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CNN TONIGHT

A New Controversy Involving President's Son. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired July 10, 2017 - 22:00   ET

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


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[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN: And that's it for us. Thanks for watching. Time to hand things over to Don Lemon. CNN Tonight starts right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: That's right, we're going to begin with some breaking news. Donald Trump, Jr. reportedly told in an e-mail that the Russian government was trying to help the Trump campaign.

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon. Thanks so much for joining us.

This is all according to the New York Times, which reports the e-mail was sent to Trump, Jr. by the man who set up his meeting more than a year ago at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer. We're going to get straight to Maggie Haberman with the New York Times. She broke the story. She joins us now via phone.

Maggie, just holding ahold of your reporting, reading some of it. So you have new reporting tonight about an e-mail Donald Trump, Jr. received, this is ahead of his June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer. What can you tell us about that?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: So, look, there's a lot that we -- there's stuff we know and there are many things we don't know. What we do know right now, this is a -- this was a very much a group effort at the times by a lot of reporters, that Don Jr. in the course of being approached about a meeting on the woman, the lawyer, the Russian lawyer, with whom he met and these stories have been reported on over the last couple of days.

That he received an e-mail from an intermediary and the e-mail said, made clear, that they -- part of the point of this meeting was, you know, to offer him some compromising information about Hillary Clinton, who at that point was clearly the nominee on the democratic side, and that the material was part of a larger Russian government effort to help his father's campaign.

LEMON: Yes.

HABERMAN: And the e-mail was sent by Rob Goldstone who was this person who Donald Trump had known for a few years. He was an acquaintance. And that Donald Trump basically took it, essentially giving this guy a hearing. What we don't know is what this supposedly compromising information

was. We don't know whether it was discussed at this meeting. We don't know what other correspondence there was, but we do know that there was in writing some -- some statement that this was, in writing, some statement that this information had come from a foreign adversary that was seeking to help Donald Trump become president.

In typical campaigns, that would often be enough for a red flag. For the Trump campaign, which has operated and did operate different than certainly any campaign I've ever covered, this was not and Donald Trump Jr. who was known for having straight open-door policy in meeting with almost anyone didn't disdain this meeting and did not really think twice about it.

What we has said publicly is that, you know, he did end up meeting with this woman, that she made some, you know, statements that made no sense and then they somehow started talking about Russian adoptions which really are a proxy for sanctions against Russia over human rights violations, but he said he was not the right person to talk to.

Because of the presence of this e-mail, and Mr. Goldstone was not clear on how he knew this, he appeared to be, you know, relaying information that he had heard from other people, it's not clear that he knew this firsthand, but it is clear that this information at best came with an asterisk.

LEMON: Yes. Couple questions for you. This e-mail, do you think it will ever come to light publicly?

HABERMAN: I don't know, but at the rate we're going, it's certainly possible.

LEMON: OK. Let me read some of your reporting, Maggie. And, again, this is the story, again, leading the New York Times tonight. Before arranging -- from Maggie's reporting, "Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump, Jr. was informed in an e-mail that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father's candidacy according to three people with knowledge of the e-mail. Mr. Goldstone's message as described to the New York Times by the three people indicates that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information.

It does not elaborate on the wider effort by Moscow to help the Trump campaign. There is no evidence to suggest that the promised damaging information was released to Russian government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands -- was related, I should say, the computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee e-mails."

So the question is, when the e-mail says this was part of the Russian government's attempt to aid his father's presidency, does that indicate this wasn't just a one-off meeting, Maggie? HABERMAN: I mean, it could certainly -- but again, I don't want to

get further ahead than what the reporting is, I don't want to be very clear about what we know, what we don't know. It could suggest that there may have been. As far as we know, there was not. You know, what we know is what is contained in this story and what we know is contained in this e-mail, but it does take it to a different level than what we knew it to be over the weekend.

[22:05:06] LEMON: Yes. And since you said that, the e-mail led to a face-to-face meeting with Jared Kushner, also with Paul Manafort. Now we know Donald Trump, Jr. and this lawyer, you know, this Russian lawyer, does this give you any sense of how this was received in Trump world?

HABERMAN: We don't have a broader sense at the moment of, you know, whether there was some bigger takeaway. You know, the people around the president have -- and Don Jr. have said pretty emphatically that, you know, the president was not aware of this, that is actually entirely possible. Given the way this campaign ran.

You know, we only know what we know, which is that there was this meeting, that there was an approach that was made related to damaging information about Hillary Clinton that was advertised as having some kind of Russian government relation, and that did not serve as a deterrent.

Now, to be clear, this was a couple days this meeting took place, I think it was four, five days that it was widely reported that Russian government hackers had infiltrated the DNC servers and this was many weeks before the John Podesta e-mails became an issue. So it's not really clear that this was on Don Jr.'s radar the same way. However, it was very clear that Russia was considered a foreign adversary by 2016, regardless of the e-mails.

