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Now: Senate Investigators Question Trump's Son-In-Law; Trump Again Rips His "Beleaguered" Attorney General; Senate Minority Leader: Dems Were "Namby-Pamby" Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 24, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:03]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I am Kate Bolduan.

The breaking news right now, Jared Kushner, on the record. President Trump's son-in-law and one of his most trusted advisers in the hot seat on Capitol Hill for the first time, facing questions from Senate Intelligence Committee staff about his Russia contacts.

Kushner's interview under way as we speak, behind closed doors, not under oath. But even beforehand, he released an 11-page statement detailing a lot of things, including four contacts with Russians during the campaign and transition.

Denying that he read the e-mail chain from Donald Trump Jr. leading up to that now infamous meeting with the Russian lawyer. Also denying any collusion on his part and denying the Russian's finance any part of his business activities. Kushner also declaring in his statement, he has nothing to hide.

CNN justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, has more details on Kushner's statements. First, let's go over to senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, live on Capitol Hill.

So, Manu, you have been following Kushner's movements all morning. What is happening behind closed doors are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, he is meeting with staff members. The members of the committee actually are not in this close door meeting. This interview is actually not considered testimony, sworn in and under oath.

Still, meeting with the Senate investigators, at least the first meeting that we know of with the Senate Intelligence Committee, before tomorrow's meeting, before the House Intelligence Committee with members and staff.

Now this comes as Mr. Kushner released an 11-page statement that you referenced, Kate, which details the interactions he had with Russian officials during the campaign and during the transition season.

Certainly, those are going to be a key part of the questioning that is happening behind closed doors with Jared Kushner, along with his attorney by his side. But also, anything else that he did not include in this statement, including what else happened at the Trump Tower meeting in 2016 where Kushner said it was nothing.

This is something he didn't know, wasn't clear why Don Jr. was inviting him to the meeting. He just simply attended. The question, ultimately, Kate, is whether or not this satisfies concerns of members of this committee that are investigating the issue of collusion between Russian officials and Trump officials and whether or not they want Kushner to come back for further testimony. It depends how he does today -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: And that's still an open question because that's always the possibility, right, Manu? They can call him back, make it public, and they can put him under oath, whatever they want.

RAJU: Yes, that's right. One thing the Kushner team did do ahead of this was they put out word that they are willing to see the transcript of the interview that's happening right now, be public. They are saying they are willing to do this, willing to answer all questions, saying there's nothing that he's not concerned about answering.

But of course, it's very, very unlikely that this committee is going put out a public transcript. It's something they rarely, if ever do. They wait until the end to put out a report, which is going to take some time to finish this investigation.

So don't expect that, but an effort by the Kushner to show that there's nothing there and they have answered every question, even though Mr. Kushner did not disclose some of those meetings on his security clearance initially, raising questions that the staff is going to raise today -- Guys.

BOLDUAN: All right. Manu has that angle. Manu, great to see you. Thank you so much. He's got his eye on that. We'll bring it to you if there are statements made after.

As we mentioned, Kushner gave a good preview of what he's likely to be saying behind closed doors to committee investigators, putting out an 11-page statement ahead of time. Pamela Brown has that angle. Pamela, what did we learn from all of it? Sum it up if we can.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we learned some fresh details this first time that Jared Kushner is speaking out, telling his side of the story about Russian contacts. He came out and for the first time publicly said, I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded with any foreign government.

I had no improper contacts. I had not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector. He insisted he had no additional meetings with Russians other than four contacts that have been reported.

He says, besides a quick meet and greet with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last April at the May Flower Hotel, the only other Russian contact during the campaign was the now infamous meeting at Trump Tower with his brother-in-law, Don Jr.

Kushner claims he did not read down the e-mail chain whereby Don Jr. was told he would be receiving incriminating information from a Russian attorney about Hillary Clinton.

He also tried to emphasize in the statement how he viewed this meeting as meaningless saying, quote, "I actually e-mailed my assistant from the meeting after I had been there for 10 or so minutes and wrote, can you please call me on my cell, need excuse to get out of meeting."

So, he says he could only recall a discussion about adoption and there was no follow up. Then, Kate, he talks about a couple meetings during a transition where he met with Ambassador Kislyak, who wanted to address U.S. policy in Syria and requested a secure line to conduct the conversation with generals in Moscow.

[11:05:14] Kushner says he asked in response if it was possible to use communication channels at the Russian embassy, which he says didn't happen. After that, at Kislyak's request, he met with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Russian (inaudible) who has a direct connection to Vladimir Putin.

