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Interview With California Congressman Eric Swalwell; Bombshell E-Mail Drops in Trump-Russia Probe. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 11, 2017 - 16:30   ET



REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: So, right now, again, if this was the only meeting with the Russians, if this was the only contact, then you could say it was an outlier.

But when you take into account what Roger Stone was doing, what Paul Manafort's relationships were, what Carter Page -- he traveled over to Russia just a few weeks later.

When you put all this into context, there are a lot of questions about whether these ties converged with Russia's attempt to influence the election.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: This attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, do you have any information that she actually does work for the Russian government, as was billed in those e-mails?

The Russian government says they don't know her.


Again, well, first, Jake, I can't go into what we know or don't know about her, but I wouldn't take what the Russian government says at face value.

TAPPER: No, I don't, which is why I'm asking you.

SWALWELL: Yes, no, I don't think you do. I know.

TAPPER: Let me ask you. Senator Tim Kaine, who was also Hillary Clinton's running mate, said today that Donald Trump Jr.'s actions could potentially, potentially be treasonous.

Doesn't that go a little far?

SWALWELL: I call it a betrayal of our country to even take the meeting.

It's fair in politics, I guess, to what to get information on your opponent. I like to think that our campaigns should be about battles of ideas. But to take a meeting with a foreign adversary and to have the premise of the meeting be that they're going to provide damaging information, again, that, I think, crosses the line, and that shows a willingness to cheat to help your campaign. And I think, to most people, most regular folks, that's out of bounds.

TAPPER: The White House says the president just found out about this meeting just a few days ago.

Do you think it's possible that -- oh, wait. I'm sorry, Congressman.

We have to go to the ranking Democrat on your committee and listen in to Democrat Adam Schiff.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: In the summer of last year, the Russians were in possession of information they believed would be damaging to Secretary Clinton and helpful to the Trump campaign.

Some of this information, they stole from the computers at the DNC and elsewhere. In June, we now know, through intermediaries, the Russian government sought to approach the Trump campaign to see whether they would be interested in damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

In late July, the president, quite out in the open, then candidate Trump, urged the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton's e-mails and said that they would be richly rewarded.

During the course of our investigation, one of the questions we have sought to answer is, was there private activity by the campaign in parallel with the very public request that now President Trump, then candidate Trump, made for the Russians to hack and release Hillary Clinton information?

Because we now know that the response that the president's son gave to the Russians was that he would love it if they would provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Rather than report this overture by the Russian government to provide damaging information to intervene in the presidential election in a way to help his father, neither the president's son nor the campaign reported this information to the FBI.

When it became obvious that the e-mails were being dumped, when it became obvious this was being done by the Russian government, when our own intelligence community issued a statement in October affirming that this was being done by the Russians, did the Trump campaign then disclose that, in fact, they had received an overture to receive damaging information?

The answer is, of course, no, they didn't.

So, this is obviously very significant, deeply disturbing new public information about direct contacts between the Russian government and its intermediaries and the very center of the Trump family, campaign, and organization.

Obviously, we need to get to the bottom of exactly what happened, what was said in that meeting, any of the information that went into organizing that meeting, as well as if that meeting was just the beginning, or that was a testing of the waters by the Russians to see whether the campaign would be receptive to their engagement and involvement in the presidential election.

So, this is, I think, a very key development. And in terms of what the public is aware of, our work continues. We are interviewing new witnesses each week, sometimes more than one each week. We will be doing that until we get to the bottom of not only these additional facts, but all the others that we are exploring.

And with that, I would be happy to respond to your questions.




RAJU: ... you mentioned that this seems to have been directed by the Russian government. Have you seen any evidence to say that this Russian lawyer was in fact directed by the Kremlin to meet with the Trump campaign? And, secondly, have you seen any evidence of other meetings that may have occurred with Trump associates and Russia beyond this one?

SCHIFF: I can't go beyond the four corners of what's already in the public domain, but I think that the e-mails themselves, which have now been verified by the Trump campaign itself, by the president's son himself make very clear that government officials within the Russian government had information they thought was damaging to Secretary Clinton that they wanted to share with the campaign.

And they made arrangements to provide a channel to do that, and this Russian advocate was that channel. Now, obviously, one of the things that we need to investigate was -- is, did this just begin the conversation? Did she report that information, the receptivity to getting that information, back to Moscow?

Did Mr. Goldstone report back to the family that had approached him to say, they would love to get this, and, in fact, they would not only love to get it, they would love to get it late in the summer?

And, of course, it was late in the summer that the stolen e-mails began to be published. So, these are the kinds of questions that need to be answered. But here I think you have quite direct evidence that the Russian government had damaging information, communicated that to the campaign.