LEMON: And the reporting, it goes on to say, "the president was aggravated by the news of the meeting. According to one person close to him, less over the fact that it had happened, and more because it was yet another story about Russia that had swamped the media cycle." meaning all of this including his son, right?

HABERMAN: Correct. I mean, he -- as you'll notice, he used his Twitter feed to deflect information away from his son today. He talked about almost everything else this morning. The president on Twitter. And instead, you know, he focused on his daughter, he focused on James Comey. He focused on anything else.

But he, you know, he came away, regardless of how critics or, you know, even some people close to the administration who support the president, regardless of how they perceived his interactions with Vladimir Putin during this Europe trip to the G20. The president felt really good about it. His team felt really good about it and they were deeply frustrated that, you know, that the Russia whack-a-mole popped up right at the tail end.

LEMON: Maggie, as I understand, you have more reporting to do. We thank you for joining us on CNN tonight. HABERMAN: Thank you for having me.

LEMON: And if you get something new, we'll have you back. Thank you very much. Maggie Haberman from the New York Times with our breaking news tonight.

Let's discuss now. I want to bring in CNN senior political analyst Mark Preston. Michael Isikoff, the chief investigative correspondent Yahoo News. And CNN political analyst, April Ryan. All right. Thanks, everyone. So here we go. Mark, what's your reaction to this breaking story from Maggie Haberman in the New York Times?

MARK PRESTON, POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR, CNN: Wow, again, this a story, Don, that's just broken in the last 60 minutes or so. Again, another shoe has dropped and really the story that the Trump administration can't shake. Now, we have to be very careful and not use words such as collusion yet or illegal because we don't know necessarily what happen...

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LEMON: And this is from three sources from the New York Times and they were read these. So I don't think -- I don't think Maggie has seen it or whatever. I think they were read this information. But go on.

PRESTON: Well, correct, but, again, we don't know where the investigation is going to go.

LEMON: Right.

PRESTON: But where there is smoke, and in this case, it's billowing smoke, you have to look for fire. So just for the opponents of Donald Trump should be careful about how they use their language when they're talking to him.

The supporters of President Trump should take a step back as well, stop using language such as fake news and what have you, when all we're doing is purporting the news. This is obviously not good news, Don, for the Trump administration. And, again, it seems like this happens every night at about 9 o'clock.

LEMON: I say this every time I have you on, April, you're at the White House almost every day. So what's your reaction to this? And how do you think it's going to be received or is being received at the White House?

APRIL RYAN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: It's not being received well. Once again, any time there's something that is very strong against this administration, they have problems with it because, again, it's in their face. It makes this president not look as presidential. And it is a knock against his presidency. So early into the administration.

But, Don, what's really a key piece and what people need to really understand, Donald Trump, Jr. is not just someone on the street that you can just walk into a room to meet. If, indeed, this meeting did happen the way it's being reported, it makes sense because you cannot just walk -- especially at that time, you could not just walk into Trump Tower and just say, I'm going to have a meeting with Donald Trump Jr.

[22:10:08] And someone of that magnitude and that level, you would have to have some kind of explanation as to why you would be meeting and, again, at that time, this was around a very important time.

President -- well, he's now President Trump, candidate Trump at that time early on had major security, major secret service there, so if you were coming to that building, there was a reason to come to that building and that reason, according to this news article, this breaking news, that the reason was to give information about the Clinton campaign.

So he had a reason, and it makes sense. It all -- it some falls into place in understanding as to why there was a meeting. So this does not look good, but we still have to see how this plays out. Right now it's alleged.

LEMON: Yes. I do have to say, I heard the conversation about whether -- you know, getting into Trump Tower, what did you have to do, did you have to show identification? And then the two, three times, I can't recall, maybe the couple sit-downs that I did with him, this was before he became the actual nominee. Each time I went, had to show identification at the elevator to get up to the floor.

RYAN: Yes.

LEMON: At least where the Trump family was in the business.

RYAN: And explain...

LEMON: And explain why you're here. I'm there from CNN, I'm doing an interview with Mr. Trump. Then they called up and you were led up. So you know, I would imagine anyone who's visiting the family would have to give identification.

Michael, before I get to you, I want to get your reaction. But I just want to tell you, there's a statement we're getting, this is from CNN's Dan Merica, it says, I ask for reaction to tonight's New York Times report, Mark Corallo, the spokesman for President Trump's outside legal team reiterated their early statement and said the president was not aware of and did not attend the meeting. What do you think, Michael?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO NEWS: Well, it's pretty significant, in and of itself, because Mark Corallo is speaking only for President Trump. His comment does not make any mention at all of Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner who are all at this meeting.

Look, I think this e-mail, if it, in fact, says the information is coming from the Russian government, is clearly the closest thing we have yet to a smoking gun, and it raises a host of questions, you know, starting with was that communicated to Jared Kushner when he sat in at the meeting and Paul Manafort, then the campaign manager, did they know that was the purpose of the meeting to get information from an emissary of the Russian government?

