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Senate Committee Releases Transcripts on 2016 Trump Tower Meeting; North Korea Threatens to Cancel Trump-Kim Meeting. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 16, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: What would she be doing at this meeting?

NADA BAKOS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So as an informant she's actually looking for information to deliver to the Kremlin, to the Russian government. She's looking for information on the Trump campaign. She's probably there initially just to get feelers out and understand how the campaign works, who holds the power, who's making decisions, whether or not the campaign itself would be amicable to working with the Kremlin at this point and so she's really using her role as an interlocutor between the Russian government to then reach out to the Trump campaign.

She's also, from what we're seeing so far in some of the reports, is using that meeting to be able to test the water a little bit, not only with Trump Jr. but with Manafort and others that were circling around the orbit during the campaign. So I think part of her job, not only with the Kremlin is then to start eliciting information out of the Trump campaign that the Kremlin can then use.

Because we've been really focused on whether or not the Kremlin actually gave information to the Trump campaign mainly about Hillary Clinton but there's also a reverse that the Russians are looking for. They want to collect information. They want information that they can then use themselves to manipulate the election as we now know in any way that they saw fit and-or use it to compromise the Trump campaign.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Let's bring in our senior political Mark Preston as well. And we just got the second excerpt that stands out from these transcripts. Let's read it to you.

"Why wouldn't you share it with your father," talking about this Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016. "Why wouldn't you share it with your father given your response that you loved it especially later in the summer?" The answer, "Because I wouldn't bring him into anything that is unsubstantiated especially from a guy like Rob before I knew what it was actually about myself." Rob is the person who set up, facilitated this meeting.

It goes on to say, "So you did not pass the information along to your father? Do you know if anyone else did? I don't believe they did but I don't know. Have you ever asked him if he was given the e-mail or told about this meeting? No, I haven't. Has he ever told you whether he saw this e-mail or knew about this meeting? Not that I recall, no."

BERMAN: And, Mark Preston, it is interesting there because one of the key questions was, did Donald Trump, the candidate for president of the United States, know about this meeting. Trump Junior here is saying he never told him about it. This is fairly declarative. He never told his father about this meeting but he doesn't know if someone else did.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And this is the dangerous part of supporters of President Trump certainly that they don't want to see and that's when you have people that actually have to sit in front of a congressional committee in this case or in front of Robert Mueller's special committee right now, the special counsel, and having to answer these questions honestly and not flippantly.

It's interesting, though, if you really look at that statement, he gave himself a little bit of wiggle room there to say that he didn't know if anyone ever spoke to the president about that. Now having said that, though, we know there was a lot of involvement in this statement. My fear, though, John and Poppy, is that we are in this facts don't matter era right now where people don't seem to care about the truth, and I think something really big is going to have to happen for the American public in a major, major way show their distaste for what we've seen so far.

HARLOW: Laura Coates, what stands out to you from what I just read about whether or not Donald Trump Jr. told his father about this Trump Tower meeting or showed him the e-mails setting it up? And the reason those e-mails matter is because the e-mails promised incriminating information on Hillary Clinton to the Trump team.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the context here is lost in just that reading of it, because remember, it wasn't just Donald Trump Jr. who was in the room, Paul Manafort was in the room/

HARLOW: Right.

COATES: You had Jared Kushner, you had people who were in the room who would have direct contact with then candidate Trump. Paul Manafort was the chair of the campaign at that point in time. So to suggest that, oh, I don't know if anyone happened to mention to my father this was going on, was there anyone in the room that could possibly give me any information? Also the context of this, not too long after this statement or this meeting happened, or the meeting was promised, wasn't there a campaign trail discussion by the president of the United States talking about information that was forthcoming about Hillary Clinton?

All of those things and those pieces come together to say, this was an exercise by Donald Trump Jr. about trying to create plausible deniability, and the reason why it's not, you know, fatal to the investigation of Robert Mueller to suggest that maybe Donald Trump didn't know directly or no one maybe told him directly is because people have this misimpression that Mueller's only charge, even his exclusive charge in this case is to figure out a way to indict the president of the United States but his actual scope, his actual mandate is figuring out whether anyone who was a member of the Trump campaign or in that orbit had some sort of collusive ties.

[09:35:12] You have a testimony from Donald Trump Jr., three people who were tied to the campaign. I know he's not now, but all those people show that there were some evidence to suggest that perhaps the scope of that mandate is actually well-defined and necessary.

BERMAN: Evan Perez, we just got a new little tranche from these transcripts here. It has to do with phone calls that Donald Trump Jr. made with Emin Agalarov, that's one of the Russians who wanted this meeting set up and was apparently originally told that the Russians -- I'm not going to read this section because it's long and it's sort of very technical here. But the bottom line here is that Donald Trump Jr. admits that his phone records show that there were calls but he doesn't recall actually having conversations with this individual, and so far what we've seen is a lot of I don't recalls or maybes or could have beens in this.

