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Trump Jr: 'Happy to Work' with Senate Intel Committee; World Leaders Miss a Chance to Deter North Korean Leader Aired 5-6p ET
Aired July 10, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Clear evidence. The Senate intelligence vice chairman says the public now has clear evidence of senior level Trump campaign officials trying to collect damaging information from Russians. That comes as Donald Trump Jr. changes his story about a 2016 campaign meeting, now admitting that he met with a Russian lawyer hoping for information on Hillary Clinton.
[17:00:21] Impenetrable or not? After being mocked by Republican senators, President Trump changes his story about working with Russia to form a, quote, "impenetrable" cyber-security unit to guard against election hacking. The president dropped the idea as soon as he raised it.
False accusation. President Trump tweets that fired FBI Director James Comey leaked classified information. But Comey has made it clear the memo he sent to a friend about his talk with the president contained no classified information.
And no consequences? Despite a weekend show of force by U.S. warplanes, world leaders let Kim Jong-un's long-range missile test pass without any apparent consequences. Are they giving North Korea a green light?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news. The vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner, says the public now has clear evidence that senior members of the Trump campaign sought damaging information about Hillary Clinton from a possible foreign agent. That comes as Donald Trump Jr. has changed his story about a meeting during the campaign, admitting he met a Russian lawyer, hoping to collect information on Hillary Clinton. Also attending were then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
A source says the Senate Intelligence Committee will begin interviewing Trump campaign officials this week. Warner says he'd absolutely like to talk to Donald Trump Jr., who's tweeted that he would be, quote, "happy to work with the committee to pass on what I know," closed quote.
And the president -- president's plan to cooperate with Russia's President Putin on cyber-security has ended before it could begin. The president's top aides touted it and the president promoted it in a tweet against -- defense against election hacking, but key Republicans blasted the idea.
Senator Marco Rubio said working with Putin on a cyber-security unit is like partnering with Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, on chemical weapons union. And Senate -- Senator Lindsey Graham called it pretty close to the dumbest idea he had ever heard.
Soon after, in yet another tweet, the president quickly dropped the idea. I'll talk about that and more with Senator Chris Coons of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees and former defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta. They're standing by, as are our correspondents, specialists and guests, with full coverage of the day's top stories.
The Trump administration once more forced to try to explain a potentially very damaging revelation from the president's inner circle. Let's begin at the White House with our national correspondent, Jason Carroll.
Jason, update our viewers on the latest.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, critics of this administration say this points to a troubling pattern. Associates of Trump having meetings with Russians, then forgetting, then later remembering.
But the White House saying, look, there's no "there" there. At the bottom line, when it all comes down to it, there is still, they say, no evidence of collusion here.
CARROLL (voice-over): Tonight the White House is on the defensive regarding Russian meddling after a "New York Times" bombshell report revealed the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., met with a Russian attorney during the 2016 campaign who claimed to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I can certainly say Don Jr. did not collude with anybody to influence the election.
CARROLL: Trump Jr.'s account of the meeting is the first time someone closely associated with the president has acknowledged a willingness to have talks with a Russian in relation to the campaign.
Trump Jr.'s story about the meeting has shifted over time. He initially said he had not met with Russian officials during the campaign. Then he changed his story after the "New York Times" published a report Saturday, detailing the meeting Trump Jr. had with the Russian attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya.
In response, Donald Trump Jr. said the meeting was primarily about adoptions. Veselnitskaya has worked to lift Moscow's ban on the adoption of Russian children by Americans, a ban that was put in place in retaliation for U.S. sanctions against Russia over human rights.
But on Sunday, a follow-up report in "The New York Times" citing advisers to the White House revealed that the Russian lawyer had promised to deliver damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump Jr. now acknowledges that was the pretext for the meeting but insists, "Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information."
[17:05:14] Trump Jr. also asked advisor Jared Kushner and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to attend the meeting. Kushner, who did not initially disclose this meeting, or ones with the two other Russians, on his security clearance form, has now acknowledged them.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, SPECIAL COUNSEL TO DONALD TRUMP: Don Jr. has very specifically stated, he didn't even know the name of the person with whom he was meeting.
