Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

NYT: Trump Jr. Met Russian for Dirt on Clinton; The Hill: Some Private Comey Memos had Classified Info; Trump Downplays Cybersecurity Effort with Russia; Interview with Rep. Brad Sherman. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 10, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- admission from the president's son that some in the Trump campaign were to accept Russian help. Donald Trump Jr. now says, in the summer of 2016, he met with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have information helpful to his father's campaign. Sources telling "The New York Times" that this woman claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Not just Donald Trump Jr. who attended the meeting to find out what the attorney had to say, the president's son- in-law, now key White House adviser, Jared Kushner, he was there as was the campaign chair, Paul Manafort. Now, all of this has coming out as the president seems to be backing away from his idea of a joint task force with the Russians to fight Russian hacking.

The suggestion is drawing sharp criticism from lawmakers and intelligence officials and sparked a new response from the president himself. "The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn't mean I think it can't happen. It can't -- but a ceasefire can and did!"

So, what does this all mean? Joining us -- we are covering the story all over the place right now. Let's begin at the White House. CNN's Susan Malveaux is there. Susan?

SUSAN MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Well, there's a strong response inside and outside the White House to this story that's been percolating over the last 24 to 48 hours, statements coming from Kellyanne Conway, one of the president's top advisers, also from Donald Trump Jr., himself. This, after the news broke over the weekend from "The New York Times" reporting about that meeting that took place between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian national.

This happened at the Trump Tower on June 9th. This just weeks away from when his father became the Republican nominee, not only in that meeting was Donald Jr., but also the son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as well as the former campaign chair, Paul Manafort. Numerous explanations as to why this meeting happened. At first, it was Saturday that Donald Trump Jr. said that it was about Russian adoptions, said that that was a critical issue, an important issue and that that was why that meeting took place. Then he changed the story. Then it was on Sunday, putting out a statement, saying that it was a woman who said there were individuals connected to Russia who had information, damaging information about the Democratic National Convention. That it was supporting Hillary Clinton, said that it was nonsense, ambiguous. That type of thing.

Now, we are also hearing from Donald Trump Jr., this morning, tweeting, several times, this is the latest one, saying in fact that there is, "No inconsistency in statements, meeting ended up being primarily about adoptions. In response to further," questions or "Q's I simply provided more details."

Clearly, there are people who are hitting back on that particular stand. We have heard from Democrats and Republicans from these various federal investigations and committees that are investigating whether there is collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, but the White House, today, this morning, putting out Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump's top advisers to hit back and hit back hard. Here is how she responded to our own Chris Cuomo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Don Jr. has very explicitly stated he didn't even know the name of the person with whom he was meeting. He agreed to the meeting based on a contact from the Miss Universe pageant.

They get into the meeting and it quickly turns into a pretext for Russian adoption, according to his statements, that the comments this woman is making about any type of information on Hillary Clinton were vague. They were meaningless.

Others exited the meeting very quickly. The meeting itself was very brief. There was no information given. There was no action taken. There was no follow-up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And Representative Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee, just one of many over the weekend calling for a better explanation, a fuller explanation, potentially calling in for those who attended that meeting with that Russian individual to come before their committee. John? Poppy?

HARLOW: All right, Suzanne Malveaux at the White House. Thank you for that.

The Kremlin, this morning, saying not only does it not know anything about this meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and that Russian lawyer. They say they don't even know who the lawyer is. Our Matthew Chance is live in Moscow. And Matthew, you were on the phone, in that call, that the Kremlin holds with reporters asking about all of this. What else can you tell us?

MATTEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they were quick to put some distance as much as they could between this latest scandal that has broken in the United States over these meetings between this Russian person and members of the Trump team. They are saying that not only do they not know who this person is, but she certainly didn't act on their behalf.

The spokesperson for Vladimir Putin, his name is Dmitry Peskov, he said, look, we can't monitor all the meetings that Russian lawyers hold both in Russia and abroad. So, the point is, the Kremlin are trying to make is that yes, this lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, did well, could well have met, you know, Donald Trump Jr. and all those other figures from the Trump administration. But it has absolutely nothing to do with the Kremlin.

[10:05:00] And that underlines what the Kremlin had been saying time and again, is that there wasn't any collusion on certainly -- any official capacity on the part of the Kremlin to try and influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election or to influence Donald Trump, should he become the U.S. president, which of course he did. And so, you know, this holds to what the Kremlin had been saying all along.

BERMAN: Matthew Chance for us in Moscow. Thank you so much, Matthew.

Here to discuss now, Michael Zeldin is CNN legal analyst, former special assistant to Robert Mueller, the Department of Justice. Jackie Kucinich is here, CNN political analyst, Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast" and Bob Baer, CNN intelligence and security analyst, former CIA operative.

