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Some Republican Senators Openly Criticize President Trump; The President Reportedly Weighed in on Drafting Statement on Trump Jr.'s Meeting with Russian Lawyer; Lawsuit: Fox News Concocted Fake Story with White House Oversight; Interview with John Podesta. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 2, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The American people need a president that puts their interests first, not someone who plays political games with their health care.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president weighed in as any father would based on the limited information that he had.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president didn't sign off on anything. The president wasn't involved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is hard for me to keep track of this ever widening web of lies that is coming from this administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It potentially is another piece of evidence of obstruction of justice.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, August 2nd, 8:00 in the east.

Senate Republicans revolting against President Trump's plan to gut Obamacare. Instead some Republicans are reaching out to Democrats to try to stabilize the insurance markets, and they seem to be charting their own course to focus on tax reform and the debt ceiling.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: This as the White House is finally confirming that President Trump did help craft his con's statement about that meeting with the Russian lawyer, contradicting Trump's legal team and adding to the ever changing story about ties to Russia.

Actually Let's bring in our panel to discuss. We have CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza, and CNN political analyst David Gregory. OK, lots of different threads. Let's start with Republicans now seeming emboldened seemingly overnight, speaking out publicly, not just behind the scenes to reporters, speaking out publicly, some of them, like for instance, Senator Lamar Alexander, are going to press ahead with actually strengthening and stabilizing the Affordable Care Act, the opposite of what President Trump has called for in terms of let it fail and back out of the private funds to let it fail faster. David Gregory?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think this is a recognition on the part of some Republicans that, first of all, the politics is horrible for them, because they own enough of the Affordable Care Act now that trying to dismantle it and talking it down that they'll pay a price if it erodes further. They've made a pitch to change it, to get rid of it, to replace it, but they can't agree among themselves.

And now you have the White House basically campaigning against them saying the real problem is Congress can't achieve anything. So the politics is bad for them increasingly. But I think as a policy matter you have responsible Republicans who are saying we've got to do our job. Obamacare is the law of the land. It's not going to change. The Supreme Court is not going to throw it out. Legislatively we're not going to throw it out. We have to do things to actually help it instead of harming people, which is what the administration is talking about doing, a real dereliction of duty, where there's an opportunity and indeed a need to go on and stabilize the markets where you can because it's not simply going to go away.

CUOMO: Arguably illegal, certainly immoral not to do so. But, Chris Cillizza, how real do you believe this new-found conscience is among Republicans that we have to do what we need to do here, not just what the president's telling us to do?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: I think you will see these things are momentum driven, Chris. I think Jeff Flake's op-ed in "Politico" and the book he wrote, "Conscience of a Conservative," out yesterday, I think does have an impact. It is a small club. There are only 52 Republican senators. They look around. One being willing to speak out, particularly one who is a conservative, and, by the way, one who is up for reelection in 2018. It's easier if you're up for reelection in 2022 to blast Donald Trump. A lot harder if you're up in 2018.

So I do think that Flake will sort of set an example. I think John McCain's vote on headache, Susan Collins' vote on health care, Lisa Murkowski's vote on health care, there are strength in numbers. And I think this Lamar Alexander push will help. Mitch McConnell has pushed back somewhat on the president as it relates to changing the rules. You saw John Cornyn blast Mick Mulvaney. So I think you'll see more voices speak out.

The danger always for them is Donald Trump's base is not massive. It is not 50 percent of the country, but it is extremely loyal, no matter what, and still relatively energized. And in a midterm election, a base matters. So they still do have the worry of Donald Trump actively turning against them. But I think you're starting to see them say this is a good of the country issue, to David's point. This is not necessarily about politics. This is about if we don't do something about exchanges in some of these states people aren't going to have health insurance.

CAMEROTA: That's what you hear Senator Tim Scott in addition to Senator Jeff Flake, so Tim Scott of South Carolina just wrote this in the "Washington Post." We work for the American people. We don't work for the president. We should do what's good for the administration as long as that does not in any way, shape, or form make it harder on the American people. That's sort of an obvious statement, but again, David, there is a shift in that now they're saying things like that publicly.