CARROLL: Today the White House is pushing back, stating there was no wrongdoing, as no damaging information about Clinton was ever revealed.
CONWAY: The meeting itself was very brief. There was no information given. There was no action taken. There was no follow-up. This was standard operating procedure for the campaign. Let's focus on what did not happen in that meeting. No information provided that was meaningful, no action taken, nothing.
CARROLL: The meeting was set up by Rob Goldstone, a publicist for a Russian pop star, Emin Agalarov, who worked with Trump on the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Come on. What's wrong with you?
CARROLL: Trump appeared in the music video for the young musician along with contestants in the 2013 pageant. And this photo was taken of Agalarov, the newly-crowned Miss Universe, and Trump after the pageant in November 2013.
While the meeting last June may not have proved fruitful for the Trump campaign, it is certainly raising fresh questions whether Trump associates actively tried to work with Russians to hurt Clinton's campaign.
REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D-CA), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: It raises suspicions. First, the Trump campaign benefits from a burglary. And then they have a meeting with someone who's almost an attorney for the burglars. We don't have proof of collusion, but we do have more smoke and more reason for investigation.
CARROLL: All this as the administration is facing questions over another meeting. The White House is seemingly reversing course on a proposed cyber-security initiative with Russia that the president had appeared to embrace, the U-turn coming after intense criticism from Republicans. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I am sure that Vladimir Putin could be
of enormous assistance in that effort, since he's doing the hacking.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: When it comes to Russia, I am dumbfounded. I am disappointed. And at the end of the day, he's hurting his presidency by not embracing the fact that Putin is a bad guy and he's doing it all over the world. It's not the dumbest idea I've ever heard, but it's pretty close.
CARROLL: And as for Trump Jr., he has hired a lawyer, a New York- based lawyer, to represent him going forward with the matter. That lawyer saying just this afternoon that he has not received any requests from any kind of government committee or agency goes forward.
But Trump Jr. for his part did tweet late this afternoon that he would be perfectly willing to sit down with any committee to, quote, pass on what he knows -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jason, thank you. Jason Carroll at the White House.
Let's go to Capitol Hill and our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju.
Manu, you're learning more information. Update our viewers.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. The Senate Intelligence Committee now does want to look into this meeting that Donald Jr. -- Donald Trump Jr. did set up last campaign season with that Russian lawyer and with Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, also attended.
The vice chairman of the committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he absolutely wants to talk to Donald Trump Jr. What he says is the first time the public has seen information suggesting that Trump officials were trying to get dirt from Russian officials about Hillary Clinton. Earlier, just moments ago I had a chance to talk to Mark Warner, who said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIR, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: This is the first time that the public has seen clear evidence of senior-level members of the Trump campaign meeting with Russians to try to obtain information that might hurt the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Now, it's also a continuing pattern that we've seen since the election of Trump campaign and Trump administration officials who have conveniently forgotten meetings with Russians. Only when they are then presented with evidence, they have to recant and acknowledge those kind of meetings.
RAJU: You want to speak to Don Jr.?
WARNER: Absolutely. Absolutely. (END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, Wolf, this comes as the Senate Intelligence Committee also is trying to move forward with interview Trump campaign officials this week. This is going to be the first time that the committee has moved into this new phase of this investigation. I'm told by a source familiar with the plans that the committee has interviewed roughly nearly 50 people so far but not Trump campaign officials.
Now, we have not gotten the names of who those officials will be interviewed this week. We're not expecting those big names like Jared Kushner, the president's soon-in-law; Paul Manafort; Carter Page, a former foreign policy advisor to come before the committee this week. But I tried to ask Mark Warner about that at this press conference earlier, and he would not say when they would come forward or if they would come forward in the August recess.
[17:10:14] And one other point, Wolf. Mark Warner saying that is the first time the public has seen information about Russian officials talking to the Trump officials about this campaign dirt, but he would not say if he saw that privately. He refused to say that, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it looks like there's good cooperation right now between the Republican and Democratic leadership of that Senate Intelligence Committee. Manu Raju, thanks very much.