Jackie, I want the biggest of big pictures here. This story now from "The New York Times" and the statement from Donald Trump Jr. It's really the first time, we see clearly, someone associated with the campaign. In this case, someone who is in the Trump family saying he was willing to accept help, campaign assistance from a Russian individual.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": Right. And it is very clear in that statement. This isn't what Donald Trump Jr. was saying just a little bit ago. You would have expected him to say -- he had said that he hadn't met with anyone who -- or that you know, maybe he met with someone Russian, but he didn't really know the details and then it progresses adoption statements, and now this.

So, the fact that the story does keep changing, I know that he has reputed that it has, does make this more suspicious, frankly. And the fact of the matter is Congress is back in session this week -- the Senate and the House. And they are going to have to answer what they are going to do about it. Is this going to be part of their investigations? And this is something they don't want to talk about anymore. So this is problematic. No matter how the White House or the Trump organization for that matter tries to spin it.

HARLOW: Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, saying I think all the people in that meeting. So that would be Manafort, Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. should come, explain themselves to us. Bob, to you, looking at this from an intelligence perspective and with your background, you say this fits a pattern you have seen with the Russians, basically shopping information. What do you mean?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST AND FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Well, look, first of all, Donald Jr. went to this meeting to seek derogatory information. He admitted that. What he did in effect was signal the Russians, yes, we do need your cooperation to win this election. However, that was translated in Moscow doesn't matter.

First of all, we have to recognize that Russia is a security state. And people come to the United States, Russians and get involved in politics, go back to Moscow and report. You know, at that point, the Russians are going to, you know, listen, that Trump has asked for our help. And how it actually occurred, if direct collusion occurred, whether it was Roger Stone, a Trump adviser or somebody, or Carter Page. We don't know at this point. But again, it was a clear signal to the Russians. The Trumps were looking for help. -

BERMAN: And Bob can I ask?

BAER: For me this is --

BERMAN: Bob, this isn't necessarily Russian government official here. This is a lawyer, a woman who is a Russian lawyer. She intercepts a lot with the Russian government in some cases. But even if she's a private citizen, you think all this is true, Bob?

BAER: Well, the Russians are smart. KGB is smart. They send private citizens who answer to them. They wouldn't for instance send a KGB officer, you know, a diplomat for a meeting like this. They use proxies. It's the way the Russians work. Non-official cover, the CIA would call it. So, it's difficult to get intelligence attribution on these people. So they have plausible deniability. For the KGB to go into an operation like this - that's the first thing they would want is plausible deniability.

HARLOW: The way - by the way "The New York Times" describes her, the attorney, is quote, "a formidable operator with a history of pushing the Kremlin's agenda." So, it's a good point indeed.

Michael Zeldin, looking forward at all of this, we do want to get you on some other reporting that is just breaking this morning, that "The Hill" has, some fascinating reporting that of the seven -- memos that James Comey took - those contemporaneous notes that he took after his different meetings with President Trump before he was fired as FBI director. That four of them had markings that contained secret or even confidential information. This is according to "The Hill's" reporting and this is according to interviews of officials familiar with those documents.

Now, remember, James Comey is the one who said that Hillary Clinton was, quote, "extremely careless with classified information." If this is a fact, if some of these memos that he then gave to his friend at Columbia Law School to talk to the media about. If they contained classified information, what would that mean for James Comey? [10:10:05] MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Let's understand what "The Hill" is reporting. If "The Hill" is reporting that the memos that Comey wrote and left with the FBI contained secret or other classified indications and it stayed within the FBI, there's no problem. If what they are saying is that some of those memos were then given to the professor at Columbia university and that those memos contained these classified markings, then that would be problematic for Comey. Then he would be distributing information that has classification protections and that he shouldn't be sending them outside of the government. So we have to see what he said he sent, which was I thought, a summary of some sort to Columbia versus the actual all seven memos. --

HARLOW: I believe it was one memo to Columbia. It's a good and important clarification.

ZELDIN: Right. That's right. So, if the one memo he sent to Columbia contains no classification information, then it's not a leak in the classified sense of the word. And so, then, he's not really on the hook for that. So we have to see how it flushes out.

BERMAN: And in fact, you know obviously, we are trying to do more reporting on this to find out what we can. You know, Jackie, the White House, Kellyanne Conway calls this a bombshell today. The president is tweeting about it. Obviously, you know, they may think this is important and it also distracts from the other story today, which is you know, that Donald Trump Jr. had this meeting with this Russian lawyer.