And all of the campaign denials of whether we know this was going on, or whether the Russians had any involvement, whether the Russians wanted to help his campaign, obviously now have to be viewed in a completely different context.

QUESTION: Were you aware of this meeting?

QUESTION: Has the committee been in touch with Trump Jr. or his lawyer yet, and do you plan to request documents from him?

SCHIFF: We will certainly want to have him come before the committee. I don't want to discuss any communications we are having with witnesses. They're free to disclose them themselves.

We will certainly want him to come in. We will want everyone connected with this meeting to come in. We will want any documents that they may have.

Plainly, as we saw the constantly evolving stories from the president's son, we cannot rely on any public representations that are made by the family about their contacts with the Russians.

We have now seen a very demonstrable pattern of obfuscation and dissembling about these meetings, originating with denials, we never had the meetings, then forced acknowledgement once the meetings were disclosed, and then a shifting explanation about what the meetings were about.

In this case, the claim was this was about adoptions. And then it was, well, it was we brought the campaign manager.

It's significant to me that they invited the manager of the campaign. If this was not a campaign meeting, as they originally said, what was Paul Manafort doing there?

But, of course, the reason the Russians were approaching them was precisely because he was the apparent nominee at that point. So, we're going to want to hear from everyone connected to this. We're also going to want to see, as referenced in that e-mail, whether the president's assistant received any communication from the Russians as well. That was another channel that was alluded to in those e-mails.

QUESTION: Congressman, do you believe that this Russian lawyer was a test, was a dangle put out by the Russians to see how the Trump administration -- or campaign would engage?

SCHIFF: It certainly appears that way, that this is, you know, very much consistent with the Russian practices, with their -- essentially their operating procedures, where they will use civilians. They will use often oligarchs. They will use others.

They will look for relationships. And here, the e-mails, I think, made quite clear that the Russian government had possession of damaging information. They thought the way to get that to the Trump campaign, to test whether Donald Trump wanted this information, was to go through people he had done business with.

And, indeed, this is a modality the Russians use elsewhere. So, who they had done business with? Well, they had don business with a gentleman that is known as the Russian Donald Trump, who had worked on the Miss Universe Pageant, who had business discussions with the president over having a Trump Tower in Russia.

So, they go to this oligarch. They go to the son, who knows the son of the now president. They find out, yes, there is a deep interest in this. And then they dispatch this advocate for the Kremlin.

Now, why would they choose her? They might choose her because she gives them some deniability, as opposed to someone who has a more direct connection to the government.

Obviously, this is something that we need to determine, but it would be consistent with Russian tradecraft to do exactly this.


QUESTION: Congressman...


QUESTION: Some of your colleagues are beginning to use the word treason.

Even if you don't want to go that far or draw any conclusions yet, do you see possible violations of criminal law here? Or is this just a breach of norms and etiquette governing (OFF-MIKE)

SCHIFF: Well, it is absolutely not only a breach of norms, but a breach of civic responsibility to the country.

If you get approached by a foreign government offering to interfere in a presidential election, you go to the FBI. You report it. That's what a decent citizen would do.

And I don't want to see us continue to lower the bar here and say the only question is whether this is illegal. This was unethical. It was, I think, in violation of the oaths of citizenship to willingly solicit, receive, encourage foreign intervention in our election.

So this is a very serious business, whether criminal laws were violated or not. There are a number of criminal laws that are implicated here. And we see, again, kind of a shifting defense from the Trump administration, first, that there is no collusion. Then there is, OK, if there is collusion, collusion is not against the law.

The reality is, conspiracy is against the law. And collusion is one form of conspiring. If there was an effort to conspire to violate our election laws, to essentially get an in-kind contribution of opposition research against their opponent, if there was any kind of quid pro quo, one of the messages that this Russian advocate may have taken back to Moscow is the Trump administration would be very amenable to repealing the Magnitsky Act.

That is a piece of sanctions legislation that goes after Russians who are violating people's human rights. So, was that a quid pro quo? Was it simply further encouragement for the Russians to intervene? Certainly, they were getting all the right signals. They were getting the signals from the president then quite openly and overtly.

They were getting signals from the president's son in a covert fashion. And, of course, all of the allusions to this is highly sensitive, and what's the best way to get you this information, you know, does have an echo of those allegations of Mr. Kushner wanting to set up a secret back-channel.

Again, what I think is notable here is the pattern. These aren't a series of meetings, events, denials, obfuscations regarding China or regarding Canada or regarding Britain or regarding France. They all come back to Russia.

And, of course, the profound question is, why? And that's the question that we need to answer.

I have time for one last question.

QUESTION: Congressman?


QUESTION: Could you give please us an update on the sanctions bill and give us an idea as to whether these events today will affect the path of that bill at all? So, just bring us up to date.


