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Trump Jr. Meeting Included Others; Democrats on Don Jr. Meeting; Republicans Seem Uncomfortable with Don Jr. Meeting; Trump Family Dynamic; Kushner in Russian Meeting; CBO Score Coming Next Week. Aired 12-12:30p ET
Aired July 14, 2017 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[12:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Exactly and how specific is it to the investigation?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that's right, John.
So what we've learned is that there were other people in this room besides - this all began with this Russian attorney, this woman who was meeting there with Trump Jr. and Manafort and Kushner. Well, we've now learned that there were other people, including a Russian-American lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin. He is from Washington, D.C. He told the Associated Press that he was in the room. He was there on behalf of this Russian attorney, who has - she hired him on - for her lobbying efforts for the Magnitsky Act. This is the sanctions against Russia.
He's well-known, this guy. He lives here in Washington, D.C. He's sort of been around. He's met with people on The Hill before. And he conducts lobbying efforts. The significance of this is really unclear.
Now, you know, people have claimed that he worked for the Russian intelligence. There have been court documents and lawsuits filed where he is - where it's alleged that he's part of the Russian intelligence and may have done some work for them, but that is not entirely clear to us. You know, we've talked to some U.S. officials who have not really put a lot of credence to that.
You know, he's been here. He's been living in Washington for quite some time. So you would think that if he was working for the Russian government, that the FBI would be on to him. We don't have any indication that that has happened here. The significance, really, I think, more is on the political side right now, which, you know, again, we have another person who was in there that we just have not been able to account for and that the White House has not commented on.
BERMAN: The White House has not been forthcoming with, when they've been explaining the facts of this meeting over time as well.
Shimon, stand by.
Jeff Zeleny, I want to play you a comment this morning from Kellyanne Conway dismissing pretty much everything that's come to light so far in all of this. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: Well, even the goal posts have been moved. I mean we were promised systemic - hard evidence of systemic, sustained, furtive collusion that not only interfered with our election process but indeed dictated the electoral outcome. And we're the only people who says that seriously these days is still Hillary Clinton, and nobody believes it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Systemic, sustained, furtive collusion. Kellyanne Conway setting this bar, Jeff Zeleny, that I'm not sure actually exists in this case because even periodic collusion would probably be a very big issue. Nevertheless, Jeff, what are the big questions that remain for you in this story?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Talk about moving the goalpost there, John. I mean the reality here is that Republicans on Capitol Hill, never mind the Democrats, have said that they indeed don't know if there was collusion. They need to get to the bottom of this. That is one of the things that has frustrated, again, talking about Republicans here, the president's own party, that the White House has rushed to judgment and said, look, there is no collusion. The chairman of these committees have said we simply don't know yet. That's why we need to have these investigations and need to have these meetings, including likely hearing from the president's oldest son next week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
But, John, I was struck by one comment the president made when he was flying here to Paris to have his whirlwind 30 hours here on the ground in Paris with the new French president, Emmanuel Macron. He was talking about sort of downplaying the sense that, you know, that much has gone on here, and he centered on one interesting phrase. Senator Tim Kaine, the Democrat of Virginia, said offhand the other day, it could be an act of treason. It could be a treasonous act. Well, this is what Donald Trump said on Air Force One. He said, "when they say treason, you know what treason is? That's Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for giving the atomic bomb, OK?" That is what President Trump said on Air Force One.
Now, that is going way back in history here. The case of the Rosenbergs, interestingly, is from 1953. They were both executed for giving away secrets to the Russians here. Donald Trump was seven years old at the time. And this is something that, obviously, a case he remembers from his childhood, but certainly saying that, you know, going to the extreme there, setting a high bar here.
But the reality here is, John, this is something that is on the president's mind. It is frustrating to them. The White House is also now frustrated, trying to get, you know, more of their stories together because, as Shimon just was reporting, now that there is new information about that meeting, it discounts all the credibility that the White House has already been explaining it this week by saying there was nothing to that meeting, that there was nothing that came out of it. This is something, again, why congressional investigators and likely the Justice Department also want to know more about it because we simply have not heard the same story, it's been changing most every day, John, for the past week or so.