And the other people in that meeting, Jackie, fascinating, right? It's Jared Kushner who went on to run the data operation and who is still the son-in-law of the president of the United States and a senior adviser inside the White House. And Paul Manafort, who was the campaign chair. And you covered a lot of campaigns. You don't go with that level of juice. Those people don't show up to an insignificant meeting. I've just never seen, you know, that level inside a campaign and an opposition research meeting unless there's something that they think is going to happen.

KUCINICH: Yes, which is why the explanation that they didn't know what the meeting was about or who it was with, raises so many eyebrows. Because as you said, especially at that point in the campaign, President Trump, at that point, candidate Trump was trying to still consolidate Republican support. I believe he had just recently become the nominee. So, there was a lot of incentive to try to really pull together a national campaign to take on Hillary Clinton.

So, again, as you said, the fact that all these major players in the campaign, these weren't low level aids, were a part of this meeting, were pulled into this meeting, really does up the seriousness of the fact that it took place. And even if it's true that no good information came out of it, the fact that they attended is kind of all you need to know, that they were seeking this information.

HARLOW: Bob -

ZELDIN: And that it took place at Trump Tower.

KUCINICH: Yes.

HARLOW: Bob, let me get you on this before you guys go. The president reversing course on whether or not Russia is a good, trustworthy partner to team up with on cybersecurity, knowing that they have meddled in the U.S. elections and have done to another election as well. Is there any, any scenario where that would make sense to team up with Russia? I'm trying to understand what would motivate the president or talk about that in the meeting with Putin and tweet about it, but then reverse course after he was just slammed by his fellow Republicans.

BAER: Well, Poppy, this is just bizarre. I mean, the Russians have never cooperated intelligence with the United States. I have worked with them. They sort of, you know, they play around with it and promise things, but never come up with anything. And clearly, the country that attacked us in the 2016 elections, you can't go into business with them. It is truly like, you know, working with the Japanese after Pearl Harbor to defend Hawaii. Their defense, it's just nutty. And he had to pull it.

I mean, Trump listens to the last person he talks to. It was Putin in this case. You know, he said, all right, fine, you didn't hack our elections. But let's get over this and move on to intelligence cooperation. The man has no experience. He is impulsive. This is just looking very bad for him. It does look like collusion. It does look like he is listening to Putin more than his American intelligence. And frankly, I have never seen that before, where a president sides with an adversary over his own intelligence agency. It's amazing.

HARLOW: Michael Zeldin, Jackie Kucinich, Bob Baer, thank you all very much.

Several congressional investigations into Russia's election interference and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. What is the reaction on Capitol Hill to all of it?

BERMAN: Recess is over. Senators back on the Hill and they are trying to figure out a way to save the Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. This, as the president is putting new pressure on Republicans.

And celebrations in Iraq over the liberation of Mosul, but pockets of fighters remain, CNN on the front lines.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:19:16] BERMAN: President Trump now appears to be backing away from a proposal to set up a cybersecurity unit, a joint unit with Russia. Russia, of course, involved in hacking in and meddling in the U.S. elections.

HARLOW: Do you see the two tweets on your screen? And they are very different approaches. Last night, in the statement, the president wrote, "The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't -- but a ceasefire can and did!" -- referencing Syria there.

Our White House reporter, Jeremy Diamond joins us now from Washington. Why the reversal of course from this president? Is it all because of the backlash that he got from Republicans like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Ben Sasse?

JEREMY DIAMON, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, it certainly seems that way. And I think it's important to maybe take a quick look at the time line of how this happened.

[10:20:01] Of course, President Donald Trump on Friday met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. They discussed a range of issues, including the election meddling. And following that meeting, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, came out speaking to reporters and said that they had agreed to form a working group to establish a sort of framework to discuss cybersecurity issues.

And following that, the president then took to Twitter on Sunday. And what he did was he went even further. He kind of hyped up the so- called working group, talking about creating an impenetrable cybersecurity unit with Russia. That was just moments before a lot of Republicans took to the Sunday shows and the reaction was pretty consistent. And the consistent reaction was one of criticism. We heard criticism from Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham, saying it wasn't the dumbest idea he had heard, but certainly came close.

And following all of that, we saw the president then quickly backtrack on Twitter. You have that tweet that he had last night up on the screen, which was saying that, "The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't." - And then he referred to the ceasefire that was accomplished during that meeting.

But all of this really represents a continuing of this trend of the president kind of muddying the waters on this issue. You know, we have seen him be inconsistent on the fact of whether or not Russia was responsible for this meddling. One thing that the president does seem to have clear is that this cybersecurity unit with Russia certainly was not playing well politically.

BERMAN: You know 12 hours. It lasted all of 12 hours or so on Sunday. Jeremy Diamond for us in Washington. Thank you so much.

Now, add to this, the news that Donald Trump Jr. held a meeting with a Russian lawyer last year because he was told he would have information helpful to his father's campaign. We're getting this from Donald Trump Jr.

All right, joining us to talk about this, Democratic Congressman, Brad Sherman of California. Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. First, your reaction to that story.

REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D-CA), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: It just shows incredible naivety, a gullibility that is almost intentional. It also demonstrates that the Trump campaign was anxious to get help from a Russian connected attorney, a Russian government connected attorney about Hillary Clinton. So, they revealed an interest in colluding, whether or not they colluded in that particular meeting.

HARLOW: So, you are an attorney and you're also a politician who has been in Congress a long time. All campaigns, most good campaigns -- did opposition research, OK? And that is what Donald Trump Jr. is pointing to this morning in his tweet.

I mean, he says, "Obviously I'm the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent... went nowhere but had to listen."

Where is the illegality here in your mind? Is there illegality in your mind?

SHERMAN: If the meeting is exactly is Donald Trump Jr. has told us, I don't see illegality in this particular meeting, but it raises suspicions. First, the Trump campaign benefits from a burglary, and then they have a meeting with someone who is almost an attorney for the burglars. That doesn't prove that they were colluding in the cyber burglary -- but gets you one step closer.

BERMAN: Here's the thing, the timeline here. Just so you know the DNC hack didn't become clear until after this meeting here. So, if that is what you are referring to with burglary. But that happened after this meeting happened before all that information became public.

SHERMAN: Well, what the Russian government learned from this meeting was that the Trump campaign was anxious to get information, even from the Russian government about Hillary Clinton. Whether they later provided that information and colluded as to how it would be used, that's what Mueller is investigating. So, we don't have proof of collusion but we do have more smoke and more reason for investigation.

HARLOW: So, you, Congressman, have been one of the loudest voices to call for a moving forward of impeachment proceedings against the president. So much so that even some of your fellow Democrats have called you out on it, have said about you are putting the carriage in front of the horse here, be careful with this one. You've talked about and your team put out a press release and said - they were saying, is this Watergate 2.0. You are pointing to what you believe is obstruction of justice. Does this change the calculus at all for you?

SHERMAN: This is slightly different than the articles of impeachment I have drafted. Mine focused on obstruction of justice. We saw James Comey's sworn incredible and convincing testimony. He lays out the facts. And when you look at those facts, they fit very closely with the obstruction of justice statute section 1512 B3 (ph).

[10:25:00] So, I think -- and Trump's tweets indicate that he believes that James Comey told the truth and I believe he told the truth because I was there listening to him and he was speaking under oath. Those facts indicate that Donald Trump tried to use threats to stop an investigation, an important criminal investigation. I think that is a high crime in misdemeanor and when you combine that with the fact that this is just an incompetent presidency that I think poses a danger to our country day after day, something else comes up. The latest being this idea of a cybersecurity unit with Vladimir Putin. I mean that's the Bonnie and Clyde bank security system. It's crazy. And it's just one crazy thing after the other, combined with a legally sufficient high crime in misdemeanor.

BERMAN: That's obstruction. That's where your article or your submission deals with right there. And I'm bringing this up only because you brought up James Comey "The Hill" reported overnight that the memos written by James Comey, some of them had information on it which was classified. Now, we don't know if any of those have even left the FBI or his possession. We know that some information was handed to a Columbia university professor. Do you have concerns based on this reporting about the FBI director that the memos could contain classified information?

SHERMAN: Memos in the files of the FBI director contain classified information. But the information he made public was not classified in any way but, instead, relate to the threats that were made against him. He was a man that wanted to keep his job. --

HARLOW: But Congressman, remember, he's the one who said that Hillary Clinton's handling of classified information was quote, "extremely careless." And the question now becomes, does it not -- even if none of that classified information were in the memo that he handed over to his friend at Columbia, which he testified had no classified information. What about the handling of it? When he took these notes, was it on a secure laptop? Was it on a note pad? How did he maintain those documents? Did he take them out of the bureau? Did he take them home? Do you have questions as they pertain to this information?

SHERMAN: I have no questions at all. I've got no reason to think that the FBI director mishandled information. You can raise questions about anything. But, to say that there's classified information properly in the files at the FBI headquarters is not to say anything at all.

BERMAN: All right, important distinctions there. Congressman Brad Sherman, thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate your time.

SHERMAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, besides everything having to do with Russia and the investigation there, health care looming on Capitol Hill as a major issue. What will happen? Will there even be a vote before members of Congress go home in August?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)