Return to Transcripts main page
Bombshell E-Mail Drops in Trump-Russia Probe. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired July 11, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I was talking about the process that had been gone through by both sides. That was all -- that was the only point I was making.
QUESTION: OK, but I thought you were saying, if it was OK for Hillary to coordinate with the Ukraine, it should be OK -- or to meet with Ukraine about possible information that might be relevant in the campaign, it would be equally OK to meet with Russians about information (OFF-MIKE)
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I was talking about simply the process and nothing beyond that.
QUESTION: Do you still think it was OK? Put aside the issue of collusion. Is it appropriate to meet with Russians about information they might (OFF-MIKE)
HUCKABEE SANDERS: As I have said earlier, I stand by the comments I made yesterday.
QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.
I have two quick questions for you.
Have you spoken with the president in the past 24 hours?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Yes.
QUESTION: What was his general reaction to this story, without getting into an official White House response to some of the questions earlier? Did you speak with him about this story?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that the president is, I would say, frustrated with the process of the fact that this continues to be an issue.
And he would love for us to be focused on things, like just as mentioned, the economy, on health care, on tax reform, on infrastructure. And that's the place that his mind is, and that's what he'd like to be discussing.
John Gizzi. QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. I have two questions as well.
Senator Rubio said this morning that the entire matter involving Donald Trump Jr. is -- and I quote -- "Mueller territory." In other words, it should be left solely up to the special prosecutor.
What's the White House reaction to that?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, I would refer you to the outside special counsel.
And I think that's something that they could work on together.
QUESTION: So, they have -- you have no reaction to what Senator Rubio said?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: No, I don't, John.
QUESTION: All right.
My other question is about personnel. The president has -- and you pointed this out yesterday in the form you handed out -- numerous judicial vacancies to fill, including four on the controversial 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In an effort to speed this up, will the administration waive the blue slip process from senators or/and the opinion of the American Bar Association?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't know if those conversations have taken place about whether or not to waive that in order to expedite, but I will be happy to check into it for you.
QUESTION: Thanks. I have three, but I will try to be quick.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Three?
QUESTION: Secretary Mattis said about a month ago that you guys would be rolling out the Afghanistan strategy by mid-July. Does that still hold?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I know that the plan is to roll that out after there's been a full review process. And I don't have anything beyond that at this point. I know they'd like to do that soon.
QUESTION: OK, you don't have any idea. Be that as it may, what role does the president see for himself in terms of explaining the strategy to the American people?
Does he plan a prime-time address, does he plan a press conference, does he plan a national tour? How implicated do you think he will be in selling the new strategy to the public? HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think those things will be determined once the
new strategy's finalized.
QUESTION: Last one.
Whose decision was it to provide really relatively limited answers today to the Don Jr. questions? Is it the lawyer? Did the White House counsel instruct you not to do this? Is it a communications decision? Who made that decision?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: As I told Zeke earlier, all the appropriate parties were part of the conversation. That decision was made internally.
QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.
The administration missed its deadline to make a decision on steel tariffs. Can you give us an update on where those -- where that decision stands? Can we expect a decision this week?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The report and any recommendations within that report are going to going to -- going through a normal interagency review process, and as soon as that's completed, that will be released, hopefully in short order.
QUESTION: Is there a reason the deadline (OFF-MIKE)
HUCKABEE SANDERS: It's a self-imposed deadline and they're working to get it through the final review process as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Thanks a lot, Sarah.
In the conversation that you had with the president, did he give an indication to you that these stories that we see come out day after day in "The New York Times" (OFF-MIKE) are in any way self-inflicted? After all, it's the meeting that Don Jr. had with this Russian lawyer that has precipitated all of this.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: No. And I think the president's made it pretty clear his position on this entire process.
QUESTION: When you have that conversation with the president, do you ask him, just so you can speak with us and inform us, do you say, what was the nature, from your understanding, Mr. President, about the conversation that your son and these other two individuals had with this Russian lawyer?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I didn't have that type of conversation.
The conversations I have are -- the goal is to get information that I can best communicate to you guys, whether it's on health care or infrastructure or tax reform or any other matter. I'm not -- you know, the way those conversations play out are going to vary from topic to topic.
Go ahead. Yes, ma'am.
QUESTION: On sanctions, I wanted to ask, is the White House suggesting or asking for new language to insert kind of a tweak to give the president the waivers, the national securities waivers that you're seeking, or is the White House wanting to see the bill canceled altogether or killed altogether?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: As I said yesterday, the president's committed to maintaining the existing sanctions against Russia until Moscow reverses the aggressive actions against Ukraine that triggered the sanctions.