Is this sort of the difference between testifying to Congress, even behind closed door, and maybe testifying to Robert Mueller?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I think, look, these guys were prepared, they certainly were prepared for this congressional testimony, but what you also see in this questioning is essentially -- especially from congressional investigators is the follow-ups and perhaps -- they know what the answer is when they're asking these questions and so sometimes, you know, you do have some good follow-ups and other times you don't.

If Robert -- if Donald Trump Jr. was being interviewed by prosecutors, by the FBI in the Robert Mueller investigation, I think the substance of it would be a lot different. In this case Donald Trump Jr. testified that his phone records show that there were, quote, "three very short phone calls" between himself and Emin Agalarov, this is the Russian developer who was pushing for this meeting according to Rob Goldstone, the Russian -- I'm sorry the British publicist who help set it up.

They were pushing for this meeting with the Trump campaign people and so the question was, you know, did you ever speak and he says, I don't think we ever did. He says it's possible. He says it's possible that they left each other's voicemails.

HARLOW: Evan, we're just getting some more information from these thousands of pages of transcripts. Let's get a quick break in. We'll have more on these headlines right after this.


[09:41:35] BERMAN: All right. Breaking news. The Senate Intelligence Committee just voted 10-5 to approve the nomination of Gina Haspel to be the new CIA director. A final confirmation vote in the full Senate could happen as early as tomorrow.

HARLOW: OK. Let's get back to the other breaking news we're following this morning and that is the thousands of pages of testimony, testimony given under oath of all of the participants in that 2016 meeting in Trump Tower. Of particular interest is the testimony that Donald Trump Jr. gave because he set up this meeting that included a now admitted Russian informant and Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Back with us is our Evan Perez, Nada Bakos, our legal analyst, Shan Wu, our legal analyst as well, and our senior political analyst Mark Preston.

There's a part that stands out to us. Let's read this.

BERMAN: All right. You'll remember that Donald Trump Jr. was promised dirt from the Russians on Hillary Clinton. Listen to this exchange with Senate investigators right now.

What is it specifically you were interested in getting out of that meeting? The answer, I was interested in listening to information. Question, information about Hillary Clinton? Answer, yes. Question, information on Hillary Clinton that potentially came from the Russian government, Donald Trump Jr.'s answer is, again, I had to way of assessing where it came from but I was willing to listen.

So, Shan, two things that are very interesting there, number one, Donald Trump Jr. admits that he was willing to listen to information about dirt on Hillary Clinton which he has said publicly before and obviously he was because he held the meeting, but he tries to get a little bit funny right there. He says, I had no way of assessing where the information came from even though in the e-mails that set up the meeting he was told it came from the Russian government.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right. And I think that's a very telling attempt to back step on that. I mean, it's quite obvious that, first of all, just out of an abundance of caution they should have informed and been truthful later about these types of meeting. But really he would not be interested in taking a meeting if he didn't think that that information was coming from high levels and would be dependable.

HARLOW: Laura Coates, to you, let me read you part of the e-mail that Donald Trump Jr. -- we don't have Laura.

But, Shan, let me read you part of this e-mail that was sent, that he responded to, that Donald Trump Jr. responded to. It said, "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

Those e-mails are now of the public record. They are out. Actually Donald Trump Jr. released them himself and then he's testifying under oath that he did not know where the information came from. How can both be true at the same time?

WU: They can't and one of the difficulties for him as well as these other witnesses is they're being questioned by multiple entities. I mean, he's going to have to talk with Mueller's people, already has, he's talking to the committee. It's very hard even for people telling the truth to tell the same story twice the same way and it's particularly difficult if you're not telling the truth. So I think you're seeing some of that going on here.

BERMAN: OK. I want to -- Evan, I want to raise your attention to something we're now seeing right now. It has to do with an exchange about phone calls that were made by Donald Trump Jr. A series of phone calls he made and he talks about having a conversation or exchange in calls with Emin Agalarov, this is one of the Russians who apparently got some of the incriminating information or was told that the Russians has had incriminating information on Hillary Clinton.

[09:45:03] He had two phone calls back and forth with him and in between there was another phone call. Let me read you this exchange. "25 minutes after the first call ended you made an outgoing call to the same number but in between those two calls there's another entry, a call that lasted four minutes from a blocked number between Emin's call to you and your return call to him, with whom did you have that call?

Donald Trump Jr. says I have no idea. Other than that call do you remember what you did during that 25 minutes? He goes, I don't. And then it says it appears from this record that after your call with the blocked number ended, you called Emin back.

