Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

New Connections in Trump-Russia Investigation?; President Trump Now Calling for Repeal Without Replacement for Obamacare; Did White House Threaten MSNBC Host?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 30, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:02]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: We got a call that, hey, "The National Enquirer" is going to run a negative story against you guys.

And it was, you know -- Donald is friends with -- the president's friends with the guy that runs "The National Enquirer."

And they said, if you call the president up, and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike the story.

I had, I will just say, three people at the very top of the administration calling me, and the response was like, are you kidding me?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the president denied that happening. This is what the president tweeted in response.

"Watched low-rated Morning Joe for the first time in long time. Fake news. He called me to stop a 'National Enquirer' article. I said no. Bad show."

And the administration is saying more.

Let's go to CNN's Jeremy Diamond, who is at the White House.

We know the briefing wrapped. It's my understanding not much of this came up there, but we did learn that -- this is from Jim Acosta -- that a White House official is backing the president's tweet, saying it was actually just Scarborough who did the calling.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Brooke.

A White House official telling our colleague Jim Acosta just a little bit ago that Joe Scarborough called Jared Kushner, at least, about this "National Enquirer" story, so confirming that detail from what Joe Scarborough was talking about this morning, but that official also said that there was no discussion of any kind of a quid pro quo, which Joe Scarborough was alleging this morning when he said that essentially if he called up the president, Kushner told him that he could apologize for that coverage, and "The National Enquirer" story would be spiked.

So this White House official telling CNN now, disputing that claim, essentially, saying there was no quid pro quo at all, but Joe Scarborough did call Jared Kushner about "The National Enquirer" story. As far as the briefing is concerned, Sarah Huckabee Sanders did not get many questions on this matter today.

What she did say, however, is that she is not aware of whether the president had read this story detailing some of those allegations beyond simply what Joe Scarborough talked about on the air this morning.

BALDWIN: Got it. I know there was a quite a bit of an exchange over repeal and replace in health care. We are going to tackled that in a couple minutes. For now, Jeremy, thank you so much for me at the White House.

Let's broaden this out.

With me now, CNN senior Washington correspondent Brianna Keilar, Faith Jenkins, host of the TV show "Judge Faith." She was assistant district attorney in Manhattan. And Shannon Pettypiece, White House reporter for Bloomberg News.

So, ladies, welcome to all of you.

You know, Brianna, to you. We were talking to Brian Stelter, because he has all this reporting on how Joe Scarborough says that not only does he have proof and texts and phone records, that NBC was aware, although we brought up this question, why is he waiting months and months to bring this up? To me, this is sort of a he said/he said.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is at this point a he said/he said.

And the big question I have is, why is the president wasting his time? This seems like such a waste of presidential capital.

BALDWIN: Yes.

KEILAR: This is a president whose approval rating is very low and he has a lot of things to do. I mean, it's energy week this week. Did you know that? I think most voters wouldn't be aware of that.

Senators are trying to deal with health care reform. He has a lot to do. He hasn't been able to get a lot of it done. And this is how he's spending his time. I mean, it's really -- it's sort of -- it's unbelievable when he has his work cut out for him.

BALDWIN: There is a lot of nuance to this. There are pieces that, depending on how you read it, go obviously favorable to the president or favorable to Joe and Mika. But, at the end of the day, Shannon, you know, if what's truthful is that there was this blackmail or attempted blackmail from the highest office in the land, we are talking abuse of power from the president.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG NEWS: And what's also truthful is just what Brianna was saying, is that we know the president is spending his time and his energy and is really consumed by this issue by his tweets.

He tweeted about this yesterday. He could have -- it could have been he got it off his chest, he's done, he's moving on. But he let the whole world know this morning that he was back watching "Morning Joe" because he couldn't get past it, and continuing to tweet these attacks.

At the White House today, I was here at 8:00 a.m. The South Korea president is coming, so the White House was really bustling with activity at that time. There's a lot going on. The president leaves today for Bedminster, where he's going to spend the weekend. And this, we now know, is how he spent at least part of his morning.

BALDWIN: Legally speaking, though, Faith, when you hear all sides of the story, we're talking -- I don't know, Brianna, if you can still hear us. You're still on TV.

KEILAR: I got you.

BALDWIN: OK.

KEILAR: But, you know, in terms of legal recourse for either party, I mean, when you throw out allegations and you're talking abuse of power, that is significant stuff.

[15:05:05]

FAITH JENKINS, FORMER PROSECUTOR: It is significant. And if Joe Scarborough does have the receipts to back up what he is saying, then you're talking about some really troubling legal and ethical considerations here, because what are we saying happened? What are the discussions that Joe Scarborough is saying took place?