BERMAN: And, again, the Rosenbergs were actually executed for espionage. And even that, it's a very, very high bar worth noting right there.
[12:05:04] ZELENY: Right.
BERMAN: Jeff Zeleny for us in Paris. Shimon, thanks so much.
ZELENY: A very high bar.
BERMAN: Here with me now to share their reporting and insights, Molly Ball with "The Atlantic," Naftali Bendavid of "The Wall Street Journal," Caitlin Huey-Burns of Real Clear Politics, and Jonathan Lemire of "The Associated Press."
Jonathan, I'm going to start with you because this is a lot of Associated Press reporting on this individual.
Let me remind you, before we even start, of what Donald Trump Jr. said just Tuesday in his interview with Sean Hannity about how transparent he was being as of Tuesday night. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX HOST: So as far as you know, as far as this incident's concerned, this is all of it?
DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: This is everything. This is everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Well, it's not quite everything, is it? let's just review here. The White House, and Trump associates, were not forthcoming about the fact of this meeting. It took more than a year to get it out. They were not forthcoming about the substance of the meeting. That first statement they put out on Saturday said this was all about adoption when, in fact, adoption wasn't even in the e-mail exchange. And number three now, they haven't been forthcoming on the attendants of that meeting. We're learning just today, Jonathan, who was there.
JONATHAN LEMIRE, "THE ASSOCIATED PRESS": So, how big was this room? I mean at this point the White House and the Trump allies are confronted with a narrative that seems to shift every single day. And as just indicated, this can only undermine their credibility that, you know, that they had - this has shifted from, oh, it's adoption, to, oh, it doesn't mean much, to, OK, yes, there was suggestion of help from the Russian government. And now we have another well-known Russian lobbyist in the room who spoke to my colleagues at the A.P. today, who suggest his accounting of that meeting is that the Russian attorney who was there suggested, oh, the DNC may have received some dirty foreign contributions. And Donald Trump Jr. expressed interest in that. When - but when she couldn't provide any proof, he immediately disengaged.
BERMAN: It's fascinating to hear. You know, and, Caitlin, again, one of the things that's interesting about this new individual that apparently was in the room was how well known he was. Chuck Grassley, a Republican, had written a letter in April, in April, April 28th, and I'm not quite sure what it's pertaining to, but let me read it to you.
Rinat Akhmetshin is a former member of the Russian military intelligence services. He is now based in Washington, D.C. as a lobbyist. He was previously hired by clients with a mandate to generate negative publicity. He was paid by a previous client to derail the U.S. asylum application of a Russian citizen being - using false accusations of anti-Semitism. See, he's been accused of organizing on behalf of Russian oligarch Andrey Melnichenko (ph) for the computers of International Mineral Resources to be hacked and steal confidential, personal and otherwise sensitive information so that it could be disseminated.
Now our Shimon Prokupecz has said, look, this guy's well-known. Unclear exactly how sketchy he is, if he has Russian intelligence ties. But the fact that Chuck Grassley was writing this letter, apparently not even connected to this issue back in April, that tells you something.
CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Sure. And, you know, we're focused certainly on Donald Trump Jr. and his involvement in establishes this kind of meeting, but also the spotlight is very much on Kushner, of course, because he is in the administration right now and the security clearances have revealed that, but also on Paul Manafort, who, you can argue that the others didn't have experience in politics or campaigns. You can't make that same argument for someone like Manafort. So that raises lots of questions.
And also, of course, their line of defense has always been, well, we never got anything of value from this meeting. Which, of course, Grassley and others are going to want to know, well, what happened in the case that you did receive valuable information? What will you have done then? Remember, Donald Trump Jr. is going to be testifying - or appearing in front of the committee presumably under oath.
BERMAN: And, look, Charles Krauthammer wrote an op-ed today which gets to that point. He said, you know, maybe they didn't get anything, but they sure tried, right?
BERMAN: Let me read that. He says, "had the lawyer real stuff to deliver, Donald Jr. and the others would be in far deeper legal trouble. It turned out to be incompetent collusion, amateur collusion, comically failed collusion. That does not erase the fact that three top Trump campaign officials were ready to play. You don't need a lawyer to see that the Trump defense - collusion as a desperate Democratic fiction designed to explain away a lost election - is now officially dead."