[08:05:04] GREGORY: I think there's room -- pure politics here, I think there is room for a new conservative movement to emerge. That is not, nor was it ever going to be Donald Trump. What he did is made a play for a neglected part of the electorate, the middle class, particularly the working class, people who had been outside of the political arena. He went in and said hey the parties aren't addressing your concerns. I'm here. I'm going to be your voice.

Well, he's got to perform at some level. You can't about president of the United States and control Congress and then step back and say, oh, Congress, you're not doing your job. You Republicans don't know how to get anything done. You're going to own that.

So I think Jeff Flake is really interesting, solid conservative, excellent legislator. I think he's one of these people you want in congress. He's a person of tremendous integrity whether you agree with him or disagree with him. And he's going into this head on. He knows full well that he's going to face a primary opponent and that Trump will campaign against him. But in the land of Barry Goldwater, we're going to see now a defiant and return to the maverick McCain, and someone in Flake with this book and his campaign who is going to elevate conservatism again. Ultimately conservatives need to find a way to govern, to be able to go to voters to say give us your trust to actually move the country in a new direction. That's not just about the economy and the government's intervention in the economy. It's about foreign policy, national security policy, which is in a state of fluidity as well.

CUOMO: So you have the Republicans making a move towards conscience, or so they say, and Chris Cillizza, you have this other blow to the president and the White House specifically in the form of a lawsuit by a private investigator, former D.C. cop, accusing FOX News of manufacturing a story, using the death of a DNC staffer to distract from the Russia investigation. We talked to the donor at the center of it last night here, Ed Butowsky, straining to justify going to this family in their darkest hour with a tip that he felt would be helpful to them that revealed nothing about the truth. How big a deal is this lawsuit to FOX News, to the White House, because part of the White House is met with Sean Spicer, another mystery meeting, 10 minutes with Spicer who supposedly didn't know what the meeting was about, and that the president is alleged to have read this piece and wanted it to be advanced.

CILLIZZA: I think that last piece you mentioned, Chris, is the most important. Obviously this is one side of the story --

CUOMO: The proof is soft.

CILLIZZA: -- in a lawsuit. But the fact that that allegation, that there's those e-mails are texts in which it says the president read this and wants it out. First of all, why is the president reading a story before it's published? That's number one. But number two, it does suggest an involvement in a story that is, at root, in a tremendously sad story about the murder of a young political operative. This is conspiracy theories aside, this is about Seth Rich and a robbery gone wrong -- not according to Chris Cillizza, according to the police.

So, the -- I think we are all now familiar with this sort of stuff, which is the twisting around and the shaping of events to push a political perspective. When you have a major network, and again, alleged in a lawsuit -- when you have a major network and potentially the White House involved, it's all the more unsavory and it's all the more hypocritical if the charges against the White House wind up being true because Donald Trump's favorite thing to do is run down the so called fake news, which is essentially translated news he doesn't like. This actually if the allegations are borne out, this is actual fake news. This is created from whole cloth, taking grief of a family over the tragic loss of a son and trying to use it for political gain when you know he there's no there, there.

GREGORY: Let's add to this. This is another piece of it. Donald Trump rose to political prominence by advancing a lie about the president of the United States not being born in America. Birtherism was nonsense and a racist lie. That is how he launched himself to national political prominence. He is very comfortable in the murky end of swamp. That's where he's operated. That's a fact. So he doesn't get the benefit of the doubt. Of course he's interested in trafficking this filth.

And he is interested, as we know, look at how he did in the campaign. He was up there saying go WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks. It's so irresponsible on its face. And it's rooted in something else, not only the hideous disrespect for a grieving family but that somehow what Russia did to attempt to manipulate our election is a product of this deep state conspiracy instead of the intelligence agencies who make mistakes but have worked really hard to protect this country and are working to protect his administration as well, whether he believes them or not.

[08:10:14] There are real threats out there from Russia to the United States, to our electoral system, trying to be influenced, and he doesn't care about that because he only sees that as a question of his legitimacy. So that's the fundamental problem we see here. It's not hyperbole, if you start to add these together, this idea of fake news, this is the modern interpretation. It is lies and conspiracies that undemocratic regimes use as their currency. So let's not sugarcoat it.