Is it that the White House knew of an article that "The National Enquirer" was going to put out and they said, we can help you out here if you call the president to apologize, we can make it go away, or is he saying that they were -- they had the material to help release this article, sort of give the meat to the tigers to create this article, create an issue, create a problem, and then call Joe Scarborough and say, hey, they're going to release this article, but we can help you if you make a call to the president?

Now, so there's the issue of inactivity or activity. Were they proactive in this article? Then it gets a little bit hotter when you talk about the issue of abuse of power. Or is it the flip side, where they just had knowledge that an article was going to come out and they're saying that they could help him out? Either way, I think that it is certainly an issue of free press and free speech and the president's involvement in that, and it's troubling, to say the least.

BALDWIN: I think, as I'm listening to you, it's also important to just provide context for people watching and listening the relationship over the course of decades between the national reporter and then just, you know, I say regular citizen semi-sarcastically. Everyone knows sort of who Donald Trump was, but Donald Trump in the '80s and 90s.

And, so Jeff Toobin, our legal analyst, did this interview, depth this in-piece for "The New Yorker," talked to the president and chief executive of American Media, Inc., that owns "The Enquirer," and details how David Pecker did the bidding for Donald Trump through the campaign, attempting to attack his opponents.

And one official from American Media actually told Toobin that Pecker had an agreement that "The Enquirer" would not write anything that damages Trump, even letting Trump write his own byline.

This is the detail. Let me quote Pecker: "'I pointed out that bashing Trump was not the same as bashing American Media. To me, it is,' Pecker replied. 'The guy's a personal friend of mine.'"

So, Brianna, there's history here between these two men.

KEILAR: There is, and I think this is why some people are looking at this and they're able to believe it, because there is this allegiance between President Trump and the publisher of "The National Enquirer."

And what's more is what we have learned from Jim Acosta's reporting is that Jared Kushner was one of the aides who had this discussion with Joe Scarborough. I'm not sure if you recall, but there was a profile on Jared Kushner a couple months back, and he, as owner of "The New York Observer," a couple of editors said that he had come to them, trying to do a hit job piece on one enemy, another enemy.

BALDWIN: Yes.

KEILAR: So it's not that far outside of the realm of believability when you're talking about the culture, certainly at least of one of his top aides, arguably really his top aide, Jared Kushner.

And I think, you know, there are other outlets as well who are supportive of President Trump. And we have seen this as well, other outlets who, for instance, were supportive of President Obama and they do things that back up a president. But if this really is as Joe Scarborough is alleging, it just hits a different level here.

BALDWIN: We're talking a lot about this. It's been out there, you know, for fodder. It's outrageous.

But, you know, at the same time, I'm thinking of Trump supporters, Shannon, who, you know, we heard Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying yesterday in the briefing that he's a fighter, people elected him because he fights back. And at the end of the day, politics aside, just in terms of supporters, do they care?

PETTYPIECE: As I talk to people who are close to the president, it seems like more and more of his Twitter behavior is throwing red meat to his base and saying to them, I am still the same guy you elected. You didn't send me to Washington and I turned into a politician, a politically correct swamp monster. I still am who I am. I am who you elected. I still fight back. I still have this personality that you loved about me.

So it is definitely a message to the base, if there is strategy behind it. It also, I think, is just, you know, low impulse control and...

(CROSSTALK)

PETTYPIECE: ... that upsets you.

But there is a bigger strategy to continuing to tweet, even if it does upset a lot of people, including those in his own party.

KEILAR: And he's certainly throwing -- I think that's such a good point about the impulse control being one of the real motivating factors here.

His base, he may be throwing red meat to them, but they're extremely well-fed. They don't need a whole lot more red meat, right? It's the people beyond the 30-some-odd percent who are not approving of Donald Trump, and, you know, he needs to focus there.

[15:10:00]

Maybe, you know, he's not going to win over a lot of people on the left, of course. But he should be focusing on some people beyond those that he is focusing on.

BALDWIN: No, to channel Dana Bash, who was on with me yesterday, she was like, please, Mr. President, let us talk about health care policy, and instead, in these tweets, you are derailing your own agenda.

Faith and Shannon and Brianna, ladies, thank you all so very much.

Next, President Trump appears to be changing course on repealing and replacing Obamacare at the same time, the White House responding to that moments ago. We will talk to the former president of the National Economic Council about a repeal would mean for you if there is no immediate plan to replace it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: This is CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

President Trump is talking plan B or C or D here for the Republican health care bill, repeal it now, replace it later. But the White House now says that doesn't mean he's changed his thinking on the Affordable Care Act.