Joining us now, Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. He's a member of both the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Thank you, Wolf. Always good to be with you.
BLITZER: Based on what you know, Senator, so far about this meeting involving Donald Trump Jr., would you go so far as to call this collusion?
COONS: Well, that's a legal conclusion, and I'll leave that to Bob Mueller, with the Senate Intelligence Committee to conclude. But I'll say this. It is clearly part of a disturbing pattern where senior members of the Trump administration. And I'll remind you, this includes Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former national security adviser Mike Flynn, and now the president's own son, his son-in-law and his campaign manager all conveniently forgot meetings with senior Russian officials, or in this case, a representative claiming to have hacked e-mails from Hillary Clinton, a Russian lawyer who was seeking to provide information to the Trump campaign.
In all of these cases, they were asked. They initially denied that such a meeting had happened or failed to disclose it. And then once presented with evidence, changed their course and said, "Oh, yes, that meeting did happen." That's very disturbing and is exactly the reason why we need to have an independent, ongoing investigation by Bob Mueller and the reason I'm encouraged that the Senate Intelligence Committee continues to pursue this investigation in a bipartisan manner.
BLITZER: What do you make of the changes Donald Trump Jr. made between the two statements he put out this weekend: one on Saturday, the next on on Sunday, going into considerably greater detail?
COONS: That's pretty striking. My understanding is that the "New York Times'" initial report led to a statement by Donald Trump Jr. When confronted with evidence showing that his first statement was not truthful or complete, he then changed that statement to say, yes, the reason for the meeting with the Russian attorney was to discuss possibly negative information about Hillary Clinton.
In an earlier quote on this show this evening, you showed Kellyanne Conway, saying, "Well, nothing happened. There wasn't any significant information exchange." And suggested that this was just standard operating procedure for campaigns.
Let me be clear: Campaigns do engage in opposition research. But this was a meeting with a representative, potentially, of a hostile foreign power. That's a very different sort of meeting. Donald Trump Jr.'s own statement as to why he was meeting with this Russian attorney and what he hoped to gain from that meeting leads in a very different direction.
BLITZER: Why are we just now finding out about this meeting?
COONS: Great question. My hunch is it's because there's good journalists on the beat who are digging into details, and there are sources that are coming forward that are providing more information now that they know there's ongoing investigations both by Senate committees and by Bob Mueller.
BLITZER: Jared Kushner did not disclose this meeting with the Russian leader on his initial security clearance form. Does that pose any conflicts for you as far as he's concerned, working in the West Wing advising the president?
COONS: It's just another in a series of troubling incidents that suggest that senior members of the Trump administration have not been fully truthful about their disclosures about meetings. The attorney general of the United States recused himself. This is partly why the former national security adviser was fired from this administration, and this is just the latest in a series of incidents now that all point in the same direction.
BLITZER: Even if the Russian lawyers didn't deliver the promised information, what issues does it potentially raise that this meeting took place at all?
COONS: Well, Wolf, the fact that this meeting took place in Trump Tower, including Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort; his son-in-law, now a senior White House official; and his son, and that they were seeking information, allegedly compromising information on Hillary Clinton from a Russian source suggests that folks with those senior positions in the Trump campaign were routinely seeking such information. And it is just one indication, as Senator Warner said, the first public indication that meetings of this sort may have happened not just this once time in Trump Tower but in other times in other places.
BLITZER: But you don't know that.
COONS: I don't know that.
BLITZER: You're just speculating, right?
COONS: I am just speculating this point, that's right.
BLITZER: All right. President Trump on Sunday tweeted this, and I'll read it to you. Quote, "I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I've already given my opinion."
[17:15:09] Shouldn't President Trump have gone further to deny the Kremlin's statement that he, quote, "accepts" Putin's denial of election meddling?
COONS: Absolutely. President Trump, former candidate Trump has a long pattern of not standing up to President Putin, his intrusion into our 2016 campaign, his violation of human rights, his intrusion and interference in Ukraine and Syria.
