Return to Transcripts main page
AT THIS HOUR
Senate Committee Releases New Documents On 2016 Trump Tower Meeting; Trump Jr. Don't Tell Trump Of "Unsubstantiated" Claim Of Clinton Dirt; North Korea Threatens To Cancel Trump-Kim Summit. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired May 16, 2018 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. We begin this hour with breaking news. Nearly 2,000 pages, that's what the Senate Judiciary Committee just released offering the most comprehensive news yet inside that now infamous Trump Tower meeting during the 2016 campaign.
The Senate now publishing the transcripts from the closed door interviews an interviews from statements from some of the people that were inside that Trump Tower meeting including the president's son, Don Jr., who hosted the meeting after receiving an e-mail promising dirt on Hillary Clinton coming from the Russian government.
The meeting has been a key focus as you well know of the special counsel's investigation into possible collusion between Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Let's get to all of this right now. CNN senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. Manu, it has been a lot of pages to comb through, but what are we learning about specifically mostly from Don Jr., and the leadup to this meeting?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, there were a lot of discussions between him and Rob Goldstone, who is the music promoter who essentially arranged this meeting. Donald Trump Jr. had already released his e-mail exchanges with Rob Goldstone in which he was promised dirt on the Clinton campaign.
Goldstone said this was part of the official Russian government effort which is support of the Candidate Trump's candidacy. Donald Trump Jr. said I love it. He wanted to get information about Hillary Clinton that could be damaging to her campaign.
And we now know that Rob Goldstone testified that he believed this could be, quote, "bombshell revelation" to Donald Trump Jr. and others in this meeting. So, there were a number of discussions that Donald Trump Jr. had with Goldstone and with also a Russian pop star, Amin Agalarov in the runup to that meeting.
Now when he was asked about this coming from Russian sources, Donald Trump Jr. said this, I'll read you from the transcript. He said, "I was interested in listening to information, the question, information on Hillary Clinton? He says, yes. Information on Hillary Clinton that came potentially from the Russian government? Again, I had no way of assessing where it came from, but I was willing to listen.
Now what Trump Jr. testified was that they did -- the dirt did not ultimately materialize. He also says that he did not inform his father about this meeting, but we are also learning that there were phone calls in the run-up to the meeting including one of a blocked phone number.
And when he was asked who that phone call was with, he said he didn't remember. It was potentially with his father and he said he did not know and we do know from separate testimony that his father did have a blocked number in one of his residences and that was one question that the Democrats have going forward -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: And the big focus, Manu, has been the evolving statements after the fact when this meeting came to light. What did Don Jr. say about the president's involvement in crafting that initial misleading statement?
RAJU: Well, there was clear concern within the White House about this story when it came out in July 2017 first reported by the "New York Times" and there were those misleading statements that came out about exactly the nature of this meeting.
Now Donald Trump Jr. says he did not speak to his father directly about this, but that it appears to be some indirect discussions to Hope Hicks, the then White House communications director.
In one exchange during this interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee staff, Donald Trump Jr. was asked to the best of your knowledge did the president provide any edits to the statement or other input. Donald Trump Jr. responded he may have communicated or commented through Hope Hicks and the follow-up question, do you know if his comments provided through Hope Hicks were incorporated into the final statement?
He said I believe some may have been, but this was an effort through lots of people, mostly counsel. And Kate, we also learned that Donald Trump Jr. did not provide this committee with documents about those July 2017 interactions because Donald Trump Jr.'s attorney said those are protected by attorney/client privilege.
So, we'll see if there was ever an effort to subpoena or get those records and maybe Mueller's team has a sense on whether or not Donald Trump Sr., the president, had a more significant role in these conversations.
But right now, all of this, Kate, providing more details into the narrative that we already knew about this meeting and the offer of dirt that Donald Trump Jr. and others did state did not actually ultimately materialize in this meeting -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: And many more pages to comb through. Manu, thanks so much. I really appreciate it. We'll talk to Manu in a little bit. Joining me now, Shawn Turner, CNN national security analyst, former communications director for U.S. National Intelligence, Jackie Kucinich, CNN political analyst, Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast" and Seth Waxman, defense attorney and former federal prosecutor. Thanks all for being here.
