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Trump Jr.'s Met Russian for Info; Trump Reverses Cyber Unit with Russia; Trump on Putin's Denial; Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired July 10, 2017 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:49] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. Great to have you with us on this Monday. I'm Pamela Brown. And any minute now we're going to take you to the White House press briefing, which is, once again, off camera.
But we begin on this Monday with an admission by the president's son that he met with a Russian during the presidential campaign. Donald Trump Jr. now says in the summer of 2016 he met with a Russian attorney who claimed to have information helpful to his father's campaign. Now, sources tell "The New York Times" that this woman claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. And it wasn't just Trump Jr. who attended this meeting to find out what that attorney had. The president's son-in-law and now key advisor Jared Kushner was there as well, as was then campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
When asked about the substance of this meeting, here is what counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, told CNN's "New Day."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: It's very typical to have principles in the meeting. We had a fraction of the staff and a fraction of the money that they had over there in Clinton Inc. in Brooklyn.
You're trying to have your viewers think, oh my God, because these three principals were in there it was imbued with some type of seriousness that just simply is not true. 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.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Let's - OK. Let's -
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: The president's son responding to all of this with a sarcastic tweet that does, in fact, confirm his intent in going to this meeting was to get information on the opposition. You see that tweet right there on your screen.
And joining me now Mark Mazetti, national security correspondent for "The New York Times." Mark, great to have you on.
This tweet is significant because it contradicts some earlier statements from Donald Trump Jr., right?
MARK MAZETTI, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes. There's been an evolving story here really going back several months. I mean a few months ago we asked Donald Trump Jr., among other senior members of the campaign, whether they had had any contacts with Russians during the campaign, and he said absolutely not, and certainly not on anything policy. On Saturday the statement we got from him was that there was such a meeting, but it was about adoptions and it sort of seeped into this issue of the Magnitsky Act, which is something that the Kremlin wants repealed.
And then, of course, Sunday, we have a story that - that it was because there was an offer of damaging information about Hillary Clinton. And then we have the tweet today. So, yes, there's a number of statements and they really have kept changing.
BROWN: So all of this raises the question, because Don Jr. - Donald Trump Jr. has repeatedly said he didn't know who he was meeting with. That he was sort of left in the dark and then, of course, he had this meeting and brought along Jared Kushner, as well was Paul Manafort. But did he know that he was meeting with a Russian national, even if he didn't know her name?
MAZETTI: I mean it certainly has the appearance that, you know, his intermediary, his acquaintance, as he said, gave him some indication of who he was going to be meeting with, if not specifics about the name or even whether he'd remember the name. He certainly seemed to think it was significant enough to have other senior campaign officials at the meeting, Manafort and Kushner. And so if the - you know, we are still obviously trying to learn a whole lot more about what transpired during the meeting and why it was set up, but this is someone - his intermediary was someone who we now know is connected to his client, a pop star in Russian whose father, Donald Trump, the president, worked with during the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant. So there's a lot of linkages there.
BROWN: And what do we know about this Russian lawyer and her links to the Kremlin?
MAZETTI: Well, she certainly has done work that - on cases that advance the interests of the Kremlin, even if she's not a direct, you know, government official. She has been advocating in the United States, lobbying to repeal the Magnitsky Act, which is something, as I said, the Kremlin is vehemently opposed to. They very much want that repealed. There's been a lot of tit for tat between Moscow and Washington over that. And so she is connected in Moscow with - through her business ties to her firm, and so - and family connections as well. So it's - it's an evolving thing. But it is certain that at the very least her lobbying interests are very much in parallel with what the Kremlin wants.
[14:05:17] BROWN: And Don Jr. also said that nothing came of it in terms of what she was allegedly offering in terms of hurting - or helping the Trump campaign and hurting Hillary Clinton's campaign. But do we know if there was any follow-up after this meeting, this initial meeting?
MAZETTI: We don't. And the on the record claims from Donald Trump Jr. and others was that there was - there was no follow-up. That this was a one-off. And it ended after a half hour without anything really coming of it.
BROWN: And just, before I let you go, as you point out, months ago you were asking this question, did you ever meet with any Russians during the campaign, and the answer was no. Are you getting any sense from those you're talking to close to the White House, close to Don Jr., as to why they said no when the meeting did in fact happen?
MAZETTI: It's a good question, and, I mean, you know, certainly if we just think about what's happened over the last six months, we've gone from the president himself and his advisors saying, no government, no meetings with any government officials or Russians period, whatsoever. And what we've seen is over the last six months a steady stream of reports of actual meetings. So, I don't know. The - whatever was claimed back in January or February we now know is not to be the case and it is a, you know, continuing, nagging question why people don't - seem to keep forgetting about these meetings that they had.