I'm struck that, at this G-20 meeting, he claims he did everything he could have done, that he stepped up forcefully to challenge Vladimir Putin. It would have been far more forceful had the bill that was passed here in the Senate by 98-2 that imposes new sanctions on Russia to punish them for their interference in our 2016 election, had instead been signed into law and presented to Vladimir Putin as the first real punishment, real consequence by this Trump administration for Vladimir Putin's interference in our election. That would have been a far more decisive confrontation with Putin. Instead, they merely had an exchange of words in which each agreed that the other was wrong.
BLITZER: It took Mr. Trump less than a day -- I think specifically 13 hours or so to backtrack on the idea of a joint session cyber-security unit. Why do you think that proposal was appropriate to begin with?
COONS: I have no idea, Wolf, why the president of the United States would suggest a joint cyber-security initiative with Vladimir Putin, the leader of a country that is our most capable, most aggressive cyber adversary. This was a terrible idea, and I'm -- I'll simply say that I was encouraged the president abandoned it almost as quickly as he presented it.
BLITZER: You certainly did. All right. Thanks very much, Senator Chris Coons, for joining us.
COONS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Up next, a powerful senator says the public now has, quote, "clear evidence" that senior members of the Trump campaign sought to collect damaging information on Hillary Clinton from a Russian. I'll talk about that and more with the former CIA director, the former defense secretary, Leon Panetta. There you see him. He's standing by live.
17:21:30] BLITZER: All right. Breaking news, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner, has just said the American public now has, quote, "clear evidence," his words, that senior members of the Trump campaign sought damaging information about Hillary Clinton from a possible foreign agent.
That comes as Donald Trump Jr. has changed his story about a meeting during the campaign, admitting he hoped to collect information on Hillary Clinton from a Russian lawyer.
Joining us now, the former CIA director, the former defense secretary Leon Panetta.
Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us.
LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR/FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Nice to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Do you believe, Mr. Secretary, that any part of this meeting was potentially what they call a collusion?
PANETTA: Obviously, that's -- that is a legal issue that I'm sure the special prosecutor will look at in the course of his investigation.
But I think the reality is that this meeting took place, and the fact that the meeting took place and it took place in June in Trump Tower with people who were high up in the Trump campaign, including his son- in-law and his son, what it does is it raises the mere fact that a meeting took place in which there was a willingness to listen to possible evidence from a foreign agent that could relate to the campaign?
I think the mere fact that that meeting took place, regardless of just exactly how much was presented or how valid the information was, the fact that that meeting took place raises serious implications about the possibility that this campaign did, in fact, try to work with the Russians with regards to trying to undercut Hillary Clinton's campaign.
BLITZER: But as far as meetings, this is one meeting. Do you have any other evidence that there were other similar meetings where they were meeting with Russian agents to try to get dirt or negative information about Hillary Clinton?
PANETTA: You know, Wolf, what you have here is a pattern that has taken place, beginning with this meeting way back in June. But since then, there were a number of other meetings between the campaign and various Russians. All of that obviously is going to be looked at by the special prosecutor. All of it will be looked at to determine whether, in fact, there was deliberate collusion here. But I think what we're seeing is obviously two things. One, there's a
dangerous pattern that developed during that campaign. Two, there's been a withholding of information from the American people about the fact that these meetings did take place. And thirdly, there has been a clear implication that we were willing to work with possibly foreign agents here, which is a violation of federal election law, to get information that could be used in a political campaign in this country. All of those issues have to be looked at by the special prosecutor and by the committees on Capitol Hill.
But there's no question that there is -- there is, I think, a growing indication that something serious took place here.
BLITZER: You said there's a dangerous pattern that has emerged from this new information. I want you to listen to what another former CIA director, John Brennan, who served during the Obama administration, said in May. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I've studied Russian activities over the years and have seen it, again, manifest in many different counterintelligence cases and how they have been able to get people, including inside of CIA, to become treasonous; and frequently victims who go along that treasonous path do not even realize they're along that path until it gets to be a bit too late.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you agree with the former director's assessment?
