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Trump Jr.'s Meeting with Russian Lawyer; Priebus Says Meeting Was Nothing; Trump Downplays Cybersecurity Idea. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 10, 2017 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:31] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off.

Members of Congress are making their way back to Washington for three short weeks between their Fourth of July recess and their month-long break from D.C. in August. And just as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had feared, after Senate Republicans listened to concerned constituents all week, an already slim prospect for the GOP health care bill has only gotten slimmer. John McCain even went as far as to say that it might be dead. Much more on that this hour.

But first, a fresh admission from Donald Trump Jr. that he met with a Kremlin connected lawyer last summer in the hopes of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. After giving two different accounts on that meeting in two days, the president's eldest son posted this somewhat snarky, somewhat dismissive tweet this morning. He said, "obviously I'm the first person on the campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent. Went nowhere but had to listen."

Now, Don Jr. took that 2016 meeting in Trump Tower alongside the now president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his then campaign chairman Paul Manafort. None of them disclosed it in public until this weekend, more than a year after it happened.

On Saturday, after the news of the meeting first appeared in "The New York Times," the president's son issued this statement, "we primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow-up."

Now, hours later, "The Times" reported that Trump Jr. was lured to the meeting with the promise of information damaging to his father's opponent. Then came a new Donald Trump Jr. statement. He said later, "I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act."

Today, safe to say, many members of Congress have questions. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we're going to find out what happened in this meeting. We're going to learn a lot more about it, and we should.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: If they're talking to the president's team, then candidate Trump teams, that contradicts, of course, what the president and his people have said.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: What concerns me is that this has reached the highest levels now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're talking about at a presidential level, I would recommend that someone talk to everybody who says they have information that makes a particular candidate, an opponent, unworthy of serving in the office.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": If they say this person has, you know, this is a Russian-connected person, and not ethnically Russian, but Kremlin Russian connected person and they may have information, wouldn't that be a red flag to you (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, absolutely that's a red flag.


BASH: A spokesman for the president's legal team says, and I quote, "the president was not aware and did not attend the meeting."

And with that I want to bring in our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, no mention of the president's meeting or the president's son's meeting in his tweets, but certainly people at the White House are forced to talk about it.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dana, they are indeed. They are forced to talk about this, even though the president wants to talk about anything but this. The reality here is that the White House is going to be defending once again deflecting questions about this.

But, Dana, to put this all in to context for our viewers, this is the first time that there's been a public indication, an acknowledgement, during the campaign of a meeting between the top officials in the Trump campaign and someone inside the Russian operative world here. But Kellyanne Conway, the senior counselor to the president, she was on CNN's "New Day" this morning. She was pushing back. Let's watch.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: You can't take a meeting that lasted 20 minutes -- that is reported to have lasted 20 minutes, that produced no information, it was, we're told, mainly about Russian adoption, and spin that into some kind of tale and some type of evidentiary trail. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So that is the view from the White House. I'm sure we'll hear more later this afternoon when Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds an off- camera briefing in a couple hours or so.

But, Dana, the reality here is, as we heard the sound there from a variety of members of Congress on both sides in the opening of the show here, this gives a new opening, a new sort of window to look into. So I would find it very difficult to believe that the president's oldest son would now not be answering a question from congressional committees. And this takes us into a whole new realm.

[12:05:09] The question, of course, is, did the president know about the meeting? His lawyer spokesman said he did not before the meeting but will be asking those questions to see if he knew about it after, and in the year since that meeting. So this is a significant development here that will be lingering in this special counsel's case as well as we go forward with this, Dana.

BASH: It sure is. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much for that report.

And here to weigh in with their reporting and insights, Margaret Talev from "Bloomberg Politics," CNN's Manu Raju, Amy Walter of "The Cook Political Report" and Dan Balz of "The Washington Post."

Dan, I will starting with you. What do you make of all this?

DAN BALZ, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, it's a big, big, big development. I mean this is, as, you know, as Jeff was saying, the is the first time we've seen senior campaign people dealing directly with Russian operatives in the middle of the campaign at a meeting in which they were told they were going to receive damages information about Hillary Clinton. I mean that -- that ties together.

Now, obviously, there are a lot of questions that still have to be answered. We don't know much more about this. We don't know what transpired after that. We don't know if there are other meetings. But it has -- it has taken this long for this meeting to come out.

BASH: That right.

BALZ: We don't know what else is to come. And I -- and I think that this has to raise the temperatures inside the White House about this investigation. I mean this may have been a moment where prior to this where they thought they were going to, you know, have a quieter period, and it just thrusts everybody back into the Russia story and prevents them from staying on their agenda.