Naftali, I mean, you know, Kellyanne Conway and others trying to move past that point, but that point sticks.
NAFTALI BENDAVID, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": It does. And I think one of the things that this development today shows us is that the story isn't going away anytime soon. You know, it always seems like there's one more development, one more fact coming out, one more aspect of it that we hadn't even thought of before.
And I think the Trump administration needs to sort of accept that. This is something they can't move past quickly. And maybe they need to compartmentalize. You know, Bill Clinton, during his administration, he was famous for compartmentalizing. There were all these scandals and furors and he very good at putting that in one box and moving ahead in the areas that he wanted to policy-wise in another.
And I think a big question, maybe a central question facing the Trump presidency, is if they're able to do something like that.
BERMAN: You know, Molly, one of the things I can't explain is something Jack Kingston, who's a big White House supporter, was an adviser to the Trump campaign, said to my colleague, Kate Bolduan, just a few minutes ago saying, look, if it was that big of a deal, if it was that nefarious, Paul Manafort, who understood all of that, who was in the room, would never have let it happen. You know, Jared Kushner's presence in the room is one thing. He still works for the government. He's got to explain why he didn't fill out the forms correctly several times. But Paul Manafort, you know, is a guy who's been on campaigns before. What was he thinking?
[12:10:14] MOLLY BALL, "THE ATLANTIC": Well, look, I mean Paul Manafort has been accused of being a pretty sketchy operator himself, right? He's been described as a bagman (ph) for numerous foreign governments. He was a lobbyist, but he was willing to take a lot of assignments that a lot of other political operatives, political consultants wouldn't take. So, you know, Paul Manafort is not an agent of the - of law enforcement who's going to necessarily call foul on anything that seems unfair.
I don't want to accuse him of anything.
BALL: I'm just saying that to say, oh, you know, Paul Manafort is squeaky clean and no one questions that is not necessarily the conventional wisdom around D.C. people - among people who knew him. I mean Paul Manafort, we've got to remember, was fired from the campaign because of his work against the Ukrainian government on behalf of the Russian-backed faction in Ukraine. So Paul Manafort's involvement, if anything, makes this potentially more suspicious given his connections in the Russian sphere.
BERMAN: Look, and he's many things, but Paul Manafort's not a young man, which Donald Trump, the president, continually says about his son, Donald Trump Jr. And Paul Manafort, in theory, would have known if something was going on.
All right, guys, stick around. We're going to talk about this a lot more in just a second and some of the political implications.
Coming up, Democrats sounding the alarm on the Russia investigation and Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with this Russian lawyer and now this Russian lobbyist. Who knows who else was in the room? But some Republican lawmakers are quick to rebuke them. They say, let's not get hysterical.
[12:15:57] BERMAN: It's a contentious tale of two parties on the Russia investigation and Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer. And now we learn a Russian-American lobbyist, one with reported ties to Russian intelligence, well, that certainly put more fuel on the fire. This morning, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi renewed her calls for an independent commission and accused House Republicans of hiding the truth from the American people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: Earlier this week we saw cold, hard evidence that the Trump administration and the Trump family had eagerly intended to collude with Russian, a hostile foreign policy, to influence an American election. We will expose House Republicans inaction for their willful, shameful enabling, they had to become enablers of the violation of our Constitution, the attack on the integrity of our elections, the security of our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right, listen to Republican lawmakers, though, like Virginia's Dave Brat, calls out Democrats for being what he calls "hysterical" when it comes to this investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DAVE BRAT (R), VIRGINIA: You've got to separate out the political. We have a probe going forward on the Russia piece. On the police piece, if you find a statute that's been violated, then you got it. but, you know, my senators in Virginia are getting, you know, apoplectic. Mark Warner's seeing smoke everywhere he goes like he's in a "Cheech & Chong" movie and Kaine now thinks the son is worse than Benedict Arnold. I mean it's - we've gotten a little hysterical and we should just get grounded.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: You know, undeniable points for bringing up "Cheech & Chong" there in this discussion.