PANETTA: Look, absolutely. This is -- this is a foreign adversary. You know, we have to stop kidding ourselves. Russia is an adversary. And for a large number of years, as far as I can remember, and including the time I spent in the CIA and at the Defense Department, the reality is that the Russians were engaged in activities to try to undermine the stability of the United States, including placing agents in our country, including cyber efforts, including efforts to basically undermine whatever policies we were trying to implement. They have been deliberately engaged in an effort to destabilize this country.
And for that reason, I think it is incredibly important that we understand that we have to find out, what did the Russians do here and how do we stop it from happening in the future?
BLITZER: So am I hearing you correctly, you believe there potentially could have been a -- and he used the word, Brennan, a treasonous path here?
PANETTA: Well, what we have here is an effort by a foreign adversary to conduct operations against the United States of America. And it's something that we witnessed time and time and time again.
Unfortunately, we never saw what the Russians would do in terms of directly interfering with our election process. What has happened here is that they've taken it to a whole new step of trying to undermine the democratic institutions of the United States of America. This is dangerous. It's dangerous, we have to recognize it for what it is, and we've got to take action to make sure it does not happen again.
BLITZER: Would this Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, have been under some sort of American surveillance?
PANETTA: It would strike me -- I would certainly not be surprised by the fact that we would keep track of those in this country that represent Russia or that have Russian connections, that we would keep track of their activities because, as Director Brennan pointed out and as I've pointed out, the Russians are continually engaged in efforts to undermine our country.
BLITZER: Would any intelligence agencies, U.S. intelligence agencies, Mr. Secretary, have information that could verify what was actually said during the course of that meeting?
PANETTA: I don't think there's any question that Bob Mueller and perhaps the committees, the Intelligence Committees that are conducting their investigation, will determine whether or not that information is available.
The fact is that we have a very good process in this country, or we certainly have had, in terms of our intelligence agencies and in terms of our law enforcement agencies, to be able to track those individuals that could create problems related to our security in this country.
BLITZER: Stuart Stevens, a Republican consultant, political who worked on the 2000 Bush campaign. He tweeted this, quote, "When Gore campaign was sent Bush debate brief book, they called FBI. If foreign interests offer you info on former SOS" -- secretary of state -- "you call the FBI."
Do you agree that Donald Trump Jr. Or Jared Kushner should have notified the FBI about this meeting?
PANETTA: Well, I don't think there's my question that they should have notified the FBI. When you're in a campaign, a political campaign, and then you're told that somebody who's a Russian agent wants to provide you information regarding that campaign, the bells should have gone off. There's no question that somebody should have said, "Wait a minute, wait a minute. We shouldn't do this kind of meeting because of the implications involved."
Nobody seemed to do that. Nobody raised those questions. And that's why the mere fact that this meeting took place creates evidence that there was a willingness to listen to that kind of information coming from a foreign agent.
BLITZER: Sunday morning President Trump tweeted this -- I'll put it up on the screen -- "Putin and I discussed forming an impenetrable cyber-security unit so that a number of things will be guarded."
By the early evening, 13 hours later, he revised that 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 ceasefire can and did."
What's your reaction to the president's initial proposal to work with the Russia [SIC] on cyber-security, including election security, and that very quick reversal?
PANETTA: Wolf, I'm absolutely astounded by the fact that the president would indicate that somehow we were going to establish some kind of cyber-security partnership with the Russians. That's -- that just is an astounding assertion.
And somebody in the White House, whether it was the national security adviser, whether it's the head of his intelligence agencies, somebody needed to stand up and say, "Mr. President, this cannot be done. This cannot be done."
The Russians are engaged in cyber activities, trying to penetrate the United States of America. We've seen evidence of that. We certainly saw it during the election. And for the United States and Russia to suddenly sit down and exchange that kind of information is virtually opening up our security protection in this country, opening that up to the Russians. That would mean we are giving an adversary, a formidable enemy adversary, access to our most secret information. That's crazy.
BLITZER: This morning the president tweeted this, and I'll put it up on the screen, as well. "James Comey" -- the former FBI director -- "leaked classified information to the media. That is so illegal."
We know that isn't true, that Comey gave a memo of a conversation he had with the president to a friend of his, a law professor in New York, who then gave it to "The New York Times," but Comey testified under oath that the memo he gave that law professor did not contain any classified information. There may have been classified information in other memoranda that he had, but he never provided that indirectly to the news media through that friend.