And President Trump reaffirmed this position at the G20 last Friday. But this is more about foreign policy and having the flexibility to negotiate with other countries, and this includes working with allies and partners to present a united front to common foes. And we remain committed to working with Congress on those issues.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can you call on me next, Sarah?
QUESTION: I'm sorry.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sure.
QUESTION: OK. Thank you.
With Mosul now in Iraqi hands, is there a -- does the president have a strategy for the future of Iraq or U.S. involvement in Iraq?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: You know, those are continued conversations, and as we have announcements on it, we will let you guys know.
QUESTION: Sarah, I'm going to take this one.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I promised I would come to him next.
QUESTION: The -- is President Trump now aware of a Russian government effort to influence the campaign in his favor?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: Is the president now aware of the Russian government effort to influence the campaign in his favor?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, I'm not going to answer any questions on that matter.
QUESTION: And a follow-up on that. Yesterday, you were asked when the president learned of the Donald Jr. meeting, and your response was, I believe in the last couple of days is my understanding.
Is there any reason that we should think that answer would change today? Have you learned anything new that would change your response there?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: No, I haven't.
Thanks, guys, so much.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Anderson Cooper.
You have been listening to the White House briefing, or lack of briefing, not a lot of new information, Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeatedly saying, I'm not going to get into the back and forth, I have nothing now add, I stand by the comments I made yesterday, not going to get into the details.
This all after the bombshell development in the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. Donald Trump Jr. has released an e-mail chain detailing the plan for a secret meeting he had with a Russian lawyer last summer during the campaign, a meeting that was clearly set up with the intent of getting incriminating evidence against Hillary Clinton from the Russians, a meeting that we're told the FBI did not know about until now.
The first e-mail from Rob Goldstone, who's a confidant of the Trump family, sent June 3, 2016, reads, in part: "The crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father, Aras, this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information, but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump.
"I can also send this information to your father, but it is ultra- sensitive, so wanted to send to you first."
Trump Jr. then replies: "Thanks, Rob. I appreciate that. If it's what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer."
It appears former campaign manager Paul Manafort and President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, knew about the e-mail prior to meeting with the attorney because Trump Jr. forwarded them the e-mail.
Joining me now is CNN political director David Chalian.
Not a lot of new information. I mean, it's interesting to hear Sarah Huckabee Sanders essentially just refer all questions to Donald Trump Jr.'s attorney.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: The one piece of information we got was the statement from the president, that very short statement finally commenting on his son, calling him a high-quality person, and applauding his transparency, which we know there's nothing really to applaud because "The New York Times" was going to release these e- mails.
But, yes, the other thing I thought was interesting that Sarah Huckabee Sanders did in the briefing, Anderson, was this commitment to saying that there's no distance between the vice president and the president.
She was asked about that, because the vice president has issued a statement saying, you know...
COOPER: Yes, I have the statement here. Let me just read it out.
CHALIAN: Oh, sure. Go ahead.
COOPER: This is from Marc Lotter, Vice President Pence's spokesman, who says: "The vice president is working every day to advance the president's agenda, which is what the person people sent us here to do. The vice president was not aware of the meeting. He's not focused on stories about the campaign, particularly stories about the time before he joined the ticket."
CHALIAN: So, it's not every day that a vice president's office reminds people of a time when he had absolutely nothing to do with Donald Trump. Right? So...
COOPER: This is not exactly an embrace of Donald Trump Jr. or the president.
This really isn't an embrace or a full-throated defense. This does seem like a little bit of keeping his distance from this story, despite what Sarah Huckabee Sanders is saying.
But precious little in this briefing. The other thing I would just note, I think it lingers as a question. Why could she, from the podium yesterday, definitively say that there's no collusion, but then when today asked, say, I stand by that, but you have to ask all those questions to outside counsel?
Why was she able to take that question yesterday and not able to take it today? The only thing that changed is this huge fact pattern that we have all in black and white in Donald Trump's e-mail that he did indeed accept that meeting knowing that the Russian government was wanting to help his father's campaign.
COOPER: And believing that this Russian attorney was in fact a Russian government attorney.
CHALIAN: Without a doubt.
COOPER: Whether she was or not, which is something she denies. I also want to bring in our folks from Washington, Gloria Borger,
CNN's chief political analyst, Jim Sciutto, our chief security national correspondent, and Dana Bash, our chief political correspondent.
Jim Sciutto, you heard from Sarah Huckabee Sanders there. This is certainly probably the biggest development in this Russian -- alleged Russian collusion story that we have seen this far.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It is, for sure.