Nevertheless, Naftali, I am struck by the fact that Republicans have picked up on some Democrats using the word "treason." Tim Kaine, the senator from Virginia, used the word, that possibly, maybe they'd have to look into that. But treason doesn't really apply when you're not in a time of war. Democrats have given Republicans a little ammunition there.
BENDAVID: Yes, it doesn't. And what happens often in these situations is the party that's playing defense in a sense hopes the other side overplays its hand. So it's not that surprising that they would seize on what's perhaps the most inflammatory, you know, the most sweeping comment made by the other side, even if not that many people on the other side are making it, to try to make this into a situation in which the Democrats go too far.
BERMAN: You know, but, Caitlin, on the other hand, that may be the best argument that Republican members have right now. Because we've now spoken to many Republican senators and congressmen and not one that I've spoken to says they would take the meeting that Donald Trump Jr. took, despite the fact that President Trump in his press conference says, yes, many people would have taken it. Not one has told me they would take it. And every single one of them, you can tell is uncomfortable in a way that they were not one week ago.
HUEY-BURNS: And listen to the testimony from the nominated FBI Director Wray who said absolutely when questioned he would encourage campaigns to turn that information over to the FBI. That's an appointment that Donald Trump has also been touting, this appointment of Wray, and so that testimony was really interesting.
Republicans are in a different position here, but I have yet to see evidence that they have a big political incentive to distance themselves from him at this point, just given how popular he is still among the Republican base and also strategists and lawmakers I've talked to say that Donald Trump has become somewhat of a sympathetic character through all of this given the Democratic line of questioning against him.
But you can also tell that Republicans are uncomfortable with it. Remember, not to long ago Mitt Romney was talking about Russia as a geopolitical foe. You have lots of lawmakers who are wanting to take a more aggressive stance on Putin and are some -voicing some concern that the White House hasn't done enough. Of course, that sanctions bill came out of the Senate, awaiting confirmation in the House.
BERMAN: So, Molly, you know, the "New Yorker" has a new cover out for this week that I would like to take a look at right now and just think on for a moment. There you see Donald Trump, you know, deplaning from Air Force One, pulling the ear of the person who appears to be Donald Trump Jr. and then kicking a person who appears to be Jared Kushner.
That gets to the really now complicated in all caps family relationships going on here. Not just family relationships, but political relationships and legal relationships all tied up in this whole thing. You know, let's start with Don Jr. You've got a really interesting profile of Don Jr. You spent a lot of time with him over the last 12 months, you know, on the campaign and now. you know, what's his role in the family and in the political organization?
[12:20:19] BALL: Well, thank you. The piece that I wrote is entitled "The Troublemaker" because that's how Don Jr. describes himself as his role in the family. The sort of pigeonhole, I think anyone with siblings knows everybody's sort of got a role. And that was him at - from childhood. He was always sort of the wild one, as he himself describes it.
But I actually think that the family dynamic of the Trumps is very uncomplicated compared to a lot of families. They are extremely close. They ran a company together. There is very little discord. There is very little daylight. And it has never been question - a question in my mind that Donald Trump's inner circle consists of his three oldest children and his son-in-law. They are super tight. Don Jr. told me that during the campaign, and even prior to that running the business, they met every Monday morning. They had a powwow. All three siblings made sure everyone was on the same page, hashed out any differences that they had. Very, very close to their father. So, you know, the "New Yorker" cover has the father of the family being frustrated with his son and son-in-law, but really it's hard to imagine that they did much that wasn't authorized by him.
BERMAN: You know, not every family, though, do you have to fill out security forms, you know, if you want to work for your dad like that, you know, and not every family can you go to jail potentially if you fill out those forms incorrectly, Jonathan, which gets to the role of Jared Kushner right now in all of this. And we've learned more - I don't know if Jared Kushner's disclosure, for instance, it probably does, given that he made it many times, includes the fact that this Russian lobbyist was in the room. This Russian-American lobbyist. I'm not sure it would have to since he was a U.S. citizen, but it is interesting now that we're learning more about this and Jared Kushner's had to revise those security forms many, many times now.
LEMIRE: That's right, Don Jr. has dominated most of the headlines this week, but Kushner's role here is vital and he's emerging as a real flashpoint for the Democrats. So, first all, of course, Kushner, he's the one who works in the administration. He's the one that had to fill out these forms.
