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AT THIS HOUR
NYT: Russian From Trump Tower Meeting Says She's An "Informant;" House Intel Committee Releases GOP Report On Russia Probe; Trump Voices Caution Ahead Of Summit With Kim Jong-un; North And South To Formally End Korean War This Year. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired April 27, 2018 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: -- and now we have a much better alternative than anybody thought even possible.
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JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: That was President Trump there welcoming Olympians at the White House and the possibility of peace on the Korean Peninsula. Thanks so much for joining me today. I'm Jim Sciutto. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts now.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Breaking news this morning, "I am a lawyer and I am an informant," the shocking declaration from the Russian lawyer who was at the center of that infamous Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump's son, his son-in- law, and campaign chairman.
"The New York Times" is reporting that Natalia Veselnitskaya admitted for the first time that what had long been believed, that her ties to top Russian government officials were much closer than she let on.
And the other breaking news, the House Intelligence Committee has released a redacted version of the Republican's report on the month- long Russia investigation, their conclusion, no collusion.
Let's get to it all. The major report from "The New York Times" first off, we'll speak to one of the reporters who broke the story in a moment. But first let's get to Evan Perez joining me right now. Evan, what do you see in this?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, I mean, this report really confirms what we've all thought about Natalia Veselnitskaya's denials. She has denied any link to the Kremlin and to the Russian government ever since the story broke.
And now we see essentially their e-mails that have been released by a critic of the Kremlin showing that she was in close contact with the chief prosecutor there in Moscow. She now also has provided an interview to NBC in which for the first time she is saying those words that you just said, which is I am a lawyer and I am an informant. And of course, this changes everything simply because until now, she's been denying that she had any coordination. We previously had seen an additional document that appeared to show talking points that she brought to that Trump Tower meeting appearing to show exactly those same talking points being used by the top Russian prosecutor.
Of course, to step back a little bit, Veselnitskaya arrived at that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting after Donald Trump Jr. had been sent an e-mail in which he had been promised dirt on Hillary Clinton's campaign. She was the one who was supposed to bring that dirt.
In the end obviously, she didn't provide anything. But just the fact that members of the Trump campaign, including his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, attended this meeting thinking that this is what they were going to get, obviously has been at the center of the controversy and the investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely, Evan. All right. Evan will stick around, he will join us from just a second. But let's get to the other big Russian news, the House Intelligence Committee releasing the Republican report on the Russia investigation.
CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill with much more on this for us. So, Manu, what does the report say?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, this is a 253- page heavily redacted report that comes after the summary of these conclusions were released earlier this year. The Republicans had drafted this report and it was approved along party lines. No Democrats supported it.
But what it does conclude is that there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Now, what they do say in here, though, that they take issue with some of the things that the Trump campaign did during the campaign even if they found no evidence of collusion.
They say while the committee found no evidence of the Trump campaign colluded or conspired with the Russian government, they did find poor judgment and, quote, "ill-considered actions by the Trump and Clinton campaigns."
One instance, of course, referring to that meeting that Natalia Veselnitskaya attended in June 2016 with members of the Trump campaign including Donald Trump Jr. They say that they believe that there was nothing nefarious that ultimately occurred in that meeting.
But they do note that Natalia Veselnitskaya was, quote, "Russian government lawyer" and this was at least an effort initially to get Trump dirt -- dirt on the Clinton campaign to the Trump campaign.
And they also criticized the Trump campaign's, quote, "periodic praise for and communications with WikiLeaks," which of course released those Clinton campaign e-mails. But also given that this is a Republican report, they went after very closely at the Clinton campaign. And it criticized the Clinton campaign for, what they call, quote, "using a series of cutouts and intermediaries to obscure their roles paid for by opposition research on the Trump campaign from Russian sources."
And that is in reference to that Steele dossier compiled by that former British agent, Christopher Steele. But ultimately, they say no evidence of collusion from the Republicans on this committee, which has given the president something to cheer about today -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: And you say this was heavily redacted, Manu. What are the chances that more of this report could be declassified and more of it be seen?
RAJU: It is really unclear. Members in both sides of the aisle are frustrated, they want more of this information released publicly. They have to fight with the intelligence community ultimately to do that, but we'll see if they ultimately agree to do so -- Kate.
[11:05:08] BOLDUAN: All right. Manu, thanks so much for bringing that to us really appreciate.
Joining me right now to discuss this, Caroline Polisi, defense attorney specializing in white collar crime, Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, and justice reporter, Evan Perez is back with me as well.