[15:15:05] The president's plan B comes on the heels of this comment by

Nebraska's Republican Senator Ben Sasse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: If we don't get this resolved by the Monday of the next week, July 10, if there isn't a combined repeal and replace plan, I'm writing a letter to the president this morning urging him to call on us to separate them.

If we can't do them together, let's do as much repeal as we can, and then let's have the president ask us to cancel our August state work period and stay here and then work on replace separate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Soon after the senator's appearance on that morning show, the president tweeted, "If Republican senators are unable to pass what they're working on now, they should immediately repeal and then replace it at a later date."

So, CNN's Ryan Nobles is on Capitol Hill for us.

And, Ryan, talk to me a little bit about what did Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the briefing have to say in support of the president's apparent change of course?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, essentially, what Sarah Huckabee Sanders' saying is that the president's position on this issue hasn't changed at all, that he still supports the idea that they continue to negotiate, but wants an option if things fall apart.

Listen to what she said today in the briefing.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president hasn't changed his thinking at all. I mean, he's campaigned on, talked about since he was elected repealing and replacing Obamacare. We're still fully committed to pushing through with the Senate at this point, but we're, you know, looking at every possible option of repealing and replacing Obamacare.

We are focused on doing that. As I said earlier, there is another large amount of counties that now have no Obamacare provider, and so we're continuing to work hard to repeal and replace Obamacare, and that hasn't changed.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

NOBLES: So, if we unpack this comment by Sarah Huckabee Sanders a bit, Brooke, essentially what she's saying is that the overall goal hasn't changed. The president still wants to repeal and replace Obamacare, but the way to get there may be what's changing a bit.

And, Brooke, we have to remind our viewers that this was an option that was on the table for Republicans from the very beginning.

BALDWIN: Once upon a time.

(CROSSTALK)

NOBLES: Yes, exactly. They could have gone down the road of just repealing the bill to start with, and then worked on a replacement after the fact.

And they rejected that and they rejected it, in part, because the American public does not seem to be interested in that course. In fact, a poll that CNN commissioned just back in March said that only about 17 percent of Americans agree with repeal before you have a replacement plan in place.

So, this really does complicate the process here on Capitol Hill, because, you know, they are trying so hard to bring back together these different warring factions of the Republican Party to try and build some sort of consensus.

And if you're a moderate Republican watching this, just outright repeal without a plan to replace it is not at all what is in your thought process right now. So, this could make the process much more difficult.

BALDWIN: So, what happens? Because we know the Senate majority leader wanted this blueprint today, wanted the new CBO score.

That's not happening. They go on recess, Fourth of July, back in 10 days. Then what? Is this thing DOA?

NOBLES: Well, it's going to be really hard, Brooke, because you have to think about the fact that they are now back in their home districts. And one of two things is going to happen here. They're not going to have that face-to-face -- those face-to-face conversations that are central to deal-making in Washington.

But they're also going to be getting an earful from their constituents at Fourth of July parades, at different constituent meetings. They're going to be hearing a various amount of opinions from their voters, and that could mean that they come back to Washington with an even different view of this situation.

So, the real negotiating isn't really even going to begin again until the 10th of July. That's quite a ways away from where we are today, and it makes it seem as though this is an even more difficult task than it was just a couple days ago.

BALDWIN: Sure. Ryan Nobles, thank you so much from Capitol Hill.

Coming up next: President Trump says he is delivering on a promise to send in the feds to stop Chicago gun violence -- what we have just learned in a police conference and the response from Chicago's mayor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:23:10]

BALDWIN: Just one week before President Trump meets with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, at the G20 summit, there are new details emerging today about possible connections between Russia and the Trump campaign.

"The Wall Street Journal" today is reporting that a Republican operative tried to obtain e-mails that he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server, likely by Russian hackers.

"The Wall Street Journal" reports that a man by the name of Peter W. Smith tried to recruit people in this effort that is described as independent of the Trump campaign.

In these conversations, Smith allegedly implied that he was working with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn at the time was serving as a senior adviser to the Trump campaign.

This all reportedly took place before the 2016 presidential election.

I also need to note this is "The Wall Street Journal"'s reporting. CNN has not been able to independently verify the details of this report.

But we do have the reporter who broke the story here, Shane Harris. He's a senior national security writer for "The Journal." He's with me, as is CNN's national security analyst Steve Hall. He's a retired CIA chief of Russia operations.

So, Shane and Steve, thank you so much for coming on.

And, Shane, this is a quite a piece in the paper. So, I mean, context-wise, at the time, you were digging on this story. How did you and Peter Smith even cross paths?

SHANE HARRIS, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, that's right.

I had actually been alerted to the work that he was doing by a source, and then, as I was beginning the preliminary reporting, Peter Smith actually reached out to me. He sent me an e-mail and said he wanted to talk about his own experiences with Russians and hacking around the election.