BROWN: And just quickly, there's no indication the president knew about this meeting, correct?
MAZETTI: There's no indication at this point that the president knew about the meeting.
BROWN: OK. Mark Mazetti, thank you very much.
MAZETTI: Thank you.
BROWN: I want to bring in my panel now. Aki Peritz, former CIA counterterrorism analyst, Mark Preston, CNN's senior political analyst, Mackenzie Eaglen, national security analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, and Shamila Chaudhary, former State Department official.
Thank you all for coming on.
A lot to discuss. And, first, to you, Mark. Just want to break it down. How significant is it that this is the first time we're hearing about senior campaign officials willingness to meet with a Russian and possibly accept help from a Russian national?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's very significant. You know, it was interesting to hear the Trump campaign, specifically Kellyanne Conway this morning, say that nothing came out of meeting. And that's not necessarily the issue right now. The issue is that there actually was a meeting with a foreign national talking about potentially tampering with our election system, passing off opposition research.
Now, I should tell all our viewers, and we all know this, that opposition research gets passed around all of the time.
PRESTON: However, I don't know of an instance where we actually start from a foreign government, or at least talk about a foreign government, being handed over. The bottom line is, it's significant because it is July right now and we are still talking about this issue, and we are seeing a stalled agenda for President Trump.
BROWN: And also, Jared Kushner, the fact that he was in this meeting, do you make anything of that?
PRESTON: Well, I mean, look, the fact that - that the son was there is an issue. The fact that Jared Kushner was there and Paul Manafort were there are a much bigger issue.
BROWN: Yes, right.
PRESTON: These meetings just don't happen. I know that there's talk about, oh, they just kind of got invited to a meeting and they went to it. That doesn't happen on campaigns.
PRESTON: It certainly doesn't happen here at CNN. You know who you're walking -
BROWN: Well, and Kellyanne Conway was making the point, that we were a small shop. This wasn't that unusual.
BROWN: But, from your perspective, it was significant to a degree.
And I want to go to you, Aki, to - to your point that opposition research being shared is not unusual. When it comes from a foreign government, a foreign adversary, someone, you know, connected to Russia, what kind of a red flag would that raise to you?
AKI PERITZ, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That would be a humongous red flag. And while we're all focusing on is what Don Jr. did because Don Jr. was the conduit for this meeting. But what we really should be looking at also is the fact that Jared Kushner was there. You know, Jared Kushner, unlike Paul Manafort, unlike Don Jr., he is a government employee with access to all the top secret that the United States government has. And the fact that he was not willing to put this on his security form, his SF-86, when it first came out was a very problematic thing. So if you're now meeting with an individual, kind of like what you had just said, somebody who has access to a lot of the greatest secrets the United States has, and you forget to tell about, I met with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin, probably tied to the security services, that's a huge problem.
BROWN: And, again, he has said repeatedly, Mackenzie, that he didn't know who this was. That essentially he didn't know the name. He didn't - he just said this is - an associate of his said, will you meet with this person? But you've advised campaigns before. Is that unusual to take a meeting with someone that you don't know like this and bring in other high profile people with - from the campaign, including Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner in this case?
[14:10:01] MCKENZIE EAGLEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: It's very unusual. You wouldn't want to put all your campaign star power in one meeting with such a loose, tenuous, you know, connection to the group. You would want to spread out your staff resources. If they were such a small shop, as Kellyanne suggested, then why aren't they all busy off doing other things?
It also speaks a little bit to the sort of mafia/mob style leadership where, you know, if you're an acquaintance of the family, it's just snap and it's that easy to get a meeting. I mean we should all be so lucky to get a meeting with the White House that easily. But I think when there's family connections, you know, a friend of the family has suggested it, then all of a sudden it becomes a priority. And I think that's going to be a problem that plagues this administration for four years.
BROWN: Shamila, we've had reporting - I've reported along with my colleague, Evan Perez, that the Russians were trying to use Carter Page, who was connected to the campaign, to sort of get into the campaign and hopefully provide intelligence. Something he's denied. But in this case, when you hear about something like this happening, what comes to mind? Is it - would it be concerning to you that the Russians were trying to lose the - use this lawyer to get in with the campaign essentially?
SHAMILA CHAUDHARY, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think the Russians are doing exactly what they're supposed to do as a foreign government wanting to collect more information on Americans. They're able to do it because the Trump administration is, you know, populated with people who are very easily influenced, as was the campaign. And I think that's what we're seeing in this yet another example of a questionable meeting. And in this case I think Donald Trump Jr.'s behavior is indicative of how the Trump organization actually governs itself. Ask for forgiveness later. Do whatever you think you need - needs to be done first.