Caroline, let's talk about "The New York Times" report and the interview with Natalia Veselnitskaya. We know that the Trump Tower meeting in 2016 is a focus of Robert Mueller's investigation. Robert Mueller sees this interview and thinks what?
CAROLINE POLISI, FEDERAL AND WHITE COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, absolutely I think the fact is that Robert Mueller likely had this information before we did. He probably knew this, but you talk about a larger collusion investigation. It obviously has ties to that.
But overall in the obstruction of justice piece, I think that is an interesting element here too because it goes to president Trump's state of mind. Remember, he is the one that dictated that misleading memorandum about Don Jr.'s meeting.
Remember the Magnitzky (ph) Act and all of the Russian adoption issues, that was extremely misleading. So, the question is, what was his state of mind at that time when he dictated that now infamous memo on Air Force One?
So, I think now the question that we all have on ask ourselves is did he know that Miss Veselnitskaya did have ties to the Russian government, which by the way, is in direct contradiction to her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. So, you know, there are a lot of legal questions that still need to be sorted out here.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely. I mean, and Chris, the House Intelligence report that Manu was just talking about, the president tweeted about it basically pointing to that as reason that the Mueller investigation should now end. Is this rhetorical or do you think this is a real threat?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, it's always hard to know, Kate, with Donald Trump.
BOLDUAN: That's why I ask you.
CILLIZZA: I think it is difficult to assume -- look, we knew what was in this intelligence committee report. We're seeing a redacted version of it, but they let us know about the findings that there was no collusion, that they were not convinced that Russia was working to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.
We knew about that earlier. He is seizing on this as evidence that this is somehow exonerating him. There is still an ongoing Senate investigation, obviously the special counsel investigation.
I would remind people, though, that this tweet by Trump comes less than 24 hours after that "Fox and Friends" interview when no less than three separate times does Donald Trump say something, I'm paraphrasing, but something along the lines of I haven't gotten involved with the FBI and Justice Department yet, but if they don't course correct, I will. Now, that was a little vague, but you take that combine it with this tweet, and it certainly seems like a threat.
BOLDUAN: I mean, that is why I ask you, my friend. Evan, on this report from the "New York Times" and NBC News, there is more to this interview with NBC News that we don't know what more will come out.
But when she says I am a lawyer and I'm an informant, do we directly -- I mean, is the assumption then that even if the Trump campaign didn't know it going in, she was going in something of a fishing expedition on part of the Russian government?
PEREZ: Well, that's right. I mean, I think what we know from the way the Russians operate and certainly the Russian intelligence services and their security services is that they rely on people like Veselnitskaya, businesspeople, to provide information.
This is something the FBI has kept an eye on and it makes it very difficult for you to keep -- to try to keep track as to who is a Russian agent. I guess, these people don't wear name tags, they don't show up at the airport saying I'm here on a mission from the Russian government.
Instead they come for other purposes and then they do the bidding and they do collect information and provide information to the Russian government. That is exactly how it works. And so, this is why we've heard repeatedly from members of Congress like Lindsey Graham and so on, who have said that when you got this inquiry from someone pretending or saying that they wanted to provide information from the Russian government.
That they wanted to provide dirt on your rival campaign, the right thing to do is to call the FBI. It is not to take that meeting and say giddily, you know, great, we'll see what you can give us. So that is the reason why this is such a controversy and why this is still part of an investigation.
Because remember, even if they didn't get any dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russians, even if they got nothing, the fact that they took this meeting believing that they were still could be part of a criminal case.
BOLDUAN: Remember the e-mail, love it? Caroline, now that she is speaking out, this Russian lawyer, this puts the focus directly back on as you mentioned what happened afterwards with the crafting of the statement after it, but also the simple question of was there coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. If the Trump Tower meeting was just one meeting, is that enough to claim conspiracy?
[11:10:07] POLISI: It definitely could be. The question is whether or not there was sort of quid pro quo. The fact is this is not really news, Kate. I mean, she had been identified in those e-mails that were released prior as a government lawyer. OK, so, they knew going in there --
BOLDUAN: I guess maybe the reason it is so surprising is hearing her say -- and we also must say, we don't know if she's saying I was an informant on this exact piece. She says I'm an attorney and I'm an informant. I guess, she could try to say I am sometimes, but this one I was acting independently. I don't know.
POLISI: Which is again what she said to the Senate Judiciary Committee that she was acting in an independent capacity again about these roll backs of Russian sanctions and Russian adoptions.
