the debt ceiling, tax reform, how you fix this mess that is Obamacare, appropriation bills, you know, as we can start thoughtfully prioritizing spending. That's what we should be using the senator floor time to debate those serious challenges facing this nation.

All the foreign policy problems we're faced with today. So, right now, we are primarily using Senate time to really just have an empty -- go to the Senate chamber sometime, you might have one senator talking to an empty chamber and the clock is running because we have to go through all these proceeds to get to a vote on a nominee. I say limit the debate time on the Senate floor to two hours per nominee and let the committees do their work.

[08:25:02] CUOMO: All right. We direct people to Senator Johnson's op-ed. Read it. He gave you the headline of it, but there's some rationale in there you'll want to read as well.

Let's talk about this business of the American people. Senator Graham says you guys in the Senate are going to listen to the president. You're not going to move on from health care.

What do you see as most likely?

JOHNSON: Well, we can't move on from health care because Obamacare is a mess. You know, I wrote another column in "The New York Times" talking about the forgotten men and women. The people Bill Clinton talked about. They're busting, working 60 hours a week, their premiums have doubled, sometimes tripled, and the coverage cut in half.

I mean, those are the people largely ignored in this whole health care debate because we haven't focused on premiums that have artificially skyrocketed because of the faulty architecture of Obamacare. So, anyway, this mess -- this problem isn't going away. Obamacare, these markets are collapsing. Premiums have sky rocketed. It's certainly within our ability to bring the premium us down.

Maine did it. Let's take a look at some of the states in terms of what they did. Maine instituted a guaranteed issue preexisting coverage. Their premiums doubled. They didn't repeal it. The supplanted it with invisible higher risk pools. Cut premiums in half.

It's entirely possible if we're honest. If we're courageous enough to actually address the root cause of these problems. CUOMO: So, how do you get it done? You had several different iterations within your own party, you couldn't get it done. What do you think might work in your own party let alone with the Democrats?

JOHNSON: Well, what I've already announced is in my committee, Homeland Security and Government Affairs, we are the Senate Oversight Committee, we're not the committee of jurisdiction to write legislation.

CUOMO: Right.

JOHNSON: But we can certainly hold hearings to lay out the realities. So, Chris, I come from a manufacturing background, solved a lot of problems. There's a problem solving process you go through, starting with information.

In this alternate universe, if you get information it's at the tail of the process. We're going to thoughtfully go through the problem solving process, to find the problem, get the information, do a root cause analysis and let's try and focus on achievable goals. I think if you lay it out that way, you know, my committee has got a pretty good track record, even under President Trump, we had 49 pieces of legislation signed into law going through the problem solving process.

So, that's what I'm going to do. That's my part as chairman of Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. I hope other committee chairmen do the same thing.

CUOMO: Good. I mean, that was a big part of the criticism of this process which was that you didn't have these hearings. You didn't have people going through it the way you are now.

So, let's see what it yields and let me repeat the promise. Senator, you are welcome to come on here to NEW DAY with your charts, your facts and your figures and sell what you think is the right proposal to the American people. It would be a great use of our time.

JOHNSON: I will absolutely do that. Look forward.

CUOMO: All right. You are welcome here always. Senator, thank you.

Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: OK, Chris.

With the new chief of staff in the White House, could this be the reset the Trump administration needs? Is General Kelly someone that the Democrats can work with? What changes will he make? We have the Democratic whip, Senator Dick Durbin, joining us next on all this.

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