BASH: And, once again, it's the initial -- never mind us not knowing about this for more than a year. The initial statement was different from the second statement, within, you know, 24 hours from Donald Trump Jr.

Now, he also tweeted today a denial of inconsistency. He said, no inconsistency in statements. Meeting ended up being primarily about adoptions in response to further cues. I simply provided more details. OK. Maybe but --


BASH: Of course the whole thrust of the reason why we cared about this was the big question mark about whether they talked politics. And the answer was, yes, which was not what he initially said.

WALTER: That's right, which gets us to the bigger point. Just imagine if, at the very beginning of all of this, when the investigation started at the end of the election, that every single member of the Trump administration sat down, went through each and every one of their meetings, put it all out there and said, this is it, we're done. We've put everything up front. They literally went through with a fine-tooth comb, even gave more information than they had to, and they could come back right now and say, we did everything we possibly could to be as up front and transparent about our relationships and meetings with anybody at all affiliated, even if we didn't know their distinct affiliation at that time.

The second piece of this statement which I find curious and it came from Kellyanne Conway as well. Well, nothing came of this meeting, so it wasn't a big deal. Well, what if they had given you information?

BASH: Right.

WALTER: What would you have done with that?

BASH: That's a great question.

WALTER: That's the next question.

BASH: Right.

WALTER: Would you have said, uh-oh, this came from a Kremlin-backed source --

BASH: Right.

WALTER: We can't do anything with this, or would you have taken that information and done something with it?

BASH: And that's a great point. And a different way to look at it also is the question about how politics works. How campaigns work.

WALTER: Right. Right.

BASH: Manu, Jason Miller, who was the communications director for the Trump campaign, now a CNN contributor, here's what he said about this.


JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The fact that someone's coming forward with information about an opposing campaign, it would be insane to not at least go and send someone to sit down with them to figure out what they were talking about.


BASH: OK. So that is true, but I've heard from Republican after Republican today on Twitter and elsewhere saying, not when it's a foreign national.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, and not when it's a foreign national also suspected of that point, hacking the Democratic National Committee. I mean at that point, of course, the Intelligence Committee had not put out an assessment accusing Russia of doing this, but there were suggestions that Russia could have been involved. And that same month Don Jr. told Jake Tapper that this whole talk about Russia being involved is nonsense. He said it was totally phony. This is a witch-hunt, et cetera.

Going back to his statement too initially, he -- initial statement, he said initially that this was not a campaign issue. That was part of his statement that he gave in "The New York Times."

BASH: That's right.

RAJU: So that was inconsistent from what he later divulged. Undoubtedly, Don Jr. is now a part of this investigation. He's going to have to answer questions from the House and Senate Intelligence Committee or face a subpoena if he refuses to do so. Certainly Special Counsel Bob Mueller is interested in this. And the interesting thing will -- is that a lot of this was learned by apparently Jared Kushner's amended security clearance form in which he listed all of these meetings with foreign nationals and presumably with Russians. What else is on that list?

BASH: Which was incorrect at the beginning, which we should -- we should also point out.

RAJU: Right.

BASH: He didn't list these meetings.

[12:10:03] You cover the White House every day. I want to play for our viewers what the white House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said over the weekend about this.


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It was a very short meeting. It was a meeting apparently about Russian adoption. And after about 20 minutes, the meeting ended. And that was the end of it.

This is a developing story. I don't know much about it, other than it seems to be on the end of the Trump individuals, a big nothing-burger but may spin out of control for the DNC and the Democrats.


BASH: OK, obviously he hopes it's a nothing-burger. And to be fair, it looks like he was in the dark about the fact that -- that the premise of the meeting was about giving dirt on Hillary Clinton. But you talked about, Manu, the idea of Don -- Donald Trump Jr.

probably having to go to Capitol Hill. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, told me yesterday on "State of the Union" that they definitely will try to call him and probably others. What do you think this means for the White House? How big of a shift is this?

MARGARET TALEV, "BLOOMBERG POLITICS": After Jim Comey's most recent testimony, the White House not only put on a good public face but felt with all the advisers you talked to like actually it had been very good for that process to be over with because if there had been any kind of like there there, that's when it all would have come out. They felt like now we can begin to move on.

This puts things squarely back in the realm of no one's moving on yet. And for months, you know, lawmakers have been interested in talking with Jared Kushner, interested in talking with Michael Flynn, interested in talking with Don Jr., so the president's family, as well as some of his closest associates at the time. This just keeps things moving in that direction and it's -- and it's precisely these two issues. Number one, if there was nothing wrong with any of this and it had been disclosed up front, there would be a whole loss less sort of steam and momentum behind this.