So why do you think the president is trying to slander his former FBI director, accusing him -- accusing him of a crime, of a felony by leaking classified information?
PANETTA: Well, you know, I think what we're seeing an awful lot of, Wolf, in the course of these investigations is an effort, every time something breaks that is damaging to the White House, there's an immediate effort to try to divert attention and try to create some other news, particularly with the president using his tweeting capability. And I think that's what's involved here.
I mean, the reality is the director of the FBI has a pretty good sense of what is classified and what is not classified. And there's no question that, if James Comey said there was no classified material there that there's a pretty good bet that that's the case.
But ultimately this, too, will be determined by the special prosecutor and by the committees that are investigating this matter. BLITZER: Yes, indeed they will. Leon Panetta, as usual, thanks for
PANETTA: Thank you. Nice to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Coming up, U.S. bombers take part in a show of force off North Korea. Will it slow down Kim Jong-un's quest to develop missiles that could hit the U.S. with nuclear weapons?
[17:38:43] BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the Russian election meddling investigation. The Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman, Mark Warner, now says that -- he's told reporters, in fact-- that the committee absolutely wants to question President Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr.
Warner says the new reports about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer are the first time the public has seen what he's now calling "clear evidence" -- his words, "clear evidence" -- of senior- level officials of the Trump campaign meeting with Russians to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.
Let's bring in our specialists. And Mark Preston, what new questions does this meeting raise about what we call possible collusion?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, it's like literally a box that's this big, maybe this big, perhaps this big of questions that still need to be answered because of this new revelation.
But the first and foremost for me, anyway, is we were told that Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner did not know who they were meeting with. I find that very hard to believe that, especially at that point in the campaign, given what was going on at the time. The convention was a couple weeks away. Paul Manafort oversaw the convention. As we all remember, it was kind of -- I don't want to say it was in shambles, but it was a work in progress. I can't imagine he would take a meeting without knowing it.
Secondly is why do we keep on seeing, not only from Donald Trump Jr. with his story here, but also other former aides, General Flynn and Jeff Sessions, as well, the attorney general. Why do they keep changing their stories? Their stories keep changing. It's like an evolution of what they say on Monday. By Tuesday and Wednesday, it changes.
[17:40: 17] BLITZER: Well, we know that, Jackie, there was a change in the statement from Donald Trump Jr. from Saturday to Sunday.
Saturday he said this meeting was strictly about an adoption issue allowing Russian kids to be adopted by Americans, which would have been -- which the Russians put on hold because of U.S. sanctions on human rights issues. Sunday a new statement came out from Donald Trump Jr. that they had
this meeting with this person, because this person might have information helpful to the campaign. There was a very quick change in the narrative based on one "New York Times" story on Saturday and a different one on Sunday.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And it's different from what he said a few months ago where he said that he didn't know; he didn't remember if he had any meetings. Sure, maybe but...
Yes, you're absolutely right. What Donald Trump Jr. said, as he was asked a different set of questions, and so we gave them more information. But this is a pattern, as Mark said, the -- from Trump officials coming out and saying, "Oh, right," when they get caught, basically, meeting with various Russians. No one's memory is that bad at this point.
And you have to wonder, if they had put all of this out there, the first time they were asked, what would we be talking about right now? It's this drip, drip, drip that makes it look suspicious that piques the interest of these congressional committees that, no doubt, have more answers than even we have about these interactions.
BLITZER: Let me get to Phil in a moment, but it is plausible, the White House deputy press secretary saying today that the president, only in the last couple -- three days learned about this meeting, a meeting involving his eldest son, his son-in-law and his campaign manager?
PRESTON: Look, anything is possible, and I think we have to give Sarah Huckabee Sanders the benefit of the doubt. I mean, if she says that he didn't know about it, who are we to say until we learn otherwise?
I would, though, hesitate and say this. I would be shocked, given how close Donald Trump is with his kids, that this wasn't mentioned some point. But again, we don't know if it was or wasn't.