BOLDUAN: But do you believe it?
POLISI: No, I don't believe it as a quick answer. But again, the question goes to the quid pro quo arrangement, whether or not this was going to be some sort of back and forth in terms of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton for the campaign to be used in the campaign.
And I think Robert Mueller is going to be looking at this. Again, there doesn't have to be underlying collusion to charge obstruction of justice. So, that is an interesting piece here. Even if, you know, we're hearing reports that maybe there was no collusion, that could still get you to an obstruction charge.
BOLDUAN: And also, this is another unanswerable and one of the questions that we need to ask is the timing of all of it. Sitting down for an interview now. This coming out now. I find that fascinating. Caroline, Chris, Evan, thanks, guys. I really appreciate it.
Coming up for us, the historic hug and handshakes and agreement that could bring a peace to one of the most volatile regions in the world. North and South Korean leaders agreeing to declare the end of the Korean war, but will their words become reality? And does Donald Trump deserve the credit? Plus, no prescription, no problem apparently. A new CNN report on the White House Medical Unit uncovers new allegations of misconduct just one day after White House Doctor Ronny Jackson bowed out of his bid to join the Trump cabinet. Stay with us.
BOLDUAN: A new history begins now, the words of North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un as he and the president of South Korea made history today in both substance and symbolism with a single step this morning. Kim became the first North Korean dictator to touch South Korean soil since the peninsula was divided by the Korean war.
Sixty five years after the last shot was fired, the two leaders now about to formally end that conflict later this summer. Also, this morning, they pledged to eliminate nuclear weapons from their countries, but offered no details beyond that, and the details, of course, matter very much.
This morning, President Trump both celebrated and voiced caution about all of this. In a tweet saying, "After a furious year of missile launches and nuclear testing, a historic meeting between North and South Korea is now taking place. Good things are happening, but only time will tell."
Let's get over to the White House for the very latest and what the president is saying. Kaitlan Collins is there for us. Kaitlan, what is the White House, president saying about all of this this morning?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Kate, it is a lot of cautious optimism coming from the president today. He's been tweeting about it this morning as you showed saying that this is a success, not to forget that China played a role in this as well. 2 And even just minutes ago, the president was on the front porch of the White House, welcoming these Olympic athletes for a celebration and he actually talked about this a little bit tying it into the Olympics, saying that hopefully these athletes will be able to go to North Korea and compete one day if there are no nuclear weapons there and saying this about a potential summit between him and the North Korean dictator.
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PRESIDENT TRUMP: I want to express my hope that all of the people of North Korea and South can someday live in harmony, prosperity and peace. It looks like it could happen. They said that there were two alternatives, let them have what they have or go to war. And now we have a much better alternative than anybody thought even possible.
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COLLINS: So there, Kate, he is expressing optimism about his potential face-to-face with Kim Jong-un. But this isn't the only diplomacy that is being focused on today. More immediately the German Chancellor Angela Merkel is coming to the White House, she will be here for roughly three hours to meet with the president.
That is in very stark contrast to the French president's arrival where he had three days of meetings with the president. This one is likely to be ever less chummy, no white hats, no hand holding from these two today, but they will be focusing on the same issues.
Of course, Merkel will want to talk about the steel and aluminum tariffs. Germany is hoping to get a permanent exemption from that, and also the Iran deal. She is another leader who wants the president to keep the United States in that deal.
So that is what she will be working on today, but of course it will be very different than that very friendly visit he had with the French president just a few days ago -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: And what we just heard from the president, very different Donald Trump than we normally see. Very measured statement in his reaction to the historic agreement between North and South Korea. Kaitlan, thanks so much.
A lot to discuss now. With me is Kelly Magsamen, CNN national security analyst, who served the National Security Council under President Bush and Obama. Kelly, thanks for coming in.
KELLY MAGSAMEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Great to be here.
BOLDUAN: In your view, which worked better here, economic sanctions or fire and fury coming from President Trump?
MAGSAMEN: Well, I think the summit is a manifestation of a couple of dynamics. One, I do thinks sanctions did play a role and so that is really important. The second piece is personal diplomacy going on by Moon Jae-in. And I think that is really important. I think if anyone will deserve credit for this summit, it is credit to the South Korean president.
But as much as this is a very positive development, I think the key is obviously going to be the follow-through, devil in the details. We've been here before a couple times and I think that the challenge is that this really positive summit has very much set up the expectation for the U.S.-North Korea summit that may be a little bit too high.