Kushner said that meeting lasted only about 20 minutes. He said there was no discussion about his personal business. Important to point out, though, Kate, that contradicts a statement from BEB (ph) that says the meeting was about Kushner's business.

But what is clear, overall, when you look at the 11 pages, it is clear that Jared Kushner is trying to send a message that he viewed these Russian contacts as insignificant and meaningless -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: And in retrospect, we'll see if they stand-up as being meaningless when he sits before these investigators right now. Pamela, thank you so much.

So, talk about a heck of a way to start your Monday. A tweet from your boss, nonetheless calling you beleaguered. That is what Attorney General Jeff Sessions is up against today.

In a tweet this morning coming from President Trump, he writes, "So why aren't the committees and investigators and of course, our beleaguered AG looking into Hillary's crimes and Russia relations?"

This comes just days after President Trump, of course, made clear that he regrets appointing Sessions to be attorney general in the first place in that "New York Times" interview because Sessions recused himself from any and all Russian investigations relating to the campaign.

Joining me to discuss is CNN White House reporter, Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, the White House have anything to say about this tweet this morning so far?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: No, they have not said anything, but for Jeff Sessions, the hits just keep on coming. I'm not sure if we ever have seen a president call his pick for attorney general beleaguered six months into his administration before.

But that is what we are seeing now. Donald Trump has been publicly shaming Jeff Sessions for about a week now after he made those comments in the "New York Times" interview when he said he would not have picked Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general if he knew he was going to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation into Russia.

Now deputy press secretary, now press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said last week said Trump was disappointed in Sessions, but still had confidence in him to lead the Justice Department, but it sure doesn't sound like it.

From what we are hearing today, Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions have not spoken since that "New York Times" interview when Donald Trump criticized Jeff Sessions. We are seeing how much this Russian investigation irks Donald Trump.

Jeff Sessions is someone who has been incredibly loyal to him. He was the first senator to endorse Donald Trump and gave up a very safe Senate seat to take the job as attorney general.

BOLDUAN: That's absolutely right. Safely in the Senate for 20 years and now he is, I don't know how safe he is over the Department of Justice. Kaitlan, great to see you. Thank you so much. Let's see what the president has to say next.

Let me bring in right now, CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan, as well as, Michael Zeldin, who served as assistant special counsel to Robert Mueller at the Justice Department. Gentlemen, it is great to see you. Quite a bit of help I need today and I need your legal advice.

Michael, quick on Jeff Sessions and what Kaitlan Collins was laying out right there. If you are Jeff Sessions and you wake up to that tweet today, Michael, what do you do with it?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Take two Advil and a glass of water. You know, it all depends on his, you know, sort of constitutional makeup. He says, look, this is the president who I work for. I understand the way he behaves. It's not personal, if you will.

I'll just, you know, soldier on with my work or, if you say look, this is just not worth it and you call it a day. That really is, you know, an intuitive tense of Sessions, whether he can do the job he was appointed to do.

If he can weather the president's tweets and move forward with the agenda that he has with the Justice Department, he might swallow hard and move forward. If it gets on his nerves too much, he has to quit.

BOLDUAN: Paul, what is your take? Do you think this is the president's thoughts, dejour and it will blow over or is the president trying to publicly shame Sessions to resign?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Now this is too deliberate and it's too open a humiliation of Sessions. I think he's trying to force Sessions to resign. The president doesn't like to fire people, not withstanding his television background.

However, he does have a reputation for trying to get people to resign, voluntarily. I think that's what he's trying to do so he can put a new attorney general in place so that eventually, he can fire Mueller.

And I think that's what he has in the back of his mind, but he can't do that as long as Sessions has recused himself and is not in charge of the investigation. Rosenstein is in charge.

You put a new attorney general in place, he can bring in his own assistant to replace Rosenstein and then you have Trump followers in charge of the person handling the investigation, Mueller.

BOLDUAN: Session has a lot -- sure, Michael.

[11:10:12] ZELDIN: I was going to say, I don't disagree, necessarily, with that, although, I think the end of that strategy, were it to be executed would be suicidal for the president.

If he replaced the attorney general, imposed a new attorney general who then fired Mueller, who can only be fired for cause on some trumped up charges of cause, I think he'll end up with independent counsel statute and Mueller will be appointed under that statute.

People will think that there's something more nefarious going on here and it will spiral him into a very bad place legally. I get the thought.