Shawn, first to you, what Manu was getting to, Don Jr. saying that he was interested in listening to getting information on Hillary Clinton. I was willing to listen according to the transcript. That's beyond the kind of "I would love it" that we heard so much and analyzed so much from the initial e-mail. Is that collusion?
[11:05:10] SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, even if it is, Kate, what we learned over time is that collusion is not necessarily a crime in this context, but I think that there is a bigger issue here. You know, there's the issue of inconsistencies and statements that Don Jr. may have made or that others may have made in both the written and oral testimony.
And I think that's something that the Mueller team will look at very closely, but there's also the issue of the purpose and intent that the Russians had in going into this meeting. We know that Natalia Veselnitskaya is somebody who was not a lawyer with dirt on Hillary Clinton. She went into this meeting as an informant who is closely allied with the kremlin.
BOLDUAN: Which she eventually recently admitted that she was an informant for the government.
TURNER: Absolutely. That's out there. So, the real question is, you know, she was there to collect information and she was there to set the conditions for a follow-on meeting. So, what I'll be very interested in is whether or not she actually was able to accomplish any of that.
BOLDUAN: Yes, what happened after all of this? I think that's the key question. So, to continue on the vein of the Russia investigation is really centered on is the Russian collusion, Seth. Donald Trump Jr. was interested in getting dirt, but they didn't have anything to offer. That's what came out from these transcripts in many different places. Is that collusion still? If he wanted it, they didn't have it to offer, do you see collusion?
SETH WAXMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, his self-serving statements that they didn't have it to offer, Mueller's investigation will prove if that is true, but the fundamentals of a criminal case are being laid here. What we have is a quid pro quo.
The offer of dirt on Hillary Clinton in exchange for the reduction of sanctions on Russia, and that was by all accounts now what the purpose of that meeting was. There may have been people more interested in it or upset that things weren't going the right way.
But at its bare minimum that's what this was about, and as we may know under a federal bribery charge, if you offer anything of value to a public official and that public official offers or promises official acts in the future, that is the fundamentals of a bribery charge, and so I think that this testimony as a whole can be taken as setting the base fundamentals of a federal charge.
BOLDUAN: Seth, when it came to the Magnitsky Act they basically said, at least what you see in the transcripts, we don't see anything like this. Go talk to President Obama about it because my father is still a private citizen at this point. Regardless, Jackie, this is all coming out the day before an anniversary. The anniversary being that Robert Mueller was appointed to be special counsel.
This coming out the day before that because we heard from Rudy Giuliani in an interview with "Bloomberg" that their tactic is they're going to make a big deal about this anniversary coming up tomorrow and they'll say it is time for this all to ratchet down. It's been a year and the anniversary has come up and it's time to wrap it up and this coming out the day before does what?
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it depends on what your side you're on frankly. Democrats are going to --
BOLDUAN: It says, right?
KUCINICH: They're going to point at this and they're going to say look at all of the contact that Trump officials and his son had with the Russians. It's right there in black and white, and both sides are saying that it happened. Republicans will say yeah, but there's no collusion. Look at this.
Now the one thing, one of the many things that isn't ferrying out saying that the Mueller investigation hasn't found anything, there's one person in jail and a whole lot of people that are indicted that point to the absolute opposite of that. He has been finding things. We don't know what else he has. So, the idea that it's time to wrap up now is far-fetched, frankly.
BOLDUAN: And who can really speak to that with authority when Robert Mueller's team is the only one that hasn't really been leaking.
Shawn, Don -- let's talk about the statement, the drafting of the statement. Don junior saying he never talked to his dad about drafting the July statement and Trump may have commented on it through Hope Hicks, that's what came out in the transcripts. Can you remind us what you think the president's role in drafting the statement is so important?
TURNER: Yes, I think because it really kind of speaks to how involved the president was in these direct interactions with the Russians. Look, what I think what Don Jr. was doing, is he was trying very hard to walk a fine line.
He wanted to make absolutely sure that he did not lie in his testimony, but he also wanted to make sure that he maintained some degree of plausible deniability for the president.
So, in doing that, I think that what we see now is that he's kind of shifting responsibility and saying maybe it's possible through Hope Hicks, but it really does come down from the national security perspective, it really does come down to whether or not the president was directly involved in the conduct of this meeting or in how the narrative around this meeting was shaped after the fact.