And then beyond that, this e-mail is written by Rob Goldstone, the publicist for the pop singer Emin Agalarov, son of Russian oligarch, Aras Agalarov who was Trump's partner in the Miss Universe pageant in 2013. The trip he took to Moscow where he hoped to meet Vladimir Putin.

So, you know, it strengthens the idea or at least begins to connect dots that suggest that Agalarov and his son are acting as emissaries, agents of Vladimir Putin's government. And Agalarov was a business partner with now-President Trump.

LEMON: I have to ask you, Michael, if Donald Trump, Jr. really got an e-mail saying that he had some information, someone wanted to meet with him, information that was potentially damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign that would help his father's campaign, would he really not tell his father? Does this family operate that way?

ISIKOFF: Look, I don't know.

LEMON: April, would you know that?

RYAN: I don't know, either, but I will tell you this, today in the White House briefing, I asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders, you know, if Donald Trump, Jr. did collude with Russia, and she said, absolutely not. She said, you know, certainly not. So she was firm with that.

And I asked her about other people and she could not give as firm an answer, but she's saying he did not collude. So, I don't know how the family operates, but this -- they're standing by him, at least earlier today, they were standing by Donald Trump, Jr.

LEMON: So I ask you, Mark, I asked these guys because we've all been covering the Trump family for a couple years now. Michael, I'm sure for a lot longer than all of us. Nothing to do with age, just because you've been on the beat.

Would that happen, would Donald Trump operate, you think -- Donald Trump, Jr. operate outside the bounds of his father? Without letting him know? Does this family operate that way?

PRESTON: Well, we don't know the answer obviously right now, but let's take a look at the timing of when it happened and also what we do know about the Trump family and how close he is with his children.

[22:14:59] You'd have to wonder how he would not heard about it, at least in passing, especially when you had his campaign chairman just a couple weeks now before his convention, before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and also Jared Kushner who was one of his top advisers.

How then-candidate Trump would not actually hear about this meeting, even if there was nothing to it. The fact that they had been approached and had been offered some information as we were told by Donald Trump, Jr. in that statement. You'd have to wonder, again, how does he not know that?

We don't know it, and I do suspect, though, we will find out pretty soon because one thing is certain, as much as President Trump tries to tweet away this whole problem by distracting, by, you know, criticizing, attacking those who are looking into it, the fact of the matter is, it continues to go on and go on and go on.

LEMON: Yes, and if you're just tuning in now, the breaking news is Donald Trump, Jr. told by, told in an e-mail of Russian effort to aid in the campaign, that's according to the New York Times. Maggie Haberman is reporting that. She joined us just a short time ago live here on CNN Tonight.

So, why would Donald Trump Jr., Michael Isikoff, give all of these different versions about these meetings or this meeting knowing that there was an e-mail out there?

ISIKOFF: Well, clearly he's not getting very good legal advice because if there's an e-mail and it was seen and circulated, it's something that the White House and the lawyers would have had access to. This had to get turned over and, you know, that gets to, you know, a larger point here, which is that regardless of how this all plays out, this is a totally self-inflicted wound by the White House because they should have seen and dealt with this e-mail months ago.

It's been clear since January that there's going to be investigations in the House and Senate and then later, soon it became clear by the Justice Department as well, into all this and the first thing a White House counsel's office would do would be do some sort of internal review, collect every e-mail, collect every document and figure out what potential exposure you have.

You know, my understanding is this didn't surface until late June when somebody noticed the e-mail triggering the disclosure to security -- to congressional committees. So why wasn't it discovered earlier? Why didn't they get it out earlier? Then they wouldn't have to be dealing with this explosion right now.

LEMON: Just a few weeks after that meeting supposedly took place, Donald Trump, Jr. was on CNN and he told my colleague, Jake Tapper, this. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, HOST, CNN: So, I don't know if you were hearing earlier, but Robby Mook, the campaign manager for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I asked him about the DNC leak and he suggested that experts are saying that Russians were behind both the leak -- the hacking of the DNC e-mails and their release. He seemed to be suggesting that this is part of a plot to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. Your response.

DONALD TRUMP, JR., PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP'S SON: Well, it just goes to show you their exact moral compass. I mean, they'll say anything to be able to win this. I mean, this is time and time again lie after lie. You notice, he won't say, well, I say this. We hear experts -- you know, his house cat at home once said this is what's happening with the Russians. It's disgusting. It's so phony.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, April, what do you make of what he's saying there now that we're learning about this e-mail?

RYAN: It's very startling to hear him say that and understanding that he allegedly or possibly had these meetings and talked about -- knew that he was going into a meeting about information against the Clintons.

It's -- if this is, indeed, true, this seems to be the M.O. of not just Donald Trump, Jr., but the president. You know, go against the opponent. Ruthless businessmen. It's startling, but at the same time. And I want to go back to your earlier question, you know, I recall talking to someone earlier today who is very close to the party and they said, look, they said, this president is a micromanager.

They said they don't really understand how he could not know this. This is damaging, if it is, indeed, true. It's pretty bad. And Donald Trump, Jr., basically he acknowledged a vast majority of it, but this is very startling.