CALLAN: The one thing is, as long as there is a Republican Congress in place. I agree with you, if, in the midterms we get a Democratic Congress, yes, you might get a new special prosecutor statute and the atmosphere may change.

But as long as there's a Republican Congress in place, you really think they are going to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate a Republican president?

BOLDUAN: Before we get there, let me stay here today because there's something happening today. Don't take me off the train track too quick. Michael, what is your take on Jared Kushner's statement that he put out as he is speaking with congressional investigators now. Did he make his case?

ZELDIN: I think it's a very well-crafted statement. He's well represented by his lawyers, two fine lawyers. He sets forest his response to that, which is reported about him in the newspapers. We'll see, whether under questioning, that story line holds up.

On face, four corners of the document, it reads pretty well. I think the way it is structured is a win/win for Congress and Kushner. On the Senate side, they get to question him in greater detail. They are generally more prepared, that is the staff.

They get to ask follow-up questions and prepare their senators should there be public hearing. On Kushner's side, he gets to testify without oath, with his lawyer present and gets a dry run. I think it sets up nicely for both of them.

And if there's any there "there," hopefully the staff will pull it out and if there's no there "there," Kushner will go on with the rest of his life.

BOLDUAN: Then they move on. Paul, this has been the common thing, under oath, not under oath. It's still a crime to mislead Congress. What can you get by having unsworn testimony versus testimony under oath and vice versa?

CALLAN: Well, the penalty for perjury, and that means testifying falsely under oath is greater, harder to prove. But lying to federal investigators and even if they are congressional investigators, it's a felony and you can face a five-year prison sentence. So, there's a very serious penalty for telling lies, even at this stage of the investigation.

BOLDUAN: All right, here is advice to everyone, just don't lie to Congress. Great to see you, guys. Thank you so much.

Speaking of Russia, Congress reaching a deal on a bill to slap Moscow with more sanctions, which leaves the president with a pretty important decision in front of him, sign the bill or veto the bill, setting up for a huge showdown. That's coming up.

Plus, the president expected to give a statement this afternoon, 24 hours before the Senate is scheduled to vote on health care. His statement will be on health care. What is his game plan? What is his pitch this time?

The president's public rebuke of Jeff Sessions sending a chill through the executive branch. CNN's brand new reporting about which cabinet officials are concerned right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:17:33]

BOLDUAN: A better deal is what Democrats are promising to lay out today. Their new agenda they hope will bring their party together and they hope wins them a better deal in the upcoming midterm election.

The polls show they have some work to do. "Washington Post"/ABC News poll showing that 52 percent say the Democratic Party only stands against the president rather than standing for something else.

The top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, says they have taken note.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Well, it is in part our fault. When you lose an election with someone who has 40 percent popularity, you look in the mirror and say what did we do wrong?

And the number one thing that we did wrong is we didn't tell people what we stood for. Even today as your poll showed, they know we are standing up for Trump. They like that, but they want to know what do you stand for?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York. Congressman, thanks so much for coming in.

REPRESENTATIVE HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY), CO-CHAIRMAN, HOUSE DEMOCRATIC POLICY AND COMMUNICATIONS COMMITTEE: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: A three-pronged approach is what's in the better deal, improving wages, lowering everyday costs for Americans and working to create job and new job opportunities. What is new here that folks have not heard before?

JEFFRIES: Well, one is a recognition that things are broken in terms of what's happening with work and family, middle class folks, those who aspire to be part of the middle class.

Quite frankly, these folks are being screwed all across America by an economy that's not working for them, it's working for the wealthy and the well off. That's why they deserve a better deal, better jobs, better wages and a better future.

We are starting with a recognition. Over the last 40 years, the productivity of the American worker has increased by more than 285 percent. During that same period of time, wages have increased by less than 10 percent.

The productivity gains of the American worker are not going to the worker. We are going to aggressively deal with that issue and confront wage stagnation. We are going to aggressively promote job creation and economic growth.

We have a target of 10 million jobs and we are also going to work hard to lower the everyday cost that the American people are experiencing, such as the out of control prescription drug prices.

BOLDUAN: What is interesting, what I hear from you is a lot of what we heard, the case from President Trump during the election and what won him -- what won over some Democrats to vote for him. With this new approach, you have a new approach with the same leaders leading the approach in the House and Senate.

[11:20:06] If they couldn't drive this message home before, Congressman, why should folks have confidence that they could change anything now?