BLITZER: What do you think, Jackie?
KUCINICH: I agree with Mark. Again, he also had his campaign manager there at a time where they were talking all the time. It's just -- it is hard to see how a principal wouldn't know about this, even sort of as a flippant...
PRESTON: In passing.
KUCINICH: ... in passing.
KUCINICH: But again, we don't have that information yet.
BLITZER: You know, Phil, on the same day that that meeting took place at Trump Tower in New York City in June of last year, then-candidate Donald Trump wrote in a tweet, directed at Hillary Clinton, and he said, quote, "Where are your 33,000 e-mails that you deleted?" How significant is that to the timing of all of this?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think when you're looking at this, to go back to the time period and look at the timing, Wolf, I'm with the crowd that's talking about whether Donald Trump knew about this. Clearly, the question is whether he knew about this at that time.
It is hard for me to believe that, in that environment, when we already had beginning concerns about what Russia was doing in the election and about fake news on the Internet, that somebody walks in and says -- in this case his son -- and says, "Hey, Mr. Manafort, I don't know this lady's name, but somebody told me to meet her. In the midst of you designing the campaign, I want you to walk in with Jared and talk about adoptions." Are you kidding me?
And meanwhile, as you're saying, the president is trying to divert in another direction and say, "You've got to focus what's going on with this other investigation," the Hillary Clinton e-mails.
I think there might be something to the timing, and that's clearly something the FBI is going to be looking at.
BLITZER: Jackie, listen to how the president addressed this question in February of this year, after he became president. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I told you, General Flynn, obviously, was dealing, so that's one person. But was dealing, as he should have been...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: During the election?
TRUMP: No, nobody that I know of.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you're not aware of any contacts during the course of the election?
TRUMP: How many times do I have to answer this question?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you just say yes or no on it?
TRUMP: Russia is a ruse.
BLITZER: "Russia is a ruse." He said, "Not that I know of." No one during the campaign, as opposed to during the transition or after he became president. During the campaign, he said, "Nobody that I know of was talking to the Russians."
KUCINICH: Well, a lot of people he knew actually were. Then that is -- that is the problem here, because this keeps getting closer and closer. Paul Manafort is close. Jeff Sessions was close. Jared Kushner, even closer. Donald Trump Jr., probably the closest at this point.
So again, we don't have any proof that he knew. He says he did not. But it certainly -- there's a lot of smoke here.
BLITZER: Phil, do you think this lawyer, this woman, Natalia Veselnitskaya, would have been under some sort of U.S. surveillance?
MUDD: I doubt it, unless she had some direct connectivity to somebody the FBI or the CIA was interested in. I don't think that's the core question, though, Wolf.
If you look at the amount of information the bureau can gather about her trip, not only who she met but who scheduled those meetings, whether in their phones, they ever had an e-mail or a text from her, whether they had her e-mail address or her phone number, whether they ever made a reference to her in an e-mail beforehand that suggested they did actually know who she was, whether they ever mentioned this to another individual before or after the meeting.
There's a thousand ways that they might have tripped up whatever that is 11-months ago, 12-months ago, after this meeting to suggest today that they actually did know what she was in to talk about and that the meeting was more significant than they're saying. And you don't necessarily have to have surveillance on her to figure that out.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, everybody stand by. There is a lot more coming up on this, our top story. President Trump's son now confirming he met with a Russian attorney who promised to pass on damaging information about Hilary Clinton and the Democrats.
Also coming up, U.S. bombers take part in a show of force over the Korean Peninsula, but will the lack of action at the G-20 Summit give Kim Jung-on a green light to keep launching ballistic missiles?
[17:50:42] BLITZER: In the wake of North Korea's long-range missile test, the United States has flexed its muscles, sending nuclear capable bombers on a fly-by near the dividing line between North and South Korea, but there's been no show of force by world leaders.
Brian Todd has been looking into that for us. Brian, what's the message for Kim Jong-un?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The message to Kim, Wolf, is that he can likely keep behaving dangerously. Tonight, we're told the Trump team tried but failed to get the G-20 leaders to put more pressure on Kim Jong-un following his long-range missile test. So the threat from the North Korean leader remains very strong despite a recent show of force over the peninsula by U.S. and its allies.