We have been covering the story since the very beginning. The Senate and the House Intelligence Committees have been digging on this question of collusion, cooperation for weeks, months now, FBI, now the special counsel.
That collusion question, and it's still a question, has been based purely on the fact that meetings took place, a number of meetings, a frequency that caught the notice, we have reported, of the intelligence community and law enforcement, particularly the fact that it was with so many Russians, both here in the U.S. and conversations and meetings in Europe as well.
This is the first time we have the substance of the meeting, the impetus behind that meeting, what, in fact, was offered for the son of the president to take that meeting and, very explicitly, in black and white -- again, we've quoted from those e-mails many times -- but damaging information to the Hillary Clinton from the Russian government with the intention of helping Donald Trump.
That last detail particularly important, because whenever the intelligence community's assessment is mentioned, its assessment not only that Russia meddled in the election, but that they did so to benefit Donald Trump, Donald Trump world, his advisers and so on, have called that craziness, fake news, witch-hunt, et cetera.
So here we have now in black and white the son of the president being made aware that this was the Russian government's intention by a lawyer connected to the Kremlin. And keep in mind this is what the Kremlin does. The Kremlin uses a lot of unofficial people to convey messages, set up meetings, develop relationships, et cetera.
COOPER: Jim, before I move gone to Gloria and Dana, I want to just ask you one more question.
In this e-mail exchange, the idea that this is -- that the Russian government is supporting or wants Donald Trump to win, it doesn't seem like it is a first time this is being mentioned. Or it may very well be, but it almost seems like it could be a second reference.
Do we know anything about the phone conversation? And is it possible that the U.S. government has recordings of the phone conversation between Donald Trump Jr. and this Russian pop star, which was something Donald Trump Jr. asked to have this phone conversation before agreeing to actually sit down with this Russian lawyer? SCIUTTO: Well, we don't know. The U.S. would not be able to surveil an American, of course, without a FISA warrant. And we don't believe, we don't know that there is a FISA warrant on Donald Trump.
The U.S. government does or U.S. intelligence agencies does surveil foreign nationals, whether they be working explicitly for Russian intelligence or are -- have a relationship, as many Russians do, who are not officially on the government payroll.
So, it is possible. It's also possible that partners of the U.S., intelligence partners, the British and others who surveil Russians in Europe, have contents of conversations as well.
Just keep in mind, I will bring it up again, the dossier, of course, which has been dismissed many times by Trump world, but as we have reported, parts of the dossier have been substantiated by U.S. intelligence. Remember, at the core of the dossier were descriptions of meetings between Trump advisers and Russians for the express purpose of exchanging information, negative information about Hillary Clinton, et cetera.
So, now you have a meeting where the president's son has released an e-mail that gives exactly that description of the meeting. So, even without an intercepted communication, an intercepted phone call, you have an e-mail here that gets right at a very similar point.
COOPER: Dana Bash, reaction from Capitol Hill and elsewhere?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, there has very slowly, but pretty surely been a corroding, an eroding of Republican support for the president on this issue, and an inability to kind of tune it out as noise, which is what a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill and elsewhere were hoping at the beginning of this investigation, at the beginning of this Trump administration they would be able to do, while they focused on, you know, using the fact that they finally have Republican government across the board to get an agenda passed that they couldn't do while Barack Obama was in the White House for eight years.
That is so difficult to do when you have not just a distraction. You have, you know, a blaring siren going off in your ear. You can't concentrate on health care, on tax reform, on infrastructure. It's just very difficult to do. They're trying. But it's very difficult.
And then on the flip side, you have the actual investigation that is still going on, not just a special counsel, which obviously is going to, if they're not already, going to look into this and perhaps try to get more e-mails and more information.
But on the more political side of this investigation is Capitol Hill, which is working in a bipartisan way. Those who are working on it today were trying to understandably take a breath and say we're going to try to get information, we want them to come before the committee, we want them to come even publicly. But, you know, there's no looking the other way when it comes to something like this.
COOPER: Gloria Borger, except, I mean, from the White House spokesperson, who basically was not answering many questions on this at all, other than reading the president's statement.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Right.
Look, the White House spokesperson, I don't know -- you know, she clearly wants to compartmentalize all of this, and they tried to do this during the Lewinsky scandal with Bill Clinton. So, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is saying, I can't answer any of these questions, here's the statement from the president, and you're going to have to go to the lawyers and now let's move on because I want to talk about what's going to happen to health care, et cetera, et cetera.