[22:19:56] LEMON: Yes. I have, I've got to ask you, Mark, there's no doubt that the special counsel Mueller is going to get his hands on this e-mail because someone has to -- and is letting the public know they have it.

PRESTON: Yes, and that's actually, you know, a bright spot in what's been a very confusing and politically divisive issue here in Washington and throughout the nation because this is felt in every neighborhood. Y

You know, people are talking, you know, about Donald Trump and how democrats aren't working with him and republicans are working with him and what have you. But the really big bright spot in this has been the fact that the special counsel is somebody that is well liked on both sides of the aisle, somebody who has integrity and somebody who will do a very thorough job, you know, based upon what we saw when he was the FBI director.

So he will get a look at this no doubt, and we'll see where the investigation goes, but, again, we are now in July of the presidency for President Trump right now. He promised that this would all be over with very quickly and that we would have a lot of things done.

I got to tell you right now, health care is on life support right now. Tax reform, we don't know if that could ever get done. Infrastructure, who is even talking about that right now? This whole town right now is consumed by this issue, and quite frankly, as Michael said earlier, this is a self-inflicted wound, yet again.

LEMON: Thanks for your help with the breaking news, Michael, April, and Mark Preston.

When we come back, much more on our breaking news. Donald Trump, Jr. reportedly told in an e-mail last year that the Russian government was trying to help his father's campaign. We'll be right back.

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[22:24:59] LEMON: So we have breaking news tonight about Donald Trump, Jr., he was told according to the New York Times in an e-mail last year that the Russian government was trying to help his father's campaign.

Again, that's according to the New York Times. And it comes as the Senate investigators demand answers for the president's oldest son. Let's discuss now. John Flannery is a former federal prosecutor for the southern district of New York, and Matt Whitaker, a CNN legal commentator and executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust.

Good evening to both of you. Matt, I have to get your reaction, what's your reaction to this breaking story tonight? Matt? OK. Apparently we lost him. Sorry. So John Flannery, I'll start with you. What do you make of this reporting?

JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I'd have Trump the younger in the grand jury tomorrow and lock him in to see what his third version of the story is. It could be interesting to see what he has to say about the e-mail. I'd line up Jared Kushner and Manafort too.

Now, so they're locked into a story and they might actually think about telling some truth and McBeth they say, guilt spills itself for fear of being spilled. Well, we've seen the two parts of Trump Jr.'s testimony so far. We're talking about adoption, kind of hiding the other question about Magnitsky and then we have, well, yes, they offered to talk to us about information they had about Hillary Clinton.

Well, the logical thing, common sense tells you even without the e- mail that we now hear disclosed is when you say, so you're willing to give us this information and do you expect anything in return? And the Russian lawyer they're talking to has been concerned about the sanctions based on our own act. And so. at the very least, it was sanctioned.

I mean, from the beginning when we've talked about this, I said that the hypothesis we should be testing is because each of these conversations involve sanctions, was the sanctions. That's quid pro quo for what? Elevating Mr. Trump into the West Wing and day by day, we have these ridiculous stories and, you know, if you were to try to think of a TV show, instead of the West Wing we have something like the Ranch, all apologies to Sam Elliot.

This is a disaster and this is a direct evidence.

LEMON: Yes. FLANNERY: And this is different than the evidence we've had before. They want to have connections and collusion, we have it. If you look at the plain meaning of the documents. And then some people invest themselves in the explanation that say Trump Jr. gives and they shouldn't.

Because the strongest evidence of what they say is the admissions against interest. The other stuff is self-serving. And so what you have to do is distinguish from the kind of half-truths, the admissions against interest. And a good lawyer probably would have told Trump Jr. To keep his mouth shut. And America's better that he did not do that.

LEMON: Well, let me bring Matt Whitaker in, and Matt, we had a little bit of a technical issue earlier but he's saying, John Flannery is saying this is evidence of collusion. Where are we on that?

MATTHEW WHITAKER, LEGAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Yes. John's been saying that for about the last three months since I've been working with him on this show.

FLANNERY: Yes, well, now it's proven.

WHITAKER: Well, it is not, and I know, John, you're a former prosecutor as well as I am, and you didn't make these quick conclusions. You made sure you had all the evidence. You made sure that you talked to your witnesses. And I know that we -- all the evidence we have right now, we have Don Jr.'s two statements, both -- neither one is inconsistent with the other. One just is longer and more explanative.

We have two people that were also in the meeting that corroborate, you know, what was discussed and it is concerning the news we had come out tonight from the New York Times where, you know, three people who have seen some e-mail that I haven't seen and John hasn't seen that suggests that Don Jr. knew that this potential evidence that actually wasn't ever brought to the meeting because it didn't exist, it was just a pretext, but nonetheless, this was sourced from the Russian government.

So, you know, I'm not as quick to cast guilt or start charging people with certainly crimes but not even political malfeasance based on the evidence that we have as we sit here tonight.

LEMON: OK. Let me just say that -- and I don't know if we have the statement ready for you, but now there's a third response from Don Jr. and it says, "Robert Goldstone contacted Donald Jr. in an e-mail and suggested that people had information concerning alleged wrongdoing by Democratic Party front-runner Hillary Clinton in her dealings with Russia.

Don Jr.'s takeaway from this communication is that someone had information potentially helpful to the campaign and it was coming from someone he knew. Don Jr. had no knowledge as to the specific information, if any would be discussed. Further, at no time was there ever any understanding of the commitment -- the commitment that he or anyone else would find the information -- whatever it turned out to, to be reliable, credible or of interest or would even survive due diligence.

[22:30:00] The meeting lasted about 20 to 30 minutes and nothing came of it. His father knew nothing about it.

It's a longer statement but that's the gist of it. So, go ahead, John. What do you think of that?

FLANNERY: Well, I don't think much of it. I feel the lawyer like to hand...

HERE

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[22:30:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: ... diligence. The meeting lasted about 20 to 30 minutes and nothing came of it. His father knew nothing about it.

It's a longer statement but that's the gist of it. So, go ahead, John. What do you think of that?

JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER NEW YORK CITY FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I don't think much of it. I feel the lawyer like to hand on that statement. And I don't think we can ignore the fact that when he first spoke...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: This is the lawyer, by the way, he just hired today. But go on, John. Sorry.

FLANNERY: Well, I'm not holding against the lawyer, but it's certainly not the, shall we say, the spontaneous remarks of Trump Jr. Trump Jr. Originally didn't even know what the meeting was going to be about and then he said it was only about adoption which was ridiculous.

And then the next statement on Sunday was that, yes, they offered to tell us stuff that they had on Hillary and we don't know what that was. And we can't ignore the timeline. The timeline is that at about this time, we're having the invasion into the DNC headquarters and collecting information and a month later we have the republican nominee, Mr. Trump, saying, amazingly, on TV, inviting Russia to release 20,000 e-mails which were the subject of possible release in May before his July statement.

We can't ignore this and then the sequence of meetings always about sanctions, always at critical times in exchange for what? The approaching November election. I -- yes, I am a recovering federal prosecutor. You never get over having that kind of authority and power as a young man.

LEMON: Yes.

FLANNERY: But tell you, this is a case that people should be before the grand jury. Hopefully they are. We should be locking in their various stories and Mr. Trump Jr., it seems to me, is a prime invitee into the grand jury because he doesn't understand how to lie and that's the benefit of the nation and it's interesting even his dad is, you know, I don't know what happened at that meeting.

I don't know what was happening in the meeting that involved my son, my son-in-law and my campaign manager who I got rid of shortly after the republican campaign, when we put a plank in the platform that favored easing the possibility of Ukraine having the weapons to defend itself against Russia.

LEMON: Yes.

FLANNERY: You could ignore all these things.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEW WHITAKER, LEGAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Don...

FLANNERY: You can isolate it to the point of absolute innocence, but it just defies common sense that there isn't more than a smoking gun.

LEMON: Let Matt respond to that.

WHITAKER: Well, you know...

FLANNERY: There's a whole fire going on here and America is suffering day by day because we have...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Go ahead, Matt.

FLANNERY: ... a chief executive who spends all his time absorbs with this problem.

WHITAKER: What John is doing, instead of talking about, you know, sort of the evidence that we have that's, you know, something nefarious is afoot in this meeting that has been the news of the day, and really the news of the whole weekend, you know, he's bringing the whole mountain into this discussion of various unrelated facts hoping that they're connected in some, I guess he calls it a timeline narrative which is, you know, never going to work as a trial lawyer.

You want specific evidence. You want witnesses and I do agree with John that you do want to get these folks, you know, if you're going to be interviewing, if Bob Mueller is going to do his job, he's going to need to start talking to these witnesses and getting their explanations for these various things.

I continue to -- you know, there is no federal crime of collusion. You know, and so to suggest -- we're either looking at sort of espionage- type charges which seem farcical with the evidence we have now, or we're looking at campaign finance violations which I don't see that -- still don't see any way that you could...

(CROSSTALK) LEMON: It's not impeachable defense even if you do prove that, yes. So, listen, this is Mark Warner, Senator Mark Warner earlier, the vice chairman of the senate intelligence committee earlier today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK WARNER, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: It's also a continuing pattern that we've seen since the election of Trump campaign and Trump administration officials who have conveniently forgotten meetings with Russians, only when they are then presented with evidence, they have to recant and acknowledge those kind of meetings.

It is why we've got to continue this investigation. I think we're up to 20-plus examples of where senior-level Trump officials and even we could argue the president, himself, continues to deny that they've had any kinds of contacts with Russians until the proof comes out that there were contacts, multiple contacts and then the senior officials recant or amend their filings and you just -- I think a rational person would ask, why didn't they remember these particular meetings? I think many of these meetings were pretty important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Matt, it sounds to me like the senator and John Flannery are saying the same thing.