TODD (voice-over): Impressive firepower over the Korean Peninsula. American B-1 Lancer bombers, combining mock speed with a heavy payload, fly alongside South Korean and U.S. fighter jets. A show of force to counter North Korea's recent successful test firing of an inter-continental ballistic missile.
But tonight, it appears Kim Jong-un is undaunted, with nothing standing in the way of his nuclear and missile buildup. At the G-20 Summit, just days after that missile launch, this was about the strongest statement any leader uttered about North Korea.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a problem that something has to be done about.
TODD (voice-over): At this gathering of the world's most powerful leaders, no statement from the larger group condemning North Korea's missile launch. An administration official says a U.S. attempt at that type of statement failed. There were no announced punishments or a plan of action, an opportunity missed to pressure the young dictator.
TONY BLINKEN, FORMER DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: That would have been good to see, a united international community taking a strong stand against what North Korea is doing in perfecting its missile and nuclear programs, and we didn't really hear that. And that sends a message perhaps to North Korea that the international community is not as united as it should be in dealing with this problem.
TODD (voice-over): At the Summit, President Trump thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping for working with him to address North Korea. But analysts say to expect China to really pressure Kim to dial back his missiles is a pipe dream.
HARRY KAZIANIS, DIRECTOR OF DEFENSE STUDIES, CENTER FOR THE NATIONAL INTEREST: There is no way in God's green earth that the Chinese were going to do anything on North Korea at the G-20, and the reasons are very clear. The Chinese are basically scared of the North Koreans. If that country were to ever collapse, if they were ever to push too hard, the Chinese would be the ones who'd be holding the bag. They'd have millions of refugees that would be streaming across their border.
TODD (voice-over): And America's last line of defense may not be causing Kim much concern. Critics say the THAAD missile defense battery being tested and the long-range missile intercepters tested in recent weeks are improving but not enough.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Despite an investment of over $40 billion in this system, it has at best a limited capability to defend against a very small number of unsophisticated ICBM missiles.
TODD (voice-over): Imperfect American missile defenses, no tangible action from the world's top leaders, tonight sending a dangerous signal to a dangerous man.
If you're Kim Jong-un coming out of G-20, what are you thinking?
KAZIANIS: Well, if I'm Kim Jung-un, I'm thinking keep testing missiles. I'm going to think, maybe it's time -- if I have a hydrogen bomb, maybe it's time to test that. (END VIDEOTAPE)
TODD: Now, the White House is pushing back tonight on the idea that they did nothing to pressure North Korea at the G-20 Summit. An administration official told me, the Trump team tried to get language into the final communique at the Summit condemning North Korea, calling attention to the threat and urging more joint action against North Korea. But the official says China and Russia refused to sign onto that communique, Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting. Brian, U.S. officials, they're still scrambling right now to learn more about that last North Korean missile launch that occurred on, what, July 4th?
TODD: That's right, Wolf. Two U.S. defense officials telling our Barbara Starr there is an intense analysis of that missile test going on right now. U.S. intelligence is trying to assess to what extent that any parts of that missile reentered the atmosphere intact.
It is not clear right now whether the North Koreans can have that front stage of the missile which could carry that warhead successfully reenter the atmosphere without burning up and steer to a particular target. They are getting there, though. They could be close.
BLITZER: All right. Very worrisome information from Brian Todd. Thanks very much.
[17:54:53] Coming up, the breaking news we're following. The Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman now says the American public has clear evidence that senior Trump campaign officials tried to collect damaging information from Russians. That comes as Donald Trump, Jr. now admits he met with a Russian lawyer, hoping for information on Hillary Clinton.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Clear Russian contacts. A top Senator says investigators have urgent questions for the President's son after Donald Trump, Jr. admits he met with a Russian lawyer expecting to get damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Tonight, new questions about collusion and what the President may have known.
[18:00:00] Weakening sanctions? Did the Trump administration secretly try to water down legislation that would slap new sanctions on Russia and the Putin regime? We're going to tell you what we're learning this hour.