Well, we stand ready, I think, on a very bipartisan basis to pass the Senate bill overwhelmingly. I have no doubt, if that came up for a vote tomorrow, it would pass overwhelmingly.

Certainly, these events, I think, give added urgency to doing exactly that. And I think it's very important to understand, in the context of that sanctions legislation, what is so disturbing and what is so concerning about these new public revelations and why Congress has to get to the bottom of it, the most serious risk to the country, I think, is that the Russians possess compromising information, what they call kompromat, that can influence this president's conduct of American policy.

The Russians know about this meeting. They were behind organizing the meeting. If there are other meetings that the Russians know about, if there are other interactions with the Trump campaign that the Russians are aware of, that's something they can hold over the head of the president of the United States.

And the American people need to know that our president is acting on their behalf, and not acting because he has a fear that the Russians could disclose things that would harm him or his family.

So, I think it's an obligation for the Congress to get to the bottom of this and make sure that the president's policy, whether it's in Syria or Ukraine or vis-a-vis NATO or anything else, is only influenced by what's in the best interests of the country, and not because the Russians are in possession of any material they fear would become public.

Thank you.

TAPPER: All right, that was Congressman Adam Schiff. He's the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. He represents a California district. He says the information in these Donald Trump Jr. e-mails is -- quote

-- "deeply disturbing." He said the Intelligence Committee will want to speak to everyone involved in that meeting with that Russian lawyer.

My political panel is here with me now to dissect this. Amanda Carpenter, let me start with you. One of the things that was very interesting is, he said, even if - he suggested, I should say, that even if that meeting did not prove to be bountiful in terms of the research and damaging information about Hillary Clinton that had been promised to Donald Trump Jr. that perhaps it was a trial run by the Russian government to see how interested the Trump campaign might be and, indeed, they seemed quite interested.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That e-mail is problematic alone, but it is more problematic when you look at what happened after the e-mail. July 22nd, Russians dumped e-mails through WikiLeaks. July 25th, Donald Trump stood before cameras in Florida and said Russia, if you have more e-mails in Hillary, I'd like to see them. Donald Trump used the WikiLeaks e-mail that the Russians dumps to them as a major part of his closing argument in October. After he was elected, his National Security Adviser had secret talks with the Russians about sanctions that he lied about that led to his resignation. As President, Donald Trump invited the Russians in the Oval Office for a meeting where he bragged about firing the FBI Director, that nut job that led to relieve pressure from the investigation. So there is a series of events that make that e-mail look very problematic. But the most problematic to date that I have seen to date is that the President refuses to acknowledge or agree with the assessment of the Intelligence Community represented by the FBI, NSA, CIA, ODNI that the Russians meddled in the election. And more so, he has taken no action to prevent that from happening in the future. That is the smoking gun right there. Everything else in the run up to it just makes it look worse.

TAPPER: Congressman Kingston, let me ask you. What do you make of this e-mail chain? It does look very damning in terms of the willingness of Donald Trump Jr. to meet with somebody billed as being with the Russian government, being billed as having information from the Russian government that was damaging to Hillary Clinton.

JACK KINGSTON, FORMER UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE AND CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, let me say this. Everybody knew there were stories about Hillary Clinton and the Russian government, whether it was Podesta serving on a board of a Russian company while advising her in the State Department, whether it was the Clinton Foundation in the uranium swapping or whatever went on there. Everybody knew that stuff like this was going on. In Wikipedia that did not come out because of Trump -

TAPPER: WikiLeaks.

KINGSTON: WikiLeaks, excuse me. But, you know, let's say what we're hearing from the Democrats is a violation of treason. There's no treason there. I mean, I haven't seen anybody can make a credible case for that. TAPPER: What do you think about the e-mails?

KINGSTON: Well, you know, the e-mails would bother me, understand that. But however, if somebody comes up to me and they did repeatedly - I was on the ballot 15 times - people would always come up to you and say, I have something on your opponent. That is as routine as answering the phone in an election. And I will say this, most of the time nothing comes of it. You listen because, OK, if Hillary Clinton was involved in criminal activities, I want to know about it, it might do me some good. If somebody said that to you, then you would pick up the phone and call the FBI. Adam Schiff is saying, they should call the FBI because somebody said that? That's ridiculous. What about -

TAPPER: The people that have promised (INAUDIBLE) from Europe, from Georgia, United States, not Georgia in Europe.

KINGSTON: But the reality is that there was nothing to this meeting. If they said, listen, here's what we talked -

TAPPER: How do you know that?

KINGSTON: - and he said - how do you know there was anything at all? Somebody's talking about -

TAPPER: I don't.