Don Jr. stayed behind. He's in New York. He runs - helps run the Trump Organization with his brother. He's not a member of the government. He did not have to fill out these forms. Jared Kushner did.
The Democrats have been, in recent days in particular, have really seized on the idea that Jared Kushner should have his security clearance revoked. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, twice this week, was asked at the off camera White House press briefing if anything had changed and she sort of evaded the question both times. She didn't answer a yes or no. People close to Kushner saying nothing has changed, but they know that this is something that Democrats are going to harp upon.
And what will be interesting, and Molly's exactly right, the Trump family is very close. We spent a lot of time - I spent a lot of time with them on the campaign last year. They have each other's backs. But what will be interesting is if the legal fortunes of Don Jr. and Jared Kushner eventually clash. If they're suddenly at odds, what happens then?
BERMAN: Yes, it's interesting. And, look, we know Kushner's legal team overnight - great reporting from CNN - they've actually been dealing with this issue, this issue of this meeting for several weeks, planning on figuring out how to disclose it. So they knew that this was complicated.
OK, guys, stick around.
Up next, the stakes are high, the margin of error razor-thin. Actually, the margin of error pretty much non-existent. Will concerns by moderate Republicans lead to the one vote that stops the Republican health care bill from reaching the floor? Stay with us.
[12:27:19] BERMAN: So if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a jukebox, it's probably playing "Stuck in the Middle with You." He has moderates on his left, conservatives on his right and those counting votes have a feeling that something ain't right. If you're following the metaphor here, Mitch McConnell may be Mr. Blonde from "Reservoir Dogs."
The revised Senate health care bill, the one people on both sides of the aisle acknowledge was cobbled together so it could pass, it may not pass. With two hard no votes, the margin of error is actually non- existent. One more vote and it sinks. And knowing the stakes for his agenda, the president this morning tweeted to help or maybe to setup the Kentucky senator at a fall guy.
This is what the president wrote, "so important. Republican senators under leadership of Senator Mitch McConnell get health care plan approved. After seven years of Obamacare disaster, must happen."
In a case you think is a one-time thing, listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It has to get passed. They have to do it. They have to get together and get it done. He's got to pull it off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
TRUMP: Mitch has to pull it off. He's working very hard. He's got to pull it off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right, CNN's MJ Lee on Capitol Hill.
MJ, Senator McConnell wants a vote next week. How that vote could go depends a lot on one thing, that's the new CBO score.
MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, for a lot of these Senate Republicans it's really more like the dreaded CBO score. You remember very well that when the CBO score came out last month on the first version of the bill, it was kind of a doozy. It showed that 22 million fewer people would be insured under the Senate bill than compared to Obamacare. And it also showed that 50 million fewer people would be covered under Medicaid.
As you know, this is a huge problem for some of these members who come from Medicaid expansion states, like Dean Heller, Lisa Murkowski, Shelly Moore Capito, and that is why we are seeing Mitch McConnell trying to talk to these members to try to bring them onboard.
Now, having said all that, this is what leadership would like to see happen next week. And I just want to emphasize, this is in the best case scenario. This is if everything goes as planned the CBO score would come out sometimes early next week and then they would now have the motion to proceed vote. And if that goes well, then the debate begins and then there would be the vote-o-rama (ph). The Senate vote- o-rama, of course, is that marathon process of many amendments being introduced, many votes being taken. And if that goes well, then you move on to the final vote.
But, John, for the time being, that final vote sure feels far away. We know that two Senate Republicans, Susan Collins and Rand Paul, have already said that they would vote against the motion to proceed. That means that Mitch McConnell really has no wiggle room. He cannot lose another Senate Republican. If he does, then the motion to proceed wouldn't even go through the Senate. This bill would not even be brought up for debate.
[12:30:00] BERMAN: all right, MJ Lee for us on Capitol Hill, thanks so much. Back now with the panel.
You know, Jonathan, let's lay out exactly what the president has done here. We said he was on Twitter this morning writing about it, but let's compare it to what President Obama did to get Obamacare through, right. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)