FLANNERY: I'm in good company.

WHITAKER: Well, I mean, it is -- that has been the opposition's talking points, has been to suggest...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But are they wrong? I mean, even beyond that when you listen to what John is saying, listen to what the senator is saying, denial, denial, denial, proof comes out, or alleged proof, according to these documents, according to the New York Times.

[22:35:00] And then all of a sudden an admission and then a changing of the story as some have seen it. You don't see it that way, but are they -- do they have a point?

WHITAKER: Don, that's -- listen, Don, I can see what has happened and it is -- it is not good for, you know, to have credibility, which is what we're talking about here, when you have facts that appear to change once you're confronted with additional information.

And, you know, do folks that are sympathetic to this president and his agenda wish that sort of this issue wasn't being talked about all the time and wish that people like Jared Kushner and Don Jr. and others had been upfront about those various meetings?

Certainly, but at the same time, I just think it is reckless and I continue to believe it's reckless to suggest that sort of the crime of the century has been committed here and it is slowly evolving in front of our eyes. You know these are people that obviously should have kept better records and should have reported the first time the most accurate information they have.

LEMON: Should have just told the truth or not have the meetings.

FLANNERY: Yes, not have the meeting.

LEMON: OK.

FLANNERY: I mean, taking Trump Jr., is the most recent one...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Quick, John, I got to run.

FLANNERY: OK.

LEMON: Go ahead.

FLANNERY: It was nice visiting.

LEMON: No, go ahead, finish your point. You got to do is fast.

FLANNERY: My point is, just take Trump Jr. He's a great example, if you confront him with information as Senator Warner was saying and then he changes his story, yes, I remember that, yes, it was about that. Now today with the lawyer's craftsmanship, he's even admitted that he knew beforehand which he didn't know two days ago.

LEMON: All right.

FLANNERY: That's consciousness of guilt. You're withholding material information, because to disclose it implicates you and exactly the collusion that we're investigating.

LEMON: Thank you, all. There are such things as commercial breaks and I have to get to them. I appreciate it.

When we come right back, much more on our breaking news, plus the president's son-in-law, his son, his son-in-law, his attorney general, his former national security adviser, his campaign manager, former campaign manager, have all had to change their stories about contacts with Russians. We're just discussing that, while saying they have nothing to hide. We'll discuss more.

[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: We're back now with our breaking news tonight. Donald Trump, Jr. reportedly told in an e-mail last year that the Russian government was trying to help his father's campaign.

I want to discuss now, Jack Barsky is a former KGB spy and the author of "Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangle Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America." And CNN contributor, Jill Dougherty, a former Moscow bureau chief. So good to have both of you on. Jack, I want to get your take on this

new reporting tonight from the New York Times about Donald Trump, Jr. being notified in this e-mail.

JACK BARSKY, FORMER KGB SPY: Well, thanks very much for having me on. I normally don't watch the news that intently that late at night. It's mind-boggling what just evolved in front of my eyes. Let me try to take a different path than what the other panelists have talked about.

Let me take for a moment and pretend I am Putin and I'm looking at this newscast and I see what's going on and I'm saying, man, this is just working beautifully. It is -- you know, when we're looking at this from a point of view of a long-term impact, what we are looking at here now is sort of like bringing the American government to a screeching halt which is exactly what the old Soviet Union and, today, Russia, really wants to do is destabilize our democracy and sew the seeds of distrust in our system. And I think from that angle, this is -- this is really, really scary. I think...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: You think it's straight out of the Putin playbook. Is that what you're saying?

BARSKY: It could be. I mean, this is a kind of speculation that I actually -- I'm not ashamed of making.

LEMON: Yes. All right. Jill, what do you make of this new reporting tonight?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: Wow. You know it's complicated because there are pieces that we don't really know, but if you stand back and look at it, I mean, what we're hearing, is essentially the theory that many have been promoting all along, which is the Russian government wanted to help Donald Trump.

And, of course, we know they wanted to hurt Hillary Clinton, but that piece, you know, if this is correct, if this e-mail actually says that that -- whatever that information that the lawyer, Miss Veselnitskaya, had, came from the Russian government, then that's pretty major.

Now, you know, why is all of this happening? I keep going back in my mind, why would -- let's take Jack's part, why would Vladimir Putin want this? Obviously, you know, Trump was saying things that he liked initially, but also there's this constant returning to real estate, business, investments, sanctions against people who can no longer do business. And it may be ultimately there may be a lot of connections dealing with just down and dirty making money and investments in real estate.

LEMON: Yes. Jack, here's what we know about this Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. She is a Russian lawyer, represents Russians who want to see an end to U.S. sanctions against them. She said she doesn't represent the Russian government and the Kremlin says that they don't know who she is. I realize you may not know her, but in general, does anything stand out to you? BARSKY: What stands out, she has done, she had done work for one of

the smaller oligarchs and, you know, denial from the Kremlin means nothing. Let me just explain where I'm coming from when I said this could be -- this could be something that was actually engineered.

She could have easily been bait, and, you know, think about -- think about -- the Russians knew the Trump folks rather well, and if there was a weak link in the American system, that was the Trump -- the Trump group. And it's playing out beautifully.

[22:44:57] If they had tried to plant somebody, you know, incompetent, inefficient, and impossible to run a tight ship, they couldn't have done better than what we have right now in the White House.

LEMON: Is it basically, it sounds like what you're saying is they're testing the waters just to see how far they can go and they'll say, OK, we have an in here, they've taken this much of the bait, how far can we go, can we continue to press? Is that what you're saying, this is sort...

(CROSSTALK)

BARSKY: Yes, it create -- it create some trouble. The Trump team, that has been quite apparent as the evening evolved, is fundamentally unable to tie their own shoelaces.

LEMON: Because, Jill, the Donald Trump Jr., they thought they were getting damaging information on Hillary Clinton's campaign. Something that would obviously be favorable to his father. But, listen, does that -- getting this damaging information, does that prove that there was some sort of collusion or just that he was willing to hear? Is there any law broken in that? Is this something that people usually do when they're in a president campaign, reach out to people who may have connections to the Russian government or to one of our enemies' governments?

DOUGHERTY: Well, I mean, I'm not a lawyer, but obviously people collect, campaigns collect information on other candidates to be used to hurt them, to help your own candidate. But, again, we're back to this going to the Russians. They're actually accepting an invitation from the Russians.

And you know, it seems to have morphed actually within the last hour from this lawyer, this Russian lawyer has information that might help your campaign, and now there's this narrative which is the Russian government is somehow complicit in providing this information that will help your campaign. So, to me, that raises it another notch. There's no questioning that. Now, well, I guess I'd leave it at that. There's still questions.

LEMON: Yes.

DOUGHERTY: There are still a lot of questions about it.

LEMON: What's interesting is that this whole connection between Rob Goldstone who's a publicist and then, you know, this Russian pop star, and that connection.

DOUGHERTY: Yes.

LEMON: But let me play this because the president before he was president actually appeared in one of this pop star's music videos. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What's wrong with you? What's wrong where you, Emin? Emin, let's get with it. You're always late. You're just another pretty face. I'm really tired of you. You're fired.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Jack, why are you laughing? I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

DOUGHERTY: You can't make it up.

LEMON: It's just -- I mean, it's just one, you know, another connection. You can't make this up. Jack, go ahead. I'm sorry.

BARSKY: No, it's like sometimes watching this operation is like watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon with Daffy Duck in charge. I'm sorry. This is -- this is ridiculous.

LEMON: All right. Thank you, both. I appreciate it.

Coming up, more on our breaking news. Donald Trump, Jr. reportedly told in an e-mail last year that the Russian government was trying to help his father's campaign. Is this just the beginning of the investigation?

In our next hour, how a mother ended up being targeted by a brutal neo Nazi troll storm.

[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Our breaking news tonight, Donald Trump, Jr. reportedly told in an e-mail last year that the Russian government was trying to help his father's campaign. That is according to the New York Times.

Let's discuss now. CNN political commentators, Ana Navarro, Kevin Madden, Scott Jennings, and Bakari Sellers. Good evening to all of you. Ana, e-mails?

ANA NAVARRO, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Yes?

LEMON: We're talking.

NAVARRO: The plot thickens, doesn't it?

LEMON: Yes, it does. NAVARRO: You know, and it's really telling and now you understand why

his story changed three times. Yesterday when I or was it this morning when I read his statement where he was admitting that he had met with this Russian lawyer for the purpose of receiving information against Hillary Clinton, I thought, my god, this kid was dropped on his head as a child. Could he possibly be admitting this.

And now understand it. He admitted it because he knew there was an e- mail out there that people knew about that said exactly the same thing. So, you know, it is one thing after the other. The sheer amount of contact and meetings that none of them remember between Trump world and Russians involved with the Kremlin is astounding.

This stinks to holy hell. And it's time that republicans stop thinking narrowly and start thinking broadly about defending the American democracy and the integrity of our elections. This is the most important issue facing us.

And you know, Don, I think of our previous republican nominees. I think of Mitt Romney who called Russia our biggest geopolitical foe and got laughed at. And I think what would it have taken for his campaign manager for his son Tagg Romney to go into a meeting with a Russian without vetting that Russian and who that was and without Mitt knowing, or John McCain who knows that Vladimir Putin is a KGB thug. This is happening because the Trumps think they are above the law. That rules don't apply to them.

LEMON: And I think that's a very good question, Kevin Madden, the appropriate person to answer that. What do you make of that, Kevin?

KEVIN MADDEN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well.

LEMON: By the way, you were the...

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: Big problems here.

LEMON: Explain your role with the Romney campaign and that's why I said you were the perfect person.

MADDEN: I was -- I was a communications adviser and senior adviser on both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Look, I mean every campaign I've worked on and I worked on the 2004 re-elect, they had two things that were very important to avoid, you know, things like this, which is they had a vetting process and there was vetting from everything from venues to people who wanted to be associated with the campaign or right information that they wanted to bring through the campaign. And that vetting process was very rigid.

[22:54:54] And then the second thing we had was the chain of command so that you wouldn't have people going off and having meetings with potential foreign agents without someone inside the campaign flagging that and offering caution to anybody who would do that.

And therefore, a meeting like this could have been prevented. So I think that's one of the big challenges that the campaign, I'm sorry, that the White House has now in responding to this which is that now we have this new stream of information every single day, we have a new little wrinkle to it.

And while they will have been very emphatic and I think we'll continue to be emphatic that there's nothing to see here it, that new stream of information is going to present a challenge to them from a response standpoint.

LEMON: Bakari Sellers, you say that this proves that the investigation is just getting started and there's a lot more to uncover. Explain.

BAKARI SELLERS, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: There's no question. My background as an attorney says that these things drip, drip, drip very rarely is there a, quote unquote, "smoking gun." This may be the closest thing you get to a smoking gun.

As a partisan hack as some of my Twitter followers may call me, I can say that this looks like a "House of Cards" plot run by the three stooges. No one would imagine that this would be a bumbling and just incompetent family organization and family structure with a few others involved in it that would just have this level of incompetence.

But Ana said it best. I mean, no one can take joy in this moment. And my hope is that you have more people that are not just Lindsey Graham and not just John McCain and Marco Rubio in words only and Jeff Flake when he decides to show up. But we need republicans to actually stand up and say that something is -- something is here. I mean, it's not just a bunch of smoke.

The United States is burning down. And unless somebody realizes that and you have a kleptocracy who is running the United States of America and running rampant and Donald Junior is just a perfect example and to think that many of us thought that he probably was the bright one. Here we are today.

LEMON: OK. Scott, I want you to weigh in. But I want to play what Kellyanne Conway told CNN about the meeting earlier and then get your response. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: The meeting itself was very brief. There was no information given, there is no action taken, there is no follow-up. This was standard operating procedure for the campaign. Let's focus on what did not happen in that meeting. No information provided that was meaningful. No action taken. Nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So campaigns try to get dirt on other campaigns all the time. It's called APO research. I think as a pollster that was part of Kellyanne Conway's job. But isn't this a bigger sticking point that Donald Trump, Jr. was doing so with a foreign entity? SCOTT JENNINGS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: I think to Kevin's point

earlier, Don, this campaign at the time this meeting happened wasn't robustly staffed. In fact, this campaign was always much smaller than some of the other campaigns that both Kevin and I worked on together. And so some of the vetting procedures and some of the things that would have normally been in place may not have been in place at the time.

I'm kind of looking at this through the lens of a crisis communications specialist. And I want to offer friendly advice which is it's always better to get your ducks in a huddle before you whack or as we say back here in Kentucky, you want to measure twice and cut once.

And so, one thing that would help this situation is to not have numerous statements over a short period of time. The statement from Don Trump, Junior's lawyer tonight is a good statement and if that had been the only one, I think that would have been fine. The shifting statements I think are problematic from a public relations perspective. So...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But you said earlier.

NAVARRO: Can I say, can we stop ...

JENNINGS: It's important to get that under control.

LEMON: Go on.

NAVARRO: Can we stop pretending that these folks are badly stuffed bumbling idiots? Look, Paul Manafort has more years of experience in the political world than Bakari Sellers has been alive and had been working for the Russians. And you know, these folks are not bumbling idiots. And let me tell you this, accepting anything of value from a foreign citizen is at best grossly unethical, at worst illegal.

LEMON: What do you say to that, Scott? She's talking about you? She's talking to you.

JENNINGS: Yes, look, I don't know Paul Manafort all that well. I would say he had been involved during my career.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Now, but she's using Paul Manafort as an example saying that you can't just say -- continue to say -- let me get my question out. She's just using him as an example. And by the way, the connections with the Ukraine. She's using him as an example saying you just can't continue to say they were badly staff or they don't know any better.

They have very little political experience. I mean, this is the highest office in the land. And you're talking about the sanctity of the American electoral process, the election system here. So it's like saying officer, I'm sorry, I didn't see that sign or didn't know that it was 30 miles an hour. I'm sorry I was going 70. You cannot plead ignorance of the law.

JENNINGS: Look, I don't disagree with any of that. I'm just explaining the reality of what I understood the campaign to be at the time. And I don't necessarily think what I said and what Ana said are mutually exclusive.

I do think that it's important to remember that both in the case of Kushner several weeks ago and now in the case of Trump junior, their attorneys are saying they are willing to talk to whatever investigatory bodies reach out to them.

[23:00:03] And so, I do think from a posturing perspective, that's the right answer. They do need to be willing to talk to I guess Senate intelligence the House committee...

(CROSSTALK)

SELLERS: They lied already, Scott.

JENNINGS: ... the general counsel's office.

SELLERS: But they lied already.

JENNINGS: Or the independent counsel...