JEFFRIES: Well, what you are going to see I have every confidence in both Leader Pelosi and Senator Schumer to help bring things home in the way that they brought things home in 2006.

But there is a new generation of members of Congress across the country, the north, the south, the east and the west, reflecting the gorgeous mosaic of the American people who will also be carrying this message forward.

BOLDUAN: Why didn't they take this on when they were in power? JEFFRIES: They were -- well, there was a phenomenal amount that was done in a limited two-year window. First of all, we rescued the economy from the worst economic crisis since the great depression. That was step one.

We enacted historic health care legislation. The Affordable Care Act that dramatically has improved things for the American people. Dodd- Frank reform. On and on and on in terms of things that happened.

Some criminal justice reform as well that was important to African- Americans and others in the city. But there was only a limited two- year window. Then, of course, Republicans took control in 2010.

But we are not going to look backward, we are going to look forward. We have an affirmative economic agenda for the American people that is going to increase their pay, lower their cost and make sure that every single American has the tools for the 21st Century economy.

BOLDUAN: The president weighed in on this tweeting this, "After one year of investigation with zero evidence being found, Chuck Schumer stated that Democrats should blame ourselves, not Russia."

With that, obviously, he's taking what Chuck Schumer said to "The Washington Post" and putting his own spin on it, which is his right. Let me ask you this. With that point that he is making and Chuck Schumer also made, that you can't blame other things like Comey or Russia when you lose to somebody with 40 percent support, you have to blame yourselves.

With this new approach, are Democrats no longer going to talk about Russia to make the conversation about Russia and the investigation and collusion a high priority and move away from words like treason and impeachment that they have been floating out there so far?

JEFFRIES: Well, the overall majority of Democrats that I work with understand that there is a cloud of illegitimacy that's hanging over the White House as a result of the possibility that there was improper or illegal collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, but we have --

BOLDUAN: A cloud of illegitimacy. Do you still think that this is -- you think this is an illegitimate president?

JEFFRIES: I didn't say that. What I was about to say is that we have a special prosecutor who is in place, Bob Mueller, very well respected by Democrats and Republicans, people on the left and the right. We should allow that investigation to take shape and deal aggressively with the economic problems facing the American people.

You know, this has always been a country that has rewarded hard work and those who play by the rules. For far too many Americans, that fundamental contract has been broken. We recognize that. That's why the American people deserve a better deal. That's what Democrats are going to deliver.

BOLDUAN: Real quick, the economy is chugging along, though, as you well know. Stocks at a record high. Unemployment rate is signaling full employment. If the president is so bad, how do you answer that?

JEFFRIES: You have 5 million people who are out of the work force who would like to get back into the work force. You have another 5 million Americans who are working part time, even though they would like to find full-time employment.

That's one of the reasons why we are targeting 10 million jobs in terms of good paying jobs that will allow people to provide for themselves and their families a comfortable way of life.

Things are moving in the right direction, largely as a result of the leadership of President Barack Obama, but we still have a long way to go. Wage stagnation is a problem. Under employment is a problem. The high cost of a college education is a problem.

The fact the pension system is eroding in many parts of the country, particularly the industrial Midwest. That is a problem. We have solutions to deal with those issues.

We recognize the contract with the American people connected to the American dream has been broken. That's why they deserve better deal, better jobs, better wages and better future. We are going deliver that.

BOLDUAN: We will see. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, thanks for coming on. Appreciate it.

JEFFRIES: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: The president hitting the road, firing off tweets, and giving a statement on health care as Senate Republicans get ready to hold a vote on their so far failed push to overhaul Obamacare. Can President Trump change minds at this point?

Plus, their son is at the center of a global debate. The parents of Charlie Guard explaining why they will not continue to fight to prolong his life. The emotional scene is ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:29:18]

BOLDUAN: A new week, a new chance for Senate Republicans to move forward on their health plan. Is there any new support to change the dynamic at this point? No matter what one thing is clear right now, senators say they do not know exactly what they are getting ready to vote on.

Repeal and replace together, repeal now, replace later, or something else. President Trump is set to give a statement this afternoon from the White House on health care. What can he say at this point to change the map?

Joining me now, CNN national politics reporter, M.J. Lee. M.J., there are so many more questions than answers at this point. Where do things stand? M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, that's absolutely right. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there could be a health care vote this week after a lot of delays, bills, efforts on Mitch McConnell's part.

He is insisting that there is going to be a motion to proceed vote this week. That could come as early as next week.