BROWN: Well, to that point, Mark, I mean this has happened repeatedly where they deny something and then low and behold the news comes out that something did happen. In this case, there was a meeting between Don Jr. and a Russian national. Why doesn't Don Jr. and Jared Kushner, why don't they get ahead of this? Why didn't they just go - be upfront about it months ago -
BROWN: When this really started becoming an issue and a focus? Why wait for the news to cover it and then come out and put out a statement and then change the story the next day?
PRESTON: Well, you know, a couple things. And I think it does go to the culture of how they've worked over all these years with the Trump Organization. The Trump Organization is not the government, right, so there are a different set of rules. They use a different kind of language right now. If you notice how the president actually speaks, he talks more like a salesman and a marketer than he actually does as a commander in chief.
There may be a bit of naivete (ph), you know, from Jared Kushner and from Donald Trump Jr. as well thinking that, oh, we can get away with this. You know, we are now in power. We don't have to follow the rules. But the fact of the matter is, you do have to follow the rules even more so when you're in this position. He really has put the White House in a very, very awkward position right now.
BROWN: And, of course, we're going to hear from the White House shortly.
But it - but it strikes me that not only, of course, was he transparent about the meeting until pressed about it, but also, Aki, that he changed his story, first saying it was about adoptions and then the next day saying that this person actually had offered some incriminating information from Hillary Clinton. Is any of this illegal though?
PERITZ: Is it illegal to meet anybody? The answer is no?
BROWN: And I mean looking at the other side, if someone says - you're right in the middle of a heated campaign. You're trying to win. Someone says, hey, I've got some - some information that's really going to help your campaign -
PERITZ: That's right. But, you know, the interesting thing about presidential campaigns is, you're going to run into people like that all the time, and you have to learn what is real and what is not. And if you have an individual who says, I've got this really hot, juicy thing that we're going to torpedo the other - the other side, you really have to be careful about who you're meeting with.
So even though there's a relationship between Don Jr. and some other folks that led to this one Russian lawyer, you need to do some preliminary vetting, especially given that we also know that Donald Trump had just - just won the Republican nomination and we - we - he was theoretically going to become the president of the United States in a 50/50 chance. So the fact that you're meeting with individuals with a shady background is a difficult one to swallow.
BROWN: All right. Stick around. A lot more to discuss.
Senator Lindsey Graham calls it one of the dumbest ideas he has ever heard, and now President Trump already backing off his plan to partner with Vladimir Putin on a cybersecurity unit.
Plus, how a misleading Fox News clip inspired the president to accuse former FBI Director James Comey of breaking the law. The details just ahead.
And we're moments away from hearing the White House try to explain all of this. The briefing coming up. Stay with us.
[14:18:21] BROWN: The Kremlin today confirming what President Trump tweeted, that he and Russia's Vladimir Putin did indeed discuss forming a cybersecurity partnership. But Trump has since backed away from that idea. Here was the origin Sunday morning tweet. Take a look right here. It said, "Putin and I discussed forming an impenetrable cybersecurity unit so that election hacking and many other negative things will be guarded and safe." But then, hours later, Trump tweeted this. "The fact that President Putin and I discussed a cybersecurity unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't. But a ceasefire can and did." Trump's reversal came after swift backlash from some top Senate Republicans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I am sure that Vladimir Putin could be of enormous assistance in that effort since he's doing the hacking.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's not the dumbest idea I've ever heard, but it's pretty close. Tillerson and Trump are ready to forgive and forget when it comes to cyberattacks on the American election of 2016. Nobody is saying, Mr. President, the Russians changed the outcome. You won fair and square. But they did try to attack our election system. They were successful in many ways. And the more you do this, the more people are suspicious about you and Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: All right, the panel is back with me now.
Mark, first to you. Why did the president change his mind?
PRESTON: That's a very unfair question to ask me because for us to actually go deep inside President Trump's mind and try to figure out what he's doing -
BROWN: That is tough.
PRESTON: You know, I - you know I don't know other than realistically what he did. I wouldn't say it was irresponsible, but it was ill- timed. It wasn't that smart right after the meet. And, quite frankly, we've seen Republicans on Capitol Hill right now that have been critical of him for putting that out. You know, literally, I think John McCain said it best and said it would be great if Vladimir Putin were to join with us because that means he wouldn't be doing it because he's the one who is responsible for it.
[14:20:11] So I don't know why he pulled it back, but we've said this time and time again, and we'll say it throughout the four years of his presidency, perhaps eight years of his presidency, his words matter and he needs to be very careful what he says.