I think it's a very difficult position for her to be in and for the White House to be in right now, because these are very, very important questions.
And if I could just go back to your original thought to Jim, it also struck me sort of in this e-mail that Don Jr. didn't seem at all kind of stunned or shocked or surprised by this revelation in this e-mail that it's sensitive information, but it's part of Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump.
There wasn't a sort of, what, what are you talking about, this can't be, or how do you know that?
COOPER: Yes, or even like, give me a call right now, you know, Goldstone, because I got to talk you about something.
BORGER: Right, like we shouldn't be discussing this, and what are you talking about?
So, to your point about how there may have been a follow-up conversation or maybe a previous conversation, we really -- we really don't know, but as I read through this, I was kind of really surprised by his lack of surprise.
I mean, there could be other e-mails with this guy, Goldstone, not related directly to this meeting. I mean, we simply don't know what else there is.
BORGER: Yes, absolutely.
COOPER: I also want to bring in Brian Stelter, Kirsten Powers.
Brian, there's the whole question of where these leaks are coming from.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Right. COOPER: Who it is who had access to these e-mails, and was able to
give them to "The New York Times," and even tell them earlier about this about this meeting.
STELTER: There's an implication here that at least some of these leaks are coming from within the White House or right around the White House.
COOPER: Advisers to the White House.
STELTER: Advisers to the White House.
COOPER: That's how "The Times" described it.
STELTER: This is four days in a row of bombshells to "The New York Times."
We hear President Trump praising his son as being transparent, but, as you all have mentioned, it was only because "The Times" called and asked for comment that the son released these e-mails.
We have talked about the White House having a credibility crisis. That's been one of the subplots of the first six months of the Trump presidency. So I'm struck by how many people are taking the president's lawyer at his word when the president's lawyer is saying, no, the president had no knowledge of this meeting and was not involved in this meeting on June 9 of last year.
The timeline is incredible. These e-mails started on June 3, and then on June 7, now President Trump speaks at a rally saying -- what was the quote, David? Something to the effect of, I'm going to be having a speech next week talking about Clinton and her e-mails.
So he's on camera saying this. The meeting's on June 9. And then the same day, President -- now President Trump tweets about Hillary Clinton's 33,000 missing e-mails.
There's just -- not to beat a metaphor into the ground, a lot of smoke. And the timeline here, you got to look at the timeline really carefully, given when these e-mails happened and when this meeting happened.
COOPER: Kirsten, you and I were on the air last night, and before these actual e-mails came out, and Trump surrogates were saying, look, he didn't know who he was meeting with. He didn't know who this person was.
That's just not true. I mean, whether or not this person was as advertised, but she was advertised to him, dangled in front of him as a Russian government attorney and with information coming from the Russian government.
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Right. And it's also -- I mean, it's very hard to believe that -- this woman
now has denied that she has any connections to the Russian government. I'm sorry. I don't believe her. And the reason I don't believe her is because her -- she sort of made it her cause in life to go around trying to get sanctions lifted on a bunch of Putin cronies who have been accused of human rights violations.
So is this her hobby that she just does for fun? Probably not. Probably, she has relationships with them. So she can deny it all she wants. The bottom line is, they thought she worked for the Russian government.
And I think that what Gloria brought up is the thing that has really been sticking with me and makes me think is there is more information out there is that his reaction when he was told that the Russian was supporting the candidacy of Donald Trump was, great.
Basically, any other person...
STELTER: Welcome to the campaign.
POWERS: Any other person would have been pulled up short and said, whoa. What...
POWERS: That's my point. It clearly wasn't the first reference, which means there's a whole bunch of other conversations that have happened leading up to this. That's my guess. Yes.
COOPER: Right. If that's the first time you had been informed that the Russian government is backing your father, you would think you would be somewhat surprised.
STELTER: Right now, we're looking at this through like a soda straw and there's so much we don't know. We're only seeing this one e-mail exchange.
COOPER: And the question, of course, Jim Sciutto, and others in D.C., how much information -- or I think we're clear from the folks in D.C.
I mean, how much information do investigators at this point have? I mean, did the FBI, in fact, not know about this meeting until now? And how much information can they get access to that "The New York Times" can't?
They probably can get access to it. And I think the question of, who are the sources for this is a good question. It could be Jared Kushner realizing that this is going to get out there and I need to make sure everybody knows that I'm not the one who did this and this was set up by Donald Jr. It could be Paul Manafort for the same reasons.
STELTER: Even though they were both in the room for the meeting.
POWERS: Well, they're the two people who have the e-mails, right? We know that.