So, of course, I took him up on that offer.

BALDWIN: Yes.

HARRIS: And he proceed to explain to me the operation that he was involved in that he was leading, which tracked very much with previous reporting that I had already been doing.

[15:25:00]

And so then continued reporting with the intention of going back to him sometime in short order to ask him more follow-up questions, but, unfortunately, he died about 10 days after I interviewed him. So, we continued our own reporting up until just yesterday, when we

published the piece.

BALDWIN: So, Peter Smith, he believed that Hillary Clinton's missing e-mails had been stolen by someone. And so he believed that was likely Russia.

So, explain that to me and then also, how did he -- what's the association with Flynn?

HARRIS: Right.

So there's two pieces of that in terms of the e-mails.

BALDWIN: Yes.

HARRIS: First, he thought that Hillary Clinton's server was weakly protected, which even FBI Director Jim Comey said it did not have proper security protections for handling classified information, and believed that Hillary Clinton herself would have been a likely target for a foreign government, which is not a stretch to believe that, of course, and believed also that if you were going to have someone trying to hack her server, it would be very likely an adversary power, in this case, Russia, although he imagined others might want to get access to it too.

What he -- really was driving him in this, though, was his belief that Hillary Clinton was hiding something in these e-mails that she claimed to have deleted from her personal server. We should also say, for context, Peter Smith is sort of a notorious figure in the Clintons' political history. He's been responsible for bringing a lot of allegations, including some unproven and unfounded ones, about President Clinton to light in conservative press in the early 1990s.

Where this connects with Flynn is that on a number of occasions, both in writing and documents he was sending around and in conversations that Smith was having with people either working on this effort or that he was trying to recruit, he repeatedly said he was talking to Mike Flynn about this and portrayed Mike Flynn as an ally in this effort to find these damaging, he thought, e-mails about Secretary Clinton.

BALDWIN: To bolster your reporting, you point out the operation Mr. Smith described is consistent with information that's been examined by U.S. investigators probing Russian interference in the elections.

Steve, just over to you.

Reading through this, yes, there are a lot of smokestack, but there's no smoking gun. What's your assessment?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, this is another -- it's another data point, Brooke, and it's just very, very fortunate that we have both Mr. Mueller investigating as special prosecutor and also the FBI, which continues its counterintelligence work, because this could be a counterintelligence issue if -- if the reporting is borne out.

Yes, there are still a lot of questions, you know, with regard to what exactly was going on here. So this is maybe just the first we're seeing it, but my suspicion is, is that those who were trying to determine whether or not there was any cooperation or contact or collusion between anybody in the Trump campaign, guys like Michael Flynn, whether this is -- this is a part of that, because any -- if you did indeed have an American citizen who was somehow cooperating with, trying to get illegally stolen e-mails for the assistance for somebody to have a better shot at winning the election, that's pretty serious stuff.

BALDWIN: Yes.

HALL: So, more investigation needs to be done, but this is really fascinating.

BALDWIN: So, Shane, Smith's focus, it was these 33,000 e-mails. The project took place on Labor Day. Weeks before that, Donald Trump said this at a campaign rally:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Monday, in the briefing, Sean Spicer was asked about that comment, you know, said the president was joking and we have no reason to believe otherwise, correct?

HARRIS: That's right. I mean, the president made that comment at the time. It was hugely controversial, because you had a candidate calling for a foreign power who was already believed to have been hacking, yes, to meddle in this and then go after his opponent.

BALDWIN: Meddling.

HARRIS: We should say, too, that it's my understanding from talking to Peter Smith that he had suspicions about Hillary Clinton's e-mails even before Donald Trump made that comment.

But it is very notable that this project that Smith was leading begins in earnest about five weeks after President Trump made that statement.

BALDWIN: So, all right.

So then, just lastly, Steve, Flynn seems to be, obviously, the key, the key piece here that could lead to some answers. We know he's pleading the Fifth. Can you think of any other way to get to the true nature of, you know, Flynn and the Russians?

HALL: Oh, sure, I think there's lots of different ways to do that. And I think a lot of it is going on behind the scenes, either by the FBI doing a counterintelligence investigation, which they're clearly involved in, have been since last year, really, as well as the Mueller investigation.

So, yes, there are certain investigative things. You know, the FBI has, you know, strong police powers. They can go out and talk to people. They can interview people and they have other ways of gathering information as well.

And that's the critical part, because if somebody like Flynn was indeed involved somehow with the Russians, even though it might be what the Russians would refer to as a cutout, that this guy who said, yes, I might be able to help you out and get you access to -- to e- mails, that's still -- that's still a pretty serious thing.