CAMEROTA: And there's more to come on this story because the lawsuit by Rod Wheeler, the detective, has just been filed so there are certainly more investigation and threads that will come out. Gentlemen, thank you very much for all of this.

CUOMO: And as David and Chris just pointed out eloquently, and you made the same point earlier this morning, it comes down to trust, and that takes us to our other top story. The White House now admitting that the president did weigh in, whatever that means, on that misleading statement by his son about that meeting with a Russian lawyer. Take a listen to the latest spin.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: 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.


CUOMO: Why do I call it spin? Well, because obviously she's reading off prepared notes, which is fine for Sarah Huckabee Sanders. But this story directly contradicts what they had been saying initially, and that is called spin. So let's discuss with former federal prosecutor and deputy special counsel in the Valerie Plame leak investigation Peter Zeidenberg. Good to have you, counselor.


CUOMO: So how do you see this shift from no role to weighed in? Meaningful, not meaningful? Why?

ZEIDENBERG: It's of a piece. Obviously this is something that's happened time and time again. Anyone who goes out for the administration and stakes out a position, it's just a matter of time, it seems before that position is undercut. But I think more importantly, it really poses a legal risk for everybody who was involved on air force one and who played a part in drafting that statement.


ZEIDENBERG: Because this is taken -- you have to look at the context, OK? So this is an ongoing criminal investigation. The first thing that defense attorneys will always tell a client who's the subject of an investigation is do not talk about this case with anyone. And in particular, do not talk about this case with anyone else involved in the case. And the reason for that is if the government prosecutors find out there were conversations, they are immediately suspicious. And the first thing that they're going to want to find out is what were they talking about and were they trying to match their stories, and basically obstruct justice.

CUOMO: But you have -- let me just get in there the analysis to help people out with this, because the president's theory is a sufficiency argument, which is, OK, fine, we weren't telling the truth when I said I didn't play a role. But there's not there, there. This wasn't illegal for my son to do this. It's not illegal for me to try and shape the message. I think it's all bogus so I'm going to craft my own narrative to compete with this bogus one that's out there, and there is no underlying illegality, so this is just about P.R.

ZEIDENBERG: It's certainly true that lying to the public is not a crime, and putting out an inaccurate press release is not a crime. So, I don't think anyone's suggesting that in and of itself you've got a case based on false statements made in a press release. But step back. If you're a prosecutor and you're looking at an obstruction of justice case, you're thinking in your mind a narrative. You're thinking literally already about what an opening argument would make, what would sound like in your own head if you gave it to a jury. And at least what I would be thinking they're thinking is that they fired James Comey why? We have the makings -- let's say a theory of obstruction. And the theory is that he's afraid of what the Russia investigation's going to turn over.

So now you fast-forward and you've got this e-mail, which is highly incriminating. It basically says the Russian government wants to help the -- elect Donald Trump and we've got dirt on Hillary Clinton, and three of his top staff, including his son, his campaign manager and his son-in-law take the meeting and attend.

[08:15:06] That just -- the view from where I would be sitting if I were a prosecutor is that's a highly incriminating meeting.

And their reaction to this news is also something you want to watch. If they really believed the meeting was a nothing, a nothingburger like is what they said originally, then why all the deception about what went on? And why is the president involving himself in coming up with what appears to be a false recitation of the facts.

And the theory would be because he's afraid of the truth. And that feeds into this overarching narrative. So, in and of itself, not a crime. No question about it.

CUOMO: Or he just --

ZEIDENBERG: That is a piece. It's a piece of a puzzle.

CUOMO: Or he just doesn't like the suggestion, so he's trying to do everything he can to tamp it down.

Another thing that they're doing I want a quick take from you on this, is what the Russians would call what-aboutism, which is forget about what Trump and his staffers may or may not have done, what about the Clintons? What about the speech that Bill Clinton gave and the actions taken buy the secretary of state and money that came into the foundation? Is there anything there you believe deserves parallel concern and consideration?

ZEIDENBERG: No. And more importantly, I don't think there's anything there that Bob Mueller and his team is going to consider relevant. You know, a prosecutor's going to look at the case on all fours and say, is this a case I can go to a jury and persuade 12 people beyond a reasonable doubt of guilt? And that's all they're going to look at.