And the second is, there's been this sort of consistent question among aides inside the White House about, do they know what they need to know in order to be able to address these questions?

BASH: Yes.

TALEV: And this suggests another example of, no. Of more information coming out that is, you know, revelatory to a lot of the people who are trying to help put the president's communications strategy forward, policy strategy forward, foreign policy approach forward. If you're H.R. McMaster and you're learning about this, if you're the defense secretary or the secretary of state and you're learning about it, it necessarily affects all of your next moves, the way you communicate them. It's a terrible thing to find this out from (INAUDIBLE).

BALZ: Yes, I --

WALTER: Yes, and it put -- Reince Priebus was sitting there on live national television --

BASH: Yes, saying it's a nothing-burger.

WALTER: And then five minutes later --

BASH: Right.

WALTER: Everything he said was undermined.

BALZ: What I was going to say was, one of the important things about this particular meeting is, as people have been trying to understand whether there was collusion or cooperation, I mean there's obviously smoke but it's been hard to pin things down. But one aspect of the questioning is, was the Trump campaign in a receptive mode?

BASH: Yes.

BALZ: Not actively colluding, but being willing to have information that was helpful to them as it was being leaked publicly?

BASH: From -- from the Russians?

RAJU: And --

BALZ: Right, from the Russians.

BASH: From the Russians. That's the key. Yes.

RAJU: Yes, and we know from the testimony from John Brennan and others that there was an active effort by the Russians to reach out to U.S. persons to try to get information, provide information that could be damaging to Hillary Clinton.

BASH: OK, everybody stand by. We have a lot more to talk about.

Up next, more on the Russia issue, but real time, teaming up with Putin on cyber security? Is it a sly move, or as one Republican senator called it, the fox guarding the hen house. That's next.


[12:18:03] BASH: How many times have we heard President Trump say how nice it would be if the U.S. and Russia could get along better and cooperate on important issues? Well, one idea he and Vladimir Putin came out of their face-to-face meeting, the first one they had, it caused many incredulous Republicans to say, is this a joke? When he woke up Sunday morning, President Trump tweeted that he and the Russian president discussed forming, quote, "an impenetrable cyber security unit so that election hacking and many other negative things will be guarded." Well, members of Congress and others who've worked in the government were practically speechless.


ASH CARTER, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: This is like the guy who robbed your house proposing a working group on burglary.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: If that's our best election defense, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow. I don't think that's an answer at all.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's not the dumbest idea I've ever heard, but it's pretty close.


BASH: Well, by the end of the day yesterday, the president sent another tweet, which suggested he heard that criticism loud and clear and he did something uncharacteristic for Trump, he backed off the idea saying, quote, "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 cease-fire can and did." He talked about referring to Syria.

Now, take a listen to what the vice president just said a few moments ago on this.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): The president raised the issue of cyber security again in the context of that meeting. I don't know the exact reference, but the president made it very clear last night that it probably isn't going to work out.


BASH: And seen. I mean, 24 hours, it does a full circle.

And before I -- Dan, I want to ask you about this, but before I do, I just want to put up another tweet that came out yesterday from Marco Rubio, which was also kind of priceless. He said, "partnering with Putin on a cyber security unit is akin to partnering with Assad on a chemical weapons unit." Ouch.

[12:20:01] BALZ: I mean the mocking of this idea was extraordinary yesterday, and particularly from Republicans, as well as Democrats.

BASH: Right.

BALZ: How this got raised, why this got raised, why anybody around the president thought this was a good idea or something that should be talked about publicly after the meeting is baffling I think to everybody. I mean -- I mean I think that Secretary Carter was correct. I mean the idea that we are going to go in partnership with the Russians on cyber security to protect the integrity of our elections is fanciful. And, you know, the president left his secretary of Treasury hung out to dry --

BASH: Right.

BALZ: Who had praised it on one of the Sunday shows, smartly moved away from it quickly. But I think, again, the damage is done. The damage that's left is this question of, is the president -- how naive is this president to even begin to talk about something like that?

BASH: Well, you mentioned that he left his Treasury secretary hung out to dry. Also his U.N. ambassador to -- U.S. ambassador to the U.N. I spoke with Nikki Haley on Sunday. Listen to what she said about it.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: From a cyber standpoint, we need to get together with Russia. We need to tell them, you know, what we think should happen, shouldn't happen. And if we talk to them about it, hopefully we can cut this out and get them to stop. It doesn't mean we ever take our eyes off of the ball.