Now, Evan, people who have been following this investigation closely, particularly some of the things the Democrats have been saying, they have all noted that candidate Donald Trump had a blocked phone number and it hasn't been deeply investigated in some cases by investigators here. So when you see this, that Donald Trump Jr. had a phone call with a blocked number in between calls with a Russian, why might that be important, Evan?

PEREZ: Well, it certainly leaves you to wonder who exactly is that phone call. Is it a phone call to his father? And look, I mean, people who know Donald Trump Jr., know the Trumps, say that this is something that Donald Trump Jr. would have wanted to tell his father about. Keep in mind at this point Ivanka and Jared Kushner have been brought into the campaign, Donald Trump Jr. is not part of the campaign and he's eager to show his father that he too can help with the campaign.

That's one reason why he organizes this meeting. He brings people in from the campaign to try to do this and if you talk to people who are close to Jared Kushner, people close to Paul Manafort, they described themselves being a little suspicious as to why Donald Trump Jr. is doing this after all he's not formally in the campaign, and so they've always been suspicious as to who he might have told about this.

They don't buy the story essentially that he has been telling and certainly Donald Trump Jr. is not explaining it. Look, one of the interesting parts of this is going to be whether Robert Mueller and the FBI and the technology that, you know, their investigators have, whether they're able to decipher using phone company records where that phone call came from, whether that blocked number is indeed something that they can find out where it was, was it to Donald Trump, the candidate's assistant or not.

So those are questions I'm sure that the Senate investigators were a little bit hamstrung because they didn't have access to get additional information but Robert Mueller may be able to.

HARLOW: Mark Preston, as we've gotten these sort of four to five major headlines so far, what stands out to you the most?

PRESTON: Well, a couple of things. One is that we're actually seeing it laid out and its being released by a Republican chairman. I think that is very, very important. This isn't a Democratic witch hunt as we have been led to believe by some of Donald Trump's supporters. I mean, very much this has been a bipartisan investigation on Capitol Hill, certainly on the U.S. Senate side. What we have seen, though, just in the last few minutes is that Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have released a blistering assessment of what they believe has been taken out of these transcripts and among that is that they say that this investigation is very far from over, dozens of witnesses have yet to be interviewed and lots of documents haven't been received, so if you think it's over, I don't think it's over yet.

BERMAN: All right, guys, stick around. As we said, we're poring through these transcripts as we speak.

There is other news this morning. The White House responding to North Korea's threat to pull out of the summit next month. We'll have much more right after the break.


[09:52:55] BERMAN: All right. New this morning, damage control from the White House after reports that they were blindsided by North Korea's threat to pull out of the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. White House officials now say they fully expected this threat all along.

HARLOW: Let's go straight to our White House correspondent Abby Philip. She join us live.

Sarah Sanders saying, look, we thought this was coming.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John and Poppy. The White House responding somewhat cautiously to North Korea's threat that they might pull out of this summit between President Trump later in June. Sarah Huckabee Sanders spoke to reporters this morning and suggested that the White House wasn't surprised at all by what came from North Korea in the last day.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Your reaction to the latest threat from North Korea saying that they're not going to be boxed in to denuclearize?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, this is something that we fully expected. The president is very used and ready for tough negotiations and if they want to meet we'll be ready and if they don't, that's OK, too.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: As you said, this was fully expected. Did you believe that they would sort of pull back at some point or -- SANDERS: We know that this is kind of, I guess, a standard function

that can often happen, and you know, we're not surprised by it, but we're going to continue moving forward.


PHILLIP: But our sources tell CNN this morning that the U.S. is still trying to figure out what exactly North Korea means by the comments that they made in the last day or so. The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did speak with his South Korean counterpart and reiterated that the U.S. continues to plan for the summit, but White House officials behind the scenes are scrambling to figure out what's going on here.

It's one of the reasons why President Trump himself has not directly responded to the latest North Korean comments. We are also hearing the White House sort of pulling back comments from the president's National Security adviser John Bolton who has said that they were using Libya as a model for what they wanted from North Korea.

North Korea responded angrily to that, and this morning Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that she is not aware that that's under consideration by U.S. officials. In the meantime the White House remains confident that if the summit goes forward President Trump will be ready, but if it doesn't happen it certainly doesn't need to happen, from the U.S.' perspective, John and Poppy.

[09:55:08] HARLOW: And of course because Kim Jong-un knows exactly what happened to Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, and does not want to meet the same fate, saying that over and over again in this statement from North Korea.

Abby Philip at the White House. Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Happening now embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt set to testify on Capitol Hill. There are so many questions to him about spending in ethical issues. We are watching it live. Also the release of transcripts about testimony of a Trump Tower meeting where Donald Trump Jr. promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. Much more on the breaking news next.