[11:20:06] And so I personally worry when you have the personal leadership involved in these kinds of summitries that, you know, if it doesn't follow through and it doesn't work, then you have nowhere to go.
BOLDUAN: That is, of course, a huge question that is hanging out there. But on who deserves credit because everyone likes to claim credit, you put it so the South Koreans, but even going into this meeting between the North and South, the South Korean foreign minister told Christiane Amanpour that Donald Trump deserves at least some credit. Do you give it to him? MAGSAMEN: Certainly. Whether or not it's the fire and fury comments or the economic sanctions, certainly, the pressure campaign did have an effect on how the North Koreans think. But also, the North Koreans have an agenda here and Kim Jong-un has also done a lot on this regard.
He is the one really driving and setting the frame for these discussions. It was him who sort of drove frame with the South Koreans, and I think there is real peril for the United States, his objective is to try to split the United States and South Korea.
So, as we look ahead to the next summit, the U.S.-North Korea summit, it's going to be really important that the U.S. and South Korea have a very clear set of understandings going into that.
BOLDUAN: And there is very historical precedent to be concerned as we head back in to a meeting like this. Kelly, thanks so much. I really appreciate you coming in.
BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, we'll get back to the revelation in the Russia investigation. The Russian lawyer at the center of that infamous Trump Tower meeting reportedly admits her ties to Russia were much closer than she had let on and even testified before a House committee about. We'll speak to a reporter who broke the story next.
BOLDUAN: We're continuing to follow breaking news coming in. "The New York Times" reporting the Russian lawyer who attended that infamous meeting at Trump Tower during the campaign, this is a meeting with Donald Trump's son, son-in-law and campaign chairman, that happened on the pretense of offering up dirt from the Russian government on Hillary Clinton, well, that lawyer has closer ties to the Russian government than she has let on.
This is coming out in e-mails and now in an interview with NBC news. One of the reporters behind this report is Sharon LaFraniere of "New York Times." Let me bring her in right now. Sharon, thanks so much for coming in.
SHARON LAFRANIERE, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Thank you for having me.
BOLDUAN: So. you can tell me exactly -- just layout what you all found?
LAFRANIERE: Well, what happened was that the Justice Department asked the Russian prosecutor general for help in giving them evidence against Russian businessmen who have been charged in a civil fraud case in New York. And the prosecutor general in Russia turned around and sent the message to Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was the defense attorney in the case and who was the lawyer who showed up at Trump Tower.
So together the two of them worked hand-in-hand to basically frustrate the Justice Department's request and what it shows is that she is really not just an independent actor as she's been saying, but that she, at least in this instance, was acting as a kind of extension of the Russian government.
BOLDUAN: And Sharon, it is not just what she's been saying to reporters, it's what she said in a statement to a Senate committee about her relationship when asked. She said that acts independently and has no relationship with this person.
LAFRANIERE: That's correct. And she said that in November and one of the former prosecutors in this case said that her activities and this kind of back channel that she had with the Russian prosecutor general was actually utterly outrageous and that she should be investigated for misrepresenting herself in an American court and possibly for obstruction of justice.
And if you remember, the intermediary who set up that Trump Tower meeting described her as a government lawyer, an emissary of the Russian prosecutor general and she denied that, she said that she was only a private attorney acting -- representing herself and no one else.
BOLDUAN: Did you have a chance to speak with her, what is she saying about the e-mails that have surfaced?
LAFRANIERE: No, she wouldn't speak to us. But NBC News reporter caught up with her in Moscow, and she kind of blurted out it seems that she had a dual role with the Russian prosecutor general. She was an attorney, but she was also an informant. And the word she used in Russian can actually only be translated as informant. So, she is a source of the information for the Russian government.
BOLDUAN: At least one thing is not lost in translation. Could she be both things, have the close ties to this top Kremlin official and also be working completely independently of the Kremlin when this meeting happened?
LAFRANIERE: I'm sorry, I didn't catch that.
BOLDUAN: I was just saying, of course, the question out of all of this is now that the relationship is proven, and she said this to NBC News, it begs the question, can she be both things, can she have these close ties to the Kremlin official but also be working completely independently when the 2016 meeting happened?
LAFRANIERE: I mean, I guess it is possible. But then how do you explain the e-mail that described her as a government attorney. I mean, it is all very suspicious, who she really is.
BOLDUAN: What do you think of Veselnitskaya going public with this now? I mean, from what I hear from Richard Engel, it was a contentious interview when he caught up with her. What do you think of the fact that she is speaking out about this now?