BROWN: And, of course, his tweets came after Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, called the unit a, quote, "significant accomplishment." Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I think this is a very important step forward. That what we want to make sure is that we coordinate with Russia, that we're focused on cyber security together, that we make sure that they never interfere in any democratic elections or conduct any cyber security. And this is like any other strategic alliance, whether we're doing military exercises with our allies or anything else. This is about having capabilities to make sure that we both fight cyber together, which I think is a very significant accomplishment for President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: OK. So, Mackenzie, clearly the president and people within his administration are not on the same page here about this. What's going on?
EAGLEN: Well, that's also a pattern that we see with this administration. So take, for example, on this same trip the president just concluded, he finally positively affirmed the United States commitment to our NATO allies, Article Five, that an attack against one is against all. But in his last trip overseas, he did not say that and his advisors, General McMaster and others had - Secretary of State Tillerson had said you have to leave that line in there and he purposely left it out.
There's obviously a steep learning curve here. President Trump is basically self-renowned for not being a master of the details. He thinks he's a good delegator. So he's on a learning curve as he goes and it's - it's self-evident from all of the mistakes.
BROWN: And, Aki, on that note, the president has not come out and just outright refuted the claim from the Kremlin that Russia did - had nothing to do with the election meddling and Putin's denial and so forth, even though Reince Priebus, his chief of staff, came out and said that he didn't accept that denial. What do you make of all this? I mean is this a potential scenario where the president is taking Putin's word over the intelligence community? What's your take on it?
PERITZ: I don't think it's even a potential. It's actually - and you don't have to take what the intelligence community of the United States - and these people are pretty smart and well thought - thought about these things a long time. You can look at what private organizations have done, other folks have said. They've all looked at the evidence and said that Russia was involved in undermining our election and hacking into various groups in the United States during the last election. The fact that Donald Trump cannot positively affirm this very basic fact is extremely surprising. The fact that he's willing to take Vladimir Putin, who's a former KGB officers, word on this and he cannot definitively say that this actually - this truth occurred is very troubling for - for the Americans. It's great for Russia. Russia can keep pushing on this - this narrative. The saying that, well, the president of the United States says that this is not actually happening, and they can just run with this until - until the cows come home. BROWN: And when it comes to his openness on creating this cyber
security team, if you will, and then sort of backtracking from that, Shamila, what do you think? Is it that he just doesn't know, doesn't care that Putin and Russia are serious security threats to the U.S.
CHAUDHARY: Well, I think it means - I think it shows that the Trump administration doesn't know how to make policy. So much of policy is done in advance of a big meeting. And if you recall, last week several senior officials in the administration said there is no agenda. Trump is just going to meet Putin. And so him announcing an initiative via Twitter and taking it back is just indicative of his lack of policy experience. The fact that the Treasury secretary was off message is yet another example of that. so we're essentially dealing with policy novices and people who are new to politics as well.
BROWN: And let me just ask you, Mackenzie, just for a perspective here, because the president has been very open, even since the campaign, about the importance of having a good relationship with Russia. So some may be watching this and thinking, well, what's wrong with trying to team up with Russia on something like this? Why is Lindsey Graham going out there and saying this is the dumbest idea ever?
EAGLEN: Two points. I think you have to be shown as someone who can learn from the past. So President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, they both also wanted better relations with Russia and they, as a result, put blinders on and they couldn't see certain things that the rest - that were self-evident to the rest of us, that Russia isn't a helpful partner, that Russia isn't our friend and on our side. So that's a problem, one.
And then, two, on this cyber unit in particular, to focus on that area as one of cooperation when that's the obvious biggest point of contention right now, aside from what's happening in Ukraine, it shows also a lack of understanding of our capabilities. Whenever anything is created, and in this case the Internet, and cyber cam be weaponized, the embryo for the counter weapon is created. And so to think that this could be impenetrable is really laughable.
[14:25:04] BROWN: All right. Thank you, guys. Lots more to discuss. Stick around.
So, did a misleading Fox News report inspire the president this morning to accuse James Comey of breaking the law? Details on that just ahead.
And as a couple Republican senators say the health care bill is dead, the president essentially daring them to skip their August recess. New details on a bill in serious jeopardy.
BROWN: Well, President Trump reigniting his feud with former FBI Director James Comey today. Trump now accusing Comey of breaking the law. The president tweeted, "James Comey leaked classified information to the media. That is so illegal." [14:30:07] Trump was responding to a report this morning on Fox citing a story on "The Hill" website. According to its sources, more than half of Comey's --