BOLDUAN: Well, and Seth, play this out for me because one of the things that Sean is getting to a little bit and one of the things you see in Don Jr.'s testimony quite a bit is I don't recall or I don't know. I mean, on the question of did your father tell you he saw e- mails about the meeting or do anything about the meeting? I don't recall.
[11:10:10] Did anyone else pass along information about the meeting? I don't know. Was your father involved in drafting the initial statement about the meeting? I don't know. I never spoke to my father about it. When someone testifies I don't recall and I don't know so much, does it lead you somewhere? Does it tell you something?
WAXMAN: Well, sure. It starts to fail the smell test. I mean, if someone going to say I recall x, y, and z. I recall, you know, things that happened in the Trump Tower meeting and it didn't involve x, y or z.
But on the other hand, during that same timeframe or even a year later, I can't recall these other things starts to wear at that person's credibility and you know, Don Jr. is kind of changing, flip- flopping statements about this.
Let's all remember in July '17 when the statement came out. he claimed it was all about abortion meeting a year earlier. We now know that's entirely false. Now whether the president played a role in that statement or not is yet to be determined.
But it's clear now that Donald Trump Jr. when that statement was issued was perpetrating a falsehood and why lie about the meeting a year earlier if that year earlier meeting was not nefarious and nothing wrongful about it, why do you have to lie about it?
BOLDUAN: But then Jackie, getting to the adoption issue. I mean, Rob Goldstone, he's the guy, of course, if you follow the tangled web, he's the guy who coordinated -- basically coordinated this whole thing, connected the two sides --
KUCINICH: The promoter guy.
BOLDUAN: He testified before the committee that Jared Kushner in the meeting appeared frustrated and that at one point he says infuriated in the meeting when the Russian lawyer, Veselnitskaya, wouldn't kind of get to the point.
He said I don't even know what you're talking about. Eventually saying and then she eventually got to the point saying that she was there to talk about the Magnitsky Act and the Russian sanctions to get adoptions. What's this whole thing about adoption even though there was not full disclosure when it came to that first statement, but what's this whole thing about adoption? KUCINICH: It's the smoking gun and he started going through the convoluted story about donors and Russia and the DNC and the way I read it that's when Jared Kushner was, like, what are you talking about and then the Russian lawyer started talking about adoption and no one wanted to hear it which is when you had Don Jr. say listen, my father is a private citizen and you should talk to the Obama administration about this.
That said, they didn't stop there. They kept on trying to approach the Trump campaign about this issue and push this. So, the fact that they used something to get in the door, that's what's frustrating Kushner. No, yes, at the end of the day it was about adoption on --
BOLDUAN: But then why the smoke and mirrors and --
KUCINICH: To get in the door and the cover up. I'm saying on the -- on the back side of it, why this whole mumbled mess of a statement putting out and the crafting and the re-crafting and the releasing of the e-mails. Again, it just doesn't look right. It just doesn't look right, and this is offering more context about it all. Shawn, Jackie, Seth, thank you so much. Continuing to pore through thousands of documents.
Coming up, the president's big summit with North Korea, now a big question mark after the North warns it could all be over. How real is this threat? How is President Trump now going to respond?
Plus, the president defends his pledged to bring back jobs in China and help the company that intel leaders say is a national security risk to the United States. The president's defense and what senate Republicans are saying about it now.
BOLDUAN: Out of the blue. That is what White House aides say about the new threat from North Korea to call off next month's summit with President Trump. In a statement through state-run media North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un said -- a spokesman for Kim Jong-un put this out saying this.
"If the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK- U.S. summit."
And that announcement came just after North Korea also abruptly called off high-level talks with South Korea over military drills under way with the United States. Here is the State Department's reaction as this was all playing out yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We have not heard anything from that government or the government of South Korea to indicate that we would not continue conducting these exercises or that we would not continue planning for our meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un next month.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: CNN White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, and CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, are covering the big developments. Kaitlan, we've heard from the State Department, and you heard from Heather yesterday, what is the White House saying today, though?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Kate, their stories seem to have changed slightly because last night as we reported White House aides were caught off guard by this announcement and in fact, President Trump was on his way to visit Melania Trump, the first lady, who was in a hospital outside of Washington, recovering from a kidney illness when reports about this threat from North Korea first broke.