COOPER: Jared Kushner apparently left -- according to this Russian attorney, Jared Kushner left the meeting after seven to 10 minutes.
POWERS: Right. And so they -- and the e-mail has been forwarded to them, we think, so they're going to be culpable here. And if you're them, you might say, get this out and pin it -- basically say like, we just showed up to the meeting. This was all Donald Jr.'s show.
STELTER: There's a meeting scheduled, and the president's bragging about having something about Clinton. Then the meeting happens.
And on June 12, WikiLeaks starts teasing an e-mail dump involving Clinton. There's a lot that -- we can't connect all the dots right now, but there's a lot of dots out there.
CHALIAN: Yes, absolutely. The context is important.
And to what you were saying before about Russia and the lack of surprise, remember, there's a history of Russia business with the Trump Organization. I know Donald Trump has denied some of that history, but Donald Trump Jr.'s quotes about it, the relationship with the Miss Universe Pageant, people having real estate deals here in the Russian oligarch community through Trump.
So it's not as if they have never done business with Russia. They're not unfamiliar with that.
COOPER: That's the other thing that some Trump surrogates have been saying. Well, Donald Trump Jr. is naive to the world of politics, didn't know -- I mean, he has -- he's on the record talking about the difficulty of actually doing business in Russia, knowing who you're dealing with, figuring out what their background is, whether they can actually deliver.
So someone going -- being approached by a Russian attorney who already knows -- anybody doing business in Russia or involved in it knows you got to be questioning who you're meeting with.
POWERS: If you took this fact pattern and put it on a high school test and asked, what's wrong with this fact pattern, almost every student could tell you what's wrong with it. This is just very basic.
STELTER: It's an Occam's razor situation.
(CROSSTALK) POWERS: People would understand like, something's not right here. The Russian government is supporting a presidential campaign.
That, to anybody, would be shocking. And I think that the only reaction to that is to kind of be taken aback and to contact the FBI. I mean, those are the normal reactions.
COOPER: I'm going to be speaking with Carl Bernstein, Jeffrey Toobin for their reactions.
We're going to take a short break. We will be right back with more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I mean, not going to talk about the investigation, which that may or may not be part of when all the facts are known. But I'm not going to go back a day's worth of press leaks and form any conclusion from it. So,...
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You have been skeptical, though, of the issue of collusion. Is this possible evidence of that?
BURR: I have never shown a skepticism towards collusion in an investigation. I just haven't confirmed that we're ready to conclude an investigation. We're very early in the investigation. We have got a long way to go, and they deserve to fully be vetted.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: My job is to keep this bipartisan investigation on track and reserve judgment until I see all the facts.
But, as I said yesterday, now the public is for the first time seeing some of these facts and these facts that have shown in the last 24 hours that there clearly was a Russian government effort to discredit Clinton and to help Trump, and that Trump officials at the most senior level were aware of that.
How high that goes, we have still got questions to ask.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The co-chairs of the Senate Intelligence Committee there reacting to this new bombshell that is part of their investigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Donald Trump Jr. releasing e-mails detailing the plan for a secret meeting he had with a Russian lawyer last summer during the campaign.
Joining me now is Carrie Cordero, former counsel to the U.S. assistant attorney general for national security, and Barry Bennett, former Trump campaign adviser.
Barry, let's start with you.
When you see these e-mails, was this wise for Donald Trump Jr. to have a meeting with somebody who was described to him as a Russian government attorney with information from the Russian government?
BARRY BENNETT, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: You know, I have been a campaign manager my whole life. Maybe it was like the fourth or the fifth campaign before you figured out that everybody who came to you said they had the dope on your opponent and was completely full of it.
So, no, it wasn't wise. But that is naivete, not criminal. So I would not have held the meeting. I bet now they wish they hadn't held the meeting either. But the result of the meeting was still the same. The used every word she could with her interrogators to get the thing.
But she had nothing to offer.
COOPER: And so whether she had anything to offer or not, isn't it -- doesn't it at least show -- whether it's actually illegal or not, doesn't it at least show a willingness of collusion on the part of Donald Trump Jr., if he's willing to be open to...
BENNETT: I don't know what the legal definition of willingness of collusion is. I don't think there is one. You know...
COOPER: I'm not asking for a legal definition. I'm just saying, doesn't it seem that he's open to the idea of colluding with the Russian government?
BENNETT: No, I don't think that at all. It sounds to me like, if anything, they were naive in trying to get information about Hillary Clinton.
COOPER: Naive, OK, from the Russian government.
BENNETT: Well, from this woman who claims that she was from the Russian government.