And, you know, Hillary Clinton's uranium deal is not going to enter into that analysis one bit.

CUOMO: And for those who want to feed into a conspiracy about that, Bob Mueller's a registered Republican. He was put in place by the deputy A.G., the acting A.G., that Trump had celebrated and relied on in making his decision to fire Comey. Former Prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg, appreciate your perspective on the

show. Thank you.

ZEIDENBERG: Thank you.

CUOMO: Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Chris, we have some breaking news right now to get to. Flight data reveals that that North Korean recent intercontinental ballistic test came within just miles of the flight path of an Air France passenger jet. This is according to the Japanese military.

An Air France spokesperson says North Korea's missile test zones do not interfere with the flight paths. However since North Korea never announces its test, airlines do not know when or where there could be danger.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is testing another intercontinental ballistic missile. The unarmed missile is launched in California and travelled more than 4,000 miles. Officials say this is not in response to the North Korea's recent missile tests.

CUOMO: All right. As we mentioned Republican senators are breaking with the president on health care. A GOP senator is going to join us to talk about what they're doing and why.


[08:21:39] CUOMO: Explosive claims and a new lawsuit accusing a White House, Fox News, its parent company and a Republican donor of concocting a fake news story about the murder of a DNC staffer named Seth Rich.

CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter has more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a possibility this is a guy who provided to WikiLeaks all those DNC e-mails.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A false story peddled by FOX News could have fingerprints that reach all the way to the White House. A new lawsuit filed in federal court claims FOX concocted a story about the murder of 27-year-old DNC staffer Seth Rich and claims the White House had oversight.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: If it was true that Seth Rich gave WikiLeaks the DNC e-mails, wouldn't that blow the whole Russia collusion narrative that the media has been pushing out of the water?

STELTER: That is part of this pro-Trump conspiracy theory.

Rich's family says his death has been exploited by right wing media. At the center of the story is Ed Butowsky, a wealthy Republican donor. Tuesday's suit filed by Rod Wheeler, a FOX News contributor, claims Butowsky and FOX were in cahoots, contriving a link between Rich and WikiLeaks.

Wheeler worked with Butowsky investigating Rich's death.

ROD WHEELER, LAWSUIT PLAINTIFF: It's very consistent for a person with my experience to begin to think, well, perhaps there were some e- mail communications between Seth and WikiLeaks.

STELTER: Rich's family says that's not true and D.C. police believe his killing was a botched robbery, nothing politically motivated. But that didn't stop FOX.

JAY SEKULOW, TRUMP'S PERSONAL LAWYER: It sure doesn't look like a robbery. It looks like a murder.

STELTER: After days of coverage back in May, the network retracted the story. Now, months later, Wheeler's explosive lawsuit says he was misquoted, defamed by FOX.

WHEELER: I do believe I was used as a pawn in this entire thing.

STELTER: And his suit goes further claiming, Butowsky coordinated the phony story with the White House.

WHEELER: I think their goal based on the e-mails and voice mail messages that I got from Ed Butowsky was to debunk this Russian hacking narrative.

ED BUTOWSKY, DONALD TRUMP SUPPORTER AND DONOR: This whole idea that something was coordinated with Rod Wheeler, that's absolute nonsense.

STELTER: This text message from Butowsky to Wheeler is one of the suits most eye popping claims. Not to add any more pressure, but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It's now all up to you, but don't feel the pressure.

Butowsky now says he was just kidding around.

BUTOWSKY: This was tongue and cheek, talking, just texting, wasn't serious.

STELTER: The White House pushing back as well.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president didn't have knowledge of the story. The White House didn't have any involvement in the story.

STELTER: But there is a link to the White House. Butowsky and Wheeler met with then Press Secretary Sean Spicer a month before the phony FOX story came out. Butowsky telling CNN that he wanted to present audio to Spicer allegedly linking Rich to WikiLeaks.

CUOMO: Did he know why you wanted to meet with him?


CUOMO: So, he just took a meeting. BUTOWSKY: As a matter of fact -- yes. Because I said to Sean, I was

going to be in town. I had something I want to talk to you about.

My conversation with Sean about this recording lasted about one minute. He said, Ed, I don't know anything about it. I don't want to know anything about it. I can't do anything.

STELTER: Spicer says it was just a 10-minute courtesy meeting and the White House had nothing to do with his story.

[08:25:02] But the suit claimed that Spicer asked to be kept abreast of developments.

As for FOX, it calls the accusation that it published the Seth Rich story to detract from the Russia collusion issue, quote, completely erroneous.


CAMEROTA: Our next guest was a target of Russia's meddling in the U.S. election when his e-mails were hacked and leaked by Russian hackers. John Podesta, of course, was the chairman of the Hillary Clinton's campaign. He joins us now.

Mr. Podesta, thanks very much for being here.


CAMEROTA: What do you think of this surreal and terribly sad story about the murder of Seth Rich and this new development in this lawsuit that connects the White House with this story? Rod Wheeler, who has filed a lawsuit, he was the former D.C. homicide detective who says that the White House is very interested in h deflecting away from the Russia investigation and trying to basically pin it on Seth Rich leaking this.

PODESTA: Well, a couple things, Alisyn. First of all, I think it was despicable that FOX News was peddling this and I think what's really amazing is this now connection possibly between the White House -- we know that Sean Spicer was at least informed. We know that he went to the same podium and said he didn't know anything about it after that meeting. There are e-mails implicating the president. So, it's really the lowest of the low.

And on top of that, just last week, the president wined and dined Sean Hannity, who was the, you know, chief proponent of peddling this story, and Bill Shine who had to resign from FOX in the wake of the Roger Ailes scandal. There's some reporting that Shine may be brought into the White House.

So, the whole thing is horrible, I think, and I think that the Rich family has really suffered a lot as a result of the lack of values both at FOX News and the White House.

CAMEROTA: You know, whenever the White House is asked, at least in the press briefings, about the Russia investigation, and anything, I mean, any of the threads, they pretty quickly deflect to, well, why aren't you investigating Hillary Clinton? And this just happened. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was just asked the question and you can just see this plain as day.

So, let me play this for you and get your response.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You guys are focused on a meeting that Don Jr. had no consequence when the Democrats actually colluded with a foreign government, like Ukraine. If you want to talk further about a relationship with Russia, look no further than the Clintons. As we've said time and time again, Bill Clinton was paid half a million dollars to give a speech to a Russian bank and was personally thanked by Putin for it. Hillary Clinton allowed one-fifth of America's uranium reserve to be sold to a Russian firm whose investors were Clinton Foundation donor. And the Clinton campaign chairman's brother lobbied against sanctions on Russian's largest bank and failed to report it.

If you guys want to talk about having relations, which you seemed obsessed with doing, look no further than there.


CAMEROTA: Mr. Podesta, I don't know if you could see on your screen, but she's reading from notes. In other words, those are talking points --


CAMEROTA: -- that she's delivering. Go ahead.

PODESTA: You know, this is what they do. They try to divert attention. Those stories that she went through have been knocked down by the mainstream media.

But I think just like the Seth Rich story at FOX, what they like to try to do is throw dust some place else so they at least give the alt- right media and FOX News something to talk about, when what we really ought to be talking about is that meeting with Don Trump Jr., and the fact that the president dictated, according to some sources, at least participated, in a statement that was grossly misleading.

Think about that. This is -- this is Trump family values. The kids come to the president and say, you know, dad, it's time to come clean. We'd better talk about what happened at this meeting. And what's the dad's response? No, that might hurt me. Put out a grossly misleading statement, which fell apart within a couple days.

CAMEROTA: But what do you think is the upshot? I mean --

PODESTA: They have a lot to answer for.

CAMEROTA: Yes. But what -- (CROSSTALK)

CAMEROTA: -- president is involved. Do you think that somebody has been exposed to more legal jeopardy as a result of that?

PODESTA: Yes. I think that, you know, you heard that from the former prosecutor in the Valerie Plame case. I think they all got together, the special prosecutor, independent prosecutor -- special prosecutor, Mr. Mueller is certainly going to be suspicious about that. And I think Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, I think put his finger on this. They may not have evidence of collusion yet but they sure have evidence and this meeting is evidence of intent to collude.

Don Jr.'s statement that, you know, this is great and influencing the timing of when they might use the information. Remember, this all goes back -- they like to say there's no crime.