And he wasn't fully briefed on what transpired until he got back from the White House over an hour later, but this morning we caught up with the Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on the driveway in front of the White House and she said they were fully expecting something like this from an unpredictable regime like North Korea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, this is something that we fully expected. The president is very used to and ready for tough negotiations and if they want to meet, we'll be ready and if they don't, that's OK too. If they want to meet the president we'll certainly be ready, and we will be prepared, but if not, that's OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: So, saying their case that the president is prepared to walk away from a meeting like this, but they are still planning on this summit actually happening. We spoke with some White House officials this morning.
[11:20:07] We know they've been in contact with the National Security Adviser John Bolton and the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on this and they tell me that Trump is all over this today -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: All right. He could be speaking to cameras later this hour, and let's see exactly what the president has to say if he does. Barbara, the statement, though, from the North Koreans says a lot. It was a lengthy statement, but they also seemed to particularly be upset over the president's National Security Adviser John Bolton pointing to the Libya model as a model for their talks now. It's important for people to understand exactly what that means. Can you lay it out for us?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, you'll remember, you know, back around 2003-2004 the U.S. had promised Libya it would ease up on economic sanctions in return for the Libyans, Moammar Gadhafi, giving up his weapons of mass destruction. That was the Libya model.
Gadhafi gives up his weapons of mass destruction, but then, of course, several years later U.S.-backed rebels in Libya overthrew the government essentially and he was killed. That's the Libya model that Kim Jong-un is looking at, that Gadhafi was killed essentially in return for some vulnerability to his regime and that's what Kim does not want.
I think every U.S. intelligence official will tell you that Kim's major priority is survival of himself, his family and his regime in North Korea and he is reacting very badly, but not unexpectedly to any notion that the Libya model could put him at risk. He is not going to go for that -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: Let's see what happens in the next moments, really. Great to see you, Barbara. Thank you so much.
Joining me right now to discuss further, Republican Senator David Perdue of Georgia, sits on the Senate Arms Services Committee. Senator, thanks for coming in.
SENATOR DAVID PERDUE (R), GEORGIA: Good morning, Kate.
BOLDUAN: What's your reaction to this new threat now from North Korea?
PERDUE: I was just in South Korea a few weeks ago and in China talking to senior leadership in China as well as South Korea. Look, we never thought that this negotiation with North Korea would be linear. You have to have ups and downs.
I think Kim Jong-un is posturing, but this is another indication that we need to continue steadfastly toward the goals here. Three weeks ago, we were talking about a nuclear holocaust potential and we're talking about the reunification of North Korea and a peace treaty after 60 years, and the total denuclearization.
And it's interesting to note that in his comments, Kim Jong-un was soft on the denuclearization. I can tell you from personal experience, meeting with the senior leadership in China that they are solidly behind the total denuclearization of North Korea.
BOLDUAN: Do you think -- you think that in the statement they were soft on denuclearization because they said the unilateral abandonment of their nuclear weapons was like off the table. That's what the statement basically said.
PERDUE: Well, there is a condition in that and I can tell you from the conversations that we had directly and the conversations I've had with Pompeo that this is what's on the table. Now, look, there will be posturing about our exercises and so forth, but nobody thought this would be linear.
But look, this is a process of re-engaging with that part of the world and I'm very encouraged that the president is still willing to have the conversation. I don't see anything in this release that tells us that we can't move forward with these negotiations.
BOLDUAN: Do you think it was a mistake for John Bolton to say that Libya was the model that they would be following?
PERDUE: Well, look, I'm not in negotiations. Libya, right now we're offering this guy, Kim Jong-un an opportunity to rejoin the community of nations and that means opening up. I was just over there, and I can tell you we meet with defectors coming out of North Korea and sanctions are working and people are desperate. This guy if he wants survival needs to talk to the United States and the international community about denuclearization and opening up his economy to the rest of the world.
BOLDUAN: Right. But the Libya model -- I mean, John Bolton was the one who offered it up and that was the model that they're going to base it on? Do you think it was a mistake?
PERDUE: Well, denuclearization for opening up because what didn't happen in Libya is that Gadhafi didn't improve in human rights and so forth and that was all we had over there. So, we have an opportunity here in North Korea. The president has said that we want to open up the economy and we can help them dramatically. South Korea is talking about it and now Japan is talking about that.
BOLDUAN: Now it's gone from the president deserves the Nobel Peace Prize now as we heard from Republicans to the question of are they going to be calling the whole thing off. If the summit doesn't happen is that a failure on Donald Trump's part?
PERDUE: Look, this is a rogue regime. They're in cooperation with Syria and chemical weapons. We know that they've been partnering with Iran on nuclear development in violation of all sorts of international law. But this is the situation right now where we need to move forward with the negotiations in the manner that we have right now. The talk about the peace prize and all of that, that's in the media. President Trump just wants results and he's got partners helping --
[11:25:05] BOLDUAN: President Trump is talking about it, too, though, Senator. He said he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.
PERDUE: Well, we'll see how that works out. Right now, we just want an arrangement with North Korea to denuclearize and that's the biggest objective we have going.
BOLDUAN: Senator, Senator Chuck Grassley released more than 2,000 pages of transcripts of interviews relating to the investigation into that Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyers, who are promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. You've said that it's time for Bob Mueller to wrap up this investigation. Are you glad that Grassley put this out?
PERDUE: Of course, the American people want the truth, but even with this, and I haven't seen all of those pages yet, but I can tell you this, after a fuel year of investigation there is no evidence of collusion with this president with Russia regarding our election. Now it's time to get that out there for Mueller. I've said before, this thing could be spiraling out of control and here's an example of how it could.
BOLDUAN: Senator, who can be the authority --
PERDUE: -- the American people -- let me finish, the American people deserves the truth and this president wants them to have it. We've had a year of investigating this. When does it end?
BOLDUAN: But who is the authority on when it's time for Mueller to wrap up or not because if you look at next week as an example, the public learned last week about Michael Cohen pitching himself and one with links to a Russian oligarch. Bob Mueller knew about that six months ago, so who is to say what Bob Mueller doesn't know or does?
PERDUE: Well, Bob Mueller is the one that determines when the investigation is, but the investigation was started to determine whether there was a collusion between this president and Russia relating to our election. He's already got to collusion on that frankly.
Now we've spun off in all of these tangential investigations and that's fine if he wants to create a new investigation and come to Congress and we may be willing to do that, but right now the American people deserve to get his conclusion on this president's potential collusion with Russia.
BOLDUAN: Let me ask you one thing that you've been pushing for quite a lot is for Mitch McConnell to cancel the August recess coming up to get the budget done ahead of the September deadline and move ahead on some of the judicial nominees before the Senate. You want to get some things done. I get that.
I think the American people would appreciate that. Manu Raju is also reporting that there's also political benefits to this. You can keep Democrats in Washington and off the campaign trail ahead of the midterm. Is that part of your calculation, Senator?
PERDUE: If anybody knows me, that's not my calculation and I'm outside of that process and here's what's at play. This is the first time, Kate, in 230 years that the minority party has not waved the rule that requires a 30-hour debate for nominations. We have 284 nominees in the backlog waiting for their hearing.
One ambassador nominee has been in the line for over a year. This is the first time in U.S. history that's happened, and the problem is right now it stops the Senate up and what we're trying to do right now is fund the government. The last time Congress funded a government and this is the Democratic Republican rule, Kate, was 1996 by --
BOLDUAN: Yes, you guys don't have a good track record on that.
PERDUE: Right. So, nobody has a good track record. This is only four times in 44 years has this Congress funded a government on time by the end of the fiscal year. So, what we want to do -- and look, this is about political obstructionism more than anything else.
If we can get the nominees out of the way and there is no reason we can't. These are not controversial nominees. Most of these people are getting 70 and 80 votes once we get them to the floor, but we get those out of the way then we can deal with the appropriation bills on the floor.
And if we run out of time, what the president has said and others, is if we don't get it done by August, stay in here and get it done to make sure we get the government funded before September 30th.
BOLDUAN: All right. If there's one thing that we all know about the senator, really anything with Congress, nothing like a deadline to get the wheels in motion, to get something done, but let's see, Senator. Great to see you. Thanks for coming in.
PERDUE: Thanks, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the transcripts are out and the Republican senators who decided to release them is explaining why. Thousands of pages of interviews with people inside that Trump Tower meeting during the election with Russians. More reaction from Capitol Hill next.