KINGSTON: - the crown prosecutor when there's no such thing in Russia? But then, you know, if we're going to do this, what about the Ukrainian government and Alexandra Chalupa, who was a Clinton aide -

TAPPER: She wasn't a Clinton aide. She was a Consultant to the Democratic National Committee.

KINGSTON: Well, OK, but she was a Liaison - she was a Liaison with the Ukrainian government given the information Donald Trump and Paul Manafort.

TAPPER: Hillary lost.

KINGSTON: It doesn't - it doesn't matter if we're talking about -

TAPPER: It does - it does matter because the Chalupa thing is nothing like this.

KINGSTON: But if we're talking about U.S. Code 531 which is what they're saying that they talking and got something of value -

TAPPER: Ukrainians offering information about what Paul Manafort did in Ukraine is not the same as this.

KINGSTON: It is the same thing.

TAPPER: Anyway, Jen, your response to the e-mails today.

JENNIFER PSAKI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, I think the most striking piece to me was what he knew about going into the meeting. We don't know a lot about what happened in the meeting, we heard different reports, but the fact he knew going into the meeting that they were going to produce information or he expected information that would be harmful to his political opponent, he invited the campaign manager and his brother-in-law. Whether or not Donald Trump knew about it, I know they said he didn't, how could he not have if three of the most important people to him were going to see him?

TAPPER: We don't know - we don't know that -

PSAKI: We don't know. That's true. They said he didn't but what's striking is that that is a standard we now know that they were willing to collude. So, it is now been eight months - it has been eight months since the election. It's been six months since the inauguration. We keep learning what's true about this story is new pieces keep developing. And this is all a part of a pattern -

[16:50:03] KINGSTON: No, no. This is what we know, this is the one- year anniversary and there is nothing. The worst credit is the biggest investigation in the world with the most leakers. There's nothing. There's 12 months now, where is the collusion?

TAPPER: We don't know. We have no idea - we have no idea what's in the investigation. We have no idea what's in the Senate or the House, Intelligence Committees or Bob Mueller. Let me ask you, Robby Mook was here and he said, where are the Republicans? Where are the members of Congress who are Republicans? There aren't any number of Republicans, conservatives like yourself who are not office holders who have been expressing outrage and have been intellectually consistent throughout this. Where are the lawmakers on this?

CARPENTER: Well, I mean, they're being political. I mean, they're also looking out for their political survival. I don't think if you're a Republican on the Hill, you want to be holding the bag on this investigation. I think if we're entering a criminal realm, they will be happy to take a backseat and let the FBI pursue this. It's a criminal matter, Congress can't do anything about criminal matters. All they can do is make a recommendation, say what happened. I can see them very easily sitting back and saying, we're going to let Mueller handle this, we'll talk later. That's the most politically safe thing to do. I don't - I'm not happy about it, but if I had to make a prediction right now what would happen, that's would be it.

TAPPER: Nobody go anywhere. We're going to -we're going to keep talking but we're going to take a very quick break. Stay with us. We'll be back after this.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: We are back with our "WORLD LEAD." As we await a response from the Kremlin to Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mails showing that he thought he was meeting a "Russian government attorney with dirt on Hillary Clinton provided from the Kremlin. Let's bring in CNN Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson joins us live from Moscow. And Ivan, nothing yet from Russian officials but what are you hearing about Emin Agalarov and why he wanted this meeting at least according to the e-mail? IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're hearing

denials, Jake, from pretty much everybody. The lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr., Natalia Veselnitskaya, she just spoke with our own Matthew Chance and insisted that she had no compromising material, no kompromat as they say in Russia to share with Donald Trump Jr. Meanwhile, we reached out to a lawyer who represents the father and son, the billionaire Aras Agalarov and his pop star son Emin. And that lawyer confirms that they helped set-up the meeting between the Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr. but they denied the intent of the meeting was to deliver, again, compromising material about Hillary Clinton and to hurt her in the Presidential Election. As has been written by the representative, the promoter for Emin, the pop star, Rob Goldstone, he's the only person here who in e-mail and in a statement to CNN has said, that's actually what he was trying to deliver, some information like this to Donald Trump Jr. Jake?

TAPPER: And the pop star and his father, the Agalarov are still denying connections to the Kremlin, but the father, he received a medal from Vladimir Putin, right?

WATSON: That's right, he received a medal of honor from Vladimir Putin in 2013. He owned shopping malls here, he's a billionaire. And to do real estate development here on the level that he's doing it, you do have to have good relations with the Russian government. And they also had very good relations with Donald Trump himself who sent a happy birthday video to the pop star son, Emin, in 2014. He even appeared in his music video in 2013. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Ivan Watson in Moscow for us. Thank you so much. That's it for THE LEAD. We have much more on this breaking news coming up with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." And I'll be back at 11:00 tonight. Stay with us.