BASH: Do you think that they can be trusted? HALEY: It doesn't mean we ever trust Russia. We can't trust Russia and

we won't ever trust Russia. But you keep those that you don't trust closer so that you can always keep an eye on them and keep them in check.


BASH: That was actually a pretty good point. Probably the best defense I've heard of it.

But, Margaret, with your perch covering the White House, is it your sense that this was kind of a Vladimir Putin idea, kind of a -- I mean that's what people who are experts on Russia are saying, classic, you know, Russian idea to propose working on something that is controversial between two nations?

TALEV: So this meeting between the president and Vladimir Putin was supposed to go for 30 minutes overseas in Hamburg on the sidelines of the G-20. And as we all know now, it went for two hours and 15 minutes. And the difference between what you can do in 30 minutes and what you can do in two hours and 15 minutes, is this. It's exactly this. And when you have a two and a half hour meeting with multiple staff who can talk about multiple things --

BASH: Yes.

TALEV: It's a different dynamic than what you have is a meeting where the only people who are there are the president, the secretary of state and two translators. No professional note takers, the national security advisers isn't there, the Russia director is not there. And so there's an enormous amount that we still don't know about precisely how that conversation went down. And that -- that we won't know once -- I mean these are -- it's a private meeting. But -- but that's what matters. And for -- for President Putin there's a lot to be gained from saying --


TALEV: Look, let's move forward. And cyber is something that affects all of us, because what an approach like that does is it puts us on an equal playing field. The U.S. is worried about this. Russia is worried about this. We're all worried about this. Where what's happening inside the U.S., from Congress, from members of the intelligence community, is a real concern that the U.S., whether it's in states or at the federal level, is extremely vulnerable to Russian penetration and that Russia needs to be on guard on notice that there will be major consequences if something like this happens again.

BASH: Exactly. And concern among, again, many of the president's fellow Republicans that he got played --

RAJU: Yes.

BASH: By Vladimir Putin. Listen to what Lindsey Graham said yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He understands the world pretty damn well, except for Russia. Mr. President, you're hurting your ability to govern this nation by forgiving and forgetting and empowering. The more he talks about this in terms of not being sure, the more he throws our intelligence communities under the bus, the more he's willing to forgive and forget Putin, the more suspicion and I think it's going to dog his presidency until he breaks this cycle.


BASH: You run those hallways and you talk to these guys every single day and you witness the fact that it's dogging this president.

RAJU: Yes, absolutely, because almost everyone in his party take as much harder line on Russia than the president of the United States does.


RAJU: Particularly not just someone like Lindsey Graham, which is probably one reason why the president felt like he had to back off this cyber security idea because the more that he kept this out there, the more it was undoubtedly going to get panned.

But it's interesting, going back to what -- the clips you were showing earlier of Nikki Haley, and you mentioned Steve Mnuchin, going out and touting this idea, defending this idea and the president later saying, no, forget about it, it just shows how much he continues to undercut his own surrogates when they're trying to defend controversial ideas or just completely contradict what they're saying.

Rex Tillerson came out -- out of that meeting last week and said they did discuss the issue of sanctions. Afterwards the president tweeted no sanctions were discussed. So it's really difficult for these officials not just to defend the president but, you know, to -- especially when he's taking these controversial stances.

[12:25:01] TALEV: Although I heard that sanctions issue to be one of imprecision. I read it, for the president, I -- what I took away was that the president was saying they didn't discuss the idea of relaxing sanctions in that -- but you're right --

RAJU: It would be helpful if he actually answered the question.

TALEV: The imprecision of the language creates this idea of a contradiction.

RAJU: Right.

BASH: And before we go to break, I will note that Vladimir Putin did a press conference to answer questions about what happened.

BALZ: Yes.


BASH: And the United States president did not. We'll leave it there.

Coming up, as the Senate returns to work today facing an Obamacare repeal and replace bill still in flux and new pressure from the president to get it passed before the August recess. Can Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell deliver a signature GOP campaign promise? Stay with us.


[12:29:39] BASH: Welcome back.

Republican senators who are boarding planes, trains and automobiles to return to Washington today woke up to read this tweet from President Trump. He said, "I cannot imagine that Congress would dare to leave Washington without a beautiful, new health care bill fully approved and ready to go." Presidential pressure and what could effectively be a new deadline in health care, the August congressional recess. But setting deadlines is dangerous business. Republican senators already missed their first target date for a vote on